The A-F grading system and the STAAR testing regime on which the new grading system is heavily based are part of an anti-public school attack that privatization proponents, led by Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick with an assist from Gov. Greg Abbott, are trying to advance during this legislative session. Yesterday’s pro-voucher rally at the Capitol also was part of the effort.
The plan, which has been building for a number of years, is designed to sell school privatization to a largely unsuspecting public. It has three major steps – under-fund public schools, declare them failures and then privatize them. Here is how it has been carried out so far:
# Under-fund public schools: This part began years ago and picked up steam in 2011, when the legislative majority slashed $5.4 billion from the public education budget. Many school districts still haven’t completely recovered.
That means thousands of school children still are being taught in overcrowded, under-equipped classrooms, a condition of particular, critical concern for children who need extra individual attention from their teachers. These include many children from low-income families who now make up a majority (about 60 percent) of Texas’ public school enrollment.
Closely related to the under-funding of public schools is Texas’ under-funding of health care and nutritional services for low-income children. Sick, ill-fed children have higher rates of absenteeism and do not do well in school when they are there. Educators deal heroically with these issues every day, but they and the schools in which they work are held “accountable” by political leaders for the problems these children bring with them to the classroom.
# Declare public schools failures: This is where STAAR testing and the A-F grading system come in. STAAR is a punitive testing regime that was enacted by politicians to transfer blame for their own failed responsibility over public education to the educators and school children, beginning with third-graders, they have been failing.
STAAR tests and all the preparation for them steal valuable instruction time from teachers and school kids, while doing little, if anything, to teach children the critical thinking and learning skills so crucial to their future success.
Similarly, if it isn’t repealed, the A-F grading system will do nothing to help students. Beginning with the 2017-18 school year, a campus will be assigned a letter grade based on STAAR test scores and other factors, including graduation and dropout rates. All these factors are heavily affected by poverty, which is why schools in low-income communities got more Ds and Fs in the Texas Education Agency’s recent dry run of the testing system.
Slapping a D or an F on a school in a low-income community won’t help the students, but it will stigmatize them. And it will make it easier for Patrick and other privateers to promote vouchers or target that school for takeover by a privately run, corporate charter eager to rake in its tax dollars. Patrick already is practicing his pitch. “No parent should be forced to send their child to a school that’s a D or an F or a C,” he said in a recent speech to other privatization advocates.
# Privatize public schools: Vouchers, education savings accounts, tax credit scholarships or whatever else privateers want to call them are the next step. They would take money from already under-funded public schools to benefit private schools or homeschoolers – with no guarantee of educational success – while further eroding support for traditional public schools.
Expansion of corporate charters and private online learning also are part of this step. Academic research has shown that private and corporate charter schools, on average, don’t perform any better than traditional, or neighborhood, public schools, and they lack the accountability to taxpayers that public schools have.
Don’t be misled by pleas for school or parental “choice.” Low-income and lower-middle-income families wouldn’t have a choice because, even with a voucher or education savings account, they couldn’t afford tuition at the best private schools.
Most kids would remain in public schools, which would continue to be unfairly and inaccurately attacked as “failures” by the same politicians who persist in trying to turn public education into a profit center, a profit center for anyone but school children.