Month: <span>July 2016</span>

Politicians, not educators, have made testing a “complex” issue


After the study commission with the overly long name punted on the issue of STAAR and standardized testing, some of its members apparently felt the need to offer excuses for ignoring the growing, anti-standardized testing sentiment among educators and parents.

Pauline Dow, the chief instructional officer for North East ISD in San Antonio, was quoted in The Texas Tribune as saying that testing and measuring student achievement is a “complex issue and that we have to think about it in that way.”

Politicians, not educators, have made testing a “complex issue.” And I mean the politicians – the legislative majority and recent Texas governors – who have spent more energy imposing punitive, high-stakes tests on third-graders than they have on providing the resources that all students and educators need for real classroom success.

Educators know the importance of testing in measuring student progress and, just as importantly, in diagnosing a student’s strengths and weaknesses and planning how to address them.

Instead of addressing educators’ and parents’ concerns, the commission issued a report full of bureaucratic language that doesn’t really address the damage that the standardized testing regime has inflicted on Texas classrooms for more than a generation now. In fact, Rep. Jimmie Don Aycock, the retiring chairman of the House Public Education Committee, warned its potential interpretation by the Legislature could result in an expansion of standardized testing.

The Legislature, which convenes in January, ultimately will decide the future of testing in Texas. But if parents and educators don’t make it clear – loudly and often – to their legislators that high-stakes, standardized testing has to go, the legislative majority isn’t likely to make meaningful changes.


Another idea for ripping off schools and taxpayers


Add another organization to the list of advocates trying to rip off taxpayers and shortchange millions of school children under the guise of education “reform.”

The new group, Texans for Education Opportunity, will promote various so-called “school choice” alternatives. Its main goal is to create “education savings accounts” – another name for vouchers — that would give tax dollars to parents, as much as $7,800 per year per child, to spend on private school tuition, private tutors or even books and other materials for homeschooling.

It’s a bad idea, which means it – or something very similar – also will be promoted by Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick, the advocate-in-chief for vouchers and any number of other bad school privatization schemes. As he has made clear by words and deeds on numerous occasions, Patrick would rather take money from public schools than adequately fund them. And that is exactly what this plan would do.

Thomas Ratliff, a Republican member of the State Board of Education, has accurately described the proposal as an entitlement program. At $7,800 per child, he said, it would cost taxpayers $4.7 billion a year for the 600,000 kids who already attend private schools or are home-schooled. And it would do nothing to fulfill the state’s obligation under the Texas Constitution to provide a system of free public schools to its children.

In fact, it would weaken our already under-funded public schools by diverting more money from them, even though public schools will continue to educate the vast majority of Texas school children.

It’s a selfish, shortsighted idea.

In an article published in Quorum Report, Ratliff also warned that some alleged “home-schoolers” would pull their children out of school and use their state education debit cards issued under the program to put money into their own pockets while ignoring their children’s education. If you think people like that don’t exist, think again.

“The state will then pay again, either to remediate those kids or absorb the social costs of welfare, prison, etc. due to their lack of education,” he wrote.

Ratliff also noted that the term “education savings account” was misleading because many families don’t pay as much as $7,800 per year per child in taxes. Instead, it’s an entitlement.

“This idea takes the word ‘entitlement’ to a whole new level for Texas,” he said. “It is nothing more than a huge handout with no way to control the price tag. Hardly a conservative idea.”


Education is a life-changer – for most people


Formal education is a life-changer, and over the years it obviously has improved countless millions of lives. But education has its limits. It can’t always erase prejudicial thinking, as we are constantly reminded.

Two of the most recent reminders are Steve King, a U.S. congressman from Iowa who believes only white people have made significant contributions to the development of civilization, and Cynthia Dunbar, a former member of the State Board of Education who has helped publish a proposed textbook that denies and misrepresents the contributions of Hispanics to Texas and American culture. In truth, people of all colors and ethnicities have made important contributions to what Texas, America and the world are today.

King and Dunbar are educated people, although Dunbar, as an SBOE member several years ago, denounced the public education system as a “subtly deceptive tool of perversion.” It is a public education system that, in Texas, has a majority enrollment of Hispanic students.

King and Dunbar can’t see past their near-sighted, white views of history, culture and politics in a rapidly changing world that people like them just can’t bring themselves to accept. And many of their kindred spirits were in the convention hall in Cleveland this week, cheering what they would like to believe is Donald Trump’s promise to “make America white again.”

Some people could draw that interpretation from Trump’s pledges to build a wall on the Mexican border, round up undocumented immigrants and ban Muslims from entering the country. Moreover, the convention’s delegates were overwhelmingly Anglo. According to a preliminary figure reported by the Washington Post, only 18 of the 2,472 delegates who gathered in Cleveland were African American.

It’s a dangerous world, at home and abroad, but prejudice and fear aren’t solutions.

The Dallas Morning News column linked below discusses King’s comments, Dunbar’s textbook and the ongoing battle to educate young people against intellectual blindness and intolerance. It’s a tough fight that’s getting tougher.



When education isn’t a priority


State Higher Education Commissioner Raymund Paredes and members of the State Board of Education were squabbling with each other yesterday over who was dropping the ball in preparing Texas young people for college. They were squabbling with the wrong people.

The discussion included, among other things, high school graduation requirements, scores on college entrance exams and whether Texas universities were adequately training K-12 teachers. The basic problem, however, is not with the universities, the public schools and certainly not with teachers.

The problem – and it has been this way for a long time — is with a governor and legislative majority that is intent on wrecking public education by under-funding public schools and wasting tax dollars and teachers’ valuable time on punitive, counter-productive standardized testing. That is the message that Paredes and members of the state board need to take firmly and repeatedly to Gov. Abbott and the legislators who are morally failing their responsibility to Texas school children. Education Commissioner Mike Morath, Paredes’ counterpart over K-12, should join them.

Consider these factors, which were missing from yesterday’s discussion:

# Texas spends $2,690 below the national average in per-student funding, and many school districts haven’t recovered from the $5.4 billion in education budget cuts imposed by the legislative majority in 2011. That means thousands of school kids are in over-sized classes with insufficient individual attention from teachers.

# Average teacher pay in Texas is more than $6,000 below the national average. Consider below-average pay and the fact that teachers have to waste hours of instruction time on STAAR preparation and it is small wonder that about half of the teachers who will begin their careers this fall will find another line of work within the next five years. That is a loss of good teachers that Texas can ill afford to keep suffering.

Abbott and the legislative majority even deliberately shortchanged a pre-K program that the governor claimed was a top “priority.”

In truth, nothing about the public education system is a real priority of the governor and his legislative allies, and that’s the real problem.