Wednesday, October 04, 2006

We can't just 'fix' schools; they need to be retooled

A vision from Chrs Bell, candidate for governor. -Angela

We can't just 'fix' schools; they need to be retooled

An op/ed by Chris Bell, Austin American-Statesman

September 30, 2006

Last week, in a small cafe, a young lady came up to me, shook my hand and told me she was proud to be voting Democratic this November. She was proud because our campaign is firmly rooted in family values and faith — she was proud because we offer a clear vision of greatness for Texas and a comprehensive plan to achieve that vision. And, as she started to let go of my hand, she looked me square in the eye and said, "And, please, do something about our schools. I want my kids to do better than I did."

She speaks for almost every Texan I've met — and she speaks for me. I want our children to do better than we did. I want to make one thing clear from the start; unlike Gov. Rick Perry and Carole Keeton Strayhorn, I'm not going to promise to "fix" Texas schools.

Trying to fix Texas schools would be like spending hard-earned money to fix an electric typewriter. Even if I got it running better, it would still be a typewriter. It would never compete with a laptop computer and the World Wide Web.

Texas schools aren't broken. They're running on an obsolete operating system. It's time for a bold new direction.

Here's my promise: Texas students will be the most skilled, knowledgeable, creative, innovative, ambitious, productive and healthy young people in the world in 10 years. Texas students will pass any standardized test because they will have learned to learn, not because they memorized useless facts. Your governor should not be willing to settle for anything less. But the people who run schools now would rather defend the status quo than acknowledge the reality that schools aren't working.

Perry is the worst offender. He can't mention raising standards without talking about standardized tests. He uses the TAKS like the end-all, be-all of education.

Everything in our schools is geared toward helping kids get better scores on that test. What we have is a public school system that has put a premium on mediocrity and failed to meet even that low standard. Only two of every three students make it to graduation. For those graduating, our SAT scores are darn near the worst in the country. And then those lucky enough to get to that next step are showing up at colleges increasingly unprepared to do the work, forcing colleges to teach what our kids should have learned in high school.

If we want a different result, we need to commit ourselves to big, dramatic changes. We need to "retool our schools." We must do more than apply a fresh coat of paint to an outmoded factory. Texas needs schools that prepare our kids for greatness not just for standardized tests.

My very first act as governor will be to appoint a blue-ribbon commission to figure out how to make our schools the best in the country. I don't pretend to have all the answers. But leadership requires that I put some ideas on the table. My main role as governor will be to articulate a common goal and a new vision for public education in Texas.

Here's where I think we should start: High-stakes testing has tied teachers' hands and turned them into little more than glorified test-prep monitors. We need to empower teachers to teach children how to learn in self-directed, group learning environments. We won't see progress in Texas until we end the tyranny of the TAKS test. Next, we must modernize our learning model. Schools need to focus on critical thinking, communication skills, teamwork, self-direction and other skills necessary for success in today's economy.

Finally, we need to engage parents. Too often, we forget that the most important teachers children will ever have are their parents. We need to work with parents to make sure their kids are showing up at school every day ready to learn.

We know what the stakes are. We know what the goal is. And we know that we're not going to get there if we continue along our current path. What Texas needs is a governor with the courage to lead. Only then can we begin to build the best public school system in the country. And only then will the Texas that's in our hearts become the Texas we see around us.

Bell is the 2006 Democratic gubernatorial nominee.

1 comment:

  1. Dear Angela,

    Sorry to write this slightly OT post here-- it was a comment from one of your blog entries from 9/13/06, "Immigration no threat to English use"

    I and many others have taken strong exception to the severely flawed study being cited in that post, which purports the loss of Spanish in SoCal Mexican-Americans by the third generation-- that's no longer true anymore, Spanish retention now is very strong in what is now the largest cohort of immigrants and the next group of third- and fourth-generation Latinos will be retaining it. That's b/c the circumstances of today are very different from decades ago.

    Furthermore, I see no problem with this to national unity. As a strong supporter of the Latino community myself, I find it very worrisome when Latino leaders, in responding to the extremist diatribe of conservative talk radio, try to comfort their right-wing adversaries by claiming that Latino culture and language are being lost. This is a terrible blunder of a response-- it's letting the right-wing wingnuts frame the issue by essentially capitulating to their demands. Latinos these days are retaining and furthering Spanish in the public sphere, but simultaneously are identifying and contributing as Americans, to our public services and military in disproportionate numbers, for example. Spanish retention and bilingualism in the public sphere on the one hand, and patriotic self-identification as an American, are easily compatible and quite common. When responding to accusations of being un-American by conservative talk show hosts, rather than responding that Latinos are losing our language and identity (which we're not), we should say that we're retaining those features but still contributing tremendously and disproportionately to the furtherance and growth of this great nation.

    My full post-- which I'd tried to put up on the 9/13/06 article-- is copied in below. Thanks for all your hard work on these subjects especially for Latinos in education (in 2-way Spanish-English immersion schools and otherwise), it's very much appreciated.


    That study's been discredited pretty through and through. Others have been posting about this on other fora so i won't go overly into detail here, but the study's fatal flaw is that it attempts to take one sample (the current 3rd-generation latino group) and use that to extrapolate to the behavior of the 3rd generation, say, 25 years from now.

    What the study by Massey, Rumbaut and Bean patently fails to do, is to ask whether the considerations in place 25 years ago in encouraging or discouraging language retention, are still present today. 25 years ago, Latino families almost anywhere in the US by and large, wanted their kids and grandkids not to speak Spanish. Supposedly, they'd be more "American" this way with more advantages in economic and social interaction. This was especially true in Southern California which, back in the 1970s and 1980s, was if anything one of the most Anglo portions of the country which produced solid, Anglo conservative governors like Ronald Reagan and George Deukmejian. I remember how it was-- the whole idea of preserving Spanish, at the time, seemed quaint and even foolish, so understandably Latinos in So Cal didn't retain it well.

    Today in 2006, the cultural milieu is completely different. Today, there are massive incentives to retain Spanish permanently, not lose it like before. The best jobs in SoCal go to those who are fluent in Spanish and can write it as well as read it, so much so that even non-Latino people are clamoring to learn Spanish themselves, while 3rd and 4th-generation Latinos who lost it before, are picking it back up again.

    I've also encountered hundreds of Latino families in retail-- not a single one plans on forgoing Spanish anymore, the strong emphasis now is on retaining it and promoting formal and public bilingualism. Not passing on Spanish today is like stabbing oneself in the belly, a self-inflicted wound, and it heavily damages one's future job prospects-- that's the new reality that even Anglos know.

    There's also the sheer Latino demographic presence, the prevalence of Spanish media in print as well as on TV and radio-- SoCal used to have very few Spanish stations, now the region is dominated by them-- and the integral use of Spanish in public places and for public services, which further makes it a prestige language. In the SW there's a long tradition of laws and treaties since the Mexican War that protects Spanish for using in public, similar in Fla., so this isn't entirely new-- Spanish is a founder language supposed to be used in those regions in any case. But there's never been this amount of institutional imprinting of Spanish before, and it's accelerating every year. You can even watch almost any DVD movie these days entirely in Spanish.

    Frankly, this resurgence and further potency of Spanish isn't even a modest threat to English either, and I find it odd and more than a little irritating that some people, otherwise supportive of Latinos, try to defend Latinos by claiming something like, "Oh, don't worry, we're no threat because we're forgetting Spanish and committing cultural suicide anyway." That's stupid-- retaining Spanish and being American aren't mutually exclusive. Most Latinos I know are proud of their country and disproportionately volunteer for military and civic service, yet vigorously promote the use of Spanish. These objectives are definitely compatible.