By Sandy Kress, Don McAdams, Mike Moses, David Thompson, and Jim Windham
Many education leaders have lamented the lack of consensus and sharp disagreements that have characterized Texas education policy discussions in recent years. In December 2007, the five of us, though we have different views on significant policy issues and have shared in some of these sharp disagreements, agreed to begin the search for common ground and set a different tone for discussion.
Many meetings and many drafts later, we have reached consensus. We are now placing before state education leaders and all Texans interested in world-class public schools Common Ground: A Declaration of Principles and Strategies for Texas Education Policy. We hope our compromise document will serve as a starting point for conversations among a wide range of education leaders and that from these conversations Texans can reach common ground on core education policy issues for the next session of the Legislature and beyond.
What are we proposing? First, we determined to not produce just another laundry list, but rather answer the question: "What is at the heart of the state's responsibility to provide a free, efficient public education for all children?"Four issues stand out: standards, accountability, capacity, and control.
Standards define the goals: "What should a high school graduate (and children at each grade level) know and be able to do?" Accountability defines the methods by which taxpayers know to what extent schools are reaching these goals and prescribes consequences that are appropriate to foster improvement. Capacity describes the resources, technical support, and policymaking structures and processes that the state provides so that schools can do what they have been asked to do. And control clarifies what decisions are made at the state level and what decisions are left to local school boards, schools, and parents.
We have made recommendations in these four areas, attempting to link them together in a coherent policy framework that balances standards with resources and accountability for results with local control. Our paper shows how all these elements must be aligned to promote high student achievement.
Specifically, we are recommending the following to make Texas schools the best in the nation:
Texas must establish college/workplace readiness as the standard for all high school graduates, with three diplomas and multiple curriculum paths within the recommended diploma.Texas high schools must recognize the varied interests of students and meet the needs of the workplace. However, all diplomas and curriculum paths must be rigorous and all high school graduates must be prepared for postsecondary success without remediation.
Legislators must adopt an accountability system with easily understood principles that fairly evaluates and promotes greater effectiveness in school districts and schools toward reaching high standards.The focus of the accountability system should be college and workplace readiness.
The statemust provide adequate resources to cover enrollment growth and inflation plus new funds for high-leverage investments as well as supportive state systems for policymaking, technical assistance, and information management.Standards are linked to capacity.High standards require commensurate resources, financial and other.
State policy should promote a shared partnership between the state and local districts in which the districts have the primary authority and responsibility for implementing the state's system of public education.State oversight must be balanced with local control.
Our paper examines these issues in some depth, but it is not a blueprint for legislation.It sets forth principles and strategies as a framework for dialogue.We hope that it will stimulate wide discussion among policymakers, educators, and citizens and that from this discussion a statewide consensus can be reached on next steps for building in Texas the best public school system in the nation.
Compromise is the essence of democracy.The future of Texas depends on education leaders working together to reach common ground.Students can't afford to have their education and future stymied by acrimonious fighting. We can deliver solutions for their futures by realizing the promise of our common ground.
Published December 20, 2008
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