WHITEKER: Farewell to public education system

by Mary Ann Whitaker, Hudson ISD Superintendent

I must acknowledge and give credit to those legislators that have stayed the course in their journey to dismantle public education. They have promoted a perception that schools are failing — therefore, privatizing education via vouchers, tax credit scholarships will save our children. School choice is the answer!

Our lieutenant governor has promoted this initiative as a top priority, claiming to rescue the children from the 500 campuses that were labeled failing campuses under the prior accountability system. Those perceived failing schools were labeled by a test-driven rating system that would penalize a campus based on the performance of one of seven or eight subgroups of students on one or more of the subject tests in one grade level. Considering the high standards for meeting the state passing requirements, more than 7,500 campuses (94 percent) did meet the state passing standards — all subgroups/all subjects/all grades.

Since the 1980s, Texas public schools have successfully survived several versions of the state tests from TABS (a basic skills test), to TEAMS and TAAS (a minimum skills test), to TAKS (a grade-level skills test), to STAAR (a college/career readiness test).

With more than 90 percent of the campuses meeting the increasingly higher standards, the attempt to discredit schools has been unsuccessful. In order to achieve the goal for privatizing education, a new accountability system with much higher standards was inevitable.

Public education is now faced with an A-F accountability system that will evaluate 10 subgroups on the STAAR assessment — those groups include eight ethnic/racial subgroups, poverty and special education. The same student may be counted in three of the four domains/indices receiving A-F labels. The schools were not aware of the protocol for the new system until a couple of weeks prior to the release of the projected letter grades in January.

The state has now decided to increase the passing standards on the STAAR tests to college readiness or advanced level standards. In layman’s terms, students will have to correctly answer seven to 10 additional questions on a test to reach the new advanced passing standard. The state does not publish the targeted standards/objectives that will be tested each year and they change the standards from year to year. To give you an idea of the challenges facing our teachers and students, the state standards for each grade level range from 35 to 45 pages, single spaced. The teachers are frantically attempting to cover all standards within a year in order to successfully play the testing game. It becomes a game of covering the learning rather than mastering the learning.

Why has a faction of our Legislature designed a campaign to dismantle public education? I assure you the issue is not about minority children or children of poverty in schools labeled failing based on one test. School choice is closing doors on public education. School choice is state-funded segregation. School choice is a “tax savings” effort to relinquish the state’s responsibility for providing a quality education for all children. Public schools are not failing children; the state is failing public schools.