It was an education summit of ideas when key influencers and legislators got together to discuss the future of Texas public education before an enthusiastic room of several hundred delegates during a breakout session at the 2014 Texas state Republican Party convention in Fort Worth on Friday, June 6, 2014.
The panel consisted of State Board of Education (SBOE) member Donna Bahorich (District 6, R-Harris County), Rep. J.M. Lozano (R-Kingsville), Rep. Larry Gonzales (R-Round Rock), who was also one of the education subcommittee members; and Senator Dan Patrick (R-Houston), currently the Senate Education Committee Chairman, and the favored candidate for Texas Lt. Governor in the upcoming November state elections.
In a round robin, the panelists touched upon key public education issues in the Lone Star state. This included the STAAR test, college and career readiness, charter schools, higher education, accountability, and the Common Core.
Bahorich,who serves as the chair of the Committee on School Initiatives, which oversees agenda items relating to charter schools, the state’s Board of Educator certification rules, and the appointment of school board members for districts located on military basis, brought up the State of Texas Assessments ofAcademic Readiness (STAAR).
Recently, the Texas Education Agency (TEA) reported negotiable improvements in state testing results this year. Bahorich voiced herown disappointment with the flat results at the three year mark, although she noted that it is a highly critical thinking oriented test that was a huge change from the last incarnation of state mandated testing. “When youhave something this big of a change, it takes time,” Bavorich added.
STAAR has met its share of supporters and critics. Rep. Lozano also pointed out that not all students test well and other means should be looked into as potential measures. Patrick, however, fleshed out the conversation explaining the reason why Texas needs standardized state tests.
With 5.1 million students in public schools, he said, “we have a responsibility to the taxpayers and to how our students are learning, how our campuses are doing,” although agreed that we need to determine what is the proper lever of testing.”
Patrick also believed Texas could do more for all its students. One way might be through encouraging competition, especially in failing and often urban schools. He addressed charters as one of those options. He said, “to make our schools better, we must create competition, school choice.”
The senator also commented,”We have a monopoly in our public school system.” He buttressed his comments with reverence to the fact that the women in his family from mother to wife are all retired public school teachers.
Patrick said, “I appreciate teachers. Most are doing the best they can but we must where we have failures turn those schools around.”
Gonzales addressed higher education by noting that the idea of “college” actually begins in high school. Along with Patrick, Gonzales co-authored the HB5 committee conference report that hammered out the final version of the Texas College and Career Readiness Standards (CCRS) bill.
He led an impassioned discussion on the importance of higher education from personal experience by telling the story of grandparents who never graduated elementary school but they scraped together the money to send his father to college.
“There is generational success that comes from higher education,” Gonzales said referring to the fact that once his father went to college at the University of Texas, it changed his station in life and opened new opportunities to him as an American.
This idea of education as the “way up and the way out” has a rich history in the American fabric, including an entire first generation of children whose parents came through Ellis Island and/or those who served their country and then went to college on the GI Bill.
“We absolutely have to have affordable and accessible higher education because we need a trained and trainable workforce in our communities to drive the investment in jobs. When employers are looking for a place to relocate, they are looking for a place that has trained employees…”
Gonzales pointed out the value of giving kids something to show up for in school. He said, “Let them study what they want to study.” Gonzales believes this will drive success in Texas education because the new CCRS “allows our kids to choice the path they want to choose to study.”
Gonzales also emphasized “the flexibility of curriculum and allowing our kids to decide what it is they want to study in their high school tenure, that will directly address truancy and drop-outs.”
Despite the mandated squeeze Common Core states feel to travel down the STEM pathway, Gonzales said this is not so in Texas. “This allows our kids to choose the path they to study.” He also added that not all kids will go to college and that is okay.
“The beauty of HB5 was to put more focus on career,” Senator Patrick added.
The topic of Texas is seeing its share of Common Core pop up around the state came up. The senator addressed it by saying, “House Bill 462 makes it very clear. You can’t bring Common Core into schools but with 1,100 school districts and 8,500 campuses and 300,000 teachers and 15,000 assistant principals, you’re always going to have people who don’t follow the law, don’t follow the will of the people, and when that happens we need to know about that. The best way to inform us and take action on rogue teachers, educators, campuses or districts is through your local school boards.”
Later, Breitbart Texas had the opportunity to speak with Patrick more about Common Core. He said, “Texas is the leader. We see other states they are starting to reject common core. We’re seeing teacher unions even in a city like Chicago…that recently wanted out of Common Core.”
Patrick added, ” I think what you are going to see is this nation turning its back on Common Core. My hope is that as we progress through that in a short period of time, particularly with a new president in 2016 who’s not pushing it, that then the ACT and the SAT will stop trying to align with a curriculum that’s no longer common across the country.”
He emphasized that Texas was among a small handful of states to reject the Common Core. He said, “Now there are more and more.”
Given that Common Core is a federally led program, Patrick made himself clear, “I want the federal government out of our schools. Local control is what parents want.”
Lozano stressed the importance of the publicly elected school board in the role of local control.
Patrick also told Breitbart Texas, “Everyone wants local control but when a problem happens they want the state to fix it. It has to be fixed at the local level. The local school board should be looking out for taxpayers from a fiscal standpoint and the parents from an education standpoint. If things are happening in that school or school district that the parents are unhappy with the school board needs to take action with the superintendent and if that’s not addressed, that’s why we have elections to elect new school board members and that’s local control, really is, up to the parents and the school board to reflect the values of that school district.
Patrick, who will face Sen. Leticia Van de Putte (D-San Antonio) in the November election for Lt. Governor, said that if he is elected he intends to push for more reforms and hopes to move towards an accountability system where Texas school districts and campuses are graded just like students, A-F.
In the end, Patrick emphasized that, in addition to the 5.1 million students in public school, Texas has 300,000 homeschoolers; 250,000 students in private school; and 150,000 in charter schools totaling 5.7 million students, which he stated was almost 10 percent of all students being educated in America. That’s a huge percentage for one state out of a nationwide percentage.
“What we do here matters,” Patrick noted.
Follow Merrill Hope on Twitter @OutOfTheBoxMom.