The Texas Institute for Education Reform is on the road with business and education opinion leaders around the state in anticipation of the 2013 legislative session, and I thought you might have interest in what we’re telling people, as follows:
Since the beginning of the Texas commitment to public education standards and accountability based reform in 1993, the state has made remarkable progress in student achievement. Based on results measured by the National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP), improvements in accountability have significantly raised achievement in reading and math among all student groups. In addition, contrary to popular notions, high school graduation rates have steadily increased over this period and have improved 2% over the past ten years, as recently noted by America’s Promise Alliance.
However, significant problems remain: 51% of students entering Texas community colleges need remediation and, more significantly, based on a recent study sponsored by Houston Endowment, only 20% of Texas students are earning any sort of postsecondary credential within six years of expected high school graduation. The latter statistic represents the “pipeline” of those ready for college and the 21st century workplace and is a more realistic measure of educational success and the challenge we face than any “dropout” calculation might indicate.
Our organization has identified the primary challenge to Texas public education by 2020 to produce 80% postsecondary ready high school graduates without the need for remediation—a very tall order.
How do we do this? With a serious commitment to the following fundamental points.
First, we must defend and demand accountability. Postsecondary readiness should be the organizing principle of PreK-12 education and, when fully implemented, House Bill 3 (2009) for the first time makes it so. The new accountability system shifts the student achievement focus from “passing” to “readiness” for higher education and the 21st century workplace, a major change from the previous system. As a result, the national organization Achieve, Inc. gave Texas its only top rating in accountability criteria in terms of its inclusion of all four critical college and career readiness indicators.
Accountability must have three components—diagnostics to assist educators in determining the intervention needs of students; transparency for parents and taxpayers; and consequences, for educators in terms of compensation and continuing employment and for students in terms of promotion and graduation.
Postsecondary readiness, in addition to meaning fully qualified for college and/or the workplace without remediation, must also mean “one standard, multiple pathways, equal rigor” in the Texas recommended high school plan, so that students must have multiple pathway choices to college or to a meaningful career represented by industry standards, with equal rigor of curriculum. The proxy for this standard is community college readiness without the need for remediation.
How do we assess this standard of readiness? Texas is committed to an assessment that measures student achievement against the standards at each grade level that indicate what students should know and when they should know it, leading to the postsecondary readiness standard at graduation. In addition, we should have the capability to measure the value-added to each student’s achievement on an annual basis, as a diagnostic measure of annual progress of the student and the effectiveness of educators.
This segues to the debate on testing, and it is difficult to cut through the rhetoric and paranoia on this subject, except to say that every meaningful pursuit in life involves an assessment of achievement related to a standard. The abuses alleged in the testing process appear to be more a problem related to constant practice and benchmark testing at the school district level than problems with the requirement of the state accountability system, which are benign by comparison. It seems that opponents of high stakes standardized testing are fighting an old war; the old TAKS regime is gone and we should give the new system a chance to work.
Second, we should enhance choice and competition and promote the evolution from a “school system” to “a system of schools”, with robust education choices for parents and students that meet their needs, and with funding that follows the student. To begin, we should adopt comprehensive public school choice throughout the state, subject to capacity. But more capacity for choice is needed, and we should expand and improve the charter school system, with more co-location of charters with traditional schools, equalized funding, and a more robust “parent trigger” to authorize parents to change the management of unacceptable schools, and we should provide a state funded scholarship for students in chronically failing schools to transfer to any school of their choice.
Third, we must adopt policies that enable deregulation and innovation in the schools and move away from the top down, compliance and input driven system to one that is output and performance based. The role of the state beyond accountability should primarily be to enable and encourage new teaching and learning methods through the use of technology and innovations in scheduling and delivery. Schools should be free from unnecessary state bureaucracy and the time-honored management principle of “authority commensurate with responsibility and accountability” should be the prevailing operational model. This should include eliminating the role of the state in managing local human resources, including compensation of educators and arbitrary class size restrictions. And we should expand truly alternative routes to the teaching profession and hold teacher preparation programs accountable for the effectiveness of the product they deliver.
Fourth, we must spend education dollars much more efficiently. In all of the current litigation on school finance, we must ask ourselves, which is the most important consideration—adequacy, equity, or efficiency? I submit the following response: (1) aggregate statewide funding is adequate and, in fact, public education funding from all sources over the past 14 years has increased significantly more than the increase in enrollment and inflation combined, even when adding a factor for the increase in special needs students; (2) equitable funding is questionable in many ways, including between administration and the classroom, between and among many rural and urban areas, and between traditional and charter schools; (3) the “Robin Hood” finance system is a failed attempt at equity; and (4) the constitutional mandate for school “efficiency” should have priority in driving the school finance debate.
Let’s face it—the current education delivery system is not sustainable. We cannot continue to finance this top-down, compliance and input driven system. Only when we replace it with a more competitive, deregulated, and innovative system that incentivizes educators and enables productivity with true financial accountability will we know what funding adequacy and equity really mean.
All four of these areas of reform must “hang together” as a comprehensive whole, but it begins with the state system of accountability for results, for without the infrastructure provided by this system the other pieces have no coherence.
A formidable challenge? No doubt, but we must get on with our response to it. Contact us at www.texaseducationreform.org to learn how you can help.