Daily Archives: July 22, 2014

Dear Texas State Politicians

inkSince you dedicated your life, or at least a few years, to public servanthood, I have to believe you don’t want to kill the public schools. If you go visit them, especially those with high at-risk populations, you’ll find those schools struggling to survive.

I know when you pass laws, even unfunded mandates, you want the best for Texas students. Before you pass those laws, I’d like to propose a novel concept: talk to teachers. LOTS of teachers. Teachers from all levels in all stages of their careers. Don’t take the word of for-profit companies as law. They’re not in it for the kids. They’re in it for the almighty dollar. So, please, before you listen to them, remember their agenda.

And while we’re talking about for-profit companies and agendas, I’d like you to really think about the for-profit charters setting up shop in Texas. Are they truly serving our students, or are they raking in dollars and cents at the expense of most students attending? I realize all charters are not created equal, but I bet those turning a profit aren’t in it for the kids. Just look at the data from across the country and you’ll see this to be true time and time again.

When something isn’t working, set about fixing it. I know you were hoodwinked into believing our schools weren’t working. I know you’ve committed billions to fixing the “problem.” For your investment professors state-wide say students are less prepared for college than they were before testing began and our SAT scores have stayed the same. The one area data proves the test has actually helped is in lowering the achievement gap for our minority students. That is a fantastic result. I’d like to believe teachers would have worked toward that goal without the money lost to testing.

I know you can make changes based on real data. I know because this year we didn’t give 15 STAAR tests.

But we did give two language arts tests that were far too long. Especially for struggling learners. Try sitting still for close to six hours (or longer if you include lunch). You’ll understand what I mean. In fact, I encourage you to spend two days taking the English 1 and 2 STAAR tests in a classroom, in a desk. Some of the students taking the test are bigger than you, so that shouldn’t be a problem. Maybe you could split your time. Take the test one day and administer the test the next. Experience testing from a student and a testing administrator perspective. That might help you make an informed decision.

That said, other than its length, the ELA STAARs are solid tests in some ways. They measure objectives students need to master before graduating, unlike the tests that came before.

Which leads me to another issue. Right now we have a system that revolves around the test. Teachers are measured by test scores, schools are measured by test scores, school districts are measured by test scores. The test scores reign supreme, and because of that, we have a serious problem in our schools. We have whole years where students aren’t taught subjects because they’re not tested in those academic areas that year. I know that’s ludicrous, but you have set up a system that revolves around the test, and this is the end result. It’s bad for our schools, our teachers and our kids.

Please talk to teachers. We do have the answers. They’re not easy, though. They’re far more difficult than bubbling answer documents and writing 26-line essays. Once again, I realize you never set out to destroy the public school system, but that’s where we are if something doesn’t change.

I appreciate your time.

Mary Beth Lee