As for me, a long time believer that standards and accountability have lifted student achievement in our state in past decades, I am generally pleased. This is so, not because I believe our policy is once again sound and strong, but rather because I think there’s finally been a turn for the better in Texas.
I’m pleased that the Legislature retained the A-F accountability system, and in fairly reasonable form. True, the implementation of the system is further delayed, and the Legislature created an uncertain local component down the road. These are worrisome and cause for continuing concern. But the outcome is far better than seemed likely at the session’s outset, and there’s a firmer basis for hope in the future than we’ve had in recent years.
Many educrats wanted to scrap A-F altogether. And the House bill, for all practical purposes, would have thoroughly nullified accountability. But, due mostly to the efforts of Senate Education Chairman Larry Taylor and Lieutenant Governor Dan Patrick, accountability will be preserved. District and school evaluations will be based substantially on objective achievement data; closing the gaps for poor and minority students will remain important criteria; and appropriate consequences are expected for low performing schools.
I’m pleased that HB 515, a bill that would have eliminated assessments for writing and history/social studies, has died. It was widely assumed at the beginning of the session that this bill would pass, and had the House had its way, it would have. Again, Senate leadership saved the day.
I’m pleased that choice for parents received a boost in the session. Charter schools get access to the Permanent Fund to make financing easier and more doable. And, while the Senate’s proposal for limited choice through ESAs for parents of students with disabilities did not pass in the end, its progress represents movement in the long march to more parental options. There will be increasing pressure over time to implement such proposals.
In that regard, I’m pleased that Lieutenant Governor Patrick and Chairman Taylor sent a clear and unmistakable message to educrats that more money must be accompanied by more choice and more accountability. This is the first time in several years that the Senate has pushed back so hard on the “just say no to change” crowd.
Texas made great gains in student achievement in the 1990s and 2000s, largely because governors and Senate leaders pushed the reform agenda aggressively. The House typically either cooperated or actually joined in leading the effort in those years. Now the House merely embraces the status quo and, even worse, outright opposes reform, choice, and accountability. One hopes for new leadership and views in the state House. But, in the meantime, it’s important to see the Senate push back effectively and insist on positive change.
Finally, it’s consequential that this current crew of anti-reform educrat leaders continues to suffer loss after loss, first, in the school finance litigation and, now, in its failed agenda in the legislative session.
It’s time for teachers, administrators, school boards, and their supporters to send new leaders and a new approach to Austin. The unbending position of “no accountability/no choice/but lots of $$” is bad for the state and doesn’t even work well for educators. It should be changed to a more student/parent/taxpayer-friendly posture of cooperation, compromise, and mutual agreement that involves ways of moving forward together.
This more positive sort of approach from the education community was pivotal to the progress Texas made in past decades. It would be healthy and helpful for our state and our students if it returned.