I have written extensively over the last two years about backward steps Texas has been taking in education and the worsening results for students that such actions have yielded. After almost two decades of policies that had been deemed as “best of breed” around the nation and an upward trajectory of student achievement that had no equal, we have retreated, turning from leader to laggard.
Our NAEP scores are now flat to down. The limited progress we were making on SAT and ACT has stopped. And our gains on post-secondary completion have slowed. The data painting this gloomy picture are plentiful, and I have reported on them in numerous blogs. I have also written considerably on the administrative and legislative actions over the last 5-7 years that lowered standards, lessened expectations for students, weakened accountability, and reduced help to teachers and schools needed in the work of improving achievement.
I do not intend to repeat that old story here. Sadly, what I must report is a new story that suggests that this backward movement from leader to laggard has continued and actually worsened in this hot and dreary summer.
In the face of a weakened federal law, some states are, nevertheless, working to continue positive momentum on their own in order to build on from the era of No Child Left Behind. Look at some of the constructive ideas featured by Brookings and the Council of Chief State School Officers. http://www.brookings.edu/events/2016/07/27-future-school-accountability-essa-duncan. Here are solid ideas for maintaining rigor in accountability promoted by Chiefs for Change. http://chiefsforchange.org/chiefs-weigh-in-on-proposed-essa-regulations/.
While Governor Abbott made a solid appointment in Mike Morath as Texas’ new education commissioner, what major steps has Texas generally been making during these months since changes were made in federal law?
Have we been focused on how we could more effectively be true in teaching and learning to our well-regarded, Texas-built learning standards? Have we been identifying and utilizing research-proven practice to help our educators get the best possible results for the dollars we have to spend? Have we helped our fellow citizens understand the strengths of the tests we’ve constructed over the years while addressing their weaknesses and reducing unnecessary and duplicative testing? Have we shown educators and parents how to make far greater use of the data that are derived from tests instead of letting the test results sit uselessly on the shelf?
Have we fixed the highly flawed accountability system to make ratings more truly fit achievement, be more transparent, and drive schools to improve? Have we distilled the practices that have driven the very best charter and traditional schools in order to help average or worse schools become more effective in lifting student achievement?
Have we been working on solving more of our students’ out-of-school problems to help teachers achieve greater success in school? Have we been building a broad-based consensus on the importance of getting more of our students to college or career readiness upon graduation? Have we helped our citizens understand the difference it will make to our economic success and that of our young people if they graduate ready for college or career? Have we dramatically increased rigorous career education options, as promised in recent state legislation?
These are the questions that are being asked and answered in the states and localities that are responding constructively to the new challenge of federal law to use local control intelligently to improve education. While there are exceptions in Texas, the main action here has not at all been in these directions.
Instead, a great deal of energy in Texas has been put this year into a commission whose mission was to consider next generation accountability. Instead of tackling many of the broader, important accountability issues inherent in the questions posed above, the commission took the predictable and narrow route of mainly re-visiting the type of tests we ought to toss or get.
Embarrassingly, the commission seemed to be unaware of data that had accumulated in the vaults of the education agency about how, why, by whom, and to what effect currents tests had been constructed. Further, there seemed to be little awareness of (or commitment to) the principle of testing to the fine standards that had been set by Texas citizens and educators rather than the makers of the so-called Common Core. How else could the commission have flirted so long with assessments based either on Common Core or other interests not tightly aligned to state standards? Indeed how could the commission have flirted with testing policies that are violative of the new federal law and would have threatened federal funding to Texas?
It surprised many observers during the months of goings-on that the commission’s final report called for so little immediate and substantive change. One must wonder whether someone finally whispered in the ears of commissioners of the consequences of some of the actions they were contemplating? More specifically, one wonders whether the Governor and Lieutenant Governor might have mentioned that they prefer Texas standards in Texas, not Common Core or other standards behind commercial “computer adaptive” tests that may or may not be aligned tightly with state standards. One wonders whether school people stung by the loss of the school finance case might have mentioned that the risk of losing federal money under federal law wasn’t a risk worth taking.
Here’s a story that perhaps better than others reveals the drama that might have been playing out behind the scenes. http://www.breitbart.com/texas/2016/07/28/texas-testing-board-commits-long-term-adopting-common-core-exams/
After all the dancing right and left, is the commission’s failure to do much in the end the most serious problem? I don’t think so. The far more worrisome problem is the state’s failure to get past the stale, adult political issues and instead tackle intelligently the tough and consequential questions and challenges I posed earlier in this blog. Texas used to work primarily on this sort of stuff and made great progress for its kids by doing so. Leaders do the same today. Laggards don’t. Texas has, sadly, become a laggard.