This is a good piece that compares the 3 gubernatorial candidates' views on high-stakes testing. What's interesting politically is that there appears to be no constituency FOR high-stakes testing. That is, it's not a political part issue, but rather cuts through them. -Angela
2006 ELECTIONS: PUBLIC EDUCATION
Perry challengers say TAKS isn't the answer
Governor's focus on testing poses a threat to learning, rivals say.
By Jason Embry
Thursday, August 31, 2006
Here's a poll in the governor's race you can take to the bank: 80 percent of the candidates disapprove of the way Texas is using standardized tests.
Some of the details about what they would do instead are fuzzy, but Gov. Rick Perry's four challengers say the state needs to scale back its emphasis on the Texas Assessment of Knowledge and Skills. They say the statewide test restricts teachers and puts undue pressure on students.
Candidates for governor also are talking about teacher pay, dropouts prevention and school vouchers. But their testing platforms would go furthest to shake up the state's $35 billion-per-year public education system.
"At some point, we're going to have to move away from the overall punitive nature of what we're doing in public schools," Democratic nominee Chris Bell said.
If voters go along, they'll change course on an issue that helped propel the previous governor to the White House six years ago.
"We live in a competitive world, and we are preparing our children for that competitive world with the testing program," Perry said. "We are teaching a curriculum, then we are testing that curriculum so we can measure their performance. That is the way the real world works."
The Legislature, pushed by then-Gov. George W. Bush, said in 1999 that students in certain grades would have to pass some sections of the state test to move on to the next grade. Bush billed it as a way to cut down on "social promotion," or the practice of moving students to the next grade regardless of whether they're prepared.
Students take the test in grades three through 11, and the state uses the scores to rank schools from exemplary to academically unacceptable.
Comptroller Carole Keeton Strayhorn, running for governor as an independent, said she wants to move the test from the spring to the fall so teachers use it to see students' strengths and needs and teach them accordingly. She said she wants schools held accountable for their academic and financial performance, but did not spell out how she would do so.
"Nobody knows better than educators, teachers and parents, and I want them all involved in the schools and any so-called rankings of the schools," Strayhorn said.
Bell said he wants to "step away from" using the test for promotion decisions, teacher pay and school ratings, saying that schools could use other factors.
Independent candidate Kinky Friedman wants to do away with the test, although that would put the state at risk of losing millions of dollars in federal education funding because the federal government requires some form of state testing.
"It's not hard to get rid of the test," Friedman said. "You do it with a bully pulpit. You do it the same way JFK put a man on the moon."
Libertarian candidate James Werner called the test a poor substitute for real learning. He wants to drastically reduce the state's role in education, instead giving parents vouchers to use at the private or public schools of their choice.
Perry said the test is one example of the state setting high standards. He also pointed to a requirement implemented by the Legislature earlier this year that high school students take four years of math and science classes to graduate.
State leaders celebrated national test results last year that showed Texas students in each ethnic group scoring above the national average for similar students on a national math and reading test.
"Every time we've raised the bar, the schoolchildren in the State of Texas, with the help of those teachers and administrators, have cleared that hurdle by and large," Perry said.
He said the state has raised teacher pay, offered extra programs for teachers who get extra training in math, reading and science and created a vast performance-pay plan to reward teachers.
Perry declined to elaborate on his education agenda for the next four years, saying he would do so later.
"Let's just let it go in saying that we will continue to have public education, K through 16, at the forefront of the efforts that we make legislatively," he said.
Texas spent $6,217 per student on education in 2000 — the year that Perry took office — and $7,229 in 2005, according to Moak, Casey and Associates, a consulting firm that advises school districts.
But when adjusted for inflation, those numbers represent a real-dollar decline of $235 per student, according to the consultants' analysis.
That analysis did not include the roughly $2 billion increase in education spending the Legislature approved this year when it was ordered to change the school finance system by the Texas Supreme Court.
The court said the state's school finance system relied too heavily on local property taxes, and lawmakers responded by reducing property taxes and replacing that money with other tax increases, including an expanded business tax.
A National Education Association study last year said Texas trailed the national average in teacher pay of $47,697 by more than $6,000 per teacher. Since then, Perry has signed a $2,000 across-the-board raise for teachers.
•Friedman's plan: Friedman said he wants Texas to pass that national mark, and he'd raise money to do so by pushing for casino gambling where local voters approve.
He also said he wants to create a program that sends nonteachers into schools to talk about careers, art, shop and life experiences, and he thinks corporate sponsors should pay for school sports stadiums and school athletic directors.
He supports the Ten Commandments in schools and said schools should have prayer in the spirit of "may the God of your choice bless you."
He also would like to see a new education commissioner.
"I tell you who would be a good one is Carole Keeton Strayhorn," Friedman said, praising his foe's toughness and zeal.
•Strayhorn's plan: Strayhorn wants an across-the-board pay raise of $4,000 for teachers with an automatic increase every two years. She also said she wants to bring back a $1,000 health care stipend for teachers that the Legislature cut in half, then rolled into teachers' salaries.
And she says the state should pick up the cost of tuition, fees and books for two years at a community college or public technical college for anyone with a high school diploma.
"This state and the Austin political establishment have failed our children and failed our teachers," she said.
She says she can pay for her plans with $7.7 billion in savings and money-raising ideas that she laid out in April. But those ideas are rife with questions. For one, they include a cigarette-tax increase that the Legislature has since passed to pay for property-tax cuts, plus a broadening of a business tax that the Legislature has since replaced. Her plan also calls on the next comptroller to find $3 billion in government savings.
•Bell's plan: Bell also said he supports a $4,000 raise for teachers. He wants to expand access to pre-kindergarten programs in public schools, and he thinks talking about birth control as part of sex-education classes can decrease teen pregnancies and curtail dropouts. He pledged to name a bipartisan panel of educators and business leaders to study school improvement.
To pay for his ideas, Bell said he'd look to a higher or expanded business tax, or casino gambling where voters have approved it, ideas that could be a tough sell in the Legislature.
•Voucher program: Perry supports a pilot program to allow students in low-performing, low-income schools attend private schools with public money. Friedman and Bell oppose such programs, known as school vouchers. Strayhorn indicated in earlier races that she could support vouchers but now says they're off the table.
Werner said the state should give the parents of every child a voucher equal to the amount of per-student spending in the state. He said state control would ease over time.
"Schools that meet people's expectations will thrive, and those that don't will fade away," Werner said.
Politics updates available at statesman.com/postcards.
Gov. Rick Perry touts several laws passed by the Legislature during his tenure as educational improvements:
•Third-graders must pass the reading section.
•Fifth-graders must pass reading and math.
•Starting in fall 2007, eighth-graders must pass reading and math.
•Students must pass the 11th-grade test to graduate from high school.
•Public and private funding to improve high schools and create math and science academies
•Up to $400 for teachers to help pay for classroom supplies
•New barriers to lawsuits against teachers
•Pay raises. Perry's office says teachers who were in the field in 1999 and stayed teachers until 2005 saw their salaries increase $11,500 on average. That does not include $2,000 pay raise approved by Legislature earlier this year.
•Performance-pay programs aimed at teachers who work in low-income schools that show improvement, take on extra duties or take hard-to-fill jobs
Students in some grades must pass the Texas Assessment of Knowledge and Skills to move onto the next grade. They get three chances, and if they fail all three, a parent, teacher and administrator can vote to promote them anyway.