State leaders have made a habit of putting the education cart before the horse. Now, if House leaders have their way with House Bill 1, they are going to shove both into the ditch, while the governor applauds and some of his supporters wring their hands.
Even before the current budgetary emergency, Texas scored well on accountability standards for students and teachers but failed miserably on school finance. Policymakers set high accountability standards for schools without adequately paying for public education. In other words, they made sure everyone was accountable except themselves.
Part of the new accountability scheme for students and teachers was a new, more rigorous testing program set to go into effect next school year. But with the House getting ready (this Friday) to debate House Bill 1, an appropriations bill that would slash $7.8 billion from the public education budget, the House Public Education Committee decided to help school districts save a small part of that amount by easing up on the new testing requirements.
So, instead of having to pass 12 new endofcourse exams to get a high school diploma, students will have to pass only four. And, school districts will be allowed to decide whether test scores count toward course grades, under changes approved by the House panel.
These changes were prompted by protests from local school officials that the budget cuts would make it difficult for them to prepare their students for the new tests.
Several business people, however, showed up at yesterday’s committee hearing to complain about the lowered standards. They included representatives of the Governor’s Business Council and Bill Hammond, president of the Texas Association of Business, a group friendly to Perry.
Hammond and his organization certainly give a higher priority to the public schools than does Perry. But I wonder if the business people have given the governor an earful about the consequences of his rightwing, starvethepublicschools ideology, the same ideology that has produced the budgetslashing House Bill 1. There is a lot more at stake here than standardized tests. Tens of thousands of educator jobs are on the line as well as educational quality in classrooms throughout Texas.
The business people need to keep speaking up for quality public schools. And, they need to speak up to the state’s biggest obstacle to educational quality, the man they have helped to keep in the governor’s office. He is driving both the educational cart and the horse off the road.