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Speak Up For Public Schools

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With the holidays behind us, it’s tempting to be sluggish in switching those parental gears back to school mode.  It’s hard enough to just get back into that routine, much less being asked to speak up for your child’s education. But this new year and this month will bring us to a crossroads in our public schools and it’s critical that everyone, especially parents, be aware of the issues facing our schools as we head into the 83rd Texas Legislative Session. 

Last month I wrote a detailed article about high-stakes standardized testing (STAAR/TAKS) and explained how this issue has evolved and has now reached critical mass, with our students being subjected to test-driven curriculum accompanied by an endless cycle of testing and retesting.  If you haven’t been aware of the problems surrounding the testing of our students, you may wish to read my article here.

This past month has brought with it some new developments that we will have to weigh carefully since the proposed plans and changes will have a profound and lasting impact on public education. 

Texas Education Agency Commissioner Michael Williams has proposed a new accountability index based on four indicators, with an emphasis on closing the minority and economically disadvantaged achievement gaps. 

Texas Senator Dan Patrick has revealed his plan to introduce “school choice” legislation featuring tax credits to companies that provide scholarships for students to attend private schools.  Additionally he proposes that schools be rated on an A-F scale.  Legislation has already been filed with varied approaches to addressing STAAR test concerns. Meanwhile, the ongoing school finance trial will also have an influence on how all of these issues play out.

Communities, taxpayers, and parents must carefully examine the pros and cons of these plans before coming to quick conclusions.  They require money and oversight.  There will be unintended consequences.  Similar plans have already been implemented in other states, giving rise to a whole set of new problems along with any gains.  Certainly none of these measures have proven to turn any state into a world-class leader. 

Ultimately, our focus needs to remain clear on taking care of our public schools without becoming distracted by proposals and interventions that have not shown clear success.   Before labeling public schools as failures and making changes that seek answers from private schools, we must properly fund our schools and give them the opportunity to achieve without their hands tied by an over-reliance on testing mandates and test-driven curriculum standards that define rigor as quantity rather than quality.  Opposition to high-stakes standardized testing and a deeply flawed accountability system does not equate to an opposition to accountability.

Our local communities, including parents, educators, and school boards are the best resource to address public school concerns in their own individual communities.  Speak Up For Texas Public Schools, a local grassroots organization formed by parents in Lewisville ISD, seeks to educate the local community about issues facing our schools and promote legislation that strengthens public education.  On January 23, the community is invited to attend one of three educational forums featuring two influential educational advocacy groups: Texans Advocating for Meaningful Student Assessment (TAMSA) and Texas Kids Can’t Wait.  Presentations will be at 9:30am at Bolin Administrative Center (1565 W. Main St. Lewisville), 12pm at Career Center East (2553 FM 544, Lewisville) and 7pm at Student Services Administration Building (400 West Main Street Lewisville).

For too long parents and communities have allowed legislation affecting public education to be passed without an awareness of the issues.  We have allowed ourselves to be content to let our lawmakers make the decisions will little input from anyone except well-paid lobbyists, leaving our schools, teachers, and children to deal with whatever consequences came from new legislation.  This time around we owe it to our kids and future generations of Texans to develop awareness and make our voice heard. 

Stacey Amick is a concerned Flower Mound parent.

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