A Mile Wide and One Inch Deep

Many of us in Texas Public Education have tried to spread the message that the required curriculum in Texas (TEKS) is long on what is covered and very shallow on what is allowed to be truly taught in depth. Mrs. Mary Ann Whitaker, Superintendent at Hudson ISD, published the following article that does a great job of explaining the problem we face. This example is for 5 subjects in 8th grade but the story rings true Pre-K through 12.

Mile Wide – Inch Deep

Texas has created mile wide/inch deep curriculum standards for all subjects, prekindergarten – grade 12. Teachers are mandated by law to teach the state curriculum standards, students are assessed annually on mastery of these standards using the STAAR testing system. There are 3 types of standards per subject:
• Readiness Standards– Essential for success in the current grade or course
• Process Standards– Represent strategies and structures to access learning and provides a way for students to demonstrate understanding/knowledge
Mile-wide standards for students entering 8th grade:
• Social Studies: 36 readiness, 56 supporting, 8 process standards
• Science: 15 readiness, 35 supporting 13 process standards
• Math: 13 readiness, 27 supporting, 7 process standards
• Reading: 13 readiness, 4 supporting, 3 process standards (2 genres)
• Writing: 8 readiness, 10 supporting, 2 process, (6 genres)
• Total standards for 5 subjects: 258 (85 readiness, 132 supporting, 33 process, 8 genres)
These numbers may not seem too overwhelming at first glance; however, the following is an example of one 8th grade readiness standard, with 7 levels of specificity:
8.15.D – Analyze how the U.S. Constitution reflects:
• Principles of limited government
• Republicanism
• Checks and balances
• Federalism
• Separation of powers
• Popular sovereignty
• Individual rights.
The 8 process skills are applied to each of those levels of specificity:
• Primary and secondary sources
• Sequencing, categorizing identifying cause and effect
• Graphs, charts, timelines, maps
• Point of view from historical context
• Point of view on social studies issues or events
• Use appropriate mathematical skills
• Geographic distributions/patterns
• Social studies terminology
From this 1 readiness standard, 56 different questions could be asked on the STAAR Exam. To cover a “mile” of readiness standards, one can easily see the limited time available to offer in-depth teaching/learning opportunities for our students. There are 35 additional social studies readiness standards and 56 supporting standards that must be presented within the 145 days prior to the STAAR administration. Classroom reality means the teacher must cover a comparable standard every 1.45 days!
This is not unique to 8th grade. A student entering first grade, age 6, is expected to master 211 standards in 5 subjects:
• Social Studies: 14 readiness, 27 supporting, 10 process standards
• Science: 7 readiness, 13 supporting, 13 process standards
• Math: 5 readiness, 15 supporting, 7 process standards
• Reading: 12 readiness, 16 supporting, (6 genres), 40 process standards
• Writing: 8 readiness, 9 supporting, (4 genres), 5 process standards
Due to the number of standards for each of the tested subjects, Pearson’s Testing, under the direction of the Texas Education Agency, will select approximately 30% of the standards to be tested each year. Teachers begin each school year attempting to address 100% of these mile-wide standards, praying they have focused attention on the standards that will be targeted on the “state exams”! Exams that will determine the success or failure of students, teachers, campuses, districts! It is time we bring reason back to a system that is no longer reasonable or attainable.

Thank you Mary Ann for taking the time to put this in a perspective that shows the need for change!

Whose definition of change are we using?

Thursday, August 28th, Judge John Dietz upheld the ruling finding the current funding system, developed by the Texas State Legislature and used to determine the funding per student in Texas, to be unconstitutional. This ruling comes at the end of a long legal process that involved over 600 school districts bringing a lawsuit against the state. The purpose was to force the members of the Texas State Legislature to do by court ruling, what they should have done by sense of duty to the students of this state: Fund the education of the Texas Public Schools in an equitable and adequate manner.
The court battle is not over. The willingness of the legislature to take up this issue without court order remains to be seen. But the level of resistance to the idea of overhauling the funding system for public schools, quite frankly, defies all logic! Look at the statements made by elected officials and lobbyists and try to determine what the real bottom line is in this process.
From Friday’s Longview News Journal:
What people are saying?
“Today’s decision is the sole decision of one judge in Travis County. The final say will come from the Supreme Court.” — Senator Dan Patrick
In other words, there is no interest in doing anything until forced by the highest court in the state. Having any initiative to solve this problem because it is a problem is not a consideration? The problem is real. The responsibility belongs to the Legislature; why wait to be sued to do what you are tasked by the constitution and the voters to do? Act now and do so in such a way that the students are the beneficiaries, not the special interests groups.
“Our obligation is to improve education for our children rather than just doubling down on an outdated education system constructed decades ago.” — Attorney General Greg Abbott
What outdated system is he referring to? The one crafted by HB 5 that totally redefines the process by which a high school student pursues a diploma? Maybe it is the implementation of best practices in classroom instruction like Project Based Learning/Inquiry Driven Instruction? Maybe he is talking about the focus schools have on a Response to Intervention process that is designed to provide opportunities for every student to be successful and drills down to meet the needs of each learner at his/her appropriate skill level? Is it the use of Professional Learning Communities so that teachers do not have to work in isolation and students benefit from the best practices of the community? Make no mistake, these things are happening in White Oak ISD and in thousands of schools across the state! What is outdated is the argument of the “Failing Schools” crowd that has a true purpose of redirecting public school funds to for profit vendors.
“Simply throwing more money at our education system doesn’t make it better without finding a way to deliver education in an efficient and effective manner.” — Bill Hammond, CEO of the Texas Association of Business
The only problem Mr. Hammond has with throwing money is the direction of the toss! As the CEO of the Texas Association of Business, it is his job to point money to his constituents. The existence of our Independent Public Schools and the large budget in place to support them is the target of his argument. He interest in efficiency or effectiveness is not evidenced by his continued support for Pearson Education and the High Stakes Testing machine (money, time, effort allotted to a one day/one size fits all test) that is in place across the state.
These gentlemen and others who stand in opposition to new, equitable funding statewide are not looking for “a change” in the Texas Public School System and the manner in which it is funded; they are looking for “their change” in the process. The efforts of school districts across the state have been hampered over and over again by legislators and lobbyists that would not get enough of the credit or profit from the changes schools have developed.
There is a bright side! On the Texas Association of School Administrators (TASA) Website, there is a link to Mission: School Transformation. (http://www.transformtexas.org/) This site references the Visioning Document for positive change in schools and gives you an idea of the large number of schools and districts that are involved the work of transforming instruction in our classrooms. This site celebrates the work of thousands of teachers and highlights the work being done to affect change. If you are interested in seeing what real change could look like, visit TASA’s website. New Visioning groups are in place in every service center region and work closely with their local representatives to find real solutions that benefit our students. Leaders like, Representative Jimmie Don Aycock and State Board of Education Member Thomas Ratliff are working with educators to better the system. Locally, Senator Kevin Eltife and Representative David Simpson stepped up to support the Texas High Performance School Consortium in our efforts to find a new, and better way to “do school”.
Across the state of Texas, schools have changed and for the better. We are not perfect but we are working to do the best we can with the resources made available to us. It is a shame that some would prefer to demonize those of us in the arena for wanting more in order to do more. The Texas Public Schools are not failing. Visionary leaders are working all over the state to ensure that your children, our future leaders, are getting the best “this century” education possible. Encourage your state representatives to take up the cause and develop the funding system now, without a court order, because it is the right thing to do for our students that are in school today and for those still to come. There are Senators and House Members that are ready to do the work and ready to make a difference. Hearing from their constituents (you) will matter.