Thursday, August 31, 2006

Perry challengers say TAKS isn't the answer

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

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.; 445-3654

Politics updates available at

Perry's record

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

Testing requirements

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.

1 comment:

  1. At my blog, we've had some discussion whether Kinky is a "liberal." I think the debate rises from the fact that Kinky often jokes that he's in favor of gay marriage because gays should be as miserable as the rest of us, but you have to take those joking comments in light of the fact that Kinky didn't vote against the amendment to the Texas Constitution which banned gay marriage. Anyway, here's my thoughts:

    Let's be careful about how we use that word "liberal" here in Texas. I think you'd do Kinky less harm among Texas voters if you called Kinky a pedophile than if you called him a liberal. Texas is at least 60% Republican and if Kinky is going to win, he's going to have to do it with Republican votes (not by snipping off the pot-smoking fringe of the less-than-40%-of-voters Democratic Party because even if Kinky gets 33% of the Democrats -- which is unlikely -- that'd only get him about 13% of the vote).

    Here is why I believe it is quite inaccurate to call Kinky a "liberal."

    Watch this video clip. It is hilarious, it is true, and it is politically incorrect as hell. Liberal politicians are too politically correct to admit the truth that "negro is a charming word." Whatever Kinky is, he's NOT a liberal.

    Next, read up on Kinky's get-tough illegal alien plan and his 5 Mexican generals plan. Kinky's common sense border security plan is the straight up "minuteman" approach, not Perry's namby-pamby "let's set up cameras" approach. Make no mistake, Kinky is the only candidate brave enough to say we need armed military generals on our southern border. This is not a liberal plan.

    Now consider Kinky's party affiliation. Kinky has run for office in the past as a Republican and he voted for Bush/Cheney in 2004.

    Here is an excerpt from Kinky's interview with Ruminator magazine confirms that he supported Bush's Middle East foreign policy:

    Question: So does this idea of the honorable cowboy have anything to do with why you threw your support behind President Bush in this last election? You did, didn’t you?
    Kinky: Yes. I did in this last election, but I didn’t vote for him the first time.
    Question: Who did you vote for in 2000?
    Kinky: I voted for Gore then. I was conflicted. . .but I was not for Bush that time. Since then, though, we’ve become friends. And that’s what’s changed things.
    Question: So it’s your friendship with him that’s changed your mind about having him as president more than his specific political positions?
    Kinky: Well, actually, I agree with most of his political positions overseas, his foreign policy. On domestic issues, I’m more in line with the Democrats. I basically think he played a poor hand well after September 11. What he’s been doing in the Near East and in the Middle East, he’s handling that well, I think.

    Now maybe you are like me and you were worried that Kinky showed liberal tendencies by voting for a tree-hugger like Al Gore. Well, rest assured that Kinky was mistaken when he said that. Kinky's public voting records confirm he didn't vote for Al Gore in 2000 because Kinky didn't waste his vote on any candidate from 1994 to 2004 when he voted for Bush/Cheney.

    Maybe you think Kinky's a liberal because he's a Jew. Rest assured, Kinky's views on religion are well to the right of Perry's. Kinky wants to take time during the school day for prayers in schools, and he wants to post the Ten Commandments in public school classrooms.

    If you want to see a real liberal, just see who the Dimocrats are running against Kinky.

    Look at Chris Bell's record.

    Starting in Houston, Bell's two big issues were (1) political corruption and (2) ethics reform. Well, goshdarn it, who is in favor of corruption and bad ethics? No one. Bell might have just as well begun his career by being in favor of puppies and ice cream. So what if Bell is against lobbyist abuses -- isn't everyone?

    You should see Bell's record in Congress: click here. Bell was not some mainstream Democrat. Bell was a liberal who

    voted NO on banning partial-birth abortion except to save mother’s life,

    voted NO on forbidding human cloning for reproduction & medical research,

    voted NO on Constitutional Amendment banning same-sex marriage,

    voted NO on protecting the Pledge of Allegiance,

    voted NO on speeding up approval of forest thinning projects,

    voted NO on limiting medical malpractice lawsuits to $250,000 damages,

    voted NO on capping damages & setting time limits in medical lawsuits,

    voted NO on limited prescription drug benefit for Medicare recipients,

    voted NO on reporting illegal aliens who receive hospital treatment, and

    was rated 100% by SANE, indicating a pro-peace voting record,

    rated 100% by NARAL, indicating a pro-choice voting record,

    rated 93% by the AFL-CIO, indicating a pro-union voting record,

    rated 8% by the Christian Coalition: an anti-family voting record, and

    rated 0% by FAIR, indicating a voting record loosening immigration.

    THAT is the record of a liberal and not a moderate.

    Most importantly, Bell biggest claim to fame is being the whistleblower on Tom DeLay. Can you believe a grown man claiming that being a "tattle tale" is one of his biggest career accomplishments? Look at all the litigation that has resulted from the Bell-DeLay dispute: click here. Is litigation a good thing? Plus, I know some people don't think too highly of Tom DeLay, but no one can deny that he was a very strong leader for Texas and a leader in Congress who brought many valuable federal projects and jobs to Texas, and -- thanks to Bell -- we can kiss that goodbye.

    Finally, look at Bell's campaign. He's for making small businesses pay higher wages and making businesses suffer more regulations. I wish Bell would tell us how that is going to bring jobs to Texas!

    Bell is a liberal. Kinky is a moderate except where it comes to immigration and separation of church and state, and Kinky's strong conservative activism on those two topics is completely appropriate.

    Despite all of this, I have been fending off bed-wetting liberals who want to claim Kinky as one of their own.

    I would show them that Kinky doesn't give a rat's a$$ about political correctness and that Kinky has run for office as a Republican and he's voted for Bush and he has immigration plans to satisfy the minutemen alongside school prayer plans to satisfy a Baptist minister, but still the liberals would not accept that Kinky is a dyed-in-the-wool conservative.

    Even after I showed the liberals where Kinky said that the anti-war, anti-Lieberman wing of the Democratic Party is anti-American, those liberals still held fast to their misbelief that Kinky is a liberal.

    Finally, we have an answer from Kinky Friedman himself:
    "I'm not a liberal, believe me. I'm a compassionate redneck, far more conservative than I am liberal."