11/21/2013 11:54 am ET Updated Jan 25, 2014

Shame on Texas PTA for Supporting Lower Expectations

Parent-teacher associations have served an important role in Texas public schools for more than 100 years, helping to raise funds, connecting children and parents to teachers and administrators, providing educational information to its members, and advocating for the "well-being of every child." So why is the Texas PTA now calling on its members to support lower expectations for students by not requiring high school graduates to complete Algebra II?

Beginning next year, every ninth grade student must select one of five endorsement tracks that the student plans to take: STEM, Business & Industry, Public Services, Arts and Humanities, and a Multidisciplinary track. This week, the Texas State Board of Education will decide the course requirements for the Legislature's newly adopted graduation tracks under House Bill 5. The big question for the SBOE is: Will Algebra II be required in each endorsement?

It is a highly contentious battle, with civil rights and education advocacy groups, higher education institutions, and Texas business groups aligning themselves on one side in support of higher expectations and the inclusion of Algebra II for all students. On the other side is the "career and technology" group, along with a select group of school districts and state representatives championing "flexibility" -- and now the Texas PTA?

Not known for engaging hotly contested matters, the Texas PTA recently emailed an online petition calling on its members to encourage the SBOE not to require Algebra II in each endorsement, but to instead, support "flexible choices" (code language for lower expectations and tracking). It seems unclear how requiring Algebra II has a significant impact on a student's or school district's flexibility. It seems even more unclear why the State's largest parent-teacher organization in Texas would fight so vigorously for lower expectations. After all, since 2007, Algebra II has been part of Texas's default graduation plan for more than 80 percent of all Texas graduates.

Prominent civil rights groups and coalitions, including the Texas Latino Education Coalition (TLEC), took a firm stand against the notion that some students simply were not "college material." They pushed back against softening the high school default curriculum, knowing full well that schools would likely track minority and low income students into the less rigorous plans. And because HB 5 made Algebra II a required course for eligibility for automatic college admission through the Top Ten Percent Plan, they wanted to ensure that doors remained open for as many students as possible -- no matter the endorsement the student chooses. Higher education and business communities joined TLEC and others, touting the link of Algebra II to college readiness and success and to developing an ever-advancing global economic workforce.

Despite the critical role that the Texas PTA plays in education, some have criticized the Texas PTA for being removed from the communities it purportedly serves. Some TLEC members work closely with local PTAs in heavily Latino and low-income areas. Those local PTAs work hard to stay informed and they refuse to settle for a second-class education for their kids or for policies that undermine their chances to succeed in college and in life. Their pleas have been largely ignored or simply unsolicited by the Texas PTA.

So why is the Texas PTA calling on its members to support lower expectations? Whatever their reasons may be, it is clear that requiring Algebra II for all Texas graduates is in the best interest of the youth of this state: for their future and that of Texas. TLEC calls on local PTAs to make their voices heard and demand that its statewide organization reverse its position supporting lower expectations.