Several significant reforms were made in the realm of public school accountability and teacher training. House Bill 2804 requires the Texas Education Agency to assign performance ratings of A, B, C, D, or F to school campuses. These easily interpretable ratings will be assigned to districts and individual school campuses by the 2017-18 school year. By giving parents transparent evaluations of their children’s school campuses—some of which could influence parents’ decisions about where to send their child and force schools to achieve higher standards or face decreased enrollment—the bill is a small but important step toward giving parents and families greater control over the quality of the education their children receive within the public education system.
Professional development for teachers is another critical factor for improving educational outcomes. The legislature passed a variety of bills aimed at enhancing teacher effectiveness inside the classroom by increasing opportunities for professional development. Senate Bill 925 requires the commissioner to develop “literacy achievement academies” (LAAs) for teachers who provide reading instruction for students at the kindergarten, first, second, or third grade level. These academies must include instructional training in phonics, vocabulary, and comprehension, using methods that have been empirically-validated. For teachers of older students in grades 4 and 5, there is Senate Bill 972, which establishes “reading-to-learn” academies for these teachers, similar in scope to the LAAs. Senate Bill 934 establishes training academies for K-3 teachers of mathematics. And, finally, Senate Bill 935 requires the implementation of a “reading excellence team” pilot program, whereby reading specialists come to under-performing schools and collaborate with teachers on improving student reading outcomes.