Austin’s Sanders supporters are not Berned out




Good day Austin:

On Saturday night, about 50 veterans of the Bernie Sanders campaign, some of whom were at the Democratic National Convention in Philadelphia, gathered in a room at Sholz Garten for a “Post-Philly conversation.”



On Sunday, the campaign finally closed down its little Austin volunteer field office on East 6th Street.


So the Sanders campaign is over.

Well, yes.

But the spirits of the Sanders’ folks remain high, and the campaign for the Sanders agenda will continue through a number of different organizations intended to support simpatico candidates at the local level.

White board at Austin HQ
White board at Austin HQ


I have not been one who ever underestimated Sanders.

The First Reading I did on Sanders in April 2015, when he visited Austin while he was deciding whether to run for president – Sanders Wows Austin: Watch out Hillary, here comes Bernie – got many times more hits than any First Reading I’ve written. Many times more.

Nothing like a market metric to let you know when a socialist is resonating.

The premise of that First Reading was that Sanders was well set to give Clinton a run for her money.

Bernie Sanders, the Independent senator from Vermont, was in Austin for a couple of days last week, the tail end of a trip that took him to Chicago, Los Angeles, San Francisco and Las Vegas, to see if there is the interest out here in America for him to run for president in 2016.

Sanders would be a novel candidate for the Democratic nomination for president because, for starters, he is not a Democrat, though he caucuses with them in the Senate. He is, in fact, the longest serving Independent in congressional history.

Also, he is an avowed socialist, unlike most Democrats, who are only accused socialists.


Judging by his reception in Austin, Sanders will be running for president. And, for a number of reasons I’ll explain as we go along, I think Sanders could prove a problem for Hillary Clinton, especially in the early going.


He doesn’t care about any of the gossipy, horse race, process kind of questions that dominate political coverage, and he makes you embarrassed you asked those questions. All he wants to talk about is what he wants to talk about – income inequality and the “grotesque and obscene” concentration of wealth and income in America. Voters – Democratic primary and caucus voters at any rate – will like that and it will keep him from being embroiled in the petty corruptions and distractions of hour-by-hour press coverage.


He has been doing this oil-on-water, Brooklyn boy of the Green Mountains thing for decades with great success, by virtue, it seems, of changing almost nothing about his politics or his persona. His practice in Vermont does give him an edge in rural, small-town and working class Iowa and New Hampshire.

His being an Independent gives him the option of being as anti-Washington as Ted Cruz, but from the left, and his being an out socialist will comfort to the activist left that he won’t wilt on those commitments either in a general election or if he were elected.

And his not being Elizabeth Warren means he will generate less upfront excitement and attention and journalistic nit-picking, which is all good for sneaking up on Clinton.





In Philadelphia, I did a  First Reading on Julie Ann Nitsch, a field organizer for the Sanders campaign in Austin and a Sanders delegate, who was feeling pretty alienated from the Democratic Party in Philly.



Nitsch returned from Philadelphia, binge-watched the CW telenovela Jane the Virginit’s adorable – and attended a day-long seminar put on by Annie’s List, which trains, recruits and funds Democratic women candidates.

“At end the seminar I asked, “How do you know if you’re qualified?” The response: “With all due respect, that’s a very girlie question.”

In other words, cast aside your doubts and run. Nitsch, who was a student and staff at Austin Community College, is now a candidate for ACC trustee.


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Here she was Saturday night talking with Cliff Walker,  campaign services and candidate recruitment director. for the Texas Democratic Party, who has made it his mission to bring Sanders supporters into the fold.




Does Nitsch plan to vote for Hillary Clinton?

“I’m going to vote. I can’t not vote.”

For Clinton?

“I believe Donald Trump is going to drop out. I don’t think Hilary Clinton is going to have any problem.”

There is an argument among some Sanders supporters that they only need to vote for Clinton in swing states. Elsewhere, they have the luxury of voting for someone else, like Green Party candidate Jill Stein.

“That’s a mistake,” said Daniel Fetonte, a retired labor organizer for the steel workers, the communications workers and CLEAT, the police officers’ union in Texas, who with his wife, Barbara, are the godfather and godmother of the Sanders campaign in Austin.

He said Sanders supporters need to back the ticket, “because of the program we fought for at the Democratic Convention. If  we walk away we won’t be fighting for that program. Also, it’s going to be a wave election so while we might not win the state we’ll pull in a whole lot of state representatives and state senators and that will help protect the state employees union, the teachers’ union.”

“To vote for a purer candidate who might be better on some issues is a serious mistake,” Fetonte said. “We have tremendous standing in the Democratic Party and we should work with the coordinated campaign. That means voting for an imperfect candidate for president.”

He thinks most Sanders supporters will vote for Clinton.

“If you want to vote for perfection, go live on a commune.”

Sign in Lower Manhattan


The Sanders campaign also helped grow the socialist movement in Texas. Fetonte said there are now 266 members of the Democratic Socialists of America in Austin and almost 800 statewide. He said that 34 of the 75 Sanders delegates from Texas were DSA members.

“A lot of people are not scared of democratic socialism because of Bernie,” Fetonte said.

“One of the things about Bernie is he believes this stuff and he is totally honest about it and real ethical,” Fetonte said. “He would always tell us, `don’t attack other people.'”

“He didn’t expect to go as far as he did,” Fetonte said.

Barbare Fetonte said that being a Sanders delegate was the high point of her life.

“To represent Bernie Sanders, I hate that that’s the high point of my life, but right now I feel that it was,” she said.

The convention was an emotional roller coaster.

“I remember Monday feeling, she hasn’t got the nomination yet, what are these guys talking about?”

“And then I remember Monday, at the Bernie caucus, it was a high.”

But then many of the Sanders delegate booed their candidate when he called on them to back Clinton.

She saw the hurt in Sanders.

“I was upset with that. I felt like their mothers. You don’t boo this man.”

But didn’t the boos come out of a place of love for him?

“He didn’t see it that way. I don’t think he was ever able to convey to us what he had to do .”

But, in Barbara Fetonte’s view, the very best thing to come out of the Sanders campaign was Chau Ngo, the campaign’s 33-year-old Austin Regional field director – her vast territory encompassed 57 counties –  who she said brought incredible enthusiasm and ability to the campaign.

“She was the best thing about this campaign,” said Fetonte.


Left to right, Chau Ngo, Daniel Fetonte, Barbara Fetonte, Liliana Mendoza-Pierce, at Sholz Garten

Chau, who grew up in Arlington, came to Austin 15 years ago to study astronomy, chemistry and Spanish at the University of Texas. Now, a divorced mother of two children – 9 and 11 – she remains one class shy of graduating with a degree in history and government.

Barbara, Cardboard Bernie and Chau


“Everything has an end to it,” said Chau, as she finished emptying the tiny field office on East Sixth Sunday.

“If we had just closed it up after the primary it would have had a different feeling because there was just so much energy immediately afterward. And you saw for weeks after the election, about how people still came around wanting to talk about their experiences. We had people go to Ohio, Iowa, New York, California to canvass.




Many of the volunteers were first-timers.

“I think they come out more knowledgeable overall. They learned a lot in the process. They got curious about something and that curiosity doesn’t stop.”

She thinks most will remain active though, “not necessarily political. It was a way for people to find a place. it was a starting point.”

Will most of the volunteers end up voting for Clinton?

“I don’t know. I would probably say most people who will be voting will end up voting for her.  But there are a sizable number who won’t. But I doubt they would have voted for her anyway. They were here for Bernie, not for the Democratic Party. I think it is a mistake for the party not to engage with those folks as much.”

Will she vote for Clinton?

“I am on the Dump Trump campaign, whatever that means, as long as Trump doesn’t make it to he presidency.”

Ngo is among the founders of Left Up to Us, a local organization of Sanders supporters who will back like-minded candidates, though Ngo is now throwing herself into her new job as an apprentice organizer for the Texas State Employees Association.



Sanders is rolling out a few different new organizations to channel those energies, and will be launching one of those – Our Revolution – with hour-long national live stream the evening of August 24. Local Sanders supporters are setting up viewing events, including one Nitsch is planning at The Gatsby on East Sixth in Austin.

From a July 15 story by Nicole Guadiano in USA Today:

WASHINGTON — His presidential aspirations behind him, Bernie Sanders is looking ahead to a busy future in which he continues to focus on nothing less than transforming the Democratic Party and the country.

In an exclusive interview with USA TODAY, the Vermont senator detailed plans to launch educational and political organizations within the next few weeks to keep his progressive movement alive. The Sanders Institute will help raise awareness of “enormous crises” facing Americans. The Our Revolution political organization will help recruit, train and fund progressive candidates’ campaigns. And a third political organization may play a more direct role in campaign advertising.

Sanders plans to support at least 100 candidates running for a wide range of public offices — from local school boards to Congress — at least through the 2016 elections. And he’ll continue to raise funds for candidates while campaigning for them all over the country. He said he probably will campaign for Tim Canova, a progressive primary challenger to Rep. Debbie Wasserman Schultz of Florida, who chairs the Democratic National Committee.

“If we are successful, what it will mean is that the progressive message and the issues that I campaigned on will be increasingly spread throughout this country,” Sanders said. “The goal here is to do what I think the Democratic establishment has not been very effective in doing. And that is at the grass-roots level, encourage people to get involved, give them the tools they need to win, help them financially.”

Meanwhile, Jacob Limon, who was state director of the Sanders campaign in Texas, is launching Revolution Texas.

Some Sanders supporters, including Nitsch, are also involved in another new organization, Brand New Congress.

Here is its plan and here are some of the people involved.

And here is a very positive appraisal of it from D.D. Guttenplan in the Nation.


“The Republicans I talk to don’t feel any more represented by their party than the Sanders Democrats,” says Corbin Trent. It’s a steamy night a few weeks after the California primary, in a hall belonging to Local 737 of the United Auto Workers. Bernie Sanders hasn’t yet endorsed Hillary Clinton, but even his most die-hard supporters know he isn’t going to be president. Trent, the founder of Tennessee for Bernie, is talking about the widening gap between Americans and the people who are supposed to represent us in Washington.

 “We have a Congress made up mostly of millionaires who spend all their time talking to each other,” he says. “Our country is becoming an oligarchy.”When Trent finishes, Zack Exley stands up. The people in the room are all Bernie volunteers, and Exley, a senior advisor to the Sanders campaign, begins by acknowledging their grief—and their frustration with the Vermont-based national campaign. “I was one of those people up in Burlington, and I want you to know you guys did 10 times what was required to win. In a whole bunch of ways, we let you down.”

Exley and Trent are a formidable double act. As the inventors of the “Bernie barnstorm”—a concentrated training session designed to turn green volunteers into the disciplined organizers who went on to build the biggest grassroots electoral movement this country has ever seen—they’ve been on the road since September. Exley, a tall, lean man with spiky silver hair and geeky glasses that make him look more like a film director than a veteran political operator, worked on Howard Dean’s pioneering campaign and then for A brilliant online organizer, he was chief revenue officer for the Wikimedia Foundation before joining the Sanders campaign—whose success in raising money from small donors proved that relying on corporate funding is a choice, not a necessity.

Trent is younger and more solid; with his calm good humor, he’d be an asset in a bar fight. He also seems less self-conscious—at least here in his home state, where his familiar accent and easy manner soften the radicalism of his message. While both Trent and Exley share their audience’s acute frustration with the outcome of a campaign that came tantalizingly close to victory, they’re in Nashville not to mourn, but to organize.

Their pitch is simple: Even if Sanders had won the nomination, and then the election, his ability to effect change—to bring about the political revolution—would have been severely limited by a dysfunctional Congress in thrall to corporate interests. So why not harness the energy, enthusiasm, national organization, and fund-raising muscle of the Sanders volunteers to elect a brand-new Congress—all at once, in 2018—committed to the same platform of greater economic equality, climate justice, civil rights, criminal-justice reform, and fair trade? Why not elect a Congress that not only looks like us—more women, more people of color—but that will actually work for us instead of for lobbyists and special interests?

This was the start of the Brand New Congress (BNC) campaign. “It sounds like a crazy idea,” admits Exley—and if anyone else were behind it, I’d probably agree. But in state after state, wherever I found Sanders volunteers phone-banking, canvassing, or holding Bernie Fest events to recruit their neighbors, when I asked how they managed to do so much with so little direction from the national campaign, the answer was always the same: “This guy Zack Exley came down for a couple of days…”

Wendy Sejour, a veteran of Florida progressive politics who got scores of volunteers onto the streets of Miami—right in Debbie Wasserman Schultz’s backyard—tells me: “We put out the word four to five days in advance. Found a local union hall. A hundred people showed up. Basically it’s just Corbin and Zack. They talked about what the campaign was doing, and how they wanted us to fit in.” With the national campaign focused on the four early states, the rest of the country was left to Exley and Trent’s “distributed organizing.” And while the national office can claim credit for Sanders’s stunning victory in New Hampshire, it lost Iowa, Nevada, and South Carolina. Meanwhile, the volunteers went on to win another 22 primaries. Sejour has already signed on to BNC.

So when Exley says “I think we can do better than 40, 50 seats. I think we can pick up a couple of hundred seats,” I’m inclined to take him seriously. Because of what he’s already accomplished. And because of the numbers.


I am dubious, for reasons outlined by Ed Kilgore at New York Magazine, and I am curious about Sanders’ take on something that seems way more audacious and unlikely is succeed than his own campaign was.

From a great distance, the news that volunteers associated with Bernie Sanders’s presidential campaign are turning their attentions to the herculean task of organizing progressives for midterm elections would seem to be exciting news for all Democrats. Without question, the close alignment of the two parties with groups of voters who do (older white people) and don’t (younger and minority people) participate in non-presidential elections has been a big part — along with the normal backlash against the party controlling the White House — of the massive Republican gains of 2010 and 2014. The prospect of heightened midterm turnout from under-30 voters alone could be a big and important deal for the Donkey Party. 

But the closer you get to the Sandernistas’ Brand New Congress initiative — the new project by recently laid-off Bernie staffers to create a revolution in Congress beginning with the 2018 elections — the less it looks like the instrument for a difficult but achievable task and the more it looks like the product of a very strange set of beliefs about American politics. It’s not focused on boosting progressive turnout in general elections, but on recruiting and running candidates in Republican as well as Democratic primaries who meet a rigid set of policy litmus tests. The idea is very explicitly that people alive with the Bern can literally elect a “brand-new Congress” in one election cycle to turn public policy 180 degrees. Or so says key organizer Zack Exley:

We want a supermajority in Congress that is fighting for jobs, criminal justice reform and the environment,” Exley said. “Most Americans actually want that, and I think we get it by running Dems in blue areas, Republicans in deep red areas, and by running independents wherever we didn’t defeat incumbents.”

Republicans, too?

Corbin Trent, another former Sanders staffer, said bringing Republicans on board is “the key to it being a successful idea” and there’s enough overlap between Sanders’ platform and tea party conservatives to make the PAC’s goals feasible.

Reality television star Donald Trump’s current status as the Republican front-runner demonstrates that GOP voters are eager for candidates who, like Trump, criticize the corrupting influence of money in politics and the impact of free trade deals on American workers, Trent said.

This will allow Republicans to say ‘Yeah, I’m a Republican, but I believe climate change is real and I don’t believe all Muslims are terrorists,” he said. “It will allow people to think differently in the Republican Party if they want to pull away from the hate-based ideology.”

Yes, that was what I feared: The discredited notion that lefties and the tea party can make common cause in something other than hating on the Clintons and Barack Obama is back with a vengeance. And worse yet, Donald Trump — Donald Trump — is being touted as an example of a Republican capable of progressive impulses because he shares the old right-wing mercantilist hostility to free trade and has enough money to scorn lobbyists. Does your average Trump supporter really “believe climate change is real” and disbelieve that “all Muslims are terrorists”? Do Obamacare-hating tea-partiers secretly favor single-payer health care? Do the people in tricorn hats who favor elimination of labor unions deep down want a national $15-an-hour minimum wage? And do the very activists who brought the Citizens United case and think it’s central to the preservation of the First Amendment actually want to overturn it?

It’s this last delusion that’s the most remarkable. If there is any one belief held most vociferously by tea-party activists, it’s that anything vaguely approaching campaign-finance reform is a socialist, perhaps even a satanic, conspiracy. These are the people who don’t think donors to their political activities should be disclosed because Lois Lerner will use that information to launch income-tax audits and persecute Christians. The tea folk are much closer to the Koch brothers in their basic attitudes toward politics than they are to conventional Republicans. 

But there persists a sort of “tea envy” in progressive circles. Here’s Salon staff writer Sean Illing in a piece celebrating Brand New Congress:

Real change in this country will require a sustained national mobilization, what I’ve called a counter-Tea Party movement. While their agenda was nihilistic and obstructionist, the Tea Party was a massive success by any measure. And they succeeded because they systematically altered the Congressional landscape.

Well, you could say that, or you could say the tea party’s excesses cost Republicans control of the Senate in 2012, and produced an environment that’s made Donald Trump and Ted Cruz the GOP’s only two options for this year’s presidential nomination. Indeed, you can probably thank the tea party for the likelihood of a very good Democratic general election this November. 

But that will again produce excellent conditions for another Republican-dominated midterm in 2018. It sure would make sense for progressives to  focus on how to minimize the damage in the next midterm and begin to change adverse long-term turnout patterns. Expending time, money, and energy on scouring the earth looking for Republican primary candidates willing to run on a democratic-socialist agenda will not be helpful.


What might have been

Of course, per the New England poet, John Greenleaf Whittier, “Of all sad words of tongue or pen, the saddest are these, ‘It might have been.” And, it is now painfully obvious that the dream team ticket for the Democrats this year was Bernie and Michelle.

Just look at the numbers.

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The personal chemistry would be fantastic – cranky old Jewish guy and ebullient young black woman.

She clearly gave the best speech at a convention of some very good speeches.

And for every argument against putting the First Lady on the national ticket, there is an effective rebuttal crafted by the Clintons.

In 1992, Bill Clinton said if you elected him you would “get two for the price of one.” The two he was talking about were the governor and first lady of Arkansas. Big deal. With Michelle you’d be getting the former president and first lady of the United States.

But, of course, Clinton has since padded her resume with that stint in the Senate and service as secretary of state. But all anyone remembers about her Senate career was her voting for the Iraq War and some Wall Street entanglements, and all anyone knows about her tenure as secretary of state is Benghazi and her private email server.

If Sanders had just an inch more political savvy, after the last primary he would have met with the Obamas, offered Michelle the vice presidency, and pried away a sizable number of super delegates, including much of the Congressional Black Caucus.

Could the socialist and the first lady have won? Running against Trump, could they lose?

And instead of the Obamas having to wreak havoc on the Kalorama neighborhood where they are moving when they leave the White House so Sasha can finish high school in D.C., the Obamas could simply have moved into BFF Joe Biden’s place at the Vice President’s residence at the Naval Observatory.

Oh well.


The saber and the compass: Can Greg Abbott save pre-K from the tea party machete?

Good morning Austin:

I arrived midday yesterday at the Texas Public Policy Foundation’s grand opening of its grand, new, six-story, 41,000-square-foot building at 901 Congress Avenue, only 352 yards from the Capitol, with its Red McCombs Event Center, its 170-seat Joe B. Hogsett Theater with its 50-foot Travis letter, and its Governor Rick Perry Balcony with its splendid view of downtown and the Capitol, in plenty of time to hear the speechifying by Attorney General Ken Paxton and Gov. Greg Abbott.

But by the time I got there, I had missed the governor’s arrival.

Apparently, I was told, as the governor rolled past the assembled members of the press, he imparted two pieces of information.

1. First puppy Pancake had taken ill the day before, had been frothing  at the mouth, after apparently swallowing a frog.

The very good news is that Pancake is OK.


And, no, I don’t know why he swallowed a frog.

But if Callista Gingrich can produce a series of children’s books about Ellis the Elephant, I see no reason why First Lady Cecilia Abbott can’t turn Pancake into a successful children’s book franchise.



And 2:

Yes indeed.

From my story:

“We are at a time of crisis, and Texas must lead the way out of these times of crisis,” Abbott said. “We have to fight our way through a thicket of growing government oppression using liberty as both the saber that will cut the pathway clear, as well as the compass that will point the direction in which we are to go.”

That’s a wonderfully compelling image. Government as a kind of strangling kudzu. And the governor there, thrashing at it with his saber, with only his liberty compass to guide him.

Only, it seem to me that cutting your way out of the thicket of government oppression – or any thicket for that matter – is more the job for a machete than a saber.

Sabers are more for …. rattling.

That’s what the governor was doing yesterday.

After a period of studied quietude as he goes about the serious business of governing, Abbott wanted to let off a little steam, reassure the troops he hasn’t gone all soft and insidery and Austin on them, and show he can still rattle his saber with the best of them.

As I wrote:

Three months into his tenure as governor, Abbott on Tuesday sounded more like the gubernatorial candidate of 2014 — or his one-time protégé U.S. Sen. Ted Cruz, who is now seeking the Republican presidential nomination — than the more low-profile, low-key Gov. Abbott who has mostly stayed out of the limelight and kept his rhetoric firmly in check since being inaugurated.

In his State of the State speech in February he outlined a pragmatic agenda — with emergency items calling for spending for roads, pre-kindergarten, higher education research and border security, along with ethics reform and tax cuts — and since then has mostly worked behind the scenes to try to move his program through the Legislature.

But Tuesday’s speech, at a luncheon attended by 140 funders, staff and supporters for the think tank that has guided much of Republican thinking during the party’s two decades of dominance in Texas politics, demonstrated Abbott can be as fiery in his right-wing rhetoric as Cruz or any of the bevy of Republicans — including his predecessor as governor, Rick Perry — who are contemplating getting into the wide-open GOP presidential race.

Or, for that matter, Dan Patrick.

dyc tppf abbott 06
Gov. Abbott speaks to TPPF as AG Ken Paxton looks on. (Deborah Cannon photo)


Lucky for America, Abbott said, there is still Texas standing tall against oppressive government interference. For example:

“Instead of a federal government that is trying to control school curriculum through mandates, Texas has outlawed Common Core, and now we’re working to give parents even more freedom by giving them the power to choose the school that is best for their child,” Abbott said

But, as the governor learned yesterday, one man’s or woman’s Common Core is another man’s or woman’s pre-K  plan.

While it is certainly possible, as Abbott is, to be opposed to the Common Core and in favor of his pre- kindergarten initiative, it’s a whole lot easier to be in favor of both, or against both.

After all, it’s a slippery slope from a pre-K pilot program to full-on, it-takes-a-village kibbutzism and Barack Obama/Wendy Davis style pre-K for all.

From the American-Statesman’s  Kiah Collier:

Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick’s hand-picked tea party advisory board denounced legislation Tuesday containing Gov. Greg Abbott’s pre-kindergarten improvement plan as “socialistic” and “a threat to parental rights,” exacerbating an already strained relationship between Texas’ top Republican leaders.

“We are experimenting at great cost to taxpayers with a program that removes our young children from homes and half-day religious preschools and mothers’ day out programs to a Godless environment with only evidence showing absolutely NO LONG-TERM BENEFITS beyond the 1st grade,” the letter said of two Abbott-backed bills — House Bill 4 and Senate Bill 801.

It was signed by 18 members of Patrick’s so-called Grassroots Advisory Board, which the Texas Senate’s presiding officer created in January — the month he was sworn into office and the Legislature convened — as part of a larger effort to more closely involve citizens in the legislative process.

But Patrick immediately sought to distance himself from the letter in a statement Tuesday, saying it “was unsolicited and expresses the individual viewpoints of Texas citizens.

“We had no advance notice of the letter and saw it for the first time after it had been distributed,” he said.


The legislation would divvy up additional pre-K funding —$130 million in the House bill — among school districts that meet certain state quality standards and that create a “parental involvement” plan. To the Grassroots Advisory Board, that sum would be a “great cost to taxpayers,” but critics on the other side of the debate have said it’s insufficient, in part because it wouldn’t help all districts offer the full-day program they say a vast body of research indicates is beneficial to young children.

The two bills wouldn’t expand free preschool beyond the population of children currently eligible for it: 4-year-olds from low-income, non-English-speaking or military families. Although an exact price tag hasn’t been determined, the measures also don’t seek to restore a $200 million pre-K grant program state lawmakers gutted in 2011, which didn’t require the kind of quality standards and data reporting Abbott has demanded.

Under both bills, participation would be voluntary — as it is now.

“This interference by the State tramples upon our parental rights,” the advisory board wrote in its letter. “The early removal of children from parents’ care is historically promoted in socialistic countries, not free societies which respect parental rights. The Welfare State has resulted in the breakdown of the American family.”

State Sen. Judith Zaffirini, D-Laredo, who authored the Senate pre-K bill, said that “to associate Gov. Abbott’s pre-K initiative with socialism and with parents not loving their children is complete nonsense.”

From Jay Root’s story in the Texas Tribune, which provided a link to the letter.

 Sen. Judith Zaffirini, D-Laredo, author of the bill in the Senate, said she was “surprised and disappointed” to see the letter from Patrick’s advisers.

“It seems rather strange that they would take a stand like that against a bill that is the priority of the governor,” she added. 

Abbott has fought vociferously for his pre-K plan, which has already passed the House. It would give about $130 million, or some $1,500 per eligible student, in additional funding to school districts that adopt certain curriculum and teacher quality standards in their pre-K programs, as well as a “parent engagement plan.”

The letter underscores the potential for trouble in the relationship between Abbott and Patrick, who are far different stylistically and could be on a collision course over both education and taxes. After Abbott moved away last week from his earlier vow to “insist” on property tax reduction — considered Patrick’s top priority in the Senate — Patrick ignored the shift and invoked Abbott’s name as if the governor had chosen his plan over a competing one in the House.

In a statement, Patrick also said he would “not support any budget that does not have property tax relief.” Both chambers must pass a budget before the new fiscal year begins in September. Without a budget in hand before the regular session ends June 1, the Legislature will have to pass one in a potentially high-stakes special session this summer.

While the latest flare-up didn’t come directly from Patrick, it suggests that pre-K could be a new front in a power struggle pitting moderate and conservative Republicans against each other — with Abbott caught in the middle. Patrick’s advisory board appears to be beyond convincing when it comes to pre-K programs.

And, from Bobby Cervantes in the Houston Chronicle:

Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick has spent much of this legislative session both channeling and undercutting Gov. Greg Abbott. Nobody is more aware of this than Patrick himself, whose few months as the Senate’s leader have shown more than anything that he is cutting his own path to higher office.

On Tuesday, another front opened in the path to implement Patrick’s agenda. His Grassroots Advisory Board said it stands “united in strong opposition” to two pre-K funding bills making their way through the legislature and which are priority items for Abbott. The bills are a “threat to parental rights,” the group said in a fire-and-brimstone, hyperbolic letter first published by The Texas Tribune, adding that they are the “first step towards the implementation of universal pre-K.”

From a subsequent Facebook post from Julie White McCarty, head of the NE Tarrant Tea Party, and a member of the lieutenant governor’s advisory committee:

Well, somebody had to say it because 128 of our electeds sure weren’t standing up to the Governor! I am proud to be a member of this advisory board who released this statement today. Unfortunately there is confusion on whether Patrick was given a head’s up regarding our opinion letter. He certainly should have received one. If he did not, apologies are needed, but our stance is solid and remains intact. This pre-K bill is bad for Texas, bad for the budget, bad for kids and bad for families. Many thanks to Representatives Dustin Burrows, Patrick Fallon, Stephanie Klick, Matthew Krause, Jeff Leach, Matt Rinaldi, Matt Schaefer, Matt Shaheen, David Philip Simpson, Stuart Spitzer, Jonathan Stickland, Tony Tinderholt, Scott Turner, Molly White, Bill Zedler, Dennis Paul and Debbie Riddle for their courageous “NO” votes. I hear the pressure from Abbott was intense.

And this from an email exchange with Julie this morning:

The Governor giving a “red meat” speech reminds me of his speech to NETTP during the campaign trail.  I was only slightly on board with him at the time, but he chose our venue to launch his list of intentions for office.  It was good stuff.  Very strong.  Very tea party friendly.  I was encouraged that maybe Abbott really did “get it.”  Unfortunately, now that he actually holds office, not one of those issues he listed has been addressed, and instead he’s pushing for Pre-K.  Pre-K was not mentioned in his “red meat” speech to NETTP! 
The Pre-K program is opposed universally by tea partiers.  In fact, even some of my less politically active friends and more moderate friends can see this for what it is…  free daycare on the back of the taxpayers and further deterioration of the family unit… all with no true monetary limits.  Education funding is a mess.  Austin always tries to fix it by throwing more money at it.  But as others have said, if we cannot get it right with grades K-12, what business do we have adding Pre-K?  It’s madness.

We pause here for some scripture:

Galatians 6:7-9King James Version (KJV)
7 Be not deceived; God is not mocked: for whatsoever a man soweth, that shall he also reap.

8 For he that soweth to his flesh shall of the flesh reap corruption; but he that soweth to the Spirit shall of the Spirit reap life everlasting.

9 And let us not be weary in well doing: for in due season we shall reap, if we faint not.
King James Version (KJV)

In a previous First Reading on Feb. 4, I wrote about Gov. Abbott positioning himself as a national foe of Common Core, and tried to puzzle out why.

On Sunday, Gov. Abbott debated former Education Secretary William Bennett on the Common Core standards on Fox News Sunday with Chris Wallace.


I mean, why would the governor go on national television as the point man against Common Core and as his coup de grâce urge viewers to look at a video that shows a teacher employing a method that is identical to that contained within Texas’ own standards.


Or perhaps Abbott’s appearance on Fox as the national point man against Common Core has something to do with inoculating himself against criticism that his appointment of Martinez Tucker reveals him to be soft on the Obamacare of education standards.


Lurking beneath this, is, I think, a longing for one-room schooldays of boys in overalls and girls in Laura Ingalls Wilder prairie dresses sharing their McGuffey Readers (“the child modeled in this book is prompt, good, kind, honest and truthful) and reciting, in unison, their times tables, a sharp rap on the knuckles for any act of errancy, and nothing in the lesson plan on evolution, climate change or this thing called Base 10.

The peril for Gov. Abbott, is that I don’t think there was any gold-standard pre-K program on the prairie.

Martinez Tucker, referred to above is  Sara Martinez Tucker, who Abbott named to the UT System Board of Regents.

As Michael Quinn Sullivan, head of Empower Texans, wrote at the time of her appointment:

Coming out of the gate with appointments, the team advising Gov. Greg Abbott seems to have made an initial early misstep by appointing an advocate of “common core” to the University of Texas board of regents. This is most surprising, given the strong stance Abbott has taken in opposing Common Core in specific and the federalization of education in general.

Among Abbott’s appointees to the UT Board of Regents announced on Thursday is Sara Martinez Tucker, the CEO of the National Math and Science Initiative. Writing in US News and World Report in February of 2014, she praised the controversial Common Core initiative being promoted by the Obama Administration.

“We should move the discussion to ‘how’ Common Core will be implemented – not ‘if’ Common Core should be implemented,” she wrote.

Suffice it to say, the governor did not consider the appointment of Martinez Tucker a “misstep,” and his office did not brook any opposition to her nomination.

From the American-Statesman’s Ralph Haurwitz on March 11:

The Texas Senate on Wednesday approved Gov. Greg Abbott’s nominees for the University of Texas System Board of Regents — but not without some opposition.

Ah, so wait, Common Core Martinez Tucker ran into some headwinds, eh?


David Beck, a Houston lawyer, won a seat on the prestigious board by a 27-3 vote. Steve Hicks, a current regent and businessman from Austin, was approved 28-2. The vote for Sara Martinez Tucker of Dallas, CEO of the National Math and Science Initiative, was 30-0.

30 zip.


Frying eggs on the sidewalk

From my story yesterday:

Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton, who preceded the governor speaking at the luncheon, said he was following in Abbott’s footsteps by suing the U.S. Labor Department for redefining “spouse” to include same-sex couples in the Family and Medical Leave Act, adding, “We filed that lawsuit in Wichita Falls. We thought that would be a great place for Department of Justice lawyers to spend their summer.”

Abbott, who was born in Wichita Falls, said it was “hot as H-E-double-toothpicks” there in the summer, recalling his mother cooking a fried egg on the sidewalk one July day. “I hope you cook those federal lawyers,” Abbott told Paxton.

Abbott said his mother fried the egg on the Wichita Falls sidewalk as a demonstration for him and his brother.

But a reader sent this link from Everyday Mysteries:

This question comes from the saying “It’s so hot you could fry an egg on the sidewalk!” How many kids, hearing it, actually try? Most likely they end up with a mess resembling scrambled eggs more than one sunny-side up. So what’s the problem?

An egg needs a temperature of 158°F to become firm. In order to cook, proteins in the egg must denature (modify), then coagulate, and that won’t happen until the temperature rises enough to start and maintain the process.

The sidewalk presents several challenges to this. According to an experiment reported in Robert Wolke’s book, What Einstein Told His Cook: Kitchen Science Explained, sidewalk temperatures can vary depending on the composition of the sidewalk, whether it is in direct sunlight, and of course, the air temperature. Dark objects absorb more light, so blacktop paving would be hotter than concrete. More often than not, sidewalks are concrete. Wolke found that a hot sidewalk might only get up to 145°F. Once you crack the egg onto the sidewalk, the egg cools the sidewalk slightly. Pavement of any kind is a poor conductor of heat, so lacking an additional heat source from below or from the side, the egg will not cook evenly.

Something closer to the conditions of a frying pan would be the hood of a car. Metal conducts heat better and gets hotter, so people actually have been able to cook an egg on a car hood’s surface.

Still, the idea of cooking an egg on a sidewalk won’t die. It is so intriguing that the city of Oatman, Arizona, hosts an annual Solar Egg Frying Contest on the 4th of July. Contestants get 15 minutes to make an attempt using solar (sun) power alone. Oatman judges, however, do allow some aids, such as mirrors, aluminum reflectors, or magnifying glasses, which would help to focus the heat onto the egg itself. It turns out that eggs also have a bit of an advantage in Arizona, the land of low humidity and high heat. Liquids evaporate rapidly when humidity is low. The eggs have a bit of “help” while they cook, and they dry out faster.

I bet you were wondering what is the origin of the saying? It’s not clear, although there is a reference to it in the Los Angeles Times on October 5, 1933, and even as far back as June 11, 1899, in The Atlanta Constitution–so the idea had captured the American imagination and become one of our common sayings by that time. And what about the other saying, “it’s so hot the chickens are laying hard-boiled eggs?” Well, what do you think?

Well, maybe Everyday Mysteries has never been to Wichita Falls.

And maybe “those federal lawyers” can try their hand at frying an egg on the sidewalk this summer.

Otto filing bill to fund retired teacher health care

House Appropriations Chairman John Otto, R-Dayton.

Updated 6:35 p.m.:

The Texas House’s lead budget writer filed legislation Monday that would fully fund a state health care plan covering more than 250,000 retired teachers and their dependents.

House Appropriations Committee Chairman John Otto, R-Dayton, said late last month the lower chamber wants to pick up the entire $768 million tab for TRS-Care over the 2016-17 biennium. Texas Senate leaders have indicated they will do the same.

The money will be included in House Bill 2, Otto said Monday at a committee meeting.

Securing that sum was one of the main goals of teacher groups this session, although they have called it just a first step. The Legislature also needs to overhaul the plan structure to make it financially sustainable for the long-term, those groups have said.

Teacher Retirement System Executive Director Brian Guthrie brought the same message to the House Pensions Committee Monday, where he laid out seven options for shoring up the fund.

“I would argue that we need to make systemic changes to the this program now in order to provide for the longer-term sustainability and we may not get this in one session, but whatever we can do to start down that path — if you put it off, the hole is just getting bigger.”

On Monday, Otto also said that discussions still are ongoing about how exactly to use the additional $2.2 billion the House has allocated for schools in its starting point budget. He also assured the panel that the money will definitely be spent on public education.

The sum, consisting entirely of local property tax revenue, is in addition to the $2.3 billion needed to fund enrollment growth over the 2016-17 biennium — about 85,000 new students a year.

The $2.2 billion has been “earmarked for improving equity and reducing recapture in our public schools,” state Rep. Trent Ashby, R-Lufkin, the House’s lead education budget writer, reminded the committee.

Otto indicated as much earlier in the legislation session, which began Jan. 13.

“I expect in the not too distant future you will be seeing what the anticipated use of this $2.2 billion” is, Otto said.

“It is the chair’s intent that that $2.2 (billion) go to public education,” he continued. “It is not going to be pulled back off the table regardless of what we do.”

Rep. Donna Howard, D-Austin, called the move “a very strong statement” and said she is “very appreciative.”

However, the former Eanes school district trustee emphasized that the $2.2 billion, as well as the nearly equivalent sum covering enrollment growth, is local — not state — money.

“I point that out because I think we need to just keep in mind the fact that we are still relying a lot on local property taxes to cover the cost of public education and at least in this case the chairman is putting it to public education rather than spending it on something else which is a huge step in the right direction,” she said, referring to the Texas Senate’s plan to return that money to local taxpayers in the form of property tax cuts. “One of the most significant things we could do to help our property taxpayers is to find state revenue sources that would decrease the amount that we’re relying on from the local property taxpayers.”

In response Otto said: “To my knowledge this is the first time since I’ve been here that we have fully restored all of the appraisal increase money back to public ed, so I think it is a good first step.”

During the meeting Monday, Ashby also announced that his Appropriations subcommittee had heard testimony from every higher education institution and had attempted to address their “top two priorities,” which he said were “increasing funding formulas as well as tuition revenue bonds.”

The subcommittee “added approximately $224 million to increase all the formulas including a 93 percent hold harmless of our community colleges,” he said. “For tuition revenue bonds we included $250 million for debt service contingent on legislation authorizing the bonds.”

He said the subcommittee also added about $50 million for financial aid programs, with the bulk of that going to the Texas Educational Opportunity Grant program. That is on top of the $41.3 million the House already allocated for TEOG and TEXAS Grants in its base budget, he noted.

Howard also praised the funding formula increase, but noted it is nowhere close to what would be needed to restore deep cuts made to higher education institutions in 2011. She said that would take $1.42 billion.


Howard not sure what Abbott meant in name dropping her

State Rep. Donna Howard had no idea Gov. Greg Abbott was going to name drop her in his first ever State of the State speech Tuesday.

The newly-minted Republican governor called on several lawmakers by name in his 45-minute address, including the outspoken Austin Democrat when he noted that his budget proposal “includes an appropriation that makes school districts whole for any tax revenue they may lose” under the $4.2 billion in tax cuts it also calls for, including $2.2 billion to school property taxes.

Howard, who said she had no prior discussion with Abbott on the topic, noted that it was not entirely clear — in either Abbott’s remarks or his budget proposal unveiled Tuesday — whether he thinks the state should let local school districts keep property tax revenue growth (projected at about $4.5 billion for 2016-17 biennium) or if he was saying simply that the state should make up for any of that revenue it takes away, although she suspects the latter.

“If he is saying he wants it to go back into education, then I’m all for that,” said Howard, who serves on a budget subcommittee handling public education funding.

Howard, a former Eanes school district board member, and state Sen. Kirk Watson, D-Austin, have harped on the fact that as local property tax collections soar, the amount the state must pay into public education diminishes. House and Senate first-draft budgets handle the issue differently with the House spending plan letting school districts keep a lot of that and the Senate instead returning it to taxpayers in the form of property tax cuts. As a result, the House spends about $2 billion more on public schools, although it hasn’t specified how to use that sum.

“I do appreciate the fact that he publicly acknowledged and recognized that property value increases are currently just offsetting what the state owes and that the state has been taking those funds … and using them in whatever way the state chooses to and not necessarily using it for public education,” Howard told the American-Statesman. “We need to correct that.”

After offering his assurance to Howard, Abbott immediately said: “But the property tax reduction must be lasting. We cannot allow it to evaporate with rising property valuations.” That is largely what happened after state lawmakers cut school property taxes in 2006 by $7 billion, which meant most property owners did not really notice it although tax bills likely would be much higher now if not for it.

The business franchise tax expansion passed to make up for that massive cut also has never fully made up for the lost revenue.

Howard said she has trouble imagining how things could go any differently this time around, although she conceded the devil is in the details, which are often sparse in Abbott’s proposed two-year spending plan.

On Tuesday, Abbott “talked about holding the schools harmless,” Howard said. “That’s exactly what we said then when we did the property tax swap and we did not uphold our end of the bargain then. I don’t know why I believe we would be holding up our end of the bargain with a new proposition like this.”

“The way I would address it is: Let’s go ahead and put more state money in and really hold them harmless so we’re really not taking as much from the local property owners,” she said.



State Rep. Donna Howard, D-Austin
State Rep. Donna Howard, D-Austin

9 + 6: Keeping score on Common Core

Good morning Austin:

On Sunday, Gov. Abbott debated former Education Secretary William Bennett on the Common Core standards on Fox News Sunday with Chris Wallace.

Trey Craft, 11, a sixth grade Mathlete at Daniel Morgan MIddle School in Winchester, Va., concentrates on a math problem during the Blue Ridge MATHCOUNTS Competition Saturday, Jan. 31, 2015, at Admiral Richard E. Byrd Middle School in Frederick County, Va. (AP Photo/The Winchester Star, Jeff Taylor)
Trey Craft, 11, a sixth grade Mathlete at Daniel Morgan MIddle School in Winchester, Va., concentrates on a math problem during the Blue Ridge MATHCOUNTS Competition Saturday, Jan. 31, 2015, at Admiral Richard E. Byrd Middle School in Frederick County, Va. (AP Photo/The Winchester Star, Jeff Taylor)

Here is an excerpt from that debate:

ABBOTT: Well, let’s clarify a couple of things. First of all, what I believe is the correct approach for education is to return genuine local control, which is what I have charted the pathway for as governor. And we will improve our schools from the bottom up by allowing teachers to excel, by increasing parental involvement, by engaging students. And the best way to do that is not with these one size fits all mandates from Washington, D.C. Or even from Austin, Texas. But instead giving flexibility at the local level …

WALLACE: But let me…

ABBOTT: Starting with building a strong foundation.

WALLACE: We want to have a debate.

BENNETT: Local control is what we have. And local control is what we should have. Curriculum is set locally.

ABBOTT: I’ve got to disagree.

BENNETT: Curriculum is set — but you just said you want a local control. You’ve got local control. You decided that Common Core wouldn’t be in Texas, so it’s not in Texas. And Texas can teach math any way it wants. But what Texas can’t do is change the nature of mathematics and what mathematical reasoning and mathematical sequence becomes. Excuse me.

WALLACE: Governor?

Gov. Greg Abbott, left, and Bill Bennett debate Common Core on Fox News Sunday February 1, 2014.
Gov. Greg Abbott, left, and Bill Bennett debate Common Core on Fox News Sunday February 1, 2014.


ABBOTT: Chris, I have got to strenuously disagree with that. And this is going to be easy, frankly. I hope all your viewers will go to Google and plug in nine plus six Common Core. And when you do that, if you just plug in nine plus six Common Core, you will find a video that shows the way that math is taught under Common Core. And remember this …

WALLACE: But wait, put me out of my misery because I would think nine plus six is 15. So, what’s the deal?

ABBOTT: You would think so. And when you plug in nine plus six common core you’ll find it’s going to take you more than a minute to see how a teacher teaches a student to learn how to add nine plus six.

WALLACE: Is that true?

ABBOTT: These are the — Chris, these are the Common Core standards that are now being pushed down from the top that we must get away from.

WALLACE: Wait, wait, wait. Excuse me, you made your point. Go ahead.

BENNETT: It’s an easy way to resolve this. I haven’t seen this but I’m going to tell you if it’s crazy, it probably isn’t Common Core. It’s probably one of these myths that’s developed. We understand why it’s developed. Here is what the audience can do. Here is what you can really do. Download the standards themselves. The Common Core standards. That’s what they did in Idaho, that’s what they did in Utah and they said to the citizens, do you have any objection to any of this? Not what someone said the standards were. Not what Google reported. Not what some citizens group decided was Common Core, but the actual standards themselves. They are public. And anybody can examine those standards. You tell me what’s wrong with saying, kids should learn how to parse and diagram sentencing, memorize, read the Declaration of Independence. That’s what I want to know what’s wrong with it?

Lauren Carroll at PolitiFact took a look at this yesterday.

But, first let’s go to the videotape. Here is what you get when, as instructed, you Google “nine plus six Common Core.”

From Carroll’s fact check:

In 2013, the Texas Legislature passed a law prohibiting school districts from using Common Core in their lesson plans. On Fox News Sunday, Abbott argued that Common Core — the proposed set of education standards that has become a political football — is a bad idea. He directed viewers toward some evidence.


In the video, a teacher gives an addition lesson directed at early elementary school-age children. She adds nine and six by first splitting the six into one and five, then adding the one to the nine to make 10. So the problem becomes 10 plus five equals 15.

“Our young learners might not be altogether comfortable thinking about what 9 plus 6 is. They are quite comfortable thinking about their friend 10,” the teacher says.” Now our students are seeing that we have 10 plus 5…. That is much more comfortable than looking at 9 plus 6.”


It turns out that this method is in line with what the Common Core standards drafters had in mind, but it’s not a bizarre concept, as Abbott implies. Math teachers have been using methods like this for decades.

The standards

First, let’s clarify a couple things. Abbott said these standards are being pushed down “from the top” — meaning the federal level. Common Core is not a federal mandate — adopting these standards is voluntary for states (though they can have better access to federal education money if they take them on).

Additionally, Common Core does not prescribe or require any particular method of teaching. Nowhere in the standards does it say that teachers must teach addition by first splitting numbers up to create 10. Common Core standards, rather, identify concepts that students should learn at each grade level — not how teachers should teach them.

That being said, the standards do suggest that teachers use methods similar to that used in the video to teach first-graders how to add and subtract within the number 20. It suggests:

“Use strategies such as counting on; making ten (e.g., 8 + 6 = 8 + 2 + 4 = 10 + 4 = 14); decomposing a number leading to a ten (e.g., 13 – 4 = 13 – 3 – 1 = 10 – 1 = 9)… and creating equivalent but easier or known sums (e.g., adding 6 + 7 by creating the known equivalent 6 + 6 + 1 = 12 + 1 = 13).”

Math education experts told us that the method used in the video are in line with the Common Core standards’ intention — which is to teach children foundational math strategies that they can use for more sophisticated problems down the line.

Although it does take the teacher in the video just under a minute to teach the equation, it’s not as if the teacher has to go through those motions for every single addition problem. She’s teaching a strategy that students can apply to other problems on their own.

“What Gov. Abbott is missing is that the teacher in the video is doing much more than teaching a fact,” said Valerie Mills, president of the National Council of Supervisors of Mathematics. “She is helping students to build an understanding of operations (addition in this case) and of how our number system works.”

That way, when a child is older and has to add larger numbers, they can use the strategy to add quickly. (For example 149 plus 236 becomes 150 plus 235 to make 385.)

It’s also worth noting that one of the reporters in the video says, “When you and I were in school, we used to memorize that nine plus six is 15. Not anymore.”

That’s actually not the case. By second grade, according to the Common Core standards, students are expected to have these facts memorized, after they learn the foundations of how to add in first grade.

How different is this?

Abbott makes it seem like this way of teaching addition is a deviation from what schools already do.

Diane Briars, president of the National Council of Teachers of Mathematics, said teachers have used techniques like splitting a number into parts of 10 for addition — rather than straight memorization — since the 1950s at least, and the research showing its benefits goes back to the 1920s. She sent us pages in a textbook from the 1990s that includes the method from the video.

“It has long been best practice for early childhood math,” Briars said.

In fact, they match up with Texas’ state standards for first-grade math, said William McCallum, a University of Arizona math professor who was involved in drafting the Common Core standards.

The Texas standards say for first-graders:

“Students extend their use of addition and subtraction beyond the actions of joining and separating to include comparing and combining. Students use properties of operations and the relationship between addition and subtraction to solve problems.”

And, more explicitly, students are expected to “apply basic fact strategies to add and subtract within 20, including making 10 and decomposing a number leading to a 10.”

“The general belief is that the Texas state standards are modeled word for word on the Common Core state standards,” Mills said.

Here was the PolitiFact ruling:

Abbott said that under Common Core standards, it takes “more than a minute” to teach a student “how to add nine plus six.”

There is a video that shows a teacher demonstrating how to add nine plus six to make 15, and it takes just under a minute. But the method she uses is not explicitly required by the Common Core standards, though the standards suggest this approach for teaching addition to first-graders.

Abbott’s claim is misleading, though, in that it implies that this method takes an unusually long time or teaches something in a new way. These methods have been around for years and pre-date Common Core. In fact, they align with Texas’ own state standards.

The statement is partially accurate but leaves out important details or takes things out of context, so we rate it Half True.

I don’t know. That seems generous to me. For a politician, “half true” isn’t half bad. At the very least, I think it should be labeled “half false,” or maybe, “half true but thoroughly misleading.”

I mean, why would the governor go on national television as the point man against Common Core and as his  coup de grâce urge viewers to look at a video that shows a teacher employing a method that is identical to that contained within Texas’ own standards.

Indeed, the way the Texas standard is written, the strategy being used by the teacher in the video is an expectation, while in Common Core it is just one of a number of options.

“You could make the case that Texas requires this even more than the Common Core,” McCallum, the University of Arizona math professor who led the team that developed the Common Core math standards, told me when I talked to him yesterday.

Both the Common Core and Texas standards require second graders to have memorized single-digit addition.

This does not change that requirement, it is simply a way to get there that makes it easier for the child to get there.

“This is an aid to memorization,” said McCallum.

And, McCallum said, it has the added virtue of helping the child conceptualize what’s going on, to “see what’s going on under the hood – it’s a little trick and once you see that, those facts are easier to understand.”

An understanding, a trick, that can be used over and over again.

And all in just under a minute.

I think the teacher in the video makes two mistakes.

1) Like the Texas standard, she uses the word “decompose,” which has the unsavory whiff of postmodernist deconstruction and leftist undermining of all that is tried and true.

2) Her line that children “are quite comfortable thinking about their friend, 10,” allows fertile minds to wonder, “Who is this 10?” and “Is he that creepy kid in the hoodie hanging outside the playground?”)


Lurking beneath this, is, I think, a longing for one-room schooldays of boys in overalls and girls in Laura Ingalls Wilder prairie dresses sharing their McGuffey Readers (“the child modeled in this book is prompt, good, kind, honest and truthful) and reciting, in unison, their times tables, a sharp rap on the knuckles for any act of errancy, and nothing in the lesson plan on evolution, climate change or this thing called Base 10

If you follow Abbott’s instructions to Google nine plus six Common Core, you were likely led to the video through what McCalllum correctly characterizes as “sites all dripping with mockery of this newfangled way of doing things.”

Here, for example, from Glenn Beck’s The Blaze website, there was this: Watch This Math Teacher Take Almost an Entire Minute Explaining How to Add 9 Plus 6 Using Common Core Math

And from the Young Conservatives website, this: Hilarious: It Takes this Teacher 56 Seconds to Explain 9+6=15 Using Common Core Principles…

But, in fact, McCallum said, there is nothing new about it.

“Their grandparents were learning this way, probably their great grandparents were learning this way,” McCallum said.

What is going on, with this derision, McCallum is, “you take some math fact that adults can do instantly and then you mock how long it takes to teach kids to do the math.” Almost an entire minute.

I was frankly disappointed when I Googled as instructed by the governor.

As Bennett said in their Fox debate:

Common core has been vilified because there’s been tremendous amount of misinformation about Common Core that it requires teaching of Islamic radicalism, you have to read all of Barack Obama’s speeches. It’s a code of political correctness. A whole mythology is built up around common core.

 “Common Core has become a word to describe something you don’t like,” said McCallum.

I expected nine plus six Common Core would have conjured up a shocking and surreal video that, at the very least, would reveal the walrus was Barack.

Gov. Abbott would have been better off referring people to this video.

So, as PolitiFact put it, what the governor said was “half true,” but as McCallum put it, “it’s all misleading.” The half that is true is “furthering another message, which is false.”

Also, as noted in the PolitiFact analysis,  In 2013, the Texas Legislature passed a law prohibiting school districts from using Common Core in their lesson plans. 

“Isn’t that contrary to local control?” McCallum asked

But Abbott has already carved out exceptions to local control, decrying the patchwork quilt” of local bans on everything from paper and plastic bags to fracking that he said threatens to turn Texas into California.

Meanwhile, at the higher education level, the governor has set his sights on raising five Texas universities into the ranks of the nation’s top ten public universities, where, right now, he has noted, “five of the top 10 public universities in the country are from California, with none being from Texas,”

To that end, here from a press release from the governor’s office last week:

 Under Governor Abbott’s proposal, which requires legislative approval, the Governor’s University Research Initiative would be available to provide matching funds to Texas public universities for the recruitment of Nobel Laureates and National Academy members. Governor Abbott particularly urges Texas colleges and universities to focus on recruiting nationally and internationally recognized researchers in fields of science, technology, engineering and math. Because there are substantial start-up costs associated with recruiting nationally-renowned researchers, the Governor’s University Research Initiative would be available to help ensure Texas public universities have access to additional recruitment resources. Any Texas public institution of higher education seeking to recruit a Nobel Laureate, Academy Member, or their equivalent would be eligible to seek matching funds on a dollar-for-dollar basis from the Governor’s University Research Initiative.

Well, lets hope those Nobel Laureates and Academy Members weren’t tuned to Fox News Sunday, and I would recommend against including a videotape of the Common Core debate in the recruitment package.

As part of his push to raise the quality of higher education in Texas, Abbott also named Sara Martinez Tucker to UT System Board of Regents. From the governor’s office:

Sara Martinez Tucker is the CEO of the National Math + Science Initiative, where she oversees the Initiative’s work to transform schools into centers of college readiness, produce and excellent STEM (science, technology, engineering and math) teachers and engage students to develop strong interests in STEM fields. Martinez Tucker was born and raised in Laredo and received a Bachelor’s degree and MBA from The University of Texas at Austin. She has also received honorary degrees from the University of Notre Dame, Boston College, and the University of Maryland. Martinez Tucker previously served as the Undersecretary of the U.S. Department of Education in the final years of the Bush administration after spending nearly a decade as CEO of the California-based Hispanic Scholarship Fund. Martinez Tucker currently resides with her family in Dallas.

And here, the reaction from Empower Texans’ Michael Quinn Sullivan

Coming out of the gate with appointments, the team advising Gov. Greg Abbott seems to have made an initial early misstep by appointing an advocate of “common core” to the University of Texas board of regents. This is most surprising, given the strong stance Abbott has taken in opposing Common Core in specific and the federalization of education in general.

Among Abbott’s appointees to the UT Board of Regents announced on Thursday is Sara Martinez Tucker, the CEO of the National Math and Science Initiative. Writing in US News and World Report in February of 2014, she praised the controversial Common Core initiative being promoted by the Obama Administration

“We should move the discussion to ‘how’ Common Core will be implemented – not ‘if’ Common Core should be implemented,” she wrote.

That, in fact, is the headline.

Under that headline, Martinez Tucker wrote:

To help our country meet the demand for the STEM jobs we need to remain competitive, schools need to do a better job of preparing students for college. And we can fix what’s wrong with America’s public school system if we get tougher in the classroom and raise academic standards everywhere. We need to introduce all high school students to college-level material – not just those who are already destined for college. And most importantly, we need to align the skills that are being taught in the classroom with what employers value in the workplace.

That’s where Common Core comes in.

Oh my. Well, she undoubtedly wrote this before complying with the Abbott directive to Google nine plus six Common Core.

Or perhaps Abbott’s appearance on Fox as the national point man against Common Core has something to do with inoculating himself against criticism that his appointment of Martinez Tucker reveals him to be soft on the Obamacare of education standards.

Of course, inoculation takes us from the realm of math to science and that other vexing, hot-button political issue in the Republican Party – vaccination.

But that’s for another day. In the meantime, here is a very useful Politico breakdown of where prospective Republican candidates stand on the appropriateness of mandatory vaccinations.

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Aycock announces resignation of lobbyist daughter, blames Michael Quinn Sullivan

Texas House Public Education Chairman Jimmie Don Aycock announced on Friday that his daughter — an education lobbyist — would step down amid persistent questions from conservative activists over a possible conflict of interest.

Aycock’s daugther, Michelle Smith, worked for various education groups as a lobbyist for HillCo Partners and also served as executive director of the Fast Growth School Coalition.

“Her employment predates my service as chair of the House Public Education Committee. We have both filed the required disclosure forms, and I announced that I would recuse myself on issues related to her clients,” Aycock, R-Killeen, said in a statement Friday. “Despite these measures, the comments have persisted.”

Last week during a question-and-answer session following an interview with the Texas Tribune’s Evan Smith, an audience member asked Aycock how he would handle the relationship during this year’s legislative session, which began Jan. 13. (House Speaker Joe Straus has not yet announced committee assignments for the 140-day session, but Aycock is expected to be re-appointed to his current position).

“I find it ironic that anti-education forces felt it necessary to critique a former teacher with a PhD in education improvement from Texas State University in order to apply pressure to me,” Aycock said Friday, referring to Smith. “It is especially ironic since most of the comments seem to emanate from a small group centered largely around Michael Quinn Sullivan, whose own efforts to avoid lobbyist registration have become legendary.”

Sullivan is an influential conservative activist whose group Empower Texans has criticized Aycock for his position on private school vouchers. Last year, the Texas Ethics Commission fined Sullivan $10,000 after finding that he violated state law by failing to register as a lobbyist. He is fighting the fine in court.

“In the hope that this distraction is now behind, I look forward to passionately working to improve the education of our 5.2 million Texas school children,” Aycock said.

State Rep. Jimmie Don Aycock, a Republican from Killeen who chairs the House Public Education Committee
State Rep. Jimmie Don Aycock, a Republican from Killeen who chairs the House Public Education Committee

Education commissioner says Texas could lose NCLB waiver

Education Commissioner Michael Williams on Tuesday said Texas could very well lose its waiver from the federal No Child Left Behind Act of 2001 if the state and federal government cannot resolve their differences over educator evaluations.

In a public interview at the annual Texas Association of School Administrators Midwinter Conference, Williams said Texas could go the way of California and “say keep your waiver,” while emphasizing the state has not lost it yet. Alternately, he said if Congress chooses to alter George W. Bush’s key signature domestic policy, as has been discussed for years, it could bode well for the Lone Star State.

“We’re having a conversation,” he said. “We have a different view point.”

Last week, Williams announced that the U.S. Department of Education had  rejected a new teacher and principal evaluation system Texas must successfully develop if it wants to keep its waiver. If the state loses the waiver, Williams noted more schools would be considered failing and the state would face the prospect of losing billions of dollars in federal education funding.

During the Tuesday interview, Williams also said he remains a supporter of voucher-type programs that give public school students state money to attend private schools. He said “everyone knows” he supported vouchers when working for the Bush administration in the 1990s and that he “continues to do so.”

Families “ought to have the opportunity to make decisions about where their youngsters go to school,” he said.

Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick has vowed to push a voucher-type program through the Senate this session.

“Let’s wait and see what we they design,” Williams said of state lawmakers.