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Texas Journal: Task Force Farce
Tuesday, October 25, 2005
Task Force Farce
On July 19, 2005 Texas Education Agency Commissioner Shirley Neeley chaired the first 65% Task Force Meeting. I was in attendance. Throughout the meeting, education establishment groupthink hung over the room like a dense fog.
The Task Force was assembled to discuss how best to implement Governor Perrys Executive Order RP47 of August 22, 2005. The order directs that a minimum of 65% of school districts funds be expended for instructional purposes as defined by the National Center for Educational Statistics. Texas public schools presently spend a little more than 50% of their revenue on instruction. As for the rest, your guess is as good as mine.
If I were an educator, I would be angry. Heres what I would say in response to this directive.
How preposterous is it for you, Governor Perry, to sit in Austin and direct me to spend a fixed percentage on instruction as defined by someone in Washington, DC? Neither the governor nor the agency whose standards hes elected to apply has any direct knowledge of my students or their needs. I make hundreds of decisions on a daily basis affecting the lives of my children. Im the one closest to those children. I should be solely responsible for the expenditure of their education dollars.
Then, if I were an educator, I would draw an analogy to other professionals.
I would say why dont we do the same thing to doctors? Why dont you publish an Executive Order directing ALL doctors, whether they are chiropractors, veterinarians, immunologists, radiologist, phrenologists, psychiatrists or psychologists, to spend at least 65% of the money they receive on patient care. The remaining 35% is free for use to acquire office space, transportation, equipment and compensation.
Why arent ALL classes of professionals, doctors, lawyers, accountants, and every other group that asserts expertise in any discipline required to place their revenues where the state sees fit?
Righteous Indignation Response
If I were Governor Perry, I would say there are three reasons why we are perfectly within our rights to direct your activities and expenditures while we permit other professionals to manage their own affairs.
1. Texans can select their doctor.
2. Texans can pay their doctor directly.
3. Texans can decline to use the doctor.
1. Texans cant select their teachers.
2. Texans cant pay their teacher directly.
3. Texans cant decline to use their assigned teacher.
Its all about choice. Doctors provide choice, Texas public schools dont.
The inane way we compensate Texas Educators doesnt permit them to conduct themselves as professionals. True professionals dont get paid until they attract a client and satisfy that client. Teachers, administrators and staff of Texas public schools dont conduct themselves like other professionals; so, theyre not treated like other professionals. Since Texas Educators receive their clients on a silver platter, their activities are micro-managed as the State of Texas spends obscene amounts of time and treasure trying to satisfy everyone everywhere with a kid in public school.
Texas Educators brought it on themselves.
Then, if I were Governor Perry, I would invite, no, I would beg Texas Educators to permit us to pay them what theyre worth. I would beg them to let us get out of their way so they could teach. I would tell them that Texans will pay almost anything to assure our children are educated, but not under duress.
If Educators will conduct themselves as true professionals, we will quickly triple teachers salaries and let the 65% rule die an ignoble death.
To learn how well pay educators what theyre worth: Click Here
A Matter of Trust
Commissioner Neeley, along with the superintendents, former superintendents and all of the union bosses sitting on the task force uniformly lament the loss of trust between Texas public schools and the public they purport to serve.
The commissioner and her entourage are right. Nobody trusts Texas public schools.
As a person on the outside looking in, I cannot fathom why these people, who seem to be bright, energetic, and genuinely concerned about children, cant understand why theyve lost our trust.
Ive got five Trust Busting examples directly from the three-hour task force meeting.
Trust Busting Examples
These five trust busting examples are directly from the meeting. They were provided in open forum. There was nothing furtive about the way they were expressed; everyone in attendance seemed to think there was nothing wrong or inappropriate.
The latitude these people are provided is flabbergasting. If a legitimate business tried to operate like a Texas public school; theyd be run out of town on a rail.
The five examples follow.
Pearland Superintendent Dr. Bonnie Cain
During Ms. Cains comments she recited the history of testing in Texas. According to the superintendent it went from TABS, to TEAMS, to TASS and now to TAKS. Ms. Cain said that she and other superintendents initially opposed TAKS. According to Dr. Cain, without TAKS it was much easier to aggregate childrens test scores, thereby leaving some children behind while trotting out star pupils for public consumption. It was easy to make the district look good.
The superintendent said that TAKS no longer permits Texas districts to shunt children aside. With the TAKS, more children are learning more. Now that the deed is done, she views educating as many children as possible as a positive.
Thats the good part.
The bad part is that many Texas school districts are still gaming the system. Some Texas public schools are doing exactly what theyve always done, i.e., anything possible to make their districts look good regardless of the cost to our children.
Given that Dr. Cain acknowledges that children were ill served in the past and given that we know that many Texas public schools still serve themselves above our children and given that the 65% requirement will force more services to more children, its puzzling why any educator would oppose the 65% Rule. It does not foster trust.
To learn how Texas public schools are still gaming the TAKS, follow the link to the sub head Teaching To TAKS about 2/3 of a page down:: Click Here.
Executive Director ESC Region 19 James Vasquez
Dr. Vasquez shared that his region has ten school districts that border Mexico. Speaking about immigrant Mexican children attending Texas public schools in his region, the Executive Director said:
Every day they walk over.. up to age 16 or 17. Some who have never seen the inside of a school and we take them and dont consider them problems, we consider them children. We consider them children that need to be educated and our districts go whole heartedly into the fray by creating special programs that are high expense because they are low teacher pupil ratios required to get those English skills up to par so those kids can succeed. Its not unusual to see the valedictorian from any high school be a recent immigrant from Mexico. &
If the recent immigrant Dr. Vasquez refers to is a legal immigrant or a naturalized US Citizen, then I applaud his concern; his efforts and his diligence in assuring that every young Texan receives the quality education he deserves.
Unfortunately, thats not how it sounded.
I called Dr. Vasquezs office and sent an e-mail requesting clarification of his comments. No response was forthcoming prior to publication.
If Dr. Vasquez and the Texas school districts in Region 19 are taking resources from Texas children and unilaterally undertaking their own foreign aid program, we should implement the 65% rule immediately while concurrently alerting Homeland Security, the FBI and the Texas Rangers.
Superintendent James Morton
The superintendent made the following comments:
&. I also question the political aspects of this. I know were in this for kids. How much is a kids life worth to you? My goal is to help one child a year. Our budget is about $7 million dollars at Prairiland. If I can help one kid, its worth $7 million dollars.
Everyone familiar with Texas public schools knows they are purely political. Its not news.
Texas public schools are purely political because 100% of the their money comes from Austin, not from the families they serve. Because of political decisions, families are compelled to send their cash and their kids to one and only one Texas public school.
For a Texas public school to acquire students, this absurd rule applies:
Performance Means Nothing - Proximity Means Everything.
As families are not permitted to choose where their children are educated, were forced to identify and align ourselves with politicians interested in preserving and protecting Texas families.
Yes Superintendent Morton, this is political. You and the other superintendents have made it political. For Texas families, its both political and very, very personal. Its wonderful that youll spend whatevers required to help a single child. However, if youre the superintendent at my childs school, I become concerned when the attention youre lavishing on that single child diminish the time, attention and effort available for my children.
Texas families refuse to rely on your system, or any other superintendents system, of largess or triage. We demand access to the education dollars weve invested so that we may personally see to our childrens education.
Things Schools Cant Do Without
The following is a partial list of the things the superintendents and unions would like to be classified as instructional costs so theyll count towards the 65% requirement:
buses, fuel, at risk programs, after school programs, reduced cost meals, free breakfasts, software development costs, any unique circumstances, training for staff, training for school board members, consulting activities, media, library, staff development, guidance, counseling, food, fine arts, music, police officers, security, day care, inflationary costs, cameras,
Whats left? They want everything included as instructional, save one.
The superintendents and unions want money received from special sources such as grants to be exempt from the 65% rule.
Task Force Meeting Notification
There was no press release about this meeting on the TEA web site. At this writing, theres no press release about the follow-up meeting on the 25th of October. If you dont know to look on the various union web sites, you dont know anything about these ostensibly public meetings.
I found information on this meeting on the TASAnet.org, the Texas superintendents site.
From the same union site, I learned that the meeting on Tuesday, October 25, 2005 would be held in the William B. Travis Building, in Austin at 1pm in room 1.104.
If the TEA is going to chair meetings open to the public, why isnt notification of them provided to the public on the TEA web site? If they would do so, they would be talking to the public, rather than themselves.
We have five illustrations from a three-hour meeting describing attitudes and incidents that directly contribute to the systemic distrust Texans feel towards our public schools.
If you like further examples, I have them. There are more than 40 articles published at this site detailing numerous breeches of trust. I invite you to peruse them.
To view the article index: Click Here.
A number of the assembled superintendents commented on their efforts to achieve total transparency in their budgeting and operation. They said they have open school board meetings, public budgets, periods permitting public comment and other methods undertaken to assure the public is fully informed.
Unless you have time to make Texas public schools your lifes work, there is no way the average parent can attend, review, monitor and influence a local school. Unless theyre earning a living from Texas public schools, theres no way anyone without children would subject themselves to the endless meetings and the arcane arguments.
Before my son was born, I paid no more attention to schools, their operation, and their budgets than I presently do to Sears Roebucks, Wal-Marts and my local convenience store, i.e., absolutely zero.
Its galling that Texans with lives of their own are expected to immerse themselves in the detailed operation of the local Texas public school. Thats what we pay administrators and teachers to do.
Administrators and teachers do not run transparent operations because theyre paid no matter what they do. If they were accountable to the people they serve, transparency would no longer be an issue.
Accountability means choice, heres how it should work: Click Here.
Process vs. Results
During his comments at the podium, Superintendent Saavedra of Houston ISD expressed concern that the 65% rule was interfering with the process of educating children. Dr. Saavedra noted that Houstons current operating procedure provides people on the ground at Houston schools with maximum authority. Dr. Saavedra explained that Houston ISD sets high standards and then permits the school principal and staff to work towards those standards. The schools are then held accountable for their results. Dr. Saavedra noted that the 65% rule flies in the face of this procedure because it compels changes to the process rather than supporting a system that is presently producing satisfactory results.
Dr. Saavedra is right. Thats exactly the way it should work for everyone, including Texas families.
Texans are more than willing to drop the monitoring and meddling the 65% rule will inflict on Texas public schools. The instant Texas families are permitted to unilaterally remove their children and their cash from a failing Texas public school, we no longer care about the internal workings of that school.
Like Dr. Saavedra, Texas families are only interested in the end result, i.e., an educated Texas child. When we determine that the process delivered by a Texas public school is not working, will not work or cannot work for our children, we want the freedom to depart.
When Texas families are permitted to select the public, private or parochial school that best serves our needs, the 65% rule becomes superfluous. Until then, I want my elected representatives to assure Dr. Saavedra and his colleagues are closely monitored and, when appropriate, harshly sanctioned every step of the way.
To learn how to eliminate the need for the proposed 65% requirement, Click Here.
Better Than Nothing
Governor Perrys 65% Executive Order is not the best we can do. However, given the intransigence of Texas public schools, its better than nothing. In fact, its an essential step in the right direction.
Many superintendents present suggested that the 65% rule not be a critical measurement, i.e., reported but not acted on.
The superintendents are wrong. The 65% rule must be a critical measurement.
Failure to meet the 65% standard must carry the full weight and sanctions of the TAKS. Failure to comply must result in children being tutored or permitting children to flee the offending school. If the penalty for failure is not severe, Texas public schools will never take the standard seriously.
The superintendents are already trying to undermine the standard.
Jerry Stone of the Texas Classroom Teachers Association insisted that, whatever happens with the 65% rule, that Texas public schools must still receive more money. Thats before weve seen the results of directing money from overhead to children.
At the Task Force meeting, Ms. Stone said (paraphrasing):
Texas public school resources are inherently inadequate. Were not talking about substitution for or mitigation of our need for school districts to receive substantially increased revenue in the future.
Ms. Stone may be right. We may need to take additional billions and billions of dollars from Texas families and pour them into education. Theres no way to know if we have no accountability. The 65% rule is all about accountability. No one in Texas education bureaucracy is going to do anything if his head is not on the chopping block. Thats why non-compliance with the 65% rule must be compelled with the strongest available sanctions.
Another attendee, Superintendent Morton of Prairiland ISD had this to say in a Paris News article titled, Morton Protests TEA Spending Changes. The article was dated October 23, 2005.
Mr. Morton was quoted as saying:
Its an exercise in coding, and thats all theyre doing Theyre trying to split hairs.
Im still scratching my head, and I sat through three and one half hours of input, Morton said Thursday. I think the whole thing is politically motivated and has nothing to do with student performance.
Superintendent Morton is wrong. The 65% requirement is not an exercise in coding. Its not splitting hairs. Its an exercise in accountability that the majority of Texans applaud. Texas public schools demand cash and kids while refusing to be accountable to the people they serve, i.e., Texas families. As schools wont respond to families, they must be compelled to respond to the state. If schools cannot or will not comply with directives from our elected representatives, our children must be permitted to flee.
The assumption that a remote legislature can precisely dictate a single percentage resulting in exactly the proper amount of revenue necessary to purchase an education in a Texas public school, without regard to the size, the demographics, or the circumstances, while properly taking into account the needs of the district and that of the individual child is fundamentally flawed.
This one-size fits all approach is ludicrous.
Likewise, the assumption that every Texas public school is the finest institution available, staffed by the most capable people in the state, whose one driving ambition is delivering the best education available to every Texas child in a safe, secure environment that honors the values of every Texas family is also fundamentally flawed.
Similarly, this one-size fits all approach is ludicrous.
Both approaches should be dumped before we inflict even more grievous harm on Texas children.
No Choice No Chance
Without school choice our children dont have a chance.
If we fully implement the 65% Rule, were going to spend another 60 months screaming at each other over nothing. Were going to waste another 5 years of the lives of millions of Texas children; were going to squander tens of billions of dollars the end result of which will be a Texas that continues to diminish in stature and capability.
Then, Im confident it will be deemed too unwieldy and collapse.
Why dont Texas public schools have the confidence to compete? What are Texas public schools afraid of?
Why cant they be accountable to Texas families? Why do we let them set the terms of the debate? How is it that we permit Texas public schools to back us into a corner that leaves us pursuing two fundamentally flawed strategies that will not deliver the results we desire? Why do we pretend the Texas Legislature and/or the Texas Education Agency can monitor the progress, performance and competence of 275,000 teachers, a like amount of support staff and over 4 million students?
Texas has over 8 million parents and interested family members that are ready, willing and able to monitor the progress of every single child in the state. Why arent we using them?
To learn how well empower Texas families to assure every Texas child receives the best education available, Click Here.
Work With Us!
Dont permit incompetent Educrats to stand in the way of Educators, families and the children we love. Help us empower Texas families to do what they do best, i.e., love, nurture and care for their children.
Contact the Governor, your state senator, state representative and your State Board of Education Representative today. Urge them to support embattled Texas children by empowering Texas families with The Power of the Purse. Urge them to support 100% Fully Funded School Choice in Texas.
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