Meta: Education “Reform” on the cheap?

We all have that friend that looks around mystified because they have accidently forgotten their wallet— again. I remember one Valentine’s Day in college I was invited by two Puertoriqueñas to dinner. After dinner, I realized my wallet was missing. One of the Puertoriqueñas said, “Typical.” Fortunately, that day my wallet had just fallen out of my pocket onto the floor and I could still be a knight in shining armor. Our legislators have to stop being that friend that forgot their wallet. Our politicians have had a serial problem over the past few decade funding public schools (See my school finance discussion on KXAN NBC here) Despite constitution language in Texas that states:

A general diffusion of knowledge being essential to the preservation of the liberties and rights of the people, it shall be the duty of the Legislature of the State to establish and make suitable provision for the support and maintenance of an efficient system of public free schools.

The Texas Legislature, and those in many other states, have struggled to meet their constitutional obligations to public schools.

The Legislature in Texas had a new idea in 1993. They passed Senate Bill 7, which was the Robin Hood school finance bill, but also contained the birth of accountability as we know it. In the interior of Texas SB 7 were provisions for accountability— the structure that would later become No Child Left Behind when Bush and Paige went to D.C.

Since that time, the government has tried to use data from high-stakes testing and accountability to sell the public a narrative to frame an improving schools system is possible with bare bones funding. (Florida is also trying the same tactic, Cloaking Inequity analyzed their “miracle” in January.) The Texas Legislature has said “money doesn’t matter,” while judges have told the Legislature in Texas over and over that it does.  We know better. Despite Pearson telling us that high-stakes test scores (TAAS, TAKS, and STAAR) scores have (or will) go through the roof and that the achievement gap is closing rapidly, our research has shown that NAEP, SAT, and ACT scores relative to the nation have barley budged and the gap remains over the last decade. Then, recently, the Texas Education Agency tried to tell us that the Texas graduation rates went from 30th in the nation to 4th in the nation— Jason Stanford and I exposed that enrontization (See here and here).

I recently gave a guest lecture to @LangandLit seminar at UT-Austin. A student asked me “So how do we fix education.” For you reformers out there, have you heard this question before? I said, “I don’t know at the price politicians want to pay.”

I am not going to lie. I am a bargain hunter. I remember as a young child my mother explaining to me how to compare tags on the shelves in the grocery store to understand prices per ouch, per foot, etc. You will always find me at the sale rack at the clothier.

Its not a mystery how the most successful countries in the world have reformed their schools. They have invested in them. From Finland, to Korea, to Singapore, they are not in a continual search to find the cheapest education possible (See Linda Darling-Hammond’s Flat Earth). This is our real issue in the U.S., we are continually focused on figuring out how to provide an inexpensive education. From vouchers (~50% saving to the statehouse) to charters (~30% savings to the statehouse, depending on the district you compare them to) to Alternatively Certified Teachers (We call them “highly qualified” Texas, the definition of a misnomer) to “online classes”— our politicians are always looking for the cheap route. When you consider this lens of the “cheap education” (a technical and theoretical term) it colors many of the discussions that we hear from Legislators these days. My mother always says, “You get what you pay for.”


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