I’m Wondering Why
The Rhetoric about Public Schools Doesn’t Add Up
by Andra Self
Lately, much of what is said by some state leaders about schools just doesn’t add up. Inconsistencies and conundrums in their statements are leading many Texans to ask questions. Here are a few examples.
Why Not Brag?
We all know that Texas is a state that loves to brag. We brag about everything being bigger and better in Texas. We brag about how we compare to other states. But somehow, when it comes to schools, some state leaders don’t take the opportunity to brag, and I wonder why. Recently, U.S. News & World Report released its list of the best high schools in the nation. Of the top 10 high schools, four are public high schools in Texas. That is certainly brag-worthy!
For the past few years, Texas has been ranking in the top handful of states on graduation rates. In fact, Texas African American students rank first when compared to their peers in other states. Graduation rates for Hispanic students are also best in the nation. White students’ graduation rates are outdone by only one state. Texas graduation rates are something to brag about, and it seems odd that some state leaders aren’t bragging.
Why the Stance on Tests?
At the same time that state lawmakers are passing laws that allow a student to graduate without passing all the tests (Senate Bill 149), those same leaders are embracing test results to rate schools A through F (Senate Bill 6).
On one hand, the tests have lost support, while at the same time the tests are considered a reliable tool for ranking schools. It seems strange that the tests are suspect in one context, yet valid measures in another.
Why a New Bureaucracy?
Some lawmakers are focused on what to do about “failing schools” and are creating a new statewide bureaucracy to take troubled schools away from their local districts. However, years of data from the Texas Education Agency show that local districts have a laudable track record on turning around schools that receive the lowest ranking.
In fact, districts move 80 percent of schools out of that category in the first year after receiving substandard rankings. A new bureaucracy is not needed.
Why Not Tell the Truth About Choice?
Some politicians push for “school choice”—but in truth, parents already have many choices and are exercising those choices: In addition to Texas public schools, parents can consider private schools, public charter schools, virtual schools, and homeschooling.
Furthermore, there are often many choices within the public school system: magnet schools, transfers within districts, and transfers to other districts. School choice already exists.
Why No Adequate Funding?
The number of students in Texas is growing by approximately 80,000 each year. We topped 5 million students recently. Schools are caught in a squeeze between rising student numbers, increased daily costs (e.g., electricity, transportation, food, supplies), and unfunded mandates from state government.
However, the Legislature cut school funding by $5.4 billion in the session before last and now appears unresponsive to the judge’s ruling that public school funding should be improved. The state has plenty of dollars to fund schools, but some lawmakers seem inclined to withhold those much needed dollars.
Vouchers are designed to allow students to attend private schools using public tax dollars, and some lawmakers are going through all sorts of gyrations to find ways to divert funding from public schools to private schools. They want to take dollars away from the many students who attend public schools (almost 94 percent) to pay for the few (about 7 percent) who attend private schools—schools that will have no accountability for tax dollars or academic achievement.
Why Not Support Public Schools?
As you see, much of the rhetoric simply does not add up. Texas public schools are doing better than ever before. They deserve our applause and support.
Some lawmakers are working hard to support public schools, and we deeply appreciate that. Others, however, are denigrating this state’s public schools with statements not based on facts or needs. As we move forward in the future, it’s critical that all Texas lawmakers work together to Stand Up for Texas Public Schools.
Andra Self, a Lufkin ISD trustee, is 2014-15 president of TASB.