We’ve all heard the cliche that our children are the future. Considering that cliches are overused expressions, perhaps this has been said time and time again because it’s true. Our children are the future – they comprise our future workforce, our future lawmakers, our future scientists, our future inventors, our future physicians. I could go on and on.
Like most Americans, I want to make sure our kids are prepared for tomorrow. As a school superintendent, I am fortunate to work in a profession where I can influence the learning that takes place that will prepare students for the future. What I can’t control, however, are the laws that shape our educational system and the legislators who are charged with writing policy and passing legislation that affects our schools and, ultimately, the future of our workforce and economy.
In Northwest ISD, we have identified a number of legislative priorities that can be grouped into four categories: school finance, legislative mandates, local control and public school accountability.
Every resident and taxpayer has a voice in how well we prepare our children for the future. In order to properly equip all Texas students for today’s digital age and assure they are ready for college and the global workforce, we must engage in ongoing, candid conversations with our lawmakers.
As you are no doubt aware, the state of Texas has implemented a new accountability measure called the State of Texas Assessments of Academic Readiness (STAAR). The STAAR system requires testing of our children every year starting in third grade and requires high school students to pass 11 to 15 End-of-Course (EOC) exams in math, science, English and social studies in order to graduate.
While accountability is certainly necessary, this overemphasis on state-mandated testing is misdirected – in fact, there is abundant evidence and broad consensus among educational leaders that over-testing does not necessarily lead to better education. This focus on testing comes at the cost of the skills that we know our children need to succeed in the world: critical thinking, communication, collaboration and creativity.
Whereas our current path of supporting high standards and local accountability offers students a broad and rich education, the state’s high-stakes testing threatens to derail post-secondary education plans for many of our most accomplished students. A student’s ability to pass a state accountability test does not accurately measure that student’s ability to be successful in life.
As a member of the Texas High Performance School Consortium, Northwest ISD is working with other districts to inform the governor, legislature and commissioner of education about our concerns. Your voice is critical to this conversation. We need more parent voices to join in the dialogue with our state representatives.
I encourage parents and other taxpayers to learn more through the Friends of Texas Public Schools and Texans Advocating for Meaningful Student Assessment, two local organizations active in this discussion.
I also invite you to reach out to your state legislators and the governor’s office to ensure that your voice is heard at the state level. With so much of your child’s classroom curriculum directly tied to state mandates, it’s essential that all parents express their concerns.
In Northwest ISD, our legislative priorities include supporting the work of the Texas High Performance Schools Consortium and removing the public school accountability system that exists as an overemphasis and over-reliance on high-stakes testing. We want our lawmakers to develop a public school accountability system that truly measures student learning against rigorous standards creating student-centered schools with future-ready students through innovation and creativity, problem-solving skills, collaboration, communication and critical thinking.
We also want the school funding levels restored and for the state to recognize the financial burdens of fast-growth school districts. We want to protect the commitment to provide Additional State Aid for Tax Reduction (ASATR) until another funding source is in place, and we want to reduce Robin Hood’s impact by increasing the state’s investment in education thereby keeping local dollars in local communities.
We oppose vouchers or any measure that would divert public money away from public schools, and we suggest that lawmakers should impose a moratorium on new mandates and reduce current unfunded mandates. We feel that locally-elected school boards should be empowered with authority over local tax rates and revenue for the purpose of enrichment. We also want the number of golden pennies extended at the discretion of the local school board.
While there are certainly strong opinions on both sides of these issues, I do believe we’re all working toward the same goal – preparing all our children to succeed both academically and personally.
It’s vital that you join this conversation. Let your voice be heard.
Dr. Rue is superintendent of the Northwest Independent School District.