Archive for May, 2012

CONTRASTING BUSINESS VIEWS ON PUBLIC EDUCATION

In my previous posting, I lauded the excellent comments of Charles Butt, CEO of H-E-B.  More recently, I attended a meeting of superintendents with Bill Hammond, the CEO of the Texas Association of Business.  In some ways, their views are similar; in other ways, not.

Mr. Hammond says he isn’t sure he agrees with “many people who argue that to fix education it takes lots more money.”  He goes on to say that “we have spent lots more money but outcomes haven’t improved concurrently.” 

Mr. Butt looks a bit deeper:  “The top Texas private schools charge – and I’m talking about just the very top group of maybe eight schools – they charge around $20,000 a year for a non-boarder.  The state spends about half that.  So you might ask the question:  Are the private schools just wasting that extra $10K?  I don’t think they are.”   He adds:  “But many people who don’t want the state to spend more use that as an excuse not to spend more. It really is a combination of great teaching, great leadership and adequate funding.”  

I’d like to add my own reaction to some of Mr. Hammond’s comments:

He states that Charter schools “appear to do a better job for less money dealing with at-risk students.”  In truth, a small number of Charter Schools do better; many others do not.  Financial improprieties at Charter Schools are too frequent, as recently documented in the Houston media.  A recent study said that Charter Schools spend more money per child than the public schools.  Now I think public schools can learn a lot from outstanding and efficient Charter Schools — and many Charter Schools can also learn a lot from outstanding public schools.  But Charter Schools are not the panacea that Mr. Hammond suggests.

And in what I consider the understatement of the year, Mr. Hammond says: “It’s not just the school district’s fault. There are some requirements in law that can cause school districts to spend money that they really don’t have to be spending.”   For example, Mr. Hammond realizes it takes way too much money to fire bad employees.  I agree and believe that since the problem was created by the Texas Legislature, it is theirs to solve.  Over the years the state has added so many procedural steps and costly hearings that it has become very difficult to act.  Unfortunately, legislators’ efforts to clean up such unfunded mandates were anemic and almost a footnote at the end of a 2011 session focused almost entirely on funding cuts.  If those believing in “small government” reduced such unfunded state mandates as quickly as they reduced state funding, educational costs would drop.  In the meantime, “Pharaoh” is asking school districts to make bricks without straw.  And telling us it’s good for us.

Mr. Hammond refers favorably to the Comptroller’s Financial Allocation Study for Texas (FAST) as evidence that Texas is increasing public school spending.  But the “increase” in Texas school spending didn’t count the thousands of new students entering the Texas public schools, nor the newest mandates foisted on schools (e.g., expanded standardized testing), nor the state deficits created by previous state reliance on unstable federal stimulus funds.   Almost every Texas school district drastically cut its budget the past two years.  Does anyone really believe that such cuts would have been necessary if funding was not reduced?

Here in Pearland, we are among the 46 school districts (out of over 1000) awarded the highest five-star rating by the Comptroller’s FAST analysis.  That recognition is given to school districts that produce high achievement on a low budget.  Yet we were forced before and AFTER that rating to make massive budget and personnel cuts.  Such huge cuts occurred in almost every school district in Texas — and are NOT imaginary.

With regard to producing higher academic results, “give us straw” with which to lay the solid brick foundation for Texas schools.  And with regard to the ever-increasing state mandates, I ask “Pharaoh” to “Let our people go!”

THANKING A BUSINESS LEADER WHO IS PART OF THE SOLUTION!

When superintendents complain about school funding and an over-emphasis on standardized testing, many state politicans roll their eyes or use it to talk tough about “inefficiency” and “low standards”.   But more and more in Texas, we’re finding that parents and the business community are echoing the concerns of district superintendents and boards.  I’m especially thankful for the businesses who support us with their time and resources – here in Pearland and elsewhere.  The Texas public school giant in this area is H.E.B. which has donated millions of dollars to shining public schools over the past decade.

Upon reading a recent interview in the Houston Chronicle (http://www.chron.com/news/houston-texas/article/H-E-B-s-chief-walks-the-walk-on-education-3537542.php, this past Sunday, I was both amazed and humbled by the knowledge and good sense displayed by Charles Butt, the CEO of H.E.B.

Among the gems in that interview are the following quotes from Charles:

“You have well over 1,000 school districts in Texas and they vary in quality from ones that have terrific, dedicated boards and great supers who attract great principals who fight to get and retain strong teachers, and then you have others who are somewhat dysfunctional.  It’s a classroom-by-classroom matter.  There’s no silver bullets, no magic pills.  It really depends on ALL of us to address it.”

When he was asked about recent state budget cuts, he said:

“The top Texas private schools charge – and I’m talking about just the very top group of maybe eight schools – they charge around $20,000 a year for a non-boarder.  The state spends about half that.  So you might ask the question:  Are the private schools just wasting that extra $10K?  I don’t think they are.”

After saying that “Leadership trumps money, he went on to say:

“But many people who don’t want the state to spend more use that as an excuse not to spend more.   It really is a combination of great teaching, great leadership and adequate funding.” 

When complimented about his command of these education statistics he said:  

“It’s a passion of mine, it really is.  The last 10 years or so I’ve gotten myself pretty involved in it because I feel the future of Texas is really tied to what we do about this.” 

And when asked about standardized testing, he said:

“I think we’re over-testing.  There’s so much focus on the test that it has robbed teachers of some of the joys of teaching and it has robbed students of some of the joys of learning.  It’s also narrowed the curriculum so that there’s not enough room for a teacher who loves a particular book…. We need a system of high standards, referred to in education-speak as rigor, and we need accountability, but we’ve gone overboard on the accountability and testing at the sacrifice of learning.”   

Pearland ISD recently received a 5 Star Rating as among the very best in Texas for financial efficiency and high student performance – based on achievements occuring before I arrived here this past August.  Our district has recently joined many others who are now formally protesting the lack of state funding and the over-emphasis on standardized testing.

So I thank Charles Butt for all he’s done and said – and hope that his common sense will reverberate through the halls of power in our state capitol!