Letter to the Texas legislature included with the Texas Parent Report on Education

December 29, 2016

In 2016 testimony to the Senate Education Committee, I questioned Senator Larry Taylor about his statement that the Legislature needed to “hurry up and get this done.”  The Senator was referring to his desire to expediently implement technological infrastructure and applications in Texas classrooms.

The motive behind the questioning is simple. As was explained to Senator Taylor that day, the standards for learning, teaching, instructing, assessing, measuring and accounting for academic achievement in Texas today are corrupt.

The Texas TEKS are flawed.  Senator Taylor proceeded to pass the buck for the corrupt standards to the Texas State Board of Education (SBOE.) While it is the appropriate place to expect accountability, the testimony was also intended to express the SBOE failure to adequately address those problems and how such failure was preventing initiatives, like technology, from being useful, efficient or even relevant. The legislature continues to make laws and push initiatives that are disruptive to education while these standards are left unaddressed.

While so much talking, pondering and brainstorming takes place about the new ideas, the most important factor is being over looked. What is being taught to Texas students is creating gaps in their academic skillsets, throughout the State. The flawed standards are harming students and leaving them deficient in reading comprehension, fundamentals of mathematics and writing literacy.

As the 85th Texas Legislature takes up Interim Charges on Education, including school choice, charters, digital learning, school/student performance and other secondary issues to the actual academics, it is imperative that this body understand that if the standards are not corrected, nothing else that the legislature does will result in what they continue to refer to as improved “student outcomes.”

True student “outcomes” are not evident in A-F ratings, STAAR test results or any other “accountability” measure being used today.  The only possible way to understand what the schools are producing today as a result of these corrupt standards is to see and touch the work the students are submitting.   The majority of our average, mainstream kids are closing the achievement gap in the wrong direction.  Some administrators throughout the State estimate that Texas students are 18 to 24 months behind in their learning, due to the corrupt Texas TEKS, particularly in math.

Bad standards result in bad assessments and bad accountability findings.  The assessment/accountability indicators only measure whether the students have successfully mastered the content driven by the bad standards.

Advocating for school choice is a noble cause.  The present options that are being touted as choice actually counter the existing choice that is currently available to Texas residents.  Today, parents can choose to homeschool or enter their children into private school, with the freedom of not being tied to the bad standards that have been forced on publicly funded programs through state and federal mandates. Everyone should be proponents of that type of choice.

Tying students, schools or education programs to those bad standards through state or federal strings will destroy the choice available to those children.  Charters are required by state law to meet the same bad standards, bad assessment and bad accountability measures that other publicly funded programs require and therefore offer no real choice.

Digital learning is a necessary amenity in 21st century learning. It should be considered a resource, not an end to a problem. Dr. Yong Zhao of the University of Oregon reminds us that education is the growth of a human being, while digital initiatives are training or instruction which is different than education.  Instruction is the transmission of knowledge or development of skills.  Knowledge vs skills. The current Texas standards are destroying the knowledge base of our students.  Any layers of training or skills that are added to a flawed knowledge base simply move the student further away from a sound academic foundation.

The Next Generation Assessment and Accountability system is set to amplify those concerns, as students will be measured “real time, any time” on those flawed standards and their emotional responses to stimuli in the classroom, according to Texas Education Commissioner Mike Morath.  The State is set to build portfolios on whether students are learning flawed material and assess how they feel about it!

Schools and student performance indicators are in no way relevant to whether students can actually read, write and perform arithmetic.  Dr. Patrick Huff states it the best:

“The accountability system, where schools are judged according to how they do on the test and other related factors, and are taken to failure because of conditions the school has no control over, should be placed in a state of moratorium. There should be no more labels or shutdowns; no more teachers laid off due to failing status of the school, until an independent agency, one not beholding to lobbyist or corporate interest that base their profits on the backs of students in “failing schools” can be assembled to create a new system.   The Next Generation Assessment and Accountability should be halted in its tracks. “

Performance accountability only assesses whether students have achieved the mastery of flawed standards which are damaging their academic skillsets. It is impossible through the present or proposed accountability system to measure whether a student is academically achieving at age appropriate levels.

Texas is full of well intentioned people who are pursuing efforts that will have unintended, negative consequences for the future of this generation.  Senator Taylor and his colleagues would benefit their constituents and the future of our state and nation the most by expending efforts to pursue Texas’ freedom from the NCLB, Race to the Top and ESSA mandates that have undermined the most basic premise of our children’s education.  Focusing on re-enforcing the knowledge base before adding layers of nice to haves would go much further in securing what comes next for these kids.

True competition can only be achieved when private entities use private capital to create options in education that are not tied to State or Federal mandates. To remove the ability to not be tied to government run schools violates every premise of life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness.