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To Gripers: Let New Plan for Texas Public Schools Continue

Dec 4, 2012 by

by Donna Garner

I am frustrated with those who gripe about the lack of educational excellence of the students coming out of our Texas public schools; yet now that Texas has a “New Plan” (NP) to raise the academic level of our students, the gripers are doing everything they can to destroy it.

I understand why the education establishment does not want change; they either feel secure in Type #2 or believe in it; but for the life of me, I cannot understand why some Texas legislators (including numerous conservatives) who supposedly care about the future of our state and nation are doing everything they can to squelch the “New Plan.”

THE “NEW PLAN” — NP

Goal of NP:  To quit producing Texas public school students who are unable to function at a high academic level because they lack sufficient mastery of basic skills and knowledge (e.g., English proficiency) and who do not seem to have the ability to reason logically and analytically

New Plan: Change the entire school environment by changing the philosophy of education that is being taught to Texas public school students, K-12. Implement Type #1 curriculum standards (TEKS) that tell teachers clearly what  — not howto teach in each core subject/grade level/course level of English, Science, Social Studies, and Math.

Then create tests at each grade level/course level that will test the new TEKS.  These tests are called the STAAR/End-of-Course tests.  Make the STAAR/EOC scores public so that both students and teachers feel accountable to teach/learn the new TEKS.  Make sure students work hard each day to learn the new TEKS by requiring students to pass 15 of the high-stakes tests (STAAR/EOC’s) to graduate.

TYPE #1 vs. TYPE #2

*My terminology and definitions:

(1)  Type #1 Philosophy of Education: Knowledge-based, academic, clearly worded, grade-level-specific content that is tested largely through objectively scored tests  — These standards (TEKS) are built from K through Grade 12 and are taught mostly through direct, systematic instruction. The new TEKS adopted by the elected members of the Texas State Board of Education since May 2008 are Type #1, and the new STAAR/End-of-Course tests built upon the new TEKS are Type #1.

Type #1 standards could be referred to as the traditional method – the method of teaching that people perhaps 50 years old and older experienced when they were in school.  This included the teaching of phonics, grammar, correct usage/spelling, cursive handwriting, classical literature, expository/persuasive/research writing, the four math functions taught to automaticity, fact-based and discreet courses in Algebra I, Algebra II, Geometry, Calculus, U. S. History, World History, Botany, Biology, Physics, and Chemistry.

 

(2) Type #2 Philosophy of Education (adopted in July 1997 and reflected in the TEKS and TAKS) — Project-based, subjective (emphasize cognitive domain – beliefs, opinions, emotions), subjectively assessed based upon the value system of the evaluator — emphasize multiculturalism, political correctness,  environmental extremism, diversity, social justice agenda  — These standards are built backwards from Grade 12 down to K (similar to trying to build a house from the roof down) and are taught mostly using the constructivist (project-based) approach.

 

Type #2 can be seen in Obama’s social justice agenda (i.e., Common Core Standards) that includes an emphasis on subjectivity, feelings, emotions, beliefs, multiculturalism, political correctness, social engineering, globalism, evolution, sexual freedom/contraceptives instead of abstinence, environmental extremism, global warming, victimization, diversity, an acceptance of the normalcy of the lesbian/gay/bisexual/transgender lifestyle, redistribution of wealth, a de-emphasis on — factual knowledge, the Constitution, Bill of Rights, Founding Fathers, and American exceptionalism.

RESULTS OF TYPE #1

 

  • If we want our public school children to learn to read well, we must have Type #1.
  • If we want them to be able to speak and write English well, then we must have Type #1.
  • If we want them to be patriotic citizens who revere the Founding Fathers and know and honor the Constitution, then we must have Type #1.
  • If we want our graduates to be knowledgeable voters who know history and can analyze current events based upon the past and the present, then we must have Type #1.
  • If we want our public school children to recognize that they and the whole world were created by a Higher Being, then we must have Type #1.
  • If we want our public school children to know their math facts to automaticity, then we must have Type #1.
  • If we want our public school children to be able to do well in foreign languages, then we must have Type #1 that teaches the phonetic sound system and grammar/usage in English so that they can apply that to their foreign language learning.
  • If we want our public school children to read the great pieces of literature that have connected our country to past generations, then we must have Type #1.
  • If we want our public school children to have the skills and knowledge they need for college and/or the workplace, then we must have Type #1.
  • If we want to turn out scientists who are well read, logical, analytical, and who can write down their scientific conclusions, then we must have Type #1.
  • If we want our graduates to be able to write compositions built upon facts and persuasive techniques, then we must have Type #1.
  • If we want our high-school students to know how to research a topic and then put that information into well-written text, we must have Type #1.
  • If we want legislators who are well read and who have a deep understanding of world history/American history/U. S. legal system and how those apply to current events, then we must have Type #1.

 

 

LEGISLATORS TRYING TO DESTROY NP

 

Now that we understand the two types of education, why are some of our Texas Legislators pre-filing bills that will destroy the NP? Some of these Legislators are conservatives who should care deeply about making sure that our Texas students graduate with the ability to read and think for themselves so that they become responsible American citizens.  How many among us want more “Obamas” to be elected in the future by uninformed, uneducated voters?

 

MY QUESTIONS FOR TEXAS POLICYMAKERS

 

Question #1:  What is your plan to force the hard-headed education establishment to leave their Type #2 TAKS-based curriculum and move their students into Type #1 Texas curriculum standards (TEKS) and the new STAAR/End-of-Course tests built upon them?

 

The reality is that teachers will teach whatever they are held publicly accountable to teach.  If you de-emphasize the STAAR/EOC’s, what would make the education establishment ditch the old Type #2, dumbed-down curriculum standards and move to the new, more rigorous Type #1 curriculum standards?

 

If you are unhappy with the type of graduates coming out of our Texas public schools and you are worried about the educational level of our Texas workforce, what is your plan to improve their foundational, academic skills?  After all, if students cannot read, write, and speak English proficiently, how can they possibly function in their future vocations?

 

Welders still need to be able to read their manuals; auto mechanics still need to be able to read and follow safety regulations. Farmers still have to be able to understand government regulations and to fill out required paperwork.  All of us need to be able to follow written directions (e.g., medicine bottles, safety precautions, insurance forms, doctors’ orders, etc.)  to survive, and everyone is required to fill out state and federal forms.

 

 

Question #2:  What is your plan to make sure Texas public school students commit themselves to learn the knowledge-based, academic, foundational skills that are found in the new TEKS and tested on the STAAR/EOC’s?  The new TEKS (adopted since 2008) are not at all like the old TEKS (adopted in July 1997). The old TEKS did not require students to learn nor teachers to teach specific content at each grade level. The new TEKS, however, have specific goals for students/teachers to reach at each grade level in each of the four core subjects.

 

 

The NP is fair because now everyone knows what the goals are. The old system was a jumble because nobody was quite sure what needed to be taught/learned at each grade level and in each course. Out of frustration and confusion, Texas educators put their TEKS in the bottom desk drawer and made the TAKS tests their curriculum.  The TAKS tests became the focus, and memorization of the TAKS answers became the norm.

 

 

Question #3: If you de-emphasize the STAAR/EOC’s by gutting the present requirements and by not requiring students to pass them at each grade level along the way in English, Science, Social Studies, and Math, how will you make sure that students at each grade level learn what they are supposed to learn?

 

 

How will you make sure that students are prepared on the prerequisite skills at each grade level/course level unless those students and their teachers are held accountable at each grade level/course level?

 

 

The NP requires students to pass 15 of their STAAR/EOC’s in order to graduate. How are you going to motivate students to learn the required TEKS curriculum standards at each step of the way if they are not held publicly accountable as they proceed through school?

 

 

Have you ever heard of public pressure?  That is what the NP does; it makes schools (students and teachers alike) feel the pressure from the public to switch from Type #2 to Type #1 by publicizing the results of those high-stakes tests.  How are you going to mount the same type of public pressure if you gut the NP?

 

 

NEW ACCOUNTABILITY SYSTEM

 

Texas Commissioner of Education Michael Williams working with the Texas Education Agency staff is setting up the accountability system in the NP.  He recently stated that he wants there to be four indicators in a school’s ratings, and I like his idea of these indicators being objective rather than subjective:

 

…student achievement on the STAAR exam, progress on the test, college readiness of students, and progress in closing the white-minority achievement gap…I am going to weight closing the performance gap [between minorities and whites] a little heavier than the other three…We have got to close that gap so we can fill jobs, recruit new jobs and generate wealth and prosperity for the state.

 

Comm. Williams believes that we need more than one indicator (as on the “old plan” – TAKS tests) upon which to rank schools, and he hopes to unveil the new accountability system in March 2013.

 

Because the old accountability system of rating schools was abandoned in 2011-12 to give students and educators time to make the switch to the new TEKS and STAAR/EOC’s, most educators have kept right on teaching the old Type #2.

 

Is it any wonder then that when their students took the new STAAR/EOC’s last spring, the preliminary results looked so bad? The students had not yet been taught the new Type #1 curriculum!  They were not prepared to take the new Type #1 tests.

 

THE MEDIA BLITZ

 

One reason for the delay to the new Type #1 is that the education establishment is relying upon a powerful media blitz that they have launched to try to convince the public to leave the “old plan” in place.  They are carving out an escape route so that they do not have to change from Type #2 to Type #1.

 

Unfortunately, some of our conservative legislators have allowed their thinking to become clouded and are being used by the education establishment that wants to torpedo the NP.  This media blitz is trying to scare the public by saying that Texas students cannot possibly pass the new tests, that they will not graduate, that “the sky is falling.”  Not so.  If Texas teachers will get serious about teaching the new TEKS with fidelity, their students will be prepared to take the new STAAR/EOC’s.

 

Up until now, the education establishment has been banking on their media blitz to get rid of the NP; and most have continued right on teaching their Type #2 units (e.g., CSCOPE).  Naturally their students were not prepared in Spring 2012 when the first trial STAAR/EOC’s were given. That can all be changed if they will follow the law, dump their Type #2 units, teach the new TEKS, and start legitimately preparing their students for the STAAR/EOC’s.

 

DIFFERENCES BETWEEN TAKS AND NEW TESTS

 

One of the big differences between Type #1 and Type #2 is that students can no longer memorize their way through the new STAAR/EOC’s the way they used to do on the TAKS.  Students actually have to know foundational knowledge so that they can apply it to the new questions. That is called “real learning” and is what we as Texans should want from our school students.

 

CHANGES TO 15% REQUIREMENT

 

Gov. Perry, Comm. Williams, Sen. Dan Patrick (chair of Senate Education Committee), and others want the local school districts to decide whether the STAAR/EOC’s should count as 15% percent of the grade in each subject tested.

 

I think that is a reasonable approach to take just so long as these same policymakers do not decide to gut the graduation requirements involving the STAAR/EOC requirements passed by the Legislature in 2007.

 

CHANGES TO LABELS FOR SCHOOL RATINGS

 

Sen. Dan Patrick and other policymakers have also indicated their interest in changing the labels for school ratings. Instead of rating schools exemplary, recognized, academically acceptable, and academically unacceptable as under the old system, the new system would rank schools from A to F with the idea that parents could better understand those labels.

 

I think that is a good idea so long as the parameters for each grading label are carefully defined and publicized.

 

CONCLUSION

 

Leave NP in place with a few minor tweaks such as having four accountability indicators instead of one, leaving the 15% requirement up to locals, and rating school districts A through F.

 

Donna Garner

Wgarner1@hot.rr.com

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