Thursday, February 15, 2007
Over the years, the most common lament about the legislative and social debate over the future of Texas public education hasn't been about low performance. Neither has it been about bloated administrative salaries nor the salvation promised by vouchers, charter schools or other variations.
It has been that the "business community" — a shorthand term, and a most ambiguous one — is not fully engaged. For sure, there have been active players in the ongoing public discourse who are also business people, but none has commanded the visibility or the clout of the commission Ross Perot headed in the 1970s. The highly quotable Perot, a Dallas multi-millionaire, boldly challenged the status quo and put the state on the road to educational accountability. Since then, business leaders have been hit or miss in the education debate.
There is no doubt that the state's businesses have a direct stake in the way Texas children are educated. Today's students, after all, are tomorrow's employees. That is not to mention the direct link between levels of income and levels of education. The more education customers have, the more they have to spend. So, which business owner wouldn't welcome a fully educated, fully employed customer base?
That is why we all should welcome the entry into the discussion by high-profile business leaders, including Charles Butt, the chief executive officer of H-E-B, and the highly respected Bill Ratliff, who served as a state senator and lieutenant governor. Butt and Ratliff are part of a group of business leaders calling themselves "Raise Your Hand." Also signed on are executives from Continental Airlines, AT&T and Temple-Inland.
In announcing the formation of the group, Ratliff said accountability measures alone won't improve Texas public schools. In fact, overemphasis on performance measures may damage performance.
"Accountability only goes so far. Weighing a cow does not make it heavier. You have to feed it," Ratliff said.
Among suggestions Ratliff and "Raise Your Hand" offered are state-funded, full-day pre-kindergarten and kindergarten programs available to all 4- and 5-year-olds. That would be one way of addressing an achievement gap between low-income students and their more affluent counterparts.
Ratliff isn't really saying anything new. That concept and the idea of investing more into the public school system have been advocated on these pages and others for years. Nonetheless, there is an unbreakable link between message and messenger.
This group should be an example to Texas business owners about their stake in the public education system. What happens in Texas classroom is, literally, their business.
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