Accountability in Texas Public Schools

What has happened in the last few weeks? Commissioner Scott calls the assessment system a perversion of its intended purpose and wants to suspend the 15% rule for this year’s ninth graders. Bill Hammond (Texas Association of Business) spends TAB funds for a full page ad in the Austin paper to denounce the Commissioner and call for all to press on to a better education. Senator Shapiro first calls for the Commissioner to explain himself and then writes a letter to inform him that he does have the authority to suspend the 15% rule.
This is really good stuff for those that want to write about opposing views on what is best for the students of the Texas Public Schools. Bill Hammond and many of the state’s legislators favor the full implementation of the STAAR/EOC Assessment process developed under the watchful eye of Pearson Education. Students will be rigorously tested in the four core course areas from 3rd grade through 11th grade. Students will be expected to test at grade level for the most part regardless of any learning disabilities identified by the local school district. 9th through 11th grade students will be given 12 End Of Course Exams that must be passed for graduation and the EOC scores will be recorded as 15% of the course grade. This plan as mandated by the state, prepared by Pearson and supported by Bill Hammond will allow the State of Texas to produce World Class Graduates in the areas of Bubble Sheet Multiple Choice Test Taking, Speed Composition Writing/Editing. Our graduates will have a strong background in steering away from courses that will make it difficult to graduate. They will be experts at the process of dealing with stress; after all, they have been exposed to “High Stakes Testing” since they were in the third grade. This is the Vision for a World Class Education in Texas.
A consortium of North Texas superintendents composed a letter that describes the vision most school leaders would like to pursue for the students of this state. ( Instead of isolation and bubble testing, we would like to use collaborative learning environments. Instead of four hour timed writing sessions, we would like to incorporate project based learning assignments. Instead of 45 days of assessment on the calendar of a 180 school year, (including the 10% allotment for benchmark testing, 35% of the school year is earmarked for assessment), we want the flexibility to teach Career and Technology skills that can be used to continue a student’s education and/or enter the job market with employable skills in place. Instructional leaders and School Board Members across the state want the return of LOCAL CONTROL of our local schools. The practice of continual increases in state mandates and freezing/reduction of funds to meet those requirements is an unacceptable combination. Texas Public Schools have never been opposed to assessment and/or accountability. The new system goes far beyond the limit of any system meant to measure progress. Let the local school districts teach their students. Use random sample assessment statewide to ensure the curriculum expectations are being met. Let ACT and SAT exams determine college readiness standards and allow parents to hold their local schools accountable if graduates can’t perform in college or the workplace. The call to arms for school improvement always goes back to the era where public school system was “the best in the world”. That was also the era of total local control and accountability to the taxpayer of the local district. Times have changed, funding is more complicated and our students are receiving an education that is by far greater in scope and depth than ever before. We are still a leader in the education of all students. The pubic school systems of the State of Texas and the United States are the pioneers of education for all. Imitation is the greatest form of flattery and the world has used the US model to improve the educational opportunities for children on every continent.
Every time a Texas School Superintendent engages in a conversation about school improvement and school finance, he/she is quickly labeled as a whiner just looking for more money to throw at the same old way of doing business. The truth is we want a level playing field for our students. We want the chance to put our young people in front of new age technology and allow them to hone the skills that will make them successful 21st century citizens. We want to do that which is our passion, provide the platform for success that each of our students deserves. The message I have for my legislators, Senator Kevin Eltife, Representative David Simpson and his opponent Tommy Merritt is this:
1. The current STAAR/EOC assessment plan has to go. It is 20th Century thinking in a 21st Century world. Work with the leaders of the public schools and models that are in place around the world and build something that is truly best for students and not in the best interest of business partnerships.
2. Tackle the funding crisis for Texas Public Schools. Target Revenue, Hold Harmless Values and a $6,000 funding gap per student must go away. Create an Equitable Funding system for the students of the State of Texas and do it without having to be sued in court!!
I am a Texas Public School Person! I have been in this business for 31 years. The two items above are my sole concern for the next legislative session. I have no desire to weigh in on pot holes in the streets, bridges that are weak or which town in Texas is the birthplace of Swing! (All bills in the last session) I know that there are people that find these issues to be valuable and they need to make their voices heard. I want you to focus on the Public Schools of Texas. I want you to focus on the Public Schools of Texas in January, not May. In case you made it all the way to the end of this column, thank you for your time.