Guest Post: 14 vs 86—Are Texas Public Schools Failing?

The Senate Education Committee recently invited testimony from former US Senator Phil Gramm in favor of vouchers. Gramm said, “I am worried about an education system that doesn’t work. We know our system of public education is failing.”

Senator Donna Campbell, a member of the Senate Education Committee and a strong supporter of vouchers, has publicly stated, “Today we have a monstrosity, a monopoly. It’s called public schools.”

My good friend Scott Milder, founder & CEO of Friends of Texas Public Schools, recently wrote a letter to the Texas Senate. The following quote from Scott’s letter reflects the mindset of some of our Texas state senators: “It is unfortunate that you (a few Texas senators) feel the need to vilify our Texas public schools because your top campaign contributions come from folks who are determined to see vouchers finally pass. Condemning our public schools and casting harsh accusations of widespread failure is not only disrespectful and counterproductive, it is just flat inaccurate.”

Are Texas public schools failing, or is there more to the story?

Consider this: There are 24 hours in one day, 365 days in one year (8,760 hours per year). Students are required to attend school 180 days each year, seven instructional hours per day (1,260 hours per year). To determine how much time a student spends in school, divide 1,260 by 8,760. You’ll get .143, or 14 percent.

Public schools have control/influence over only 14 percent of a student’s time throughout the year, leaving 86 percent of a student’s year controlled/influenced by factors outside our public schools.

Texas public schools are achieving extraordinary success, contrary to the rhetoric and lack of support from several of our state legislators:

  • In 2013, 88 percent of ninth graders completed high school in four years (another 4.6 percent continued high school).
  • Graduation rates from 2007-2013 reflect increases for the following:
    • African American students rose from 70.7 to 84 percent.
    • White students rose from 88 to 93 percent.
    • Hispanic students rose from 66 to 85 percent. 
  • Graduation rates in Texas compared to the nation:
    • Asian students rank first. o Hispanic students rank second.
    • Economically disadvantaged students rank first.
  • Texas students rank eighth in the world in math and 11th in science, surpassing countries such as Finland, England, Germany, and France. 
  • The new Texas accountability ratings revealed that 92.59 percent of Texas school districts achieved the rating of “met standard” based on a new assessment system and curriculum standards that are “a mile wide and an inch deep.”
  • US students rank No. 1 internationally in reading. 

Although public education falls short of rescuing every child, factors beyond the school, such as lack of community support or communities strained by poverty and social dysfunction, must be recognized and acknowledged as powerful deterrents. It is time for the state to focus efforts and resources on helping students overcome these deterrents in the classroom, rather than creating systems that mislabel students, schools, and communities.

Privatizing education is not the answer!

Mary Ann Whiteker is the superintendent of Hudson ISD. She can be reached at mwhiteker@hudsonisd.org.

Views and opinions expressed in guest posts are those of the guest author and do not necessarily reflect the views and opinions of ATPE.

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