As with many cases of relationship discord, the issue of adequacy often arises. The school districts base their Court case for dramatically more funding on the need to provide a system to meet the challenging college readiness requirements that were mandated by the Legislature.
This sounds fair, but it contradicts the story they told the Legislature to dismantle those very requirements.
For years, school districts have lobbied the Legislature to rid themselves of the burden of having to academically prepare students for college and the high performance workplace. In 2013, their efforts finally paid off: college readiness requirements were largely eliminated.
Rather duplicitously, the school districts have been speaking out of both sides of their mouth to get what they really want: more money and lower expectations.
The Beginning of the Story
Beginning thirty years ago, reacting to Texas high school graduates who couldn't read their own diplomas, the Legislature put in place the expectation that a student needed to demonstrate on a test at least some minimum level of knowledge to be awarded a high school diploma.
Every couple of years, the Legislature would increase the content expectations to graduate, changing the name of the tests from Basic Skills to Minimum Skills to Academic Skills. By 2007, the Legislature put in place a 10-year plan which would require that by 2017, a student would need to be assessed on whether they had learned the high level content in order to be considered college ready. They called that test Academic Readiness.
In the mid to late 2000s, the Texas Legislature also adopted a series of vigorous and bipartisan college readiness policies. Appropriately, the Legislature ensured all entering high school students would be exposed to the academic content that research demonstrates will prepare them for success in college. They also directed the Texas Education Agency to ensure that there would be consequences for those school districts and campuses which did a poor job preparing our students for the demanding world of college and high-performance work.
Because of the complexity, the Legislature gave educators and the Texas Education Agency years to phase in the "college and career readiness" components, and slowly but surely to increase student performance levels.
So what happened?
In response to poor implementation of the law, and substantial pressure from lobbyists allied with the school districts, the Legislature and the Texas Education Agency have dismantled the college readiness policies, and more.
In 2013, educators successfully lobbied the Legislature to eliminate state testing of college readiness.
They also eliminated the rigorous course of study that exposed the vast majority of students to a college readiness curriculum. Instead, they placed most entering high schoolers on the lowest course of study.
They even eliminated the need to pass all of the few graduation tests that remained to earn a high school diploma. Educators swore they would use this proposed flexibility judiciously. The Legislature complied. Then this May, 90% of those who had failed one or two previously required graduation tests were handed a diploma anyway.
And not happy enough, educators also successfully lobbied the Texas Education Agency to make the passing scores on these graduation tests so low that a student could almost pass them by random guessing. For the math graduation test, students only need to answer 37% of the questions correctly to pass.
Finally, is school accountability aligned to success in achieving college readiness? Mostly no. It’s a factor, but it’s a factor without significance. Generally, 90-95% of the schools get an acceptable accountability rating from the state. Yet, according to performance data on college readiness tests like the ACT, fewer than 20% of Texas graduates score at a level ACT deems college ready.
So, if the state considers 90-95% of schools as acceptable, and if the Texas school system graduates almost 90% of students, where’s the need, much less a constitutional basis for, substantially more money?
The Bottom Line
In 2015, in front of the Supreme Court, the plaintiffs complained, “Running school is hard but we can do it if you give us more money.” And, for the past few years to the Legislature, the education lobbyists complained, “Running school is too hard and we can't do it. Make it easier.”
It’s time to wake up and call out the plaintiffs for their hypocrisy. Uttering cries of difficulty and helplessness, school districts have been playing both sides to get exactly what it wants: a lower bar, with higher funding.
If educators truly want to ensure that their students are college ready, then they should support the court's ordering the state to restore the requirements that get kids college ready. If educators don’t want higher standards, then they should own it. But, they can’t ask for more money to reach standards they helped dismantle.
For the sake of our children and our economic future, I hope at least superintendents are willing to publicly, loudly and demonstrably choose the former.