11:24 AM

Texas Tribune Brings Public Ed Conversation to UHD

The University of Houston-Downtown (UHD) and The Texas Tribune recently partnered to address the state of public education in Texas. On March 2 and 3, UHD was the site of two events that assembled, parents, educators, and legislators. During roundtable talks and panel discussions, these constituents shared their viewpoints on the issues facing public education in the state during the 85th Texas Legislature Session.

The Texas Tribune Roundtable Series commenced on March 2 with the "Parent & Educator Forum: What's Next for Texas Public Education?" and featured discussions on testing, special education, and school choice with parents, teachers and UHD faculty from the College of Public Service's Urban Education Department.

"Everyone has some sort of connection to education. We wanted to bring working parents and educators to the discussion, with policy experts and reporters, to learn more about how education policy affect their daily lives," said Aliyya Swaby, public education reporter for The Texas Tribune, who served as a roundtable facilitator and also moderated two symposium panels.

According to Swaby, the goal of the roundtable series is to bring forth, to state legislators, specific issues and concerns that parents, community members and educators have about three major bills involving school choice, special education, and testing and accountability.

"In the roundtable discussions, we moved past the dissatisfaction with the current state of testing in Texas and into constructive suggestions for good accountability," said Leigh Van Horn, interim dean of the College of Public Service, who facilitated the table discussion on testing and accountability. "Multiple perspective events like this prompt new connections or pathways in our thinking while providing us with dynamic opportunities to listen to and engage with the members of our community on critical issues of importance to all of us."

Joining Van Horn for the roundtable discussion on testing and accountability was Ronald Beebe, associate professor and chair of UHD's Urban Education Department. Bernardo Pohl, UHD assistant professor of education, also was in attendance to lend his expertise to a discussion addressing special education.

The next day, more than 300 stakeholders gathered in UHD's Wilhelmina Cullen Robertson Auditorium for the Tribune's "Public Symposium on Public Education," which featured the following panels: Public Ed & The Legislature; School Choice in the 85th; Testing Standards & Accountability; and a Conversation with Former Education Commissioners. The March 3 symposium was streamed live. Highlights from the event can be viewed here.

One educator, Dianne Iglehart, who heard about the event on NPR, knew she had to attend.

"I strongly believe in public education and in order for us to continue to thrive, it's important for us to be engaged and informed about the issues," said the reading interventionist/dyslexia coach at HISD's Hobby Elementary. "We must have these conversations."

Panelists included a who's who of education leaders in Texas including Texas Rep. Dan Huberty and Texas Sen. Larry Taylor, who both serve on the state's Education Committee. Other experts included Houston Independent School District Superintendent Richard Carranza, Texas Rep. Harold Dutton, and former Texas Education Commissioners Jim Nelson and Robert Scott. UHD Interim President Michael A. Olivas also was on hand to welcome audience members and panelists to this event.

The roundtable series and symposium complement other events presented by the Texas Tribune, a non-profit digital news organization focused on politics and public policy , government and statewide issues. Previous Texas Tribune events have addressed race, energy, transportation and other topics impacting Texans.

This was the first time the Texas Tribune hosted an event at UHD. For Evan Smith, Texas Tribune CEO and co-founder, choosing the University as the host site for this event was apropos.

"At the end of the day, the public education system serves the mass of the state—not the elite, not people in the suburbs or out in rural Texas. The majority of enrolled public school students are in the big cities of Texas; there's no city in Texas bigger than Houston," he said. "If you want to understand the challenges and opportunities for public education, you go where they live every day. Having this event in Houston and specifically at the University of Houston-Downtown, which welcomes so many of these students…this is the place where the conversation had to be. I'm elated we had the chance to do it here. There wouldn't have been no better plan than the University of Houston-Downtown."