Anytime anyone uses the words, “transformational” or “reform” in reference to education, beware. Be extra careful if both words are used, and if the word-dropper is someone like Rod Paige, duck and cover.
Some of you may not remember Rod Paige, but surely you know his legacy. It’s the standardized testing plague now known in Texas as STAAR. As U.S. Secretary of Education, Paige helped then-President George W. Bush concoct and market that mind-numbing Kool Aid that has done about as much to poison educational progress in Texas as the legislative majority’s budget cuts.
The testing regime, a requirement of the since-repealed No Child Left Behind Act and spread throughout the country under the false guise of education “reform,” has wasted countless days of valuable classroom instruction time and dulled the joy of learning for countless school children subjected to endless test preparation drills and worksheets.
The same Rod Paige’s name popped up this week on an oped, published in the Austin American-Statesman, calling for “transformational, top-to-bottom reforms” for school funding in Texas. The article, mercifully, didn’t propose more testing, but it didn’t call for an end to it either.
No, this time, Paige – with co-author David Dunn, executive director of the Texas Charter Schools Association – was talking about school finance, but only in a very limited sense that was not what most people would consider “transformational.” Instead of calling on the Legislature to raise funding overall for a woefully underfunded public education system, they mainly focused on seeking increased state funding for charter schools.
Public charter schools, they said, receive on average $1,000 less per student than traditional public schools and now serve more than 227,000 students.
Lost in the discussion, however, is the fact that charter schools on average do not perform any better or worse than traditional public schools, and they are a minor part of Texas’ school funding problem. (Besides, the disparity in state funding hasn’t stopped private, for-profit charter school operators from popping up all across Texas, eager to get their hands on school tax dollars.)
Charter students represent only a small percentage of Texas’ 5.2 million public school enrollment, and per-student funding for that total enrollment averages about $2,700 less than the national average, with many school districts spending even less than that.
First things first. Even though the Texas Supreme Court – in an opinion full of $100 words and empty political rhetoric – has washed its hands of school funding, the Legislature must do what’s right for all the school children of Texas, not just charter students. During next year’s session, lawmakers need to begin work on an adequate and fair funding plan and drastically reduce or eliminate STAAR testing. It’s time to invest, not test, to replace the Kool Aid with resources that all school children and educators really need.