Readers Write… My Texas School Plan: An Open Letter to Candidates

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A number of LYSers responded to the series of posts I wrote on 7/8, 7/9, and 7/10/2014:  “My Texas School Plan – An Open Letter to the Candidates From Both Parties.”  The comments that were submitted were similar to the following:

“SC,

Great post! I have forwarded it to my Representative.  We’ll see if he/she does anything.”

And,

“SC,

Please post all three blog posts as a single article so it will be easier to share.”

Thank you to everyone who wrote in and the combined re-print is below.

Dear Candidate:

I’m not running for office, but I am a civic minded, reasonable, professional educator. Due to my devotion to the profession and to the state I offer to you, our candidates who are running for public office, a primer on effective schools.

Here are the pertinent take-a-ways from the countries that have students who outperform ours on a regular basis.

1. You can significantly increase the quality of candidates entering the teaching profession. The Finland model

2. You can significantly increase the quality of teacher training and preparation programs. The Finland model

3. You can pay teachers a professional salary. The Finland model

4. You can have clear, deep curriculum standards that schools are required to teach. The Finland and Poland model

5. You can increase the stakes on the high school exit exams. The South Korea Model

6. You can increase the number of hours and days students devote to academics and school.  The South Korea model

7. You can worry less about how students feel and worry more about student performance in areas that are correlated to an educated and economically competitive populace. The South Korea model

8. You can significantly delay the age at which students are tracked. The Poland model

9. You can ensure that schools that teach the hardest to reach student populations get additional resources. The Finland and Poland model

The teachable moment from the above listed take-a-ways is that it is exceedingly clear that pursuing an agenda of reducing public education support thru vehicles that further segregate school are NOT the answer.

In the public interest and courtesy to all of the candidates for Governor, Lt. Governor, State Senator, and State Representative, I present the Texas Model Education and Ensured Economic Prosperity Plan.  Feel free to discuss and use as if it is your own. 

1. Significantly increase the quality of candidates attempting to enter the teaching profession.  How?

A. Increase ACT / SAT score requirements to enter state college of education programs.   B. Increase Alternative Certification Program entrance GPA requirements or require a minimum GRE score to be accepted into the program.

2. Significantly increase the quality of teacher training and preparation. How? Teacher preparation programs should focus on both content and pedagogical knowledge.  

A. Which means that a potential math teacher should graduate from a college of education with a major in the content, a minor in pedagogy, and a full semester of student teaching. B. A graduate from an Alternative Certification Program (ACP) should have a degree related to the content area (a prerequisite) and the equivalent of 18 hours of pedagogy course work.  The student teaching for the ACP candidate can be covered through supported and mentored classroom teaching while in the ACP program.

3. Pay teachers a professional salary.  This goes hand-in-hand with increasing the quality of the candidate pool for teaching.  The more a candidate brings to the table, the more options she has.  If teacher salaries are not comparable to the professional salaries of those with a similar education then the best candidates will continue to shun education careers for better economic options.  So here is your professional salary scale for teachers.

A.  $45,000 minimum salary for starting teachers. B.  $65,000 minimum salary for a core content teacher with 5-years experience, and 3-years in the same district, and multiple certifications (example: K-8 reading and ESL certifications). C.  $75,000 minimum salary for a core content teacher with 10-years experience, and 5-years in the same district, and multiple certifications, and a Master’s degree. D.  $85,000 minimum salary for a core content teacher with 15-years experience, and 8-years in the same district, and multiple certifications, and a Doctorate degree.

4. Extend teacher contracts to 200 days. Do this concurrently with the increase in minimum teacher salaries. Use the extra 20 days for training and extended teaching options for struggling students. 

5. Have clear, deep curriculum standards that schools are required to teach. How? We are close to this in Texas.  The TEKS are a good start. They are just too broad. Narrow the overall focus and increase the emphasis on critical thinking.

6. Mandate a maximum 21:1 student/teacher ratio in grade K-6 core content courses.  Mandate a maximum 24:1 student/teacher ratio in grade 7-11 STAAR/EOC courses.

7. Increase the number of hours and days students devote to academics and school. How?  This is easier to do than you might think; it just requires two simple (on paper) changes.

A.  Move all athletic based extra-curricular activities to outside the school day.  This ensures that all students engaged in athletics will receive an extra 45 to 90 minutes of academic instruction in either core content, fine arts, foreign language or career based classes, EVERY DAY. B.  Move all EOC / STAAR tests to May.  This will encourage (force) schools to teach the content deeper into the year. C.  Mandatory (in lieu of retention) 3 to 5-week summer school session for all students who failed either a STAAR/EOC test or a core content course.

8. Increase the stakes on the high school exit exams. How? Now everyone immediately thinks this is about increasing punitive measures and consequences.  That is the novice move.  If bigger sticks were the answer, we wouldn’t have our current agenda driven “Failing Schools” problem.  No, we want carrots, BIG FREAKIN’ CARROTS.

A.  We still keep some floor performance requirements.  The diploma should guarantee a level of basic skills.  Right now there are 5 EOC tests. I would prefer seven: two tests for English – ELA 2 and ELA 3; two tests for math – Algebra 1 and either Geometry or Algebra II (student choice); two tests for science – Biology and either Chemistry or Physics (student choice); one test for Social Studies – U.S. History To graduate the student must score at least 60% on 4 of the 7 tests.  B. We add a performance bonus for a defined level of commended results that could work something like this. For every test the student scores at least an 85% on there is an automatic scholarship that is awarded to the student, redeemable at any state institution (2-year or 4-year) during the freshman and sophomore years.  Prorate the scholarship amount based on need, for example:

a. Student qualifies for free lunch – $2,000 per exam, which represents a potential scholarship amount of $14,000. b. Student qualifies for reduced lunch – $1,000 per exam, which represents a potential scholarship amount of $7,000. c. Student not eligible for free/reduced lunch – $500 per exam, which represents a potential scholarship amount of $3,500

Now all students have a significant incentive to take higher-level courses and perform in those courses. And if parents want to opt out their students from testing, they can do so for the advanced tests, but at a potential economic loss (reduced scholarship eligibility).

Accountability still in place but success is driven through the positives of earned scholarships and extended learning opportunities for struggling students. Not school sanctions and mandatory student retention.

9. Implement the following Superintendent Salary Schedule:

A.  District with fewer than 500 students, Superintendent salary no higher than 1.5 times the average teacher salary in the district. B.  District with 501 – 1,000 students, Superintendent salary no more than 2 times the average teacher salary in the district. C.  District with 1,001 – 5,000 students, Superintendent salary no more than 2.5 times the average teacher salary in the district. D.  District with 5,001 – 15,000 students, Superintendent salary no more than 3 times the average teacher salary in the district. E.  District with 15,001 – 30,000 students, Superintendent salary no more than 3.5 times the average teacher salary in the district. F.  District with 30,001 – 70,000 students, Superintendent salary no more than 4 times the average teacher salary in the district. G.  District with more than 70,00 students, Superintendent salary no more than 5 times the average teacher salary in the district.

10. Make charter schools subject to the same teacher pay, class ratio and superintendent pay standards as traditional public school districts.

Now we must tackle the really big problem, how to pay for this ambitious plan. The plan I have presented will represent a significant investment in our state.  To adequately fund this investment will require actual courage and statesmanship (statespersonship), as opposed to lip service and pandering.

Some of the funding is already available. Through the action of moving athletic and extra-curricular practices and activities to outside of the school day, there will be a small, but not insignificant cost savings.  Because coaches and sponsors will actually teach content classes all day, this will reduce staffing needs on secondary campuses. Just note that you can’t sell this as being THE answer. It is not

The plan will cost and cost means taxes (but think “investment”). I propose that the plan should be paid for with increased taxes on the industries the represent a long-term hazard to the state.  This means industries that harvest non-renewable resources (oil, gas, and coal) and hazardous industries (refining, chemical, waste storage/processing).  Yes, these industries are driving our economic recovery, but we must make sure that we equip the state to prosper when the oil is gone and the chemicals are leaching into the water table.  These industries need to help educate a bumper crop of engineers, scientists and doctors to solve the problems the state will face twenty years from now.

Additionally, we need to increase the business tax. The unspoken truth is that Texas businesses essentially get a free ride. It is the consumer that is paying the biggest piece of the taxation pie. We must face the fact that a No Tax policy on business is much more detrimental to the long-term success of the state than Excessive Taxes.  In Texas, we are not excessively taxed. This is especially true for business, industry or those who own lots of land.

The candidate that comes the closest to enacting the plan I have proposed gets my vote. Thirty years ago, a coalition of Republican and Democrat leaders tackled hard problems like these, and implemented tough solutions like these.  Current candidates step up and be a Texas Leader. Channel your inner Bill Hobby, channel your inner Mark White, and channel your inner Ross Perot. Show us your mettle.

Think. Work. Achieve. Your turn…

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