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POLICY ORIENTATION FOR THE TEXAS LEGISLATURE 2014
"Local Choice: A New Idea for Freedom in Texas Education"
POLICY PANEL SESSION II (January 8, 2014)
Texas continues to lag behind other states in the area of school choice, as the 83rd Texas Legislature demonstrated how difficult it is, for a variety of reasons, to bring parental choice to Texas. This panel will examine the potential of local school choice programs, established at district or regional level, and how such programs might impact Texas students, as well as our education system as a whole.
We’ve got our panel here now. Ladies and gentlemen welcome to the 2014 Policy Orientation Local Choice: New Solution for Public Education in Texas. My name is James Golsan. This is my fourth policy orientation and third year now working at the Foundation. And I remember my very first PO I was doing a panel I got asked to moderate a panel two months onto the job which was absolutely terrifying. And one of my panelists was former State Representative Scott Hochburg who, he’s a brilliant man. We don’t necessarily agree on everything, but I was very happy to have him on the panel, and I’d never met him prior to prior to the day of policy orientation. And he walked, he came into the room, I knew his face, he walked out, I went over and introduced myself and my, I should say that my predecessors at TPPF in the education position had always been women. It had been Jamie Story and Brook Terry prior to me. And I introduced myself as, hello, Representative Hochburg , my name is James Golsan, I’m new analyst here. And he looked at me and he said, “You’re the new education guy?” And I said yes, and he just shook his head, and he said, “The education department’s getting uglier and uglier.” And that was a harsh truth, but at least I’ve been here long enough now so it’s leveled out, and it’s, it’s been consistently ugly for the last the last three years.
So school choice in Texas, the big picture. What is the big picture? And the big picture really is that there is no picture. We don’t have any kind of what you would think of as traditional private school choice in Texas. We don’t have education scholarships. We do not have tax credits. We don’t have any of the, kind of the more cutting edge ideas that are going on in Arizona with the education savings accounts. And that really runs counter to what’s going on nationally. You’ve seen a lot of states add programs in recent years in terms of, the scholarship program that just went into place in North Carolina, Indiana’s larger statewide program Arizona’s recent reforms again on the ESA front as well as, expansions of longstanding programs like Milwaukee and Louisiana in recent years, and yet in Texas we just don’t have anything like that, and really the 83rd Texas legislature was kind of the a little bit of a referendum on how far we actually are from choice in Texas. We had what I would term a test vote during the house budget proceedings on a school choice amendment, and there is a really a great deal of opposition right now among Texas lawmakers to bringing school choice to Texas.
And the question there is why? What, why are we so opposed here? And I think, part of that a major part of that especially amongst our lawmakers is uncertainty about how school choice would potentially impact their community. All our lawmakers are really about what’s best for their constituency, and, if they see something new they’re worried it could negatively impact their school. They become uncertain. I think that leads to opposition, and it’s, understandable. We don’t necessarily agree that we think school choice would have any negative impact on a public school system but it is the way it is.
And one solution that we’re looking at here at TPPF, and we’ll be developing, this still in its infancy, in the next year is looking at basically giving school districts, or not school districts, municipalities the right to opt in to a school choice program rather than instantaneously putting a statewide program in place. Our hope in this program, which would be of the traditional education tax credit scholarship mold, is that this would make legislators more comfortable potentially with the idea of voting more favorably on a piece of school choice legislation because at the end of the day a program that’s a local option would be just that, it would be a local option in the hands of their voters rather than something that they might view as forcing onto their school district and potentially bringing negative change.
The idea of a municipally run program is not new from a national perspective. You have seen choice programs go into place on a citywide or school district wide basis before both in Milwaukee and Cleveland, some of the country’s oldest school choice programs as well as more recently in Douglas County, Colorado which is a very unique school district-created program but it is a new idea for Texas. Traditionally speaking, when there have been school choice initiatives put forward in this state it’s always been on a statewide basis, and it’s always been met with a great deal of opposition.
So, again, we, we hope this will, this will be a positive step, and I’d like to turn it over to my panel now to discuss both, generally the merits and possibly drawbacks of school choice and what it could mean for the future of Texas, both, in the sense of the, of the potential creation of a local program but as well as, as school choice as a general concept. And so with that, I’d like to introduce our first panelist. First up will be Dr. Matthew Ladner. Dr. Ladner is the senior advisor for policy and research and research for the Foundation of Excellence in Education. He has written numerous studies on, on school choice and writes, I believe, annually the report card on American education ranking K12 performance, progress and reform. Please welcome Dr. Matthew Ladner.
Great, well thanks for having me here. Good, yeah. More slide show. More slide show. We’re having a little technical difficulty here. So to just briefly introduce myself I grew up here in Texas, lived in the Beaumont, Port Arthur area, went to University of Texas. I have spent the last ten years as an ex-patriot Texan living abroad in a place called Arizona. But I’m counting down the days until I can return to a state that when you go to a Mexican restaurant you can actually order queso. And those of you who haven’t lived outside Texas, you cannot believe you would start to miss queso if you’re away from it.
So I want to make three basic points in this presentation. The first point is that the public school system is a permanent part of the State of Texas. It’s, and that should be blindingly obvious to everyone. The State Constitution guarantees the existence of a public school system, the public broadly supports having a public school system and for a variety of reasons I’ll get to show you, even if somebody thought that they wanted to do without a public school system, there would be no practical way to do so. Okay, so public schools are permanent. The second point I want to make, however, is that the current practice of public education as it is going on in the State of Texas right now is likely to be proved to be unsustainable. Public education is permanent, but it’s going to have to change. And finally, I think that despite the difficult history that parental choice has had in the State of Texas there are some ways in which parental choice would obviously help to address the challenges the State of Texas is going to face in the future. It’s not a panacea, school choice, parental choice is not a magic bullet that solves all education problems by any stretch of the imagination, but in some very concrete ways it could improve outcomes and help deal with some very serious challenges that the state has moving forward.
Let’s kind of go and just quickly kind of look at some of the basic facts about the public education system in Texas. First of all, spending per pupil even after you adjust for inflation has increased substantially over the last 20 years. In real constant dollars, 2012 dollars, in 1990 we were spending just south of $7,000.00 per pupil. In a more recent figure, this is all data from the Texas Education Agency, if you want to look it up you can just Goggle AEIS Texas and you can find these figures for yourself you see there’s a substantial increase in spending per pupil, and of course, at the same time over the last 20 years we’ve also seen a very large increase in the numbers of people. So at the same time that we’re spending more per pupil, we’ve also been accommodating a lot more pupils, okay. There’s been substantial enrollment growth. This is census data from the Census Bureau showing the number of Texans 18 and under in the state. You see there was about almost a million increase in that figure between 2000 and 2010, okay, and that’s no small amount. Of course not all 18 and unders are actually in school. Some four-year-olds are in public school in a pre-k program, some aren’t. The census unfortunately only keeps track of 5 to 17 which kind of underestimates this impact on the public school system or under 18 which slightly overestimates it. No matter how you look at the data, there’s been a huge increase in the number of kids going into public schools in Texas, okay?
So the Austin American Statesman ran this story that included this photograph in 2010. It’s about a high school in Round Rock called Cedar Ridge. It was a brand new high school that was built in 2010 for a cost of about $85 million, and it was built for 2,500 students. Well when the story ran this brand new high school that had just been finished was surrounded by dozens of portable buildings and was accommodating over 2,900 students, and the kids, bless their hearts, went and put up this sign that says, “Welcome to portableville,” right? Now, this is much more reflective of the reality of education, quite frankly, than most of the debate that we see around parental choice in the Texas legislature, right? This is often, almost always presented as some sort of zero sum game. Oh my gosh, if we lift the charter school cap then kids will be leaving the public school system and they’ll have all these difficulties and what not, okay.
The reality is that Texas has been facing an onslaught of enrollment growth. You guys are just masterful at creating new jobs and new opportunities and people are moving from everywhere to come here, right? Why wouldn’t they, right, it’s Texas? Okay. And the net result of that is you’re having to build a lot more in the way of facilities. So down there in the white you can see the 1990, 10.5 percent of total Texas public schools spending went to capital outlay and debt service, and the most recent figure I got was for 20 percent going to that figure, okay. So the percentage of our total public school funding that is actually making it into the classroom in any sense is going down because we’re having to keep building more and more buildings to accommodate enrollment growth.
Now, the Census Bureau has projections of populations, and basically what these projections show us is that this is not going to stop, okay. The number of, the Census Bureau put out a 2013 population projection for the State of Texas. You see that, the 2010 figure was 6.7 million people under 18. That figure is going to 8.9, almost 9 million, okay. So what this tells us is actually not going to slow down, it’s actually going to be accelerating a little bit, okay. And we’ve had difficulty keeping up with the amount of enrollment growth already going on, and for as far as the eye of the Census Bureau can see, this is going to continue.
Okay, now let’s take a look at some academic results. This is data from the NAPE, the nation’s report card. This is a source of federal education data. They give it to random samples of students in all 50 states since 2003 and this is the closest we can get to an apples to apples comparison between different states, because different state tests can’t be easily compared, the SAT test is only taken by a self-selected group of kids, so, that can’t be compared from state to state very easily. The NAPE is the best we could do, and basically what the NAPE shows us is that if we look for full grade-level proficiency in something like eighth grade reading, okay, this is sort of the last reading measure of reading achievement that we can get proficient is a high bar, okay. This means, you’re ready, you’re internationally comparable if you’re at a proficient level. This does not mean that everyone that is below proficient is completely illiterate. Some of them are sort of have a partial mastery of grade-level reading, and some have no mastery whatsoever, okay. In 2011 these figures for eighth graders in Texas were down as 42 percent of Anglo students in Texas were scoring proficient in reading, only 17 percent of Hispanics, 15 percent African Americans, okay. This is a huge issue, okay. That 42 percent doesn’t go nearly as far as it used to be because today more than 50 percent of Texas public school students are Hispanic, okay. And that number for Hispanics has been pretty flat for a long time, okay. The state cannot tolerate educating 20 percent of Hispanic students to read their grade level. It simply is going to be a recipe for disaster unless that number comes up. This is what I was just telling you before, only 30.5 percent of students are Anglos in the system, and by the way, only, fewer than half of them are learning to read proficiently. That’s a problem there. So, and again, this is what I told you before, the scores for Hispanics are especially disturbing and flat over a long period of time.
So this is something I did, for fun for the Texas Public Policy Foundation last session. I said, well, what was the enrollment growth for Texas in the Texas Public School System between 1990 and 2012? And it turned out that was, 1.45 million kids, okay. So the next thing was to say, well, what if we had twice as many charter schools and charter school kids as well actually got, what if we double the number of charter schools we had? Well, you see that second year it’s 1.1 million. And finally, what if every single charter school west of the Mississippi had opened in Texas, all right? Now mind you, there are hundreds of charter schools in my state of Arizona, and there are more charter schools, 700 and counting, in California, right. If you took all of their enrollment and deducted it from the enrollment growth that the districts’ actually experienced in Texas, you see that the districts still would have gained almost 600,000 students between 1990 and 2000.
So the bottom line on this is, is that our debate over school choice in Texas looks like this, right? School choice are the four horsemen of the apocalypse, that must be charter schools, and this one’s vouchers, and that one could be tax credits, and this one’s digital learning or something, right? This is going to lay waste to Texas Public School System and do all sorts of damage, okay. The reality is much more like this, okay. Lawmakers in the State of Texas could literally have passed a universal voucher program last session, universal, anyone could take it, go to another public, go to a private school whatever you want, and the evidence is extremely clear that all that would have done would be to slow the rate of growth in the districts, okay. There is absolutely nothing that lawmakers in this state could do to reverse enrollment growth in the State of Texas in the districts. It’s literally impossible. So I think it’s time for us to have a more realistic view of school choice programs their impacts and to start asking some very tough questions about where in the world are we going to put those 2 million students on the way. So thank you very much.
All right, thank you, Matt. I kind of just want to leave that picture up for the rest of the presentation. I like that a lot. Our next speaker is Tom Currah. Tom is the senior advisor and data of, and data analysis director at the Office of the Texas Comptroller. He has overseen dozens of high profile research and data projects including the financial allocation study for Texas which is a wonderful tool for seeing how well school districts are performing with the money they get. I use it all the time. Tom, welcome.
Thank you. Can everybody hear me? I’ll try to talk really loudly. Is this on, do we know, is it? Yeah? Okay. I’m, as James mentioned, I’m from the Comptroller’s Office, and I think I was brought her today because a number of the bills that implement scholarship programs, taxpayer scholarship programs or voucher programs have designated the Comptroller’s Office as the administrating agency for whatever reason, and so because of that, we’ve put fiscal notes on these bills. In other words, we’ve estimated the possible savings that might accrue to the state from these bills, and I think that’s probably why I was brought her to talk to day. I will say that most of my comments will be based on things we’ve seen in the past which are, have always been statewide programs. So these comments, however, I think would apply to a local program, particularly if it’s a tax credit scholarship program because it would operate in much the same way as statewide tax credit scholarship would be only on a smaller scale.
One of the things that happens, particularly in sessions where we are dealing with difficult budget situations, is proponents of a scholarship plan, tax credit plan, or a voucher plan will come to our office, say hey, we’d like you to administer this plan, we’re going to file this bill or we have this bill that’s been filed we think it’s going to have huge savings. It’ll help the legislature balance the budget, couple billion dollars sometimes they’ll tell us. We get to looking into the details, we put a cost estimate on it, and I should mention that as far as the state’s school finance system is concerned, the Legislative Budget Board’s going to be the final word on savings from any of these bills, but when we’ve put fiscal notes on them they tend to be fairly consistent with what the LBB does so I think I can speak to what we consider in both agencies. And inevitably we disappoint the proponents. Our estimates are typically a little bit smaller of the savings. So I’m here today to tell you why we disappoint you so badly. And I just want to warn you that this presentation, there will be a little bit of math, but I promise it’ll be simple math. So it’s late in the day, just bear with me.
When you design a program, tax credit program or voucher program the design of that program’s going to largely drive the savings, and there are a couple things that are particularly important in that regard. The value of the tax credit or the voucher and who is eligible for that. Those two things combined, the number of people who use the scholarship and the value of that scholarship will determine the savings to the state. And basically the math is if the value of the scholarship or the voucher is less than what the state spends on average for a student in public schools, the state will save the difference. The average spending on its student minus the voucher amount is the savings to state for each. I told you this math would be simple. So this applies to any student who would otherwise be in a public school. In other words, the state will realize savings from students who take advantage of vouchers or tax credit scholarships if they otherwise would have been in a public school. If it’s a voucher used by somebody who would have been in a private school anyway, there’s no savings to the state because the state would not have been paying for that child.
So eligibility criteria in these bills also comes into play in determining how much there will be, how much savings there will be. And so, and a lot of these bills will place restrictions on eligibility. Sometimes they’ll say look, you have to transfer from a public school to a private school to be eligible for this. They will sometimes do that and allow students who are entering kindergarten to take advantage. Now, in the early years the students entering kindergarten will represent a small portion of those taking advantage of the scholarship. But over time, what you end up doing, particularly if there are no income eligibility requirements or other restrictions, you’ll be, the state will be paying for anybody who otherwise would have been in a private school because if it’s open to anybody and it’s open to students entering kindergarten, then that first year we’re going to get every kindergarten student who would have gone to private school anyway being a cost for the State. And the second year it’s ever kindergarten and first grade student who would have otherwise gone to private schools who will be a cost to the State. Now, those costs typically, at least the bills we’ve seen filed, don’t wipe out all the savings that are generated elsewhere in the system for students who otherwise would have been in public schools.
So another way that these bills sort of limit the pool and make it more likely that students who take advantage of this are students who would have been in public school is put income requirements on them. We see a lot of bills that say, hey, look, only economically disadvantaged schools are going to be eligible for these scholarships, and those students are much more likely to be students who would enter the public school rather than private schools because they can’t afford the tuition typically. So that means that a higher percentage of the students will be students who would otherwise have entered public schools and so most of the, those, ah students will represent savings to the state assuming the voucher amount or the tax credit scholarship amount is less than the average cost per student.
I just want to mention one other thing that kind of comes into play for determining costs, and that’s the complexity of your program. And it also can cause some angst with proponents when they see what we put on bills. A very complex program is going to be more difficult to administer and so will carry some higher administrative costs. Now those are going to be miniscule compared to the savings that might be generated from the program at large, but they can play a role in delaying how, delaying when you will see those savings. So if it’s a very complex program, whoever the agency administering the program is is going to take longer to get it in place, it’s going to take longer for the public and private schools to adapt to it, so you’ll see a slower uptake, and we will assume that students will take advantage of it more slowly.
And this points to another problem that sometimes comes up when people assume that they will get huge savings in the upcoming biennium, the biennium for which the appropriators are writing the budget in the state legislature. A lot of times folks will come in and they’ll say, look, we’ve got this plan. In the first two years it’s going to save a huge amount of money. It’s going to help us solve the budget. When we get to looking at it we think, okay, legislature doesn’t wrap up its business until the end of May, and any bill like this is going to come down to the very end if it does pass it. The next school year starts late August. The odds of any agency having the rules written and in time for people to take advantage, for a lot of people to take advantage of the program in September of the following school year are pretty slim. So, by January maybe we’d have everything up and running so that everything’s in place and anybody who wants to could take advantage of this, but then you run into the problem of hey, folks don’t want to move their kids in the middle of the school year so really it’s the second year of that first biennium when you might get to see, might start to see take-up rates that are more consistent with what you’ll see over the long haul.
Now, what that means is when you see the cost estimates on a lot of these bills, you’ll see, in some cases, a cost in the first biennium and then huge savings down the road. Now part of that is because, we’re assuming there won’t be full implementation until maybe the second year of the biennium, and because of the way the school finance system works, we fund schools based on enrollment in, I think, October and March of each year, but then we actually come back and settle up with them based on actual enrollment in the following year through the school finance system. So those savings may not really materialize until the third year after you’ve passed this bill. So that’s why sometimes you’ll see costs on these bills in the early years, which, of course, disappoints proponents who are hoping they’ll get their proposal passed because it’ll result in savings.
Now, I say all that fully understanding that proponents of school choice program see a lot more value in these programs then just potential cost savings in the short term. So, but we do end up with folks coming in and being a little bit disappointed. Now, I think all of these things would apply to a tax credit scholarship program that’s put in place by a municipality, say this would be, those savings would be concentrated in one school district or a couple cities where they did this, and so the savings might even be smaller than they would be on a larger-scale program. And, of course, other potential school choice programs that might be done at the local level, it would just depend on how those are designed and implemented, but a lot of these things that we can, we talk about here would come into play there, too. A full public school choice within a school district that just allowed school, students to transfer from school to school would probably have no impact whatsoever on state school finances. School districts might decide to partner with private providers. I think this has actually happened in the past, and this district might see some savings there, but those would not rebound to the state typically.
So, I think that’s about all I’ve got for today. I just would encourage you if you do have a bill, you think it’s going to have a big chunk of savings or might be administratively complex, talk to the agency that you would like to implement this bill. We’ve had some problems in the past where sponsors didn’t maybe talk to us and wrote their bill, we read it, we didn’t read it the way they intended the bill to be read, we assumed it’d have a huge administrative cost, they come to talk to us, we tweak the language in the bill, and then the costs disappear because we come to an understanding of what it is they really intended, and we can help them write the bill so that it does what they intend. Or sometimes we just yeah, that’s going to be our cost to do it that way, and then they go back and tweak their initial design. And it can help you avoid that disappoint of seeing that fiscal note if you talk to us, talk to the Legislative Budget Board, if you’re asking TA to administer it, talk to them. So and hopefully we won’t disappoint you in the future, thanks.
All right, thanks, Tom. Next up we have Representative Scott Turner. Representative Turner was elected to the Texas House in 2012. He has immediately, I believe, distinguished himself as leader in the house being in May he was named to GOPAC’s List of 2013 emerging leaders for his leadership of the Texas House and named a courageous conservative by the Texas Conservative Collation. Representative Turner.
How’s everybody doing?
Can you all hear me? Yes. Good. I want to change the tone a little bit and tell you this and a lot of times as soon as we hear the words school choice or we hear voucher or we hear tax credit, immediately we fog up and our minds becomes closed, and I like to think about these things as different educational opportunities for our children. And I’ve been thinking about this a little bit. I think we just need to have a mindset change. We need to kind of have a paradigm shift when we talk about education. Public schools are a great fit for some kids and that’s a fact. Some kids do better there in public schools. Some kids thrive at a public school education. I went to public school. I had great coaches and great teachers around me to help me in public school. But public school is not a one size fits all deal. Every kid is not going to thrive in public school. Every kid is not going to thrive in a charter school or a private school. But whatever the case may be, I believe that we as leaders, as a community, as a service to our children, we can offer up different kinds of educational opportunities.
My nephew, Solomon, who my wife and I took in and are helping to raise him and train him (unintelligible.) His mother is my sister. She needed help in a great way. And Robin and I took him in, he was in a public school system at the time, and he was doing horrible. He was just kind of a number in the classroom with the teachers. Not to blame that on the teachers, not to blame that on the public school system, but this particular child, that wasn’t working for him. And so we took him out of that system, and we put him into a private Christian school because that is a good fit for him, not just to survive but to thrive in educational opportunities. A lot of people say, well, you had the means and ability to do that. And it’s true, everyone does not have that opportunity. But I believe that if we can offer those opportunities we could take kids like Solomon, who are in a position to where they need to be taken out and going to a place to where they can better perform and execute and grow and be molded and shaped, we need to provide them opportunities. We have to have mind shift in Texas. I mean seriously, every time we talk about school of choice, the first thing you see is (unintelligible.) How do you know? We need to try. We need to look at it. We have too many smart people and innovative people in Texas, some former educators, some former administrators, some former professors, these are the people of the current community to say that we can’t get this done. I want to offer this as a constant encouragement to all of us. I the stats, I read the information, 314,000 kids in Texas that are sent to school districts that are underperforming and underserving them, that we say (unintelligible.) We say that we need to pass the baton of leadership to the (unintelligible) prepared. 25 percent of kids leaving the public system are taking remedial classes in college because we did not prepare them.
Public education has become too cocky. What is the teacher to non-teacher ratio? When I was in school we had a principal and vice principal. And you didn’t want to go see neither one of them. People let me tell you. God bless administrators because I love them. I have come to love the administration, but I think we need to get a better balance, and we have to have a different mindset and be more concerned about the institution of education and be more concerned about the children. And once we could do that then we could figure out intricacies then we could figure out how we could help kids and give different educational opportunities and for the communities and the neighborhood and ultimately to the state. (unintelligible.) My wife and I, my wife went to a public school, I went to a public school, I did all right didn’t I. And there are some kids that go to public schools, and you may have some in public school. They may have some that do not. Some kids need a slower learning environment. Some kids need to be in an environment that they’re good with their hands, they want to be in career technology or whatever it is, and they need to be in that environment (unintelligible) all in the name of education.
We may hide behind that cloak all day long, and I said it today in my speech, we are not ranked in the top in education here in Texas. It’s just a reality, but it doesn’t mean that we cannot. We just need to tweak some things. We need to change some things, but we have to have the courage and the wisdom to do so. Is it going to be perfect in the beginning? No. But if we continue to work at it, if we continue to work at it, if we continue to forge ahead, we’re creating competition. I lived in competition for 15 years of my life. That’s how I made a living. Competition drives out the best in people. It brings out the best in people. And guess who would benefit from that, our children. It could teach them how to perform at a higher level. Great. Then you’d be doing better for the children. If the administration is held at a higher level of accountability, great, benefits the teachers and the children, and you and I, our tax dollars will get a greater value from it. So I say this as encouragement. Let’s not be so close minded. Let’s open up our hearts and minds, and have kind of a paradigm shift and say, hey, you know what? It’s not about the brick and mortar, it’s not about the buildings, it’s about institutions, it’s not about throwing new benefits, it’s about the kids.
My office and I, I have a great office, and I’m grateful for them. We work with kids in the (unintelligible) Academy (unintelligible.) You know what? What we would start a business as a young person. No matter if you go to public school or private school, get a better education, work hard, start a business. I’ve mentored high school kids, some athletes, most athletes, some not. Some in private institution, some in public institution. To tell them and to show them how important education is, how important it is that you don’t just get put into this doctrine of you have to go to college, you have to be a doctor, hey you got to be an actor, you have to be this. No, what are you good at? What are your gifts and your skills? Help them because in the end they’re going to be the leaders that are going to be sitting at this table and you’re going to be sitting there listening to. We got to start today. We got to give them opportunities, internships, business people like you, senate leaders like myself and other legislators in here. We could talk politics of education all day, but how often do we go to the neighborhood and take these coats off and these suits off and grab a kid and say you know what? Whatever learning environment you are in, and no matter where you come from, I’m going to help you with your education problem anyway. Your education is important to me. Let me shepherd you and help you and put you in an environment to where you can thrive. That’s the mindset that we need to have. It’s not about educators, it’s about the institution. I love teachers, I love coaches, I love people who have gone to school and got their degrees and administrators God bless you and thank you for what you do, but even you and I need to have a mindset change. It’s about the kids. At the end of the day, if we do not give them the proper opportunities, we’re cheating them. And then in the end we’re robbing ourselves. That’s right.
Thank you very much, Representative Turner. Our final speaker for the day is Monty Exter. Monty is a lobbyist with the Association of Texas Professional Educators which is the largest educators association in Texas and the largest independent educators association in the country. Monty.
Thank you. I’m going to try my best not to go into a crazy coughing fit. I’ll apologize right up front if I do. Getting over the flu from last week, but I think we’ve got the coughing licked, and I won’t cough on any of you all. Promise I’m good now.
Anyway you just thought you wanted to sit there. I actually I think mostly want to address some of the things that I’ve heard up here because I think we’ve talked about a lot of really great things already and I feel as though I’ve been brought in to sort of give that perspective of, what do the teachers think, what does the establishment think and give that perspective. And I’d like to say that a lot of what I’ve heard up here I wholeheartedly agree with.
First of all, to start with, the very last thing you said, it is absolutely all about the kids. I don’t think you’re going to find any group of people who will agree with that statement more than those kids’ educators. I talk to my members all the time, and they are absolutely focused on the kids. That’s what they got into it for, it certainly wasn’t for the lavish paychecks. So that, I think, is a common ground that we can all start with and we can all work on.
Going back to the beginning, two of the main themes that I heard were, we have a lot of folks, and we’re getting more. That’s absolutely true. We do have a lot of folks, and we’re getting more and more every day, and not only are we getting more, but we’re getting the hardest ones to serve. And I actually like to liken the education system in Texas to an infrastructure. Water is an infrastructure, utilities are an infrastructure, really, the system of education in Texas is also an infrastructure system. And I like to liken it a little bit, in this regard, to the roadways in Austin. If any of you guys have driven in the roadways in Austin, you know what happens to an infrastructure system when you don’t maintain it and you have a whole lot of people. You get the worst drive times in the entire country in a city doesn’t really merit them per its size. I don’t want to see that happen to our education system.
When we talk about the fact that we’re getting lots more folks, what I hear is great, then we need to really invest within our infrastructure of education in the system so that we can appropriately handle those folks and we don’t mismanage them and we don’t do a poor job of educating them because that’s ultimately going to drive down productivity in the state just as poor transportation policy has driven down productivity in the state, just like poor water planning has the ability to potentially massively fiscally impact us in the state, so not properly supporting education infrastructure will do the same thing.
The second point I heard was, not only do we have all these kids, but, maybe we haven’t done such a great job with them to date. And that I think I would like to just sort of sound refute. When you go back and you look at the scores that we have, and I’ll use the exact same test that was mentioned earlier, NAEP, and you break those scores out, Texas has done phenomenally well. Yes, when you look at the aggregated score on NAEP, we are middle of the country, but we don’t have the same population that the rest of the country has. We have a much more diverse population with a much larger percent of hard-to-teach kids, and when you look at those scores from a disaggregate standpoint, what you find is that we have done amazingly compared to most of the rest of the country with those particular kids such that, when you look at our Hispanic population or our African American population, in their individual testing in the fourth and fifth grade reading and math testing, you oftentimes sees us in the top 5 of all the states in the country when you’re looking at those. So how is it that we end up in the top 5 in that disaggregated standpoint but 38th overall? Well, we have a whole lot more of those kids than somebody like Minnesota has. Therefore, that larger population makes that aggregate look less because there is still a gap, and that hap is something that we have to address. But we have to do that with methods that are research-based and proven to actually address that gap appropriately.
One of the other things I heard about was administrative balance. I absolutely agree. I think the most fundamental part, surprise, surprise from the teacher lobbyist, in education is the teacher. That is the most fundamental aspect of a child’s education is their teacher. And I think that the most appropriate thing that we could do then is to focus on that particular aspect by putting more dollars into the classroom. Now, I didn’t hear necessarily a reasoning for the imbalance of administrative versus classroom spending over time but I would like to posit that we can actually peg a lot of that imbalance due to the state’s accountability system. While we have spent a lot of money actually purchasing tests, we have spent far more money administrating them. We spend days and days of instruction time. There are people whose full-time jobs revolve around administration, and we bring in lots and lots of lots of temp folks every single year just to administrate those tests. It’s the accountability system that has added this bulk of folks who get basically put into the administrative column. It’s not that we have ten times more principals and vice principals than we used to have, it’s that we have this whole middle management layer that education just didn’t used to have. And that is primarily because of policies, mostly accountability policies that have gone into place over the last 20 years. And I think addressing those policies can do a lot to put some of those folks back into the classroom and to put more of the emphasis back on the classroom.
In addition, I was really happy to hear about the, I guess, topic of this particular session being on local what are some of the local things we can do because I feel like there’s a lot that’s already going on there. We got actually a lot of choice at the local level right now, and we have a lot, there’s a lot of independent in the local independent school district. They have the ability to do all kinds of things, magnet schools, in-district charters, partnering with charter organizations that are outside EMOs Education Management Organizations. Folks like HIP and IDEA. All of those types of things and many, many more, open transfer policies the ability to have extra coursework aimed at students who need it lots and lots and lots of innovation is possible, and in many instances happening, at the local level. And that should be fostered. And the best way to foster it is to, simply allow the locals to feel like they have the flexibility to get that done, and we already have a great system in place to do that. Because unlike some of the other methods that have moved forward, we have locally elected boards. That’s actually something that I recently learned that I didn’t, I didn’t realize in the past was the difference within our charter industry here in Texas, which I think by, anybody would agree that that’s one of the largest if not the largest part of the choice debate at the moment, that’s where most of the kids are when you’re talking about choice, but in other parts of the country most charter schools are actually managed, not managed, but they fall underneath the governance of their local ISD. And that’s not how we do it here in Texas. I didn’t realize that that’s not how everybody did it.
So that’s one of those issues where when you’re talking about local and local control and choice, I would say that those local boards actually give you the most amount of choice. You have the ability to vote on them. They’re absolutely going to be in your municipality. When you’re talking about an entity whose board may or may not even be in state and who you cannot vote for, then I think you actually are talking about a reduction in choice. And that’s not to say that charter schools aren’t a great option and a great fit for some students. They are, but I don’t think that they should be necessarily held up as the paragon or paradigm of choice to the expense of the ISD because there’s a lot of choice in the traditional public school as well.
I think that’s about all I have to say about that, but I really appreciate being asked to be on the panel, and I think a lot of good things have been discussed and talked about. Thank you.
All right. Thank you very much, Monty. We have about 15 to 20 minutes left for Q&A. First up.
Thank you. First to our chairman, appreciate the job that you’re doing. I had the privilege of working with one of your predecessors who was a lot better looking than you. But I am proof positive that you can succeed when you don’t look very good. I just wanted to tell you, I’ve been doing some unofficial research on school choice in my immediate family. I have three daughters and five grandsons. One group public students, one group private students, one group home schooling, and the home schooling was not with a voucher, it was with great sacrifice, and the results in my little small sample are consistent with what I’ve read over the years from Cleveland Foundation and others that in terms of achievement and future, the private schools are in the middle, the home schooling is very much on top and the public schools are very much below. We need to make improvements to all of them, and we need to give choice to parents and to students to take the best of the options. And appreciate whatever you can do to achieve those ends. And Mr. Turner’s comments, the kids come first, that’s got to be uppermost.
Thank you, sir. Next question.
Do I need to go to the mic?
Either that or stand (unintelligible), whichever you prefer.
The question is, are we part of an evolution or a revolution? That’s for each of you to decide in education. I’ve been on the Dallas School Board when we sent the Superintendent to prison. I’ve been part of the charter schools and part of private schools, but it’s what Mr. Currah said in the beginning. It’s people on people. You’ve got to have, first of all, I don’t care what the administrative setup is, you’ve got to have a good principal that supports a good teacher. And they’ve got to be about the kid, not the institution or whatever else, or the football team.
Mr. Exter, one of the things that I was talking to the Mayor of Dallas about, and there’s a lot, everybody’s interested in our kids and making something positive happen because we all can relate to success, but one of the things that’s been brought up is that we have diverse students, even more so today, but our teaching institutions have not caught up with the difference in diversity and the ability to communicate with the student. You just can’t sit there on the rope and just point to something. You have to engage. And what is your group doing in order to get colleges and universities that prepare teachers to go into the classroom and principals to get more engaged with the students regardless how he’s living?
That’s actually totally right, particularly when you’re talking about the diversity of the teaching profession not keeping pace with the diversity of the student body. That’s true. I’ve seen some really good programs out there that I think could help address that that actually target promising students in the high school setting and help to route them towards an education profession with the mindset that they would hopefully go back and teach from the area that they grew up in and therefore would have better rapport with those students because they share a similar background. So I think that’s one small thing.
One of the things you asked what are we doing, the two policy initiatives that I think that we really want to push forward that I think will actually from top to bottom have a much larger impact on education than anything else you can do, one are dramatically raising teacher standards and teacher quality. We can look at other places around the world to look at that. I believe that the best model of teacher preparation comes from Finland. They have just far and away the best teacher prep.
The other part of that equation then is to also dramatically improve our teaching standards, the TEKS, here in Texas. In addition to them being overly broad and overly narrow at the same time, too broad, not deep enough, they also don’t quite, although they do better than in many states in the country, really keep up with the international benchmarks as far as at what point kids are learning things. Particularly that’s true in math. We spend a little bit too much time on some of the basic mathematical issues in the early years when in science, brain science has shown that kids have the ability to uptake some of those things much quicker than what we’re putting them out which will get them to higher level math sooner and get them better prepared for the world. So those are the two things I would say are to improve the standards, critiques, and also to much more highly professionalize the teaching profession by increasing teacher quality through increasing teacher standards in the state, and on the front end, not the back end. You can’t really evaluate or test your way into quality, you have to prepare people to be quality.
Hi, my name is Stacy Hock. I’m really curious sort of across the board what your thoughts are on some other ways to really welcome and explore innovation in the education system. In the public space obviously, charter has a little bit, it seems, more freedom to do that, and whether it’s cost savings through electronically administering tests or mobile classrooms or school autonomy with performance-based compensation all of these different facets, but I think there’s, a lot of room for exciting perhaps innovations to really foster new techniques and a revolution rather than evolution. So I’d just love to hear your thoughts on what some of the low-hanging fruit there is.
There’s a lot of interesting things going on right now. If you think about it, our whole system of schooling, whether it’s university or K12 or whatever, is based on a premise that is less and less true, and that premise is, is that knowledge is scarce so we need to train people who are specialized in certain types of knowledge and put them into the classroom with 20 to 30 students and impart that scarce knowledge, all right? It’s literally getting to be the case now that knowledge is, and information at least, is hyper abundant, right? Now exactly how you operationalize is a big task, and it’s going to take a number of years to kind of figure this all out. I’m not a guy that would say hey, we can just leave kids at home in their pajamas, and they can watch Harvard classes on their computer and everything will be awesome, okay.
However you can take Harvard courses for free, right, and it’s been recently worked out so that if you take an end-of-course exam that is proctored by a third party where they had, actually established that it’s actually you and you actually take the end-of-course exam that the beginnings of some universities actually grant you college credit for that have begun. So, I mean, I think that that events and technological change is, fundamentally starting to change the way we approach education in a lot of different ways, and I mean, I’m not one of these panglossian, hey this is going to fix everything type of guys but the opportunities are really enormous, they really are. I mean, it’s just kind of, to me it’s exciting. But we’ll kind of, there’s a lot of details to figure out.
I just want to piggyback on that a little bit. I agree in most part with what was said there. I also think that we’ve definitely come into an age where information is not a problem. There’s plenty of that, and in many ways that’s where some of our education system has broken down is our education system oftentimes is aimed at trying to cram actual indiscrete fact into kids’ heads, and really what’s much more important is that we teach kids how to go out and acquire knowledge, not teach them