Unable to resist the temptation to damn with faint praise, I will note the obvious. Robert Scott has been a better education commissioner than his boss, Rick Perry, has been a governor. Scott’s resignation, however, will have little impact on the future of Texas’ public schools.
As an appointed state official, Scott was bound to do the bidding of the governor and the legislative majority. Consequently, he presided over the expansion of a misdirected standardized testing system that holds thirdgraders more accountable for educational policies than the governor and legislators. And, he presided over deep budget cuts to the public schools inflicted by Perry and the legislative majority.
Scott obviously shared much of that wrongheaded thinking over education policy or he would have departed long ago. But in recent months, he indicated that the damage to our public education system may finally have been getting too severe for his own comfort zone. Or, he simply became tired of being barraged with complaints from superintendents and school board members. In a speech to school administrators in January, he said standardized student testing had become a “perversion of its original intent.” And, he expressed discomfort with the extent of last year’s education budget cuts, which will become even worse if the Legislature obeys Perry’s latest rightwing, antitax, antipublic schools “budget compact.”
Some people are wondering if Scott is stepping down voluntarily – he has held the job longer than most commissioners or was forced to resign by a governor who doesn’t like naysayers on his “team” and plays bully politics. At this point, that doesn’t really matter, except maybe to Scott.
Anticipation and speculation will build over Scott’s likely successor. And, the governor’s choice for the next education commissioner will be important. But the next commissioner will be someone who shares the governor’s political philosophy and will continue carrying out the policies promoted and enacted by the governor and the legislative majority.
What matters much more to the future of public education in Texas than Scott’s resignation or Perry’s choice of a successor are this year’s legislative races. Nothing much will change for the better at the Texas Education Agency until after significant numbers of antipublic education legislators are replaced with lawmakers of either party who will make public schools a real priority. That means adequate funding and a fair, broadbased accountability system that actually means something.
Scott was charged with carrying out bad educational policies. So will be his successor. Change has to start with the policymakers, beginning with this year’s legislative races and continuing with the 2014 races for the Legislature and the governor’s office.