Lots going on in the Panhandle! And too much paperwork in the Valley!

I write these Daily Dawgs well in advance of the day you read them….so as I write this I don’t know if Texas Tech is playing for the National Championship tonight or not. The Red Raiders face Michigan State on Saturday, and that one could go either way. I’m sure the smackdown the Techsters put on Michigan got the attention of the Spartans, so they will not take Tech lightly.  Here’s hoping TTech goes all the way. 

What I know for sure is that the Amarillo Sod Poodles are making their home debut in the Texas League tonight—how cool is that!  Great to see AA Baseball return to Amarillo. 

I will not be able to attend that game tonight, but I am headed to the Panhandle today to surprise the winner of this year’s Frank Kemerer Award. This award recognizes an outstanding high school social studies teacher, and this year, for the first time, the winner is from the Panhandle.  But I am sworn to secrecy until this afternoon when I bop into the winner’s classroom with the surprise good news.  But I can tell you I’m headed to Amarillo, and then….somewhere.

So there is a lot going on today in the Panhandle and High Plains.  Meanwhile, let’s focus our attention on a district in the Rio Grande Valley where the teachers complained of too much paperwork. Can you imagine? 

It’s common knowledge that teachers are drowning in paperwork. That’s why the legislature passed the Paperwork Reduction Act, T.E.C. 11.164.  But I wonder how much reduction has happened.  The statute lists ten types of reports that teachers might be required to prepare, including “any information specifically required by law, rule, or regulation.”  That’s pretty broad. 

One of the ten required reports involves lesson plans:

a unit or weekly lesson plan that outlines in a brief and general manner, the information to be presented during each period at the secondary level or in each subject or topic at the elementary level.  T.E.C. 11.164(a)(6). 

A group of teachers from a middle school in Edinburg CISD complained that the lesson plans they were required to complete violated this law.  The principal at Harwell Middle School required teachers to submit lesson plans using a template entitled the “Lion Lesson Plan” which included five components: TEKS, Content Objective, Differentiation, Technology and Activity/Assessment.  The teachers filed a grievance over this and carried it to T.E.A.

In his decision, the Commissioner broke down the Lion Lesson Plan into its component parts. As to three of those components (TEKS, Content Objective, and Technology) the Commissioner cited a Court of Appeals decision that held that such items were properly included in the required lesson plan.  See Ysleta ISD v. Porter, 2015 WL 1735542 (Tex. App.—Corpus Christi, 2015). 

So it came down to “Differentiation” and “Activity/Assessment.”  The Commissioner was OK with the requirement that teachers explain how they would “differentiate” instruction for students with special needs, English Language Learners and the gifted. The Commissioner noted that the Lion Lesson Plan “requires only a brief, general description of how this is to be accomplished.”  Thus including this as a required part of the weekly lesson plan did not violate the Paperwork Reduction Act.

Neither did the requirement to include “Activity/Assessment.” Here, the principal’s testimony was important. She testified that the Lion Lesson Plan template helped her ensure that classroom activities are related to expected outcomes.  The Commissioner noted that the template did not require that there be an “assessment” for every lesson, but only that when there was an assessment it should be described.  The Commissioner concluded that:

Indicating the type of assessment to be presented in the lesson—a quiz, test, project, presentation, etc.—takes no more than a few words.  This complies with the statutory requirement that lesson plans are to be an outline of the information to be presented in a brief and general manner.

The teachers made one more argument: that the Lion Lesson Plan was redundant. The district already provided each teacher with a tool known as the I-Curriculum platform which included lesson plans for use by the teachers. The Act prohibits “redundant requests” for information from teachers. But the Commissioner held that “the Act does not prohibit teacher preparation of information that already exists; but rather, the Act prohibits ‘redundant requests for information.”  For example, a principal could not require weekly lesson plans and then daily plans that require the same information. 

The Commissioner upheld the principal’s requirement. The Lion Lesson Plan does not violate the Paperwork Reduction Act. The case is Soto v. Edinburg CISD, decided by the Commissioner on January 24, 2019, Docket No. 062-R10-08-2018.


Tomorrow: Toolbox Tuesday looks at a “hit list” case.