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The Exit Door

The Almanac is still a thing, but I figured the current round of legislative retirements deserves a dedicated working space. With that, here's who's moving on to better and brighter things:

Rep. Allen Fletcher (R - NW Harris County) - was hoping to get the appointed gig for Harris County Sheriff, but has made it known that he'd be running for it in 2016 regardless. He also gave his going-away speech toward the end of the legislative session. District is about as safe as it gets for GOP - no known names for the seat come to mind.

Rep. Sylvester Turner (D - NW Harris County) - running for Houston mayor for the third time. Also preached his going-away speech during the final days of the lege. Safe Dem seat and there will be a long line of potential replacements. Biggest name to date is HISD trustee Rhonda Skillern-Jones.

Rep. Jimmie Don Aycock (R - Bell County) - gave his going-away speech in the closing days of the Lege. No known names for the seat early on, but the district has potential for a Democratic pickup in 2016 (followed by an almost certain return to GOP control in a non-Presidential year).

Rep. Joe Farias (D - Bexar County) - gave his going-away speech in the closing days of the Lege. Like Aycock's seat, the district has some potential for swinging to the other party.

Sen. Troy Fraser (R - Central Texas) - announced via letter to Senators after the legislative session. Rep. Aycock was asked to consider running for the seat by Fraser's campaign manager, but declined. There shouldn't be a shortage of candidates for this seat, but the field could be thinned out by fundraising ability. Of some interest is that former Representative (and failed Comptroller nominee) Harvey Hilderbran represented the southern portion of the Senate District.

Rep. Patricia Harless (R - NW Harris County) - announced on June 8 that she would not run again. District is safe GOP. Two names to watch for may be Harless' husband (who toyed with a run for SD7 after Dan Patrick announced for Lt. Gov). Former HD126 candidate John Devine has since successfully run for state Supreme Court. The only semi-announced candidate thus far is attorney, Kevin Roberts.

And in other activity:

Thomas Ratliff (R - East Texas) - announced he would not run for re-election to the State Board of Education.

Sen. Kevin Eltife (R - East Texas) - hasn't announced whether or not he'll run for re-election. But State Rep. David Simpson is rumored to be running for the GOP nomination regardless. Outgoing State Board of Education member Thomas Ratliff has said he would consider running if Eltife opted to retire.

Rep. J.D. Sheffield (R - North Central Texas) - Rep. Sheffield has a very visible voting record that allows him to be identified as a moderate in a GOP primary. But his speech against the Schaefer amendment that would ban abortions of fetuses with genetic abnormalities after 20 weeks gave even more ammunition to opponents. Rep. Jonathan Stickland announced via twitter that "[t]his could be Rep. Sheffields last speech on the #txlege floor." Stephenville realtor Brent Graves announced his intention to challenge Sheffield prior to the end of the legislative session.

Rep. Jim Keffer (R - North Texas) - Hasn't made an announcement. Michael Quinn Sullivan seems to believe he will retire rather than face another tough primary challenge (allegedly from RR Commish David Porter). That may be wishful thinking on Sullivan's part, however.

Rep. Charlie Geren (R - Tarrant County) - Hasn't made an announcement. Presumed to be running again. But already has a primary challenge. Given the growing strength of the Tea Party in Tarrant County and more relaxed campaign finance laws (not to mention Geren's pointed opposition to same), it could potentially be more entertaining than prior primary challenges against Geren.

Updates are a given ...


The Replacements

» Texas Tribune: Push Back Against "Do-Nothing" Crowd (State Rep. Jimmie Don Aycock)

Crackups are always fun to watch when they're in the other party ...

It appears that Texas Right to Life’s agenda is clearly about more than "life" issues. It is about making a lot of noise to solicit membership and funds. It is about a handful of people controlling votes in the Texas Legislature by seeing who can shout "conservative" the loudest. The easiest way to do that is to form alliances with the self-appointed "conservatives" to share contact bases and propaganda machinery.

It's an interesting read by an incumbent Republican State Rep. And the issue has more to do with Michael Quinn Sullivan than it does any substantive beliefs on abortion policy.

For now, there's room to speculate on how different Texas government can still be from a center-left vantage point. As bad as the 2002 elections proved to be and as bad as Tom Craddick was as speaker, there were still some moderating elements at work. David Dewhurst was known as the one Republican that Dem-leaning lobbyists could talk to. Several Republican State Senators were just as protective of some major constituencies as Democrats are. And for all of Rick Perry's numerous failings as a governor, his politics were still somewhat reminiscent of the good-ol-boy Democrats that he was in the 1980s.

Many of the ABC Republicans that lined up behind Joe Straus beginning in 2009 have been retiring or losing primaries ever so gradually each election cycle. While Straus has been effective at cultivating relationships with his GOP caucus, I don't think that he has to lose his speakership for a tide to turn for the worse in the House.

Case in point - Fort Worth State Rep. Charlie Geren has signaled that 2014 will be his last election. Just as there used to be a number of GOP-leaning seats held by long-time Dem incumbents, I think it's safe to say that there are a number of current GOP seats held by "pre-Tea" GOP members that are likely to be replaced by more strident conservatives. They won't have to elect a new speaker to be effective - they'll just have to have the votes. So I think it's safe to say that it can, indeed, get worse.

I like Jimmie Don and he was definitely a reassuring name to hear as Public Education chair this past session. Assuming his purpl-ish district keeps sending Republicans to the Lege, there's just nothing to suggest that the next one is going to be cut from the same cloth. And there are enough GOP members like Jimmie Don in the same situation. They won't all lose a primary in 2014. But they're also not going to be in office for decades at a time. It's the replacements who should be of more concern.


On the Need for Algebra II

A bit of context here from a book I've been trudging through recently. It's not 100% tied into the recent debate here in Texas about whether Algebra II is vitally necessary for producing college/career-ready graduates. Plus, while much of the author's writing is informed by research, it reads more like a Tom Friedman column full of opinion and hypotheses. But it still manages to add a bit of context to the debate and captures much of my own sentiment on the topic ...

"The Global Achievement Gap" by Tony Wagner (pgs 117-120)

Many business leaders today - Bill Gates among them - claim that our high school graduates lack adequate preparation in science and math; others say that for the United States to remain globally competitive, we need to produce more engineers and scientists. As a result, beginning next year, the NCLB law adds science to the list of subjects that must be tested in elementary, middle, and high school. In addition, in August 2007, Congress passed new "competitiveness" legislation, which establishes federal grants to improve teacher recruitment and training in science and math. Yet employers across a wide range of businesses, including high-tech companies, appear to place comparatively little value on content knowledge in either math or science as a prerequisite for work today.

Clay Parker and others talked about the relative importance of technical knowledge versus critical thinking and people skills in the first chapter. In the major study of 400 employers' expectations for new employees who are high school grads, two-year college grads, and four-year college grads that I cited in that chapter, knowledge of mathematics did no even make the top-ten list of the skills employers deemed most important for any of these groups. Indeed, it ranked only 14th or 15th on the list of the most essential knowledge and skills needed for success - just ahead of science and foreign language comprehension. What the report referred to as "applied skills" dominated the top-ten list of the most important skills for all three groups of students, a list quite similar to the Seven Survival Skills: "professionalism and work ethic, oral and written communication, critical thinking and problem-solving, teamwork and leadership, reading comprehension, and ethics and social responsibility." All of these came ahead of knowledge of both science and math in the survey ranking.

Here's a possible explanation for this finding: While all employers need workers who can solve problems, they do not find that students who have taken the usual math and science courses and passed the tests can apply this content to solving real problems. Yet we continue to teach the same tired content in the same old ways because it is supposed to be developing students' "problem-solving skills."

So-called advanced math is perhaps the clearest example of the mismatch between what is taught and tested in high schools versus what's needed for college and in life. It turns out that knowledge of algebra is required to pass state tests, as you saw, because it is a near-universal requirement for college admissions. But why is that? If you are not a math major, you usually do not have to take any advanced math in college, and most of what you need for other courses is knowledge of statistics, probability, and basic computational skills. This is even more evident after college. Graduates from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology were recently surveyed regarding the math that this very technically trained group used most frequently in their work. The assumption was that if any adults used higher-level math, it would be MIT grads. And while a few did, the overwhelming majority reported using nothing more than arithmetic, statistics, and probability.

No one whom I've interviewed has been able to explain to me why advanced math is a college admissions requirement whereas probability and statistics are not. The implication seems to be that advanced math trains us to become better problem solvers. Back when I was in high school, I was told that Latin should be studied because it trained the mid, too! But was is the evidence to support either claim? Some educators point to studies showing that students who take advanced math in high school do better in college. But this conclusion actually ignores one of the essential laws of statistics: the importance of distinguishing between results taht show cause and effect versus a mere association. There is absolutely no evidence that knowledge of calculus causes greater success in college; there is only an association. I'm willing to wager that if we required four years' study of the Greek language, we could show it had at least as high an association or correlation with success in college. Taking any academically challenging course in high school will show an association with success in college.


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