teacher evaluations

Whining in the wind over education “reform”

Self-styled education “experts” are a dime a dozen and contribute about that much to educational quality in the public schools. Although that description could apply to a number of individuals and groups cluttering the political landscape these days, I am referring specifically this time to the Texas Association of Business (TAB) and the Texas Public Policy Foundation (TPPF).

TAB and TPPF are members of a group calling itself the Texas Coalition for a Competitive Workforce, which is trying to convince the Legislature to save the ill-timed and highly unpopular STAAR testing program. Many parents and educators, on the other hand, believe Texas school children would be much better off if the Legislature were to toss STAAR onto the trash heap next session. And, more than 850 school districts have signed a petition criticizing the state’s over-reliance on standarized, high-stakes testing.

It simply is wrong to base a school accountability system on a single collection of high stakes tests, which is what STAAR does. And it is made worse by the fact that STAAR, a higher hurdle than the TAKS tests it replaced, was imposed on teachers and school children as the legislative majority was slashing $5.4 billion — or more than $500 per student — from school funding. In other words, lawmakers demanded more success from children and teachers while cutting back on the resources – smaller classes, up-to-date books, teaching aides – that help them succeed.

Yet, to hear TAB, TPPF and their allies tell it, you would think that the demise of STAAR would be the end of educated civilization, at least in Texas. Their alliance held a news conference in Austin yesterday and plans others around the state in advance of the legislative session. TAB President and CEO Bill Hammond defended the state’s effort to hold local schools “accountable” for the performance of their students.

Hammond’s declaration to the contrary, the future of public education in Texas does not rest on children’s passing rates on STAAR. Texas already has great teachers and strong school administrators. The future of public education in Texas rests on the commitment of the state leadership in Austin to quality public schools that are adequately and equitably funded. That is why the Texas State Teachers Association continues to protest the budget cuts, and that is why 600 school districts have sued state government over education funding.

Have TAB, TPPF or their allies tried to hold the governor and the legislative majority accountable for their lack of support of public schools? No. In fact, in their own hypocritical fashion, they have done a lot to undermine public schools. TAB is a long-time supporter of Gov. Rick Perry and many members of the legislative majority, which voted last session to cut $5.4 billion from public education and may try to squeeze more money out of classrooms next year. They like Perry’s insistence on keeping taxes low, even at the expense of education and other state services. And, TPPF promotes government privatization for the benefit of its members, and it encourages all the budget-cutting. In TPPF’s view, the more privatization and profiteering at the expense of public education, the better. TAB and TPPF also propose the siphoning of more tax dollars from public education to support a private school voucher program.

TAB and TPPF are part of the problem. Neither group knows the first thing about education “reform.” So, keep that in mind as they continue their whine-song over STAAR. If they really want to improve the public schools – and the rank-and-file TAB business membership should demand it –they should demand that the governor and the legislative majority start restoring school funding.

Otherwise, they are whining in the wind.


Education “reformers” love a bad idea

Self-styled education “reformers” don’t have all the answers, but you can be sure they will continue promoting bad ideas. And, one bad idea in particular that just won’t go away is tying teacher evaluations to student test scores.

Research repeatedly has shown that making test scores count heavily toward teacher evaluations is both inaccurate and unfair. But it has been a major sticking point in the Chicago teachers’ strike, and it continues to be a major issue in Texas.

In Chicago, Mayor Rahm Emanuel wanted student test scores to count heavily in determining whether teachers get bonuses or lose their jobs, when, in truth, classroom instruction is only one factor in student performance. Poverty, parental involvement and a host of other factors outside the teacher’s control also affect classroom performance, and in a city as large as Chicago those factors are markedly different among neighborhoods and schools, as they also are in Texas.

And, don’t forget, education is a cumulative experience. By the time a student starts taking standardized tests, several teachers have contributed to his or her classroom development, yet only the current teacher would be judged by a test score.

In The Dallas Morning News blog linked below, writer Bill McKenzie expresses admiration for Emanuel’s effort and praises state Sen. Florence Shapiro for making a similar effort during last year’s legislative session in Texas. Shapiro’s SB4, which would have required at least 30 percent of a teacher’s evaluation to be linked to classroom scores, didn’t pass.

Shapiro, the longtime Senate Education chairwoman, is retiring this year without leaving much of a legacy for school children, except for the new, tougher STAAR testing program, which has done little so far except to anger parents, who rightfully resent it as an unnecessary intrusion into real classroom learning time. Shapiro and others in the legislative majority compounded the misdeed by slashing $5.4 billion from the public education budget even as they required more of students and teachers.

There is no evidence that using test scores is an effective way to evaluate teachers. But there is evidence that smaller class sizes improve student performance. The budget cuts enacted by Shapiro and other would-be education “reformers” in the Legislature resulted in thousands of overcrowded classrooms in Texas, including more than 8,000 in the elementary grades alone last year.

It is time for the “reformers” to get their priorities in order by putting first things first. Restore the school budget cuts, pass an adequate and equitable public education budget for the next fiscal cycle and then consult with educators – the real education experts – to design an accountability system that is fair and that actually works.