Over the past three legislative sessions, the Texas public education accountability system, once rated by national organizations as the best in the country, has come under relentless attack by a firestorm of misguided opposition to standardized and so-called “high stakes” testing, so that by the end of the 2013 session, the system had essentially been gutted. The result has been a lowering of expectations, relaxation of accountability, and dilution of rigor in the curriculum. And I believe that this, more than any other factor, is producing the disheartening decline in the achievement of our kids as reflected in the SAT scores released last month as well as recent trends in the Texas National Assessment of Educational Progress scores.
In the wake of this news and in spite of these developments, just last week we got an outburst of supreme irony from Texas educators that should be embarrassing to them all. At the joint annual conference of the Texas Association of School Administrators (TASA) and the Texas Association of School Boards (TASB) in Austin, these education “leaders” gave a scorching earful to Education Commissioner Michael Williams on the state accountability system from top to bottom–questioning the validity of the assessments, criticizing recent education agency intervention initiatives, dismissing the new A-F school rating system as a “gimmick”, and in general roundly criticizing the more rigorous academic standards and the plans to prudently and steadily enhance these standards in order to reach student postsecondary readiness.
I have previously written about the ambitious goals of higher education in Texas, in particular the commendable new “60X30” Plan, and the obvious disconnect between the trends in K-12 readiness and these ambitious goals. The bottom line here is that our state’s future is in the hands of those responsible for leading our elementary and secondary system of schools. They are the only ones who can fill the “pipeline” with the postsecondary ready students we will need for the state’s prosperity, and they should be held accountable for doing so. Yet all we hear from them are demands for more funding and less accountability, and most of the people in the room in Austin last week beating up on the Commissioner represent the over 600 school districts in Texas that are currently suing the state for more funding.
It is disingenuous to the max that the people who are suing the state for more funding supposedly in order to comply with the additional demands of higher rigor and more accountability are the very same people who have succeeded in gutting the accountability system and watering down the curriculum standards and value of a Texas high school diploma over the past two legislative sessions.