Listening to the news these days, you would think the entire solution to public school problems revolves around “vouchers,” “Charter Schools,” “funding,” and “testing.” I submit that politicians are “straining out gnats while swallowing camels.”
First let me admit my peculiar background. I served four years in the Air Force, two years as a Peace Corps Volunteer (biology teacher) in Africa, 3 years as a Graduate Assistant at Texas A&M, 4 years as the Principal of a Texas private Christian college prep high school, and (most recently) 21 years as a public school superintendent. Therefore, it is possible my perspective is outside of the mainstream…
Here is what I believe:
- The Republican party is supposed to be the party of small government. But the escalating cost to educate students is brought to you courtesy of that same party! They’ve been in charge of the legislative, judicial, and executive branches of our state government for most of the past 20 years. I’ve witnessed massive over-regulation of public schools resulting in mounds of unfunded and under-funded mandates. Most such mandates are of little value. The state ought to set the standard for student achievement and then get out of the way — except to intervene only when there is clear evidence of misappropriation or abysmal student achievement. That intervention should be targeted at the offending school district — not a “one size fits all” solution for all of Texas. Right now, local school boards have almost no power; the state regulates virtually everything they do.
- The new rhetoric by the party of small government is to emphasize vouchers, tax credits, and Charter Schools. Why are those possibilities enticing? The idea behind them is that private schools and Charter schools enjoy regulatory freedom! Wouldn’t it be far more powerful to de-regulate the public schools than to give government money to MORE schools? And how is giving more government money to private interests compatible with the idea of smaller government? And why would private schools eschewing the “Godless,” over-regulated public schools be simultaneously eager to accept secular government money — realizing there are ALWAYS strings attached?
- Government abhors a vacuum. When one abuse happens somewhere in Texas with regard to any school matter, the state inevitably attempts to pass a law prescribing new regulations for all. Thus, when a few Charter Schools misused the government’s money, all Charter Schools received greater state regulation. When Texas school children benefited from a more challenging state testing regimen, the legislature decided a deluge of even more tests was even better. Now, Texas high school students must take 15 state tests to graduate — in addition to the SAT, ACT, AP, PSAT, THEA and other nationally-normed tests already available and useful for college admissions. With the current 15 tests, we have nearly 3 times as many as any other (noting Florida has 6). It’s like the guy who thinks one teaspoon of sugar makes his coffee taste better — and then adds a whole cup. Somehow the result didn’t match the expectation. Due to massive parent/educator protests, the legislature is now swiftly acting to curb its previous testing enthusiasm. It is predicted the number of state tests will drop from 15 to 5. Let’s not stop there. Let’s de-regulate and simplify on every page of Texas education law!
Why is this difficult? It takes far more courage for politicians to de-regulate than to simply add new beneficiaries to the government teat! Special interest groups push regulations that line the pockets of their constituents — and simultaneously empty taxpayer pockets. This is evident in every area of Texas public education law. School funding can be far more affordable if special interest regulation was thrown out!
Politicians do not champion beleaguered taxpayers by expanding government largesse to private entities. And the party of small government should not pretend to push “local control” while simultaneously piling on unfunded state mandates. State government should attack the root of the problem IT created. Otherwise, it is like the boy who murders his parents, then calls upon the court to have mercy on him because “After all, I’m now an orphan!”