Tuesday, September 28, 2010

Non-fundamental Change at HISD

On Sunday the Chronicle ran an OpEd optimistically titled "Reinventing education in Houston." From the title, one would expect the article to reveal some kind of revolutionary idea. Instead, we simply got more of the status quo.

The article states:
HISD has not been waiting passively for someone to provide an answer; it has the will, the leadership and the support to transform the district into a model for the rest of the nation. The board of education, Superintendent Terry Grier and the HISD team have the courage and expertise to step outside the comfort zone and take the necessary but often controversial actions to bring about fundamental change, like linking teacher pay with their performance based on reliable data and making continued employment contingent on ongoing improvement. That level of accountability also applies to the quality of the leadership of principals and central office staff. 
Consider what is regarded as "fundamental change": Holding teachers, principals, and staff accountable. Granted, this might be new in the realm of public education, but it can hardly be considered fundamental change. HISD will remain a political institution, subject to the vagaries of educational bureaucrats in Austin and political pressure in Houston. Taxpayers will continue to be forced to support public schools, whether they are happy with the results or not. Parents--particularly those in lower income brackets--will continue to have limited educational choices for their children. How is this "fundamental change"? It brief, it isn't. HISD is simply tinkering with details while throwing out another promise.

Consider what is regarded as holding teachers, principals, and staff accountable: Basing their pay on student performance. And who will determine student performance? The same bureaucrats and administrators that have been promising change and improved performance for decades. The "customers" of public education will have little, if any, input other than putting political pressure on those same bureaucrats and administrators. This is precisely what has been occurring for decades, and can hardly be considered "fundamental change."

If HISD truly wants to do something revolutionary and do something that would truly serve as a model to the rest of the nation, it would begin putting itself out of business. It would begin taking measures to get government out of education.

Doing so would benefit taxpayers who would no longer be forced to support a failing public educational system. Those who want to voluntarily support education would be free to do so, and they could choose to support those schools who produce results with which they approve. They could hold schools accountable by withdrawing their financial support if they are unhappy with those results.

Parents would benefit by having the freedom--and the resources--to choose how their children are educated. If they are unhappy with the content of that education, or the results, they would be free to hold the school accountable by moving their children to a different school.

Competent and talented teachers and administrators would benefit because they would have the freedom to command higher salaries. Those who value their services would be willing to pay higher prices for results, but nobody would be forced to do so.

Fundamental change does not mean tinkering with the details of public education. It means abolishing public education.

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