More than 10,000 people showed up to march in front of the Texas State Capitol building this weekend in the "Save Texas Schools" rally, there to protest against the State of Texas Assessments of Academic Readiness, a system that is supposed to bring accountability to the state's K-12 education system.
Among the rally speakers was the former Texas Education Commissioner Robert Scott who resigned from his position last summer. He had been an early critic of STAAR using strong language like "perversion" to describe the system which he said completely ignores the intentions of lawmakers who drafted the state's accountability standard.
Underfunding of public schools and excessive testing for the students who attend them were the rallying cries at the Capitol. State Sen. Kirk Watson was among those who demanded that the Legislature restore $5.4 billion in basic school aid and grant programs cut in 2011. Diane Sconzo, a principal at Bens Branch Elementary School in Porter, about 30 miles north of Houston, said she traveled to Austin for the rally because she thinks the state needs to better fund the public school system to ensure that students have access to a solid education.
Sconzo said that funding and decent pay for teachers stood in the way of the goal of making every Texas school perform well.
Prior to the start of the rally, the conservative Texas Public Policy Foundation held a press conference where it aired ideas much different from those espoused by the marchers later that same day.
Arlene Wohlgemuth, the organization's executive director and a former state lawmaker, was the first of several who advocated school choice to make the the state's education system more flexible, a change that could include private school scholarships and allowing parents to easily transfer their children among public schools.
"Your ZIP code has determined your fate, and this is simply not acceptable in Texas," said Peggy Venable, Texas director of Americans for Prosperity.
Earlier this year, a report by the Houston Chronicle showed that STAAR exams were passed by more than 70% of elementary and middle-schoolers — although to account for the novelty of the exam and the growing pains from the implementation of the new curriculum, the passing marks were set fairly low. For example, 8th graders were considered to have passed the social studies portion of the exam if they got fewer than half of the questions correct.