By Michael Goldstein
By Dennis Romero
By Sarah Fenske
By Matthew Mullins
By Patrick Range McDonald
By LA Weekly
By Dennis Romero
By Simone Wilson
Many had dropped out. But McNeil — and her colleagues Angela Valenzuela of the University of Texas and displaced Texan Walt Haney at Boston College — found the missing 10th-graders, permanently enrolled in the ninth grade. And Paige’s policy had metastasized across the state, much as Texas education policy now is slowly creeping across the United States. For low-performing kids who refused to quietly disappear, the Texas Education Agency (TEA) had created an entire new class of students who are no longer ninth-graders yet not quite 10th-graders. These “technical ninth-graders” may have failed only one course — which allows them to remain in the ninth grade and avoid taking the test. They’re also called “waiver kids,” after the TEA waivers that exempt them from standardized tests. At Sharpstown High, Kimball even found one student who miraculously had leapfrogged over the 10th grade and therefore was never required to sit for the Big Test. Most aren’t so lucky. They hang around the “ninth grade” for a few years. Then they get the message, clean out their lockers and go home. The system drives economically disadvantaged students, who are hardest to educate, out of our schools. The TEA even created an elaborate list of attendance and enrollment codes that allows (and even encourages) school administrators to identify “leavers” as anything other than “dropouts.”
The high-stakes tests that determine whether a student graduates — and whether a principal gets a bonus and keeps her job — create an institutional incentive to cheat. Public school teachers (I was one for 14 years in Texas) are just like other professionals — except they are paid less. When their jobs are on the line — or the job of a competent principal they know is working as hard as possible to foster the best education the system can provide — they behave just like any other professionals. If there was some point-shaving at Sharpstown High, an utterly corrupt system created both the incentive to shave points and the methods with which to do it. In Texas, we have pioneered a high-stakes testing program that drives low-performing students out of their schools.
The good news is that the state has appointed an official auditor to watch over record keeping at Houston’s public schools. And that Houston superintendent Kay Stripling has invested an entire career in Houston’s schools and is unlikely to allow a corrupt system to cheat her kids out of the best education Texas can provide — considering the meager amount of money we spend on public ed.
The bad news is that President Bush managed to make Texas education policy the nation’s education policy. Bush’s No Child Left Behind Education Act is based on the very Texas Miracle that made Rod Paige secretary of education. It is loaded with high-stakes testing and accountability measures pioneered in the state that is the national proving ground for bad public policy.
We’re out of big ideas in Texas. And out of money. This school year begins with “revenue-neutral” education reform. A mandated pledge of allegiance to the Texas flag. (Until it was included in school policy handbooks, not even teachers of Texas history knew we had a pledge.) And a mandated moment of silence at the start of the school day — to allow students to pray.
God knows they’re going to need it.
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