The Texas Legislature is so far out of touch with the needs of children and public schools that we can only hope the legislative session ends before any of the proposals for “reform” are enacted. The Texas Observer here gives an excellent overview of what is happening in Austin that might land on the heads of kids and public schools.
Throughout the legislative session, Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick has painted a dire portrait of hundreds of Texas public schools.
Currently, Patrick remarked during a March press conference, almost 150,000 students languish in nearly 300 failing schools across the state. He vowed to fix the problem.
The measures he championed include red-meat education reform proposals with appealing names: rating schools on an A-F scale; a state-run “opportunity school district” to oversee low-performing schools; a “parent empowerment” bill making it easier to close struggling schools or turn them into charters; expanding online classes (taxpayer funded, but often run by for-profit entities); and “taxpayer savings grants”—private school vouchers, effectively—to help students escape the woeful public system.
Patrick has long fought for many of these, but now that he holds one of the state’s most powerful offices it seemed, going into the session, that his reform agenda would be better positioned than ever before.
The president of Texans for Education Reform, Julie Linn, certainly believes so. She boasted in a January editorial about the potential for success under Patrick’s leadership. “The momentum is in place to make 2015 a banner year for education reform in Texas,” Linn wrote.
Teacher groups and public school advocates have a different take. As they see it, Patrick’s agenda is not a recipe for well-intended reforms but an attack on chronically underfunded public schools.
“There is a concerted, well-funded attempt to dismantle public education,” Rev. Charles Foster Johnson, executive director of the public school advocacy group Pastors for Texas Children, told the Observer in March. Johnson blamed elected officials who aim to “demonize and blame teachers and schools for the social ills and pathologies of our society at large.”
Patrick’s education proposals tap the reform zeitgeist that has increasingly gained political favor, both in Texas and nationally, during the last decade.
Patrick’s education proposals tap the reform zeitgeist that has increasingly gained political favor, both in Texas and nationally, during the last decade. From President Obama to presidential hopefuls Jeb Bush and Sen. Ted Cruz, education reform has created odd bedfellows, obscuring policy fault lines between Democrats and Republicans like perhaps no other issue.
Reform critics, though, point out that test scores have always closely tracked family income rather than school quality. They note how schools with high rates of poverty are more likely to be low-performing if the state uses test scores as the primary measuring stick. “The real problem,” Johnson said, “is that we don’t have the political will to assign those schools the resources they need.”
Regardless of where you stand in the debate, with less than two weeks left in the 84th Legislature we can begin to gauge the success of Patrick’s reform agenda, much of which is being carried by his successor as chair of the Senate Education Committee, Sen. Larry Taylor (R-Friendswood).
Note how politicians like Dan Patrick, now in the powerful position of Lt. Governor, are quick to bash the public schools after having defunded them by billions of dollars. Patrick, a former radio talk show host of the right, loves vouchers. He apparently does not care that sending public money to religious schools does not improve educational opportunity, although it does weaken public schools.
Every proposal under consideration–like the parent trigger–has failed to make a difference anywhere. Every one of them is straight out of the far-right ALEC playbook.
A-F grading of schools, a Jeb Bush invention, is a typical useless reformster proposal. The letter grades reflect the socioeconomic status of the students in the school. Imagine if your child came home from school with a report that had one letter on it; you would be outraged. That is how crazy it is to think that an entire school can be given a letter grade; it is pointless and it does nothing to make schools better. Kids from affluent districts are miraculously in A schools, kids from poverty are in low-rated schools. What is the point of the grading other than to stigmatize schools that enroll poor kids and are typically under-resourced? I guess the point is to label them as failures so they can be privatized or the kids can get vouchers to go to backwoods religious schools where they will have an uncertified teacher and learn creation “science.”
Texans are a hardy bunch. Those who are fighting for public education have a steep uphill climb. But they won’t give up. They launched a bipartisan coalition to block the testing Vampire that was eating public education, and they can work together to save public education for the state’s children. It won’t be easy. But it matters to the future of the state.