Wednesday, July 14, 2010

Perry vs. White: A Study in Education Contrasts

What are the two largest areas of state financial responsibility? Arguably they are just about evenly divided between public education and public health services. And today we see that Bill White and Rick Perry are measuring themselves against a scale of who has the best ideas to knock down Texas’ high school dropout rate.

First, you have to agree on what the rate is. According to Perry, who appointed the state’s education commissioner, the figures at the Texas Education Agency are solid gold. And statewide, the TEA says that the dropout rate is 10.5%. According to nearly everyone else, this rate estimate is hopelessly optimistic. Nationally, according to just about every other measurement than the Texas official one, or in this specific case, Texas ranks just ahead of Mississippi in an annual dropout rate of 30.4%.

10.5% versus 30.4%.

You would think, then, that your plan to correct this depends upon which figure you are willing to believe. And in that you would be correct.

Perry, who must ascribe to the lower figure or label himself an incompetent fool who supervises a one-third annual dropout rate, has come up with a plan to encourage high school dropouts to return to school or obtain their GEDs: a business tax incentive.

I first read about that deal here.

He says it will only cost the state $15 million annually, and it will give businesses who allow their employees to go back to school or get their GEDs by giving them 2 hours per week paid time off to do that a $1500 per student tax credit.

Doing the math, that means Perry is willing to spend $15 million per year in order to get 1000 high school dropouts per year their high school diplomas, or the equivalent. Now if the state only had 1000 dropouts per year, that would plug the leak nicely wouldn’t it? Trouble is, even with Perry’s own accepted figures, that is a mere 1/4th of the total annual dropout rate.

Accepting the higher figure found here this figure is a mere 1/12th of the total high school dropouts – annually.

Clearly, Perry proposes to repair what amounts to arterial bleeding with a band-aid.

Democratic gubernatorial nominee, Bill White, has another more robust plan that seeks to plug the leak at its source. This is the educational equivalent, to use a BP oil blowout analogy, to drilling a relief well and killing the gusher at the source rather than attempting to fit a loosely fitting cap at the wellhead.

Bill White knows, because he listens to educators who have learned, that a person's valuation of education begins in pre-Kindergarten. The first of his 5-point education plan is to fund pre-K programs for more children.

This is key. Everything proceeds from there. As a matter of fact there is now enough data to identify probable high school dropouts as early as the 5th grade. If this kind of data is available, this gives teachers and districts a lot of time to institute corrective strategies.

White also outlined a strategy of direct intervention to go directly to the homes of students who do not return to school in the fall. Instituted in Houston, this resulted in the return of 8800 students to high school.

That’s nine year’s-worth of Perry’s program.

Finally, Bill White wants to take Texas off the High-Stakes Testing Standard that has become institutional since George W. was governor.

It. Simply. Doesn’t. Work.

Like it or not, all that has changed in education since the institution of near-complete reliance on TAKS not only for student achievement ratings but for district and campus accountability ratings, has been a change in emphasis from teaching writing, reasoning and critical thinking skills to teaching how to pass a multiple choice test.

Perry, having the ultimate supervisory responsibility with what is happening in public schools, must defend it all.

Must defend the indefensible.

And how does he do it? Perry does what he does best. Perry slaps lipstick on a pig and calls it beautiful and then throws a bone at business. A very small bone.

One can only hope that this latest can of spam issued by Perry will be seen by Texas voters for what it is: a laughable attempt to plug a hemorrhaging wound with a post-it note that says "lern gud".

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