Abbott, Davis Continue to Talk Texas Education As Election Nears

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Candidates for Texas Governor Greg Abbott and Wendy Davis both believe they know what is best for schools in the state, but their platforms differ wildly.

Republican candidate Abbott would like to see more local control, funding tied to performance, and an increase in the use of technology in the classroom.

“What I want to do is to reinvent education and schools in this state,” he said. “My goal is to ensure that Texas has the number one ranked high school and lower school education systems in the entire United States of America.”

Meanwhile, Democratic candidate Davis says there needs to be less standardized testing and an expansion of the pre-kindergarten programs statewide.

“It’s been a long time since we’ve had a governor who has set the priority of investing in education as the utmost priority in this state,” she said. 

Last year lawmakers in the state reduced the number of standardized tests needed for graduation from 15 to 5, but additional testing is still a requirement to move up from both the fifth and eighth grades.  Scores from these exams are also used for 20% of teachers’ evaluations, according to a statewide pilot program.  In Dallas, student scores make up 35% of teacher evaluations.

While Abbott refrained from speaking about the situation, Davis did concede that tests scores needed to play some role.  She said she would like to see student performance being measured, but not so much that teachers do not want to take on the low-performing classrooms.

Meanwhile, scores on the statewide standardized test STAAR have not seen improvement in the past three years.  Texas education commissioner Michael Williams said this is because STAAR is the hardest exam the state has ever used, and the standards are the hardest they have ever been.  Williams says an increase in instruction is needed before scores will rise.

A report by The Dallas Morning News shows no increase in student achievements on the standardized STAAR test over the last three years.

When asked specifically about their plans for standardized tests if elected, Abbott spoke about giving more local control to schools and choice to families.  Davis plans on pushing for even fewer tests, especially for younger students.

Davis has also made a push for additional funding for schools, speaking against Abbott’s defense of the state’s $5.4 billion in cuts to the education budget in 2011 during his time as attorney general.

“Mr. Abbott, these cuts and the cuts that you’re defending that have left our classrooms overcrowded, that have left our teachers laid off, that’s not liberal, that’s not conservative, it’s just dumb,” Davis said. 

Abbott says while he does want to invest in education, he wants to do so in a strategic way.

“Where I want to dedicate that funding is first and foremost, building a solid foundation for education at the very beginning, from pre-k all the way through 3rd grade. Second is that I want to invest in teachers,” Abbott said.