Sunday, September 26, 2010

Here It Comes: TEA Commish Wants $260 Million in Education Cuts

Texas Education Commissioner Robert Scott wants to trim the state’s Education budget by $260 million over the next two years. What a surprise.

Here in Texas, which Rick Perry touts as one of the few states that people are moving to because of better job opportunities, the number of school-age children is increasing. This year there will be 4.8 million children attending public school in Texas.

That’s more people than some states have in their entire state population.

So now, in this era of rising student numbers, teachers and school districts are being asked to stretch a shrinking budget over a growing enrollment.

Scott emphasizes three areas that will provide most of the spending cuts: retention of the same textbooks that will become ten years old within the next biennium, cutting expenses on teacher development, and canceling construction of new science labs.

In the end, this is a revelation to me. It reveals to me what the state education commissioner, and as his appointer, the state’s governor regard as necessity, and what they regard as low in priority.

The education profession will soon be facing a crisis. Baby boomers, those born between 1949 and 1964 are starting to retire. Indeed, with the increase in on-the-job demands in education, this seems to be accelerating the effect. Boomers are a huge chunk of the population. Replacing them is not going to be easy. And maintaining the quality of teaching is often directly tied to ongoing and continuous improvement through teacher development.

In short, this is exactly the wrong time to curtail teacher development.

Textbooks? At eight years of age they’re already outmoded so what is another two or four years in the grand scheme of things? And no, the laws of physics haven’t changed and yes it still takes two moles of sodium and one mole of sulfate to produce one mole of sodium sulfate. That’s not the point. The point is not what the content is, but how content is conveyed to a learner.

And the question isn’t whether a student can calculate how much pressure a phonograph needle places on a record surface, the question is what the heck is a phonograph needle.

But most telling is the commissioner’s backpedaling on science labs. The legislature has mandated that all Texas high school students shall take four years of science, three of them being biology, chemistry and physics. What is new this year is that all students are required to study physics. But physics has always been an under-subscribed science, where typically only 10 to 20% of students actually enrolled in the course. This year that jumped to between double and triple the usual number. So I have to ask this: how many fully equipped physics laboratories appeared between last year and this?

The state legislature has mandated that physics be taught to nearly every high school student, has mandated that no less than 40% of class time be devoted to laboratory investigations, and has mandated that students need to take and pass a physics end-of-course exam. But the education commissioner doesn’t want to fund the construction of the additional science laboratories that are needed to fulfill this mandate.

Now I am well-aware of the fact that cuts need to be made, and education must provide its fair share on the budgetary chopping block. But rather than cut meat and bone, what about making cuts in the one area that everyone simply hates? That no one save anti-education politicians think is of any enduring value? State-mandated standardized testing.

I’m serious. And no, I don’t advocate eliminating high-stakes testing forever. But really, if it comes down to it, when money is tight, why not cut the things that do nothing to add to a child’s education? Pearson Education, the contractor that develops, prints and processes Texas’ TAKS test made a cool $88 million doing that last year. This year costs are projected to be about $93 million. And now that the TAKS test will evolve from four subject area tests to twelve end-of-course tests, that expenditure should easily climb.

Doesn’t this make a lot of sense? It does, doesn’t it? That’s why it will never happen. The politics of education will simply never allow high stakes testing to go away because we can’t afford it.

And besides, what if they put these tests off for a couple of years, saving oh, over $200 million, and then someone realized that in the place of testing, actual learning rushed in to fill the void?


Anonymous said...

Nobody has the guts to take it on, but eliminate the bonuses and high salaries of high school football coaches.

And while you are at it go back to basic uniforms for the teams. Is there any reason that our high school football and basketball teams have to have uniforms that look like professional teams? The answer is obviously NO. The uniforms and equipment have to be safe, but that's about the only requirement. Can anyone explain the value in having their names on the backs of their uniforms.

How much would this save?

Hal said...

I hate to throw a wet rag on this, Anon, but high school football is largely self-funding. Except for the head coach's salary and in that I am in 100% agreement. They are paid far above what they are worth. But here in Texas, which invented Friday Night Lights, there is an incredible amount of dollars that the program takes in, and football even funds other sports that are less well attended.

Most coaches, outside of the head coach, make a pittance for the amount of hours that they have to work. To them it is a labor of love and a Hail Mary in the hopes that they make it to the top where the big bucks are.

I'm not defending them, mind you, I dislike what Texas does with sports. I simply acknowledge that they are not the money sink that you suggest they are.