Tuesday, January 10, 2017

We Didn't Start the Fire!

Throughout our history, events have been triggered by the passion of a small group of individuals who generate interest and enlist the masses to oppose actions by others.  In fact, Make Education a Priority was founded by one individual who felt a need to respond to the budget cuts of 2011; support of MEaP has now expanded statewide.

The reaction to last week's release of what TEA commissioner Morath called "preliminary" and "work in process" grades for districts is likely one such event.  What is surprising to me is that it really seemed to take publishing of the results to energize trustees, district administrators and others.  What appears to be missing, however, is engagement by the communities who will be so impacted by the effort to assign grades to campuses and districts.

I have been encouraged by the number of districts whose boards and/or superintendents have expressed their concerns about these preliminary results.  And the flames of education passion continue to ignite across the state. While still a relatively small spark, it clearly is on the verge of becoming an inferno.  

Those who support the A-F grading system are very quick to criticize those opposed to it, saying that districts simply don't want to be held accountable for results in their districts.  While there may be a small number of districts who take that position, the vast majority of districts across the state are fully supportive of accountability programs.  The rub with them is not the concept of accountability itself; it's how the state mandates testing and then publishes "preliminary" results without full disclosure of how the grades were derived.

So as we go forward from the preliminary results, what can we do?  First of all, the results do offer insights into how the state intends to move forward.  But it is critical that we not simply complain about the results but flip the accountability responsibility and seek the support of our legislators in creating a greater level of transparency about derivation of grades; simply publishing a grade benefits no one other than the commissioner.

Second, we have to get our communities involved.  Studies consistently reflect a higher level of satisfaction with local schools than public education in general, so parents should be energized if their local campus receives a grade they perceive as unjustified.  Now is the time for districts and public education advocates to communicate everything they know about the grading system and the grades themselves.

Third, some in the legislature seem to be having second thoughts about the grading system; now is the time for trustees, administrators, teachers and other advocates to reach out to their representatives in Austin and to express their concerns.  We must keep the needs of the more than 5.4 million Texas public education students top of mind, especially as we counter the personal agendas of some of our elected officials.

If public education advocates at all levels, ranging from trustees to administrators to teachers and community and business members, do nothing about working to ensure that everyone understands the system and its implications, we send a message that education is not critical, that the welfare of students is sacrificed to bureaucracy.  We must all step up, "fan the flames" and ensure that we make education a priority.

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