The Legislature did just pass a bill to give schools grades of A-F instead of following the "everybody is fine" grading system now in place.
The governor did propose, and the Legislature did act, to restore, at least minimally, some funding for quality pre-k and for helping teachers succeed in teaching reading more effectively in elementary and middle grades.
As constructive as these steps may be, I wish I could be optimistic. I fear this is far too little, too late. Let's hope I'm wrong.
Texas began an aggressive campaign to weaken accountability five years ago. It started when the education agency foolishly and dishonestly treated 70% of the schools as if they were recognized or exemplary. Sending out a false signal that "all's great," the state encouraged all players to be more satisfied than was justified, thus slowing markedly the important interventions and other work necessary to effect continuous improvement.
The legislature stopped funding the student success initiative. It quit on the reading and math initiatives. And it pulled the plug on funding to support effective teachers.
Then, under pressure to get rid of pressure, the state opened the floodgates back up to the atrocious practice of social promotion. And, instead of fixing the overly-ambitious and flawed post-secondary readiness laws passed in the mid-2000s, the legislature totally gutted them. Now the bar for graduation and the meaning of a high school diploma are lower and weaker than at any time since the Perot reforms.
What has been the effect of this tragic turn in Texas?
Our students were making some of the best progress on the NAEP, the National Assessment of Educational Progress, of any state in the nation from the early 1990s to 2009. Since 2009, African American and Hispanic kids are totally flat in 4th grade math and 8th grade math, barely up in 8th grade reading, and actually down in 4th grade reading.
To make this picture clearer, let's look at 8th grade African American students in Texas. On the NAEP, only 18% were basic or above in math in 1990. In 2009, a remarkable 66% were! No progress was made by 2013, and the percent had actually declined to 65%.
The growth in credential attainment beyond the secondary level increased in double digit thousands until 2 years ago. Disappointingly, that pace has begun to slow over the last two years.
Sadly, only on the lagging indicator of graduation rates does the decline not yet show.
Some defend the status quo by saying that the stagnation over the past five years is due to poverty and the fact that we're not spending enough money. Well - here's some news these folks may have missed: 1) we had significant poverty from 1990-2009, just as we do today, and we still made substantial achievement gains, and 2) while we had small, steady growth in spending during the whole period, that growth has always been interrupted during economic downturns, and, yet, achievement gains went up consistently and substantially.
The basic truth: accountability works, and it has made the greatest difference for the students in greatest need. If 2009 marked the beginning of the end of accountability, that will be a very sad red letter date in Texas history.
I intend, God willing that I'm still around to do it, to host a conference in Austin in 2027. I plan to invite all the players who both built and destroyed the accountability system, along with journalists to report on it. The main item of business will be to review and compare objective data on student achievement for the 18 years of ascendant accountability in Texas, that is, from 1991-2009, with that of the 18 years that followed, that is, from 2009-2027.
If students grow faster in the next 18 years than they did in the first 18, I'll be thrilled and confess to all in attendance that my prediction was wrong. If we stagnate or fall, I simply want those responsible for ending this era to show up and take responsibility and sit down together, finally, and work, if we haven’t done so by then, to get it going right again.