Failing students mean failing businesses
By Chris Tomlinson
August 21, 2014 | Updated: August 22, 2014 11:12pm
What do you expect from public school assessments?
Should they determine how well the students are learning, or rank schools in comparison with others? Should the standards get tougher over time, or should they remain the same for generations?
Lastly, should the assessments help schools self-evaluate, or allow taxpayers to demand accountability?
As employers complain more and more about the lack of qualified workers and the potential harm to the economy, how we do quality control on public education becomes increasingly important.
The Texas Education Agency released school assessment results earlier this month that showed 84.9 percent of Texas schools either met the state’s standard, or an alternative, based on four criteria: student achievement, student progress, closing performance gaps and post-secondary readiness.
Only 8.7 percent of schools failed, the rest were not rated.
The Texas Association of Business advocacy group responded with a billboard on Interstate 35 in downtown Austin that read: “THE STATE SAYS 85% OF TEXAS SCHOOLS MEETING STANDARDS. ARE THEY MEETING YOURS?”
The association believes the Texas public education system is failing taxpayers, students and employers by not effectively preparing students for productive careers or higher education. The group has long advocated for a strong assessment system that monitors student progress and identifies problem schools quickly.
Texas Education Commissioner Michael Williams has instituted a new assessment system following years of criticism from administrators and teachers who complained the old one punished schools with poor families, non-English-speaking students and parents who didn’t prepare their children for school. Williams promised the new assessment would reward schools that improve, and it clearly raised theirscores.
But the high percentage of schools that meet the new standard is misleading and could lead to complacency, said Buddy Steves, a Houston-based member of the Texas Association of Business board of directors.
“They are extremely misleading,” Steves said, who is also vice chair of the insurance firm Myron Steves. “There are twice as many failing schools than what they (TEA) say there are.”
Steves said the nonprofit group Children at Risk, where he serves on the board, gave 32 percent of Texas schools, and 30 percent of Houston-area schools, a grade of D or F. Eighteen percent of Texas schools received an A, 23 percent a B and 27 percenta C.
Yet he recognized that schools have reason to complain about the state’s assessments. If a school repeatedly fails, under Texas law parents can pull the best students out, leaving only the most needy behind.
More money for the best
Republican candidate for governor Greg Abbott has proposed sending more money to schools that perform well, suggesting it would make them more entrepreneurial. Steves said that’s the wrong approach.
“What Scandinavians do is if you have a poor, working-class neighborhood, you spend 130 percent to 140 percent per student there more than what they spend in the more prosperous neighborhoods,” he said. “We do just the opposite.”
Steves said poor schools are the single biggest threat to the state’s continued prosperity.
“You want productive employees who are happy in their life and are focused on the job,” he said.
Student performances on national tests also show that the Texas education system doesn’t measure up.
ACT, the Iowa-based non-profit that conducts college-readiness exams, released results last week that show only 26 percent of the Texas students who took the test passed all four subjects. They trailed the rest of the nation in three out of four subjects in 2014.
On the SAT, another college entrance exam, Texas students ranked 46th in the country in 2013.
Students in a state with such a thriving economy should be doing better, but it’s hard to fix a problem when you can’t agree what it is. Politicians are quick to blame teachers, when they have themselves to blame.
ACT found that students who take a core curriculum of four years of English and three years each of mathematics, social studies, and science score higher. Teachers who specialize in helping low-income and non-English-speaking students can demand the highest salaries and take jobs at the most well-funded schools, the National Center for Education Statistics says.
Per-student spending cut
Yet the Republican-controlled Legislature cut per-student spending in 2011 and did not restore it in 2013. Lawmakers also refused to adopt the Common Core curriculum developed by education experts, even though 43 states already have it.
Lawmakers also ignored protests by the Texas Association of Business and lowered graduation standards by dropping the Algebra II requirement and offering a less rigorous path to a diploma.
Blaming teachers and demanding tougher school assessments sounds tough and serious, but until businesses demand better funding and withhold support to politicians who water down standards, their complaints about the assessment system will ring hollow.
Mr. Tomlinson sees the problem, but doesn’t understand the history of the Texas Association of Business and their involvement with the movement to dumb down our students so that there will be plenty of compliant, malleable workers who will put part A to part B and be happy with low wages. You can read about all of it on my web site at www.marymcgarr.com
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As an HISD parent, I take exception to Mr. Steves’ assessment that Texas schools spend more money on their best schools than on their worst. I wonder which schools he is observing. In HISD, the opposite is true: witness Terry Grier’s (failed) Apollo initiative and his efforts this past spring to gut the Vanguard magnets for academically gifted students. HISD has a long history of starving its best programs in order to funnel money to the worst.