Talking to Texas teachers

The Texas Legislature is meeting again, and this time, I hope they’ll finally focus on what really needs to be done. No bathroom bills. Focus on what needs immediate attention: school finance reform.

If you watch the news or read the papers, you’ll hear of property-rich school districts lamenting how they’ll play tens of millions into Chapter 41 “Robin Hood,” only to be able to barely balance their budgets through cutbacks or, to avoid running a deficit, have to borrow from their general funds.

Bills have been presented that would limit Robin Hood, or reform the state funding formula. Some teachers would like to see an end of STAAR testing, arguing that it forces teachers to teach to a test instead of achieving real learning. This is an opinion I’ve heard from teacher friends who range from as conservative as President Ronald Reagan to as liberal as Senator Ted Kennedy.

I asked a few of my teacher friends what they would say if given a few minutes to address the Texas Legislature. (For their privacy and safety, I have given them fictitious first names and have withheld their last names).

Monica, a teacher in San Antonio: “I would ask for the STAAR test to be halted in order to take back real teaching. The STAAR test ties student results to funding. This forces schools to abandon good teaching in order to prepare students for testing, which is not a measure of whether a student has learned.

“I would demand curriculum reform to allow all teachers to go back to teaching all content and not just tested content

“If I had extra time, I’d ask for better retirement programs and medical since most teachers have a bleak future even though we are state employees.”

Monica added something I found particularly poignant: “Teaching students to love reading is the most important thing. Our country lacks critical thinkers because nobody knows how to read.”

John, a teacher in Houston: “Get rid of relying on testing to decide if schools are succeeding or if teachers are doing their jobs. Quit trying to focus on charter schools as the solution when the most recent studies suggest they aren’t and that they just bleed money from the schools. Actually find the mandates if they won’t get rid of them. School funding needs to be the priority this session since they haven’t even gotten back to the funding levels pre-recession but as long as Dan F’ing Patrick is in charge of the senate it won’t happen.”

Lee, a teacher in South Texas: “NCLB [No Child Left Behind] has its roots in Texas and mostly I’m proud of what Texas is today, but NOT that. Sandy Kress, George W. and Ted Kennedy… Two Texans and a New Yorker. I’ve got nothing against bipartisan legislation, but expecting 100% of kids to be passing by 2014 or 2114 is ridiculous on its face… In this world nothing is certain but death and taxes.  If we were willing to toe to toe with Obama’s sequel to this educational train wreck, then why are we working so hard to prove his argument about state education standards being inadequate is right? How so? You ask. By decreasing the performance of our public schools, by the siphoning of students into charter schools. We only further invite a national standard for not only testing, but also teaching. Texas is pushing so hard to convert our public education into a charter/private school format, that they are cherry picking our best kids out of public ed and into charter ed. It’s fine to have private schools but it’s not okay to use public money as a means to segregate public schools by… not race… not class, but effort. Segregation by effort already happens within the campuses by having different levels of classes like AP or Dual Enrollment. But this internal segregation serves the students, the school, and the community. Our schools are judged and penalized for their students’ performances, and when a school that serves low income students shows that it and it’s community are capable of producing adults with skills that allow them to be financially independent and productive citizens, then politicians and other communities give them respect. Conversely, they judged as low performing and a waste of tax dollars when their students do not perform well. This will inevitably lead to shutting down schools and leaving those most needy of structure, supervision, patience, and positive motivation out in the streets like before public ed was mandated by FAPE [Free Appropriate Public Education]. We see the highlights of gangs like the Texas Syndicate or MS13 and we see how much they already conscript and corrupt our youth. It is healthy public education and law enforcement systems that slows their ability to grow while nurturing our communities to grow.  If we truly do not want federal involvement in our educational system and we truly do not want more gang violence then we need to support true public education and maintain quality teachers.

“It might be a bit preachy or dramatic, but my basic point is that I think charter schools are the bane of public education. If we want public education to improve we definitely don’t want to do the opposite of NCLB.”

Post comments here or email them to: richardzowie@gmail.com