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Commentary: Public Schools Accountability and Transparency

By Mel Hays, KERA 90.1 Commentator

Dallas, TX –

As the 2007 academic calendar closes, it will be remember as the year of collective frustration. Parents, teachers, administrators, and legislators wincingly came together over student performance on the state TAKS assessment. The crux of this statewide concern lies in the public's waning confidence in the state's education agency, TEA, to support academic accountability and demonstrate transparency to the constituency.

As an instructor, I share this frustration and am disheartened that over 40,000 Texas seniors were unable to navigate successfully an assessment that measures minimum academic competencies. Texas has promoted and been involved with some form of high stakes testing since 1984 - TAKS is but the current version. Texas started state-wide testing one year after the watershed federal report A Nation at Risk informed us that the entire United States' education system was globally inadequate and we have yet to answer the call to reinvent public education.

Texas is a large state: One that has in excess of 1,228 independent school districts and charter schools. And each district has their own instructional curriculum that is tailored to what is perceived as unique local needs and standards. That's 1,228 different Pre-K through 12 curriculums attempting to prepare student for the Texas Essential Knowledge and Skills assessment. In my book, that's 1,227 ways too many.

Many Texans continue to grouse about perceived inequities and the ills of criterion tests such as the TAKS. The legislature continues to shirk its role of leadership and demonstrate any collegiality in developing, implementing, and adhering to a comprehensive educational program that prepares students for the realities of the 21st century. Our business community and elected officials routinely spew "global economy" and "global competitiveness", yet those benchmarks are remote until we have the courage to embrace a Texas academic economy. If we want to be competitive, we've got to become competitive, or live with the consequences.

TEA Commissioner Shirley Neeley would do well to follow the lead of Michael Hinojosa, Superintendent of the Dallas ISD. When faced with the recent P card abuses, Dr. Hinojosa offered to the community full accountability and transparency. He publicly published names and dollar amounts, as well as the full audit report for the public to inspect and offer comment. Commissioner Neeley should follow this example by publishing the current year's TAKS in the state's major newspapers and on the TEA's website. Lifting the veil of mystery as to the content and academic difficulty of the TAKS would be beneficial to all parties. Texans deserve the opportunity to judge the validity and usefulness of the instrument, as well as become better acquainted with its level of difficulty. Dr. Neely would be wise to adopt a mentality that embraces public involvement in the educational process and one that is open to review and circumspection.

We are running short on both time and resources to educate our youth. We can ill afford a repeat of 2007.

Mel Hays is a public school teacher who lives in McKinney.

If you have opinions or rebuttals about this commentary, call (214) 740-9338 or email us.