Monday, September 25, 2017

Texas Education Code and Lesson Plans - Part I

Texas Education Code and Lesson Plans
Part I

            Keeping with the theme of ‘new-school-year review,’ it’s important that we go over the Texas Education Code regarding lesson plans. 
            For the first 20 years or so that I taught, my administrators understood that my lesson plans were for me.  My plans served as an outline to organize what I would teach and what materials I would need to carry out each lesson.  However, things got crazy after that.  Suddenly, lesson plans morphed into time-consuming, complicated forms that did nothing to make a lesson, or a teacher, better.  In many schools today, lesson plans produce senseless stress and rob teachers of precious time that could be used actually preparing the lesson.  This, despite the fact that these forms completely defy the Texas Education Code.
            TEC Sec. 11.164 is titled “Restricting Written Information.”  It is a result of the Texas Legislature’s Paper Reduction Act.   It reads:  (a) The board of trustees of each school district shall limit redundant requests for information and the number and length of written reports that a classroom teacher is required to prepare.  A classroom teacher may not be required to prepare any written information other than….
            Ten items are listed, but today we will focus only on number 6:  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.
            It is critical that we note several things:
1.  The legislature has given the board of trustees the responsibility to see that school administrators are abiding by this code.
2.  This code has been in place by 1997, so why are so many districts still failing to abide by it?
3.  Key words in the code:  (secondary) outlines, brief, general; (elementary) subject, topic
            Like with planning periods, there is case law regarding lesson plans.  In 2015, the case of Ysleta ISD v. Porter was heard by the Texas Court of Appeals.  I read about it, in detail, in a letter written by attorney Martha B. Owen.  Ysleta ISD required teachers to use a lesson plan template that included TEKS objectives (originally written out and later identified by their number), TAKS objectives, lesson objectives, lesson activities and strategies, the assessment and cognitive level, differentiated instruction and/or modifications/accommodations for special populations, and homework.
            Three teachers in the district filed a grievance.  Among other evidentiary items, the teachers provided proof that the plans took anywhere from 50 minutes to two hours to complete. When the district denied their grievance, they appealed it to then Texas commissioner of education Robert Scott.  He upheld the district’s decision in Jennifer Adams, Rita Vasquez, and Edith Porter v. Ysleta Independent School District, Docket No. 043-R8-0306.  The teachers appealed the decision to district court and received a split decision.  According to Owen, “the district court upheld the requirements as to TEKS and TAKS objectives, lesson objectives, and lesson activities and strategies but reversed the Commissioner’s decision as to the validity of the requirement that teachers include the assessments, cognitive level, differentiated activities and modifications for special populations.”  Both sides appealed, and the split decision was upheld by the Court of Appeals.
            In Owen’s letter, she writes, “It is an important decision because it is one of the few cases interpreting the Paperwork Reduction Act and affirms some key principles of the statute, both in general and applied specifically to lesson plans.”
            Owen continues, “…it determined that a school district may only require that a teacher write a plan that ‘outlines the information presented, which by definition includes what is taught and the activities used to teach the lesson.’”
            There is more to this story, so we will pick up here next week. 

Chris Ardis retired in May of 2013 following a 29-year teaching career. She now helps companies with business communications, editing, and social media and works as a sales coordinator for Tony Roma's and Macaroni Grill. Chris can be reached at (Photo by Sarina Manahan)