AMES: Why School Choice Will Make American Education Great Again

PART VII in a Series: Shrill attacks from leftist public education establishment ignores failures of public education

By Bill Ames

Texas Insider Report: AUSTIN, Texas – The U. S. Senate’s recent confirmation of President Trump’s nominee to head the U.S. Department of Education, Betsy DeVos (right,) is a huge first step in the beginning of education reform in Texas.

A second step will be the passage of Texas legislation that provides financial assistance to families who choose to select the school of their choice for their children’s education.

These revolutionary events occur in spite of shrill opposition from leftist public school administrators, local school boards, combative teachers’ union leaders, school district apologists, and the taxpayer-funded lobbying organizations: the Texas Association of School Administrators (TASA), and the Texas Association of School Boards (TASB).

All support the status quo of public education’s stranglehold monopoly over America’s families. What these militant organizations ignore, however, is the declining performance of public schools – both in Texas and across America.

Let’s have a look at the nationwide dilemma of public schools.

In his February 7, 2017 article in Vox.com, author (The Dumbest Generation, The Digital Divide, The State of the American Mind) and education expert Mark Bauerline writes:

“Since 2005, SAT reading scores have dropped by 14 points. A writing component was added to the SAT in 2006, and scores have dropped every year since then except for two years when they were flat. Math scores for 2015 were the lowest in 20 years. The expanding pool of test takers, a common explanation for the slide, doesn’t fully account for it.

“On the ACT’s measure of “college readiness” in math, English, reading, and science, slightly more than one-third of test takers met the benchmarks in three subjects, while another one-third did not meet any(!) of the benchmarks. That means that one-third of high school seniors who aim to go to college are unlikely to earn a B in any of those subjects.

According to the  (the “Nation’s Report Card,” administered by the Education Department’s National Center for Educational Statistics), only one-quarter of 12th-graders are proficient in civics, one-fifth in geography, just over one-third (37 percent) in reading, one-fifth (22 percent) in National Assessment of Educational Progress exams science, and one-eighth (12 percent) in US history. Only one-quarter of them reach proficiency in math.”

Author Buerlein’s presentation of national-level student performance data reveals a disturbing, declining trend in student academic performance across America.

What about Texas?

On January 30, 2017, the aforementioned TASB organization published on its website:

Statement from the Texas Association of School Boards on Education Savings Accounts, Vouchers

The Texas Association of School Boards (TASB) believes education savings accounts and similar voucher schemes that divert public monies to private institutions with no accountability to taxpayers is the wrong choice for Texas.

In a policy environment with increasing school accountability, it is preposterous that the State of Texas would place thousands of public tax dollars on a debit card with little to no accountability.

Local property taxes are paid by home and business owners for the creation of a constitutionally mandated system of free public schools in Texas. Siphoning those tax dollars away from local public school students and decreasing the transparency and accountability of those tax dollars is not consistent with the fiscally responsible nature of Texans.

Vouchers—regardless of what names they may be given—are a betrayal of trust. Texans believe that their tax dollars are going to support public school students. The state should never redirect those tax dollars to private schools or other unaccountable institutions.

Vouchers are a disingenuous way to take money from the 5.3 million students who attend public schools. Tax dollars collected for public education should be used to fund public education. It’s a sacred trust.

Voucher plans will ultimately create a new entitlement program that will cost Texans dearly.

The TASB position might be credible if Texas public schools performed at a high level of excellence. Unfortunately, they do not.

The Texas Education Agency (TEA) maintains a list of low-performing Texas public school campuses.  Students trapped in those campuses qualify for Public Education Grants (PEGs).  A low-performing school campus qualifies for the 2016-2017 PEG list if it meets the following criteria:

Less than 50% of students have passed one or more STAAR/TAKS tests in any two of the preceding three years

The campus was rated “Improvement Required” in 2013, 2014, or 2015.

Parents with children in a PEG school can request transfer to another school.

  • 1,532 Texas public school campuses are on the 2016-2017 PEG list. This represents a significant 28%  increase over  the 1,199 campuses on  the 2015-2016 PEG list.
  • Given that there are 8,685 public school campuses in Texas, 17.6% (nearly 1 in 6) of all campuses are on the PEG list.
  • And given that Texas has 5.3 million public school students, some 900,000 are trapped in low-performing PEG schools. 900,000 students!

This reality hardly justifies TASB’s contention that vouchers are a “betrayal”, and that public education in Texas is a “sacred trust”.  Rather, the number of campuses on the PEG list is “betrayal” of community expectations by the education establishment, and a violation of  Texans “sacred trust”.

I live within the boundaries of Richardson ISD (RISD). How does my local school district stack up?

As a key item on its list of 2017 Legislative Priorities, the RISD board of trustees demanded that the legislature:

“Oppose any legislation/program* that diverts public tax dollars away from public schools. (*vouchers, education savings plans, tax credits, tuition reimbursements, etc.)” 

Does RISD’s student academic performance warrant such self-righteous protection of its monopoly?  Hardly.

RISD has no less that five campuses on the 2016-2017 PEG list:  Carolyn Bukhair Elementary, Forest Lane Academy, RISD Academy, Skyview Elementary, and Thurgood Marshall Elementary.  These five campuses have a combined enrollment of over 3,700 students.

Five PEG campuses, up from two the previous year.  And three of the five current PEG campuses are classified as “Improvement Required”.

Further, in January 2010, RISD adopted the TASA “vision” that de-emphasizes academic knowledge in favor of modifying student behaviors and attitudes.

The resulting collapse of student academic performance at RISD would have been an embarrassment, if the bad news had not been withheld from the community.  The district’s state academic ranking by the schooldigger.com rating organization,  unreported by the district, has been in free fall, from #110 in Texas in 2008-2009, to #413 in 2014-2015 (see chart).

RISD 3rd through 8th graders barely read at the Texas state average.

Summarizing, whether we review student academic performance in public education at the national, state, or local level, the story is the same. Education in America screams for reform.

There is an urgent need to provide our youth with an education that prepares them for success. An arrogant, narcissistic education establishment has fallen far short.  The introduction of free market competition, giving families educational choice, will be a refreshing  alternative.

Read more by Bill Ames:

Ames, Bill book 5-8-12Bill Ames is a conservative education activist who lives in Dallas, within the boundaries of the Richardson Independent School District. Ames reviewed CSCOPE lessons as part of the State Board of Education’s Ad Hoc Committee Project. His work in his local school district resulted in Board reviews of both its Social Studies Curriculum and Project Based Learning implementation, as well as securing a superintendent commitment to modify the AP History course to be Texas standards (TEKS) compliant.

Ames’ book, “TEXAS TROUNCES THE  LEFT’S WAR ON HISTORY”  (WNAenterprises.com) tells the story of his experience in developing Texas’ U. S. history standard in 2009-2010. He welcomes reader comments at billames@prodigy.net

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