With the regular Texas legislative session about one-third complete, the battle lines in public education are coming into sharper focus on the four major issues identified last year by our organization, the Texas Institute for Education Reform (TIER). What is at stake is no less than the future direction of standards and accountability based reform and the continuing progress that Texas has made over the past 20 years in advancing toward the expectation of postsecondary readiness for our children.
Here are the critical issues:
* Accountability — House Bill 3, passed in 2009, put in place an accountability system that, when fully implemented, would represent the culmination of 20 years of evolution in public education standards and accountability based reform in Texas. It established for the first time the concept of postsecondary readiness, or college and 21st century workplace readiness, as the organizing principle of the Texas accountability system and signaled the transformation of the Texas assessment standard from “passing” to “readiness”, a major leap forward. Now, only in its second year of phased implementation, this system, regarded by national organizations as the best in the country, is being challenged by a firestorm of opposition to standardized testing and unwarranted fear of the enhanced expectation levels in the new system. Our organization and its allies have proposed reasonable adjustments to existing law, but the opposition wants even more drastic rollback. These threats, if realized, will reverse much of the progress we have made over two decades of hard work on the part of educators, business leaders, and elected officials.
* Deregulation and Innovation — For many years, reformers have been advocating for the long overdue transition away from the antiquated top-down, compliance and input-driven education delivery system to one that is output and performance-based. The role of the state beyond standards and accountability should primarily be to enable and encourage new teaching and learning methods through the use of technology and innovations in scheduling and delivery. We should eliminate the role of the state in micromanaging human resources and expand truly alternative routes to the teaching profession. The time honored management principle of “authority commensurate with responsibility and accountability” should be the prevailing operational model. During this session, there will be a number of proposed initiatives to advance this principle and these deregulation and innovation ideas, but of course they will be vigorously opposed by the usual suspects who have a vested interest in the current delivery system and/or feel threatened by a more deregulated environment.
* Choice and Competition — This area of reform has been a nationwide battleground for many years and this session will see a revival of a range of serious efforts in Texas to expand robust education choices to meet the needs of students and their parents, with funding following the child. Our antiquated education delivery system should be allowed to evolve from a “school system” to a “system of schools”, with comprehensive traditional public school choice, expanded charter school capability, access to more choices for special needs children, and a fully paid exit option for students in failing schools. And beyond the elements of choice to further the dynamics of competition, parents should have the authority to administer their own direct accountability measures with a so-called “parent trigger” to remove school management and re-purpose their children’s schools. Needless to say, these provisions will meet strong resistance from many of the same vested interests.
* Education Finance — The trial court has recently spoken on the Texas school finance system litigation and the losing parties are on to the appeals process, which will not run its course until months after the regular legislative session. This no doubt will result in a special legislative session to respond to the final decision, very likely from the Supreme Court. This situation will hover over the regular session, however, because of the uncertainties in the outcome that preclude the completion of the state budget for education. The issue boils down to the question of which is the most important funding consideration–adequacy, equity, or efficiency. Our organization has a clear preference for efficiency as the priority consideration. Let’s face it, the current education delivery system is not sustainable. Only when we replace it with a more competitive, deregulated, and innovative system that incentivizes educators and enables productivity with true accountability will we know what funding adequacy and equity really mean. Unfortunately, it appears that we have once again abdicated the democratic process and deferred to the judiciary on this issue.
So this is where we are. It isn’t very pretty or encouraging, but we must sustain the fight to continue the momentum of progress and avoid a reversal that would be a disservice to our kids, particularly the most vulnerable among them. The bottom line is that we need to move faster on the track we have been on, not slow down or move in reverse, which is the direction that many of our opponents prefer.
If you have further interest, there is much more information, including policy papers on the issues, bill analyses, and news updates at www.texaseducationreform.org.