Abbott: A cookie-cutter education?


An inaugural speech is not the place for a new governor to lay out policy details, and Governor Greg Abbott didn’t do that. But, in his prepared remarks, as he continued to talk generally about making Texas the “leader” in education, he did strike out against what he called a “cookie-cutter approach to teaching.”

I am not sure what he meant by that because Texas doesn’t have cookie-cutter teachers any more than it has cookie-cutter, or standardized, students. But in addition to having one of the most underfunded public education systems – per student – in the country, we also have an official state policy that encourages excessive “cookie-cutter” testing.

Maybe that’s what the new governor means. Teachers are increasingly feeling pressure to teach to the test – to follow a rote pattern — instead of using their knowledge and skills to teach children how to learn, to encourage their creativity and imaginations, to show them how to enjoy learning and not fear to be different from anyone else.

If that is what Abbott means, and if he intends to sharply curtail standardized testing, then he can be an advocate for positive change in our educational system. If he was simply being rhetorical, Texas school children will continue to suffer the consequences of unfair standardization.

Abbott, in his address, indicated a recognition of the “value and uniqueness of each student.” Now, he needs to also recognize that state government not only has been stifling those students with excessive tests and test preparation but also short-changing them with an inadequate and unfair school finance system.


A message from someone who really appreciates education


Ellen, an old family friend, former teacher and Brooklyn artist who recently moved to Pennsylvania, has a deep appreciation of the value of education. As do other educators, she recognizes it is a continuous, lifelong process and knows you don’t achieve it by mastering the phony art of passing standardized tests.

This year, Ellen illustrated her season’s greetings booklet with a very well-done black-and-white sketch of herself on the cover and, inside, delivered a timely message about the evil of excessive testing. She also offered the hope that someday the powers-that-be — the politicians and privateers who are souring the classroom experience for millions of schoolchildren and compromising their futures — will come to their senses.

Ellen noted that George Washington Carver, the historic and well-respected African American educator, defined education as the process of “understanding relationships.”

Contrast that to the reality of untold numbers of public school classrooms throughout the country today, where, as she noted, “education is defined as learning from teachers how to pass standardized tests.”

She asked: “Don’t we want to understand relationships in order to save our planet; make beautiful music; create masterpieces in the visual and literary arts; cure all old and new diseases; change an age of greed into an age of green; transform hate into love?”

We do, Ellen. Most of us parents and others who value public schools certainly do.

On that note, I would like to wish everyone a safe, happy and healthy holiday season, while those of us at TSTA also take the occasion to recharge our batteries for another year of trying to educate state policymakers about education.

See you in 2015.

Testing second-graders on the fine art of skipping


Anyone out there who has had it up to here with standardized testing should take a look at the tests that Dallas ISD requires of grade-school students in art, band and – believe it or not – physical education. First you may have a good laugh, and then you may want to cry.

The tests required by Superintendent Mike Miles are ridiculous. The Assessment of Course Performance, or ACP, as it is known, for kindergarten art requires five-year-olds to “create artworks using a variety of lines, shapes, colors, textures and forms.” I don’t know what happens if a kid insists on sticking to one color, but surely he or she doesn’t have to repeat the class.

First-graders in music class are required to take a test measuring their ability to “sing tunefully,” and second-graders in PE are tested on their ability to “demonstrate mature form in skipping,” among other skills.

The Dallas Morning News (see the link below) provides several more examples of this preposterous administrative incursion into the classroom day and rip-off of taxpayer dollars. It almost seems as if Superintendent Miles is trying to motivate parents to pack their children off to private school, if they can afford it, even before they hit the STAAR grind in the third grade.

According to the newspaper, Dallas ISD teachers and parents have rallied against the tests because they are stressing out children and taking away too much time from actual learning. At a school board briefing on Thursday, some trustees urged the superintendent to consider eliminating the tests.

I have a better idea for the board. It should demand, not simply ask, that the superintendent call a halt to the testing foolishness. The board, after all, hired the superintendent and can fire him. So, why should trustees allow the tail to wag the dog?



Missing the point on school ratings


Bill Hammond, CEO of the Texas Association of Business, was at it again the other day, wringing his hands over what he views as the lackluster performance of Texas public schools. This time, his forum was an oped article in the Lufkin News, in which he questioned the most recent school accountability standards announced by the Texas Education Agency.

Clearly, he didn’t believe TEA’s claim that about 85 percent of the state’s public schools are “meeting standards.”

“Schools are certainly not meeting the standards of employers,” he wrote, calling for a stronger accountability system for schools.

What Hammond refuses to acknowledge, though, is that a strong public education system is not built on tougher tests for students. It is built on good teachers (Texas has those) and adequate funding for schools, which is where state government fails, in large part because of groups like his.

For years, the Texas Association of Business and other like-minded business and trade associations in this state have had three main priorities – keeping state regulation of their businesses weak, making it next to impossible for unhappy customers to sue them and keeping state business taxes low. And, they have been very successful at realizing all three.

But what about public education? Don’t businesses need strong schools to keep supplying highly trained workers for the future? They surely do, and many businesspeople realize that. But business leadership in Austin – or at least most of it – has for years been propping up and perpetuating short-sighted state government policy that shortchanges our children’s schools.

Most of the business lobby, including Hammond’s group, stood mostly silent while the legislative majority slashed $5.4 billion from public school budgets three years ago. Hammond, for one, has seemed much more concerned about keeping the pressure on kids to pass standardized tests than he has been about the $500 per student that was lost in state funding because of those cuts.

And, now the Texas Association of Business has endorsed education budget-cutters for the state’s top two offices and many legislative seats. Dan Patrick, the group’s candidate for lieutenant governor, voted for the school budget cuts in 2011, and Attorney General Greg Abbott, whom TAB is supporting in the governor’s race, continues to defend the cuts in court.

Of course, Hammond’s complaints about school accountability ratings could be part of a broader campaign to convince Texans that their neighborhood schools – now that they have been starved of financial resources — are a failure. The purpose of that campaign would be to win more public support for transferring tax dollars from traditional neighborhood schools to corporate charters and private schools — supported by tax-paid vouchers — all for the benefit of educational profiteers and not necessarily school kids.

Those ideas are exactly what Dan Patrick has been openly promoting for a long time and Abbott has been more quietly suggesting.

Just last week, the Texas Tribune reported that Patrick was still applying “his low-spending mentality to education.”

And, yet all the CEO of the Texas Association of Business can seem to fret about is low test scores.