After years of starving public education, Texas needs to invest in our schools

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Let’s talk about our public education system, Texas. Each year the Education Week Research Center analyzes the quality of education in each state across the nation according to three metrics: Chance for success, K-12 achievement, and school finance. According to the Quality Counts 2018 study, Texas currently ranks 40th in the nation with regards to overall education quality. Of particular note is the Chance-for-Success Index, which assesses the role of education across the lifetime of an individual, from early childhood foundations through adult outcomes; in Texas, only 37.2 percent of adults hold a 2- or 4-year postsecondary degree and fewer than half of adults attain an income that is at or above the national median.

If we are to prepare our children to be productive members of the 21st century global society in which we live, we must reform our public education system.

The quality of our public education system is dependent upon the quality of our educators. In Texas, more than half of our public school students reside in districts where teacher certification is not required and where teacher certification is not a requirement for employment in public charter schools.

It is also noteworthy that approximately 54 percent of teachers went through through alternative certification programs. Admissions requirements for such programs are not stringent; many programs simply require an individual to hold a bachelor’s degree, in any major, and have maintained a grade point average of 2.5.  And due to lax regulations, the quality and rigor of the more than 200 alternative certification programs in the state varies greatly. In fact, Texas is one of the only states that offers a teacher certification program, Texas Teachers of Tomorrow, that can be completed online without ever stepping into the classroom.

If we are to prepare our students to be successful in their future endeavors, we need to improve the way in which we attract, train and retain our teachers. In order to attract high-quality teachers, we have to provide them with salaries and benefits that reflect the importance of the profession. Rather than simply pushing teachers through a certification program that is focused on teaching to a standardized test, teachers must be provided with world-class professional development that emphasizes the importance of critical thought, project-based learning, and innovation. While Texas is facing a teacher shortage, it is essential that teacher certification programs ensure that teachers are effective educators and do not simply certify individuals for completing a cursory checklist of requirements. Should we continue to minimize the teaching profession, and fail to demand excellence from the individuals who take on the considerable responsibility of educating our children, we will continue to rank low in education outcomes.  

At the same time that we are failing to invest in our teachers, we are failing to invest in our public education system as a whole. If we are to effectively support our students and teachers, it is imperative that we adjust the way in which we finance our public education system. Over the past few decades, the state has drastically decreased its spending on public education.

The state’s share of education spending was 68 percent in the 1980s but has now been slashed to 38 percent. In turn, our property taxes have increased dramatically. To make matters worse, the state cut $5.4 billion from our public education budget in 2011, placing it into a rainy day fund. And according to the Austin American-Statesman, Texas Land Commissioner George P. Bush and the School Land Board declined to provide the State Board of Education with money from the Permanent School Fund’s investment returns — the first time the commission has provided zero funding to the State Board of Education.

To put that into perspective, the State Board of Education had received $490 million from the School Land Board in the previous funding cycle. These massive cuts to education funding have had a direct influence on the quality of Texas education, as seen by the state’s decline in education quality over the past few decades.

Compounding the funding problem is the massive amount of money the state of Texas plunges into standardized testing. Despite numerous studies that discuss the problematic nature of using standardized tests as a metric of student, educator, or institutional achievement, students in Texas public schools must take dozens of state-mandated State of Texas Assessments of Academic Readiness (STAAR) exams. While content plays a role in standardized testing, the predictable nature of such tests allows individuals to improve scores with test instruction alone. Since such scores can dramatically improve through the use of test-taking skills, while bypassing content knowledge, utilizing standardized tests as a means of assessment or potential achievement is inherently flawed.

Based on information obtained from the Austin American-Statesman and Tribtalk, the state spends more than $100 million simply to develop the STAAR exams — not to mention the $50 million in personnel costs per four-hour exam. Even more troublesome is that school funding is linked to student performance on STAAR exams. If a school fails to perform adequately on the STAAR exam, that school is in danger of closure. If a school does not have an adequate number of pupils participate in the STAAR exam, funding is not provided to that school. In short, a multiple-choice exam taken by children determines the amount of funding a school receives.

By 2020, Texas schools will educate more than 5.5 million students, or 12 percent of our nation’s students. The quality of a society’s education system is directly linked to the quality of a society’s economic prosperity, healthcare quality, and crime rate. In fact, societies with highly ranked public education systems also rank highly in general quality of life. If we are to ensure that our future society is prosperous, we must invest in our teachers and our public education system as a whole. This November, we must elect leaders who are advocates of public education and are willing to invest in our future. Vote for education reform.

Eliz Markowitz

Candidate, State Board of Education