Legislation that works against our students

Dr. Sylvester Perez1

March 23, 2015

Dear SAISD Staff,

As you know and likely have read, the 84th Texas legislative session is in full swing. More than 6,000 bills have been filed, at least 744 of which relate to education. Our staff and trustees actively are engaged in the legislative process by testifying, communicating and providing input via surveys and other means.

Next month, trustees hopefully will approve a resolution opposing Senate Bill 895 and House Bill 1536, bills that would create a new bureaucracy called an “opportunity school district,” which would remove local governance over schools that are rated “Improvement Required” for two consecutive years. Together, the bills represent yet another mechanism by which to hurt school districts, by taking away from locally elected trustees governance and financial resources. That simply is unacceptable.

The imbalance between accountability and the resources needed to meet policymakers’ “high expectations” never ceases to amaze me. For example, Texas ranks in the 40th percentile in per-pupil spending in the nation, yet the state has more accountability than any other in the free world.

Additionally, the legislature is pushing the idea of removing the current ratings system and instead providing letter grades to schools and districts. This method requires the state to identify winners and losers – yet another law that would serve to continue the on-going narrative and continuing theme of “failing schools.”

I understand that a letter grade is a simple way to describe or rate a district or a campus, but, unfortunately, the grade primarily would be based on the current assessment program, which has been criticized as being invalid. No student ever has been given a letter grade for the year based on a single test result, with all other indicators pushed aside – nor should school districts or individual schools have letter grades for ratings.

A recent Tampa Bay Times column by John Romano titled “Legislators still ignoring the real problem with school testing” stated the high-stakes testing in Florida that is attached to that state’s assessments has had a domino effect on all other aspects of the academic year and “it's completely disingenuous for legislators to blame local school districts for operating as testing factories when state mandates have caused this mess.”

The column also stated that lawmakers there “want to blame local school districts for the proliferation of tests. They want to blame parents for testing anxiety. They want to blame teachers for bad-mouthing tests. They want to point fingers everywhere else but the real problem: The outsized importance of the state’s tests.”

Lastly, the U.S. Department of Education recently issued a press release on proposed legislation from the U.S. House of Representatives concerning the reauthorization of the Elementary and Secondary Education Act (ESEA), more commonly known as No Child Left Behind. Now, there are aspects of NCLB that I support and think have served public education well, such as shining a light on academic performance of individual student groups that often were overlooked prior to the federal law because no one was really paying attention. Prior to NCLB, performance had been measured by how well certain students did, collectively, masking the performance of students in special populations.

However, the proposed House reauthorization negatively would impact many large school districts serving high populations of black and Hispanic students. SAISD would stand to lose $32 million – and more than 500 positions – over a six-year span (2016-2021), if the law passed as now proposed. As Congress takes on reauthorization, I hope lawmakers will consider funding our schools equitably and sufficiently, as U.S. Secretary of Education Arne Duncan called for in a recent press call.

In fact, let’s hope all of our policymakers, at the federal and state levels, focus on the imperative of funding our schools so all students can have an equal opportunity to a high-quality education. Perhaps lawmakers should remember that while we welcome accountability, we also need the resources to measure up to increased standards.

Historically, people have suggested that throwing more money at education is not the magic formula. True, money alone is not going to improve the quality of education, but throwing more money at education is something Texans would know nothing about because the state has provided such a minimal amount.

Dr. Sylvester Perez

“We owe our children a fair chance, not separate and unequal funding systems. When we do give our children a chance, our whole country is stronger, our economy is stronger, and the next generation is more secure.” – Arne Duncan, U.S. Secretary of Education















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