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.