Friday, July 11, 2014

Public education breeds trickle down failure

Southwest High School, San Antonio, Texas | PHOTO CREDIT: Wiki Commons
Southwest High School, San Antonio, Texas | PHOTO CREDIT: Wiki Commons

Recent events in Texas public education examples of epistemic failure

If you had to look up the word “epistemic”, you may have been a victim of public education, a euphemism for the government indoctrination system. Recent events in Texas serve as examples of some of the key problems with public education throughout the nation.

Some states, such as Arizona and Indiana, have come a long way in restoring parental rights and school choice. But those states who initiated various school choice reforms still fall victim to trickle-down mediocrity directed by federal bureaucracy. Others, such as Texas, lag far behind. All of the above point to an increasing necessity for parents to take action. The reforms need to start at the kitchen table and the desks in the home.

Ohio state Representative Andrew Brenner wrote a couple of thought, and conversation, provoking editorials concerning public education reform and philosophy. Agree with him or not, he presents several issues to consider. It seems, the root of Brenner’s message is that citizens need to be more active and politicians need to actively listen. Throwing money at low-performing schools doesn’t seem to work.
This winter struck Texas with unusually harsh conditions that forced schools as far south as Houston and McAllen to close for “snow days”. Northern states plan snow days into their scholastic calendars. Texas school districts plan one or two make-up days, usually on scheduled school holidays. School districts in Houston and Dallas, without parental consent, made the wise choice of scheduling their make-up days on Good Friday.

Parents did not approve of the decision. In Houston, most teachers and students stayed home, costing the Houston ISD potentially a million dollars in state funding.

In San Antonio, an individual, still at-large, threatened to attack an unnamed elementary school on April 24. The April 24 threat did not actualize. San Antonio area school districts are still calculating the attendance figures. The estimates indicate 43 percent of students stayed home. Regardless of the reasons, be they fear or to make a statement, parents voted with funding allocations. The reduced attendance cost area schools as much as two million dollars.

Texas schools receive part of their state level allocations (taxpayer funding) based upon daily attendance. The schools receive $35 a day, per student in attendance. The costs due to the threat extend beyond just the lost per capita payment. Additional police including reserve officers and normally off-duty police patrolled the schools. In increased presence cost the city and bordering suburbs in overtime pay to those officers.
Fear of losing that per capita funding prompted district-level officials to declare any child not in school would incur an unexcused absence. The threat to the kids and their parents seems to have had little effect. Of note, the “perfect attendance” (“I showed up”) awards schools pass out are incentives to comply with their funding schemes.

It folds into incidents surrounding Texas standardized testing, known as STAAR testing. Test results are all about funding, not about the students.

District superintendents, principals, and Texas Education Agency (TEA) officials claim that schools don’t “teach the test”. However, the test instructions indicate otherwise. Students spend months being taught the “approved and expected test taking strategies” dictated in the STAAR instructions. The scoring diminishes the weight of correct answers, granting half credit for them and half for using arduous and confusing methods. For instance, a multiplication problem gets half credit for writing 8 x 7 = 56. The student must draw a diagram of eight bubbles with seven tick marks in each, then count them up. This method keeps kids ignorant. Times tables provide a much more efficient means of solving the problem. The answer is not subjective; it’s a fact that 8 x 7 = 56. It takes seconds rather than minutes.

The TEA issued a threat many local school officials echoed. They threatened summer school and make-up tests for students who didn’t perform to their expectations on faulty standardized tests. Furthermore, they threatened  to hold-back fifth and eighth grade students, forcing them to repeat the grades. Texas law does not support this practice.  Texas Education Code 28.0211 stipulates that a panel convenes to determine if the student is promoted, should they fail the standardized tests. Still, this is a top-down policy that ignores parental rights.

Now the Texas House Committee on Public Education is considering establishing a new school district. It will be run at the state level, not the local level. It will contain up to 700 schools from across Texas that the TEA and State Board of Education rate as “low-performing”. The Texas Achievement School District will take over these local schools, drastically decreasing parents’ voices in their kids’ education. This move is the opposite of a school choice policy.

School Choice policies work. They create incentives for schools to perform to parents’ expectations. Those that fail lose enrollment as parents move their children into parochial, charter, private, or better-performing public schools. Programs that provide tax rebates (falsely termed “vouchers”) to parents that home school or move students to parochial or private schools defray those individual education casts.

But some of the epistemic problems with public education start at the federal level. First, the “school lunch” program provides federal funds to local school nutrition programs. These programs are outside of the authority the US Constitution permits the federal government. They violate the 10th Amendment.

Furthermore, these programs allow the federal government leverage and say in local school policy. Should a school or district not fall in lockstep with a federal “recommended” academic policy, the federal government reduces food funding.

The US Department of Education regularly oversteps constitutional authority. They use the same tactic with No Child Left Behind and Race to the Top funding. Should a school not adopt some aspect or other of the Common Core State Standards Initiative (“Common Core”), the federal government reduces funding. The schools’ academic performance rating doesn’t matter. What matters is obedience.

This is how selective inclusion of Common Core assessment tools and materials ended up included in the Texas Essential Knowledge and Skills (TEKS). It is why school administrators mandate teachers “teach the test” rather than actually teaching kids facts, comprehension, research, and analysis. It is why principals threaten students over standardized test performance and attendance.

It’s a trickle-down failure. Parents need to take back control of the local school boards. They need to have the courage to remind the politicians and bureaucrats exactly who is ultimately responsible for our kids’ education. Parents need to tell politicians to represent, to lead or follow, and, mostly, get out of the way. They need to put bureaucrats in their place, reminding them that they are taxpayers’ servants, not masters. They’ve messed things up for long enough.