In January, I outlined the legislative priorities of Texas Aspires (www.texasaspires.org), the public education reform organization I serve as Co-Chairman. These priorities are grounded in our strong belief that postsecondary readiness should be the organizing principle of K-12 education, and include policies that increase educator effectiveness, encourage the creation of many more quality school seats, expand education options for families, and reverse the watering down of standards and accountability.
At just past the halfway point of the legislative session, the battle is fully engaged on all of these priorities. In fact, in the past two weeks, over forty bills have been heard by the House Public Education Committee, and we have weighed in with testimony and briefs on many of them. Recent Texas Aspires briefs on two issues deserve particular attention–the expansion of district and charter school partnerships and the prevention of further dilution of the K-12 accountability system.
In the expansion of quality seats for all of our children, we unfortunately encounter considerable confusion about the true nature of charter schools, much of which is contributed by those who somehow believe that charters represent a competitive threat to their interests. It’s important to start with the basics: open-enrollment charter schools are public schools funded by the state that currently serve almost a quarter million Texas students whose families have chosen the charter option. If there are more applications for admission to a particular school, a lottery is used to determine which students are enrolled and charter schools are subject to the same system of state accountability as traditional public schools.
The spirit behind charter schools is to allow them much more flexibility in operations in order that they can become laboratories of innovation, scheduling, instructional methodology, and human resource management. In the process, ideally they create competitive options for students and families that are of benefit to all. This is why it is important that charter and traditional public schools break down many of the barriers that exist between the two types of schools and work collaboratively in a myriad of ways that they can co-locate and cooperate in sharing best practices. To this end, Texas Aspires is supporting bills in the House (HB 3439)and Senate (SB 1882) that will help expand district-charter partnerships by providing for the creation of incentives for traditional schools to partner with high-performing charter schools to create the many more quality school seats Texas needs for its students.
Since the adoption several years ago of what most national experts said at the time was the most rigorous K-12 standards and accountability system in the country, much of our organization’s time and energy has been devoted to defending this system from attacks that have succeeded in significantly watering it down to almost total irrelevance. Some limited restorative progress was made during the last session in the adoption of an A-F performance grading system for schools and districts tied to student achievement, but, true to form, most educators, administrators, and school boards have risen in opposition to this grading system and are working to overturn it or at least further water down its underlying standards and rigor.
There are a variety of bills that have been heard on this issue and Texas Aspires is fully engaged on them. In doing so, we have adopted the following criteria, as outlined in our brief:
- It is imperative that legislators be bold and give clear guidance so that our accountability system has a solid foundation for years to come. Only then can accountability have a lasting, positive impact.
- Student performance and growth should only be calculated by objective and measurable outcomes-based metrics. Participation and completion rates are not adequate measures of either growth or performance.
- Accountability was created to protect all Texas students. Any attempt to hide the performance of subpopulations or weight the performance of certain students less than others in inexcusable.
- While it may seem attractive to let districts select their own assessment instruments, Texas’ assessment system should remain uniform across the state. Common measures of performance are vital for the state to maintain a productive role in school effectiveness.
- We should not rely on federal minimum requirement to dictate our state’s assessment and accountability system. We should instead lead the way and create a system that works for Texas while in compliance with important federal requirements.
I admit that some of this is a bit policy “wonky” and into the weeds and not nearly as provocative as some other issues coming out of this session, but the K-12 education issues at stake here have enormous implications for the future prosperity of our state and the welfare of our next generation and we need all the help we can get.