Can we be ignorant and free? Nope!

What must we do to see that Texas children get the best possible education and, in the process, guarantee that employers have a pool of potential employees prepared to meet the challenges of a modern, ever-changing world?

Most figures put Texas 49th or 50th among the 50 states in teacher salaries and what we spend per student. This state also ranks uncomfortably high in the dropout rate. Lest you think otherwise, it’s not about throwing more money at public schools nor is it about giving tax money to private schools.

Certainly, none of us have a complete answer.

However, first of all, we have to teach children critical thinking skills and that can’t be done with the current “teach-to-the-test” operation. Our state government, with help from the feds, has pushed us into that rut. Part of it is to reach some sort of accountability measure of teachers and administrators.

Accountability is good but we seem to be trying to achieve it at the expense of the children. Some students, probably more than we know, are poor test-takers. Instead of measuring their growth by a standardized test and holding educators accountable for test results, we need to be tailoring our educational programs to measure year-long growth.

That’s the surest way to develop critical thinking skills in students so they can utilize everything they’re taught.

In order to achieve that, of course, we have to have good teachers and administrators throughout every grade and every school. Long-term studies have demonstrated that poor teaching affects children for as much as two to three years and that even outstanding teachers have little success in reversing that effect.

We have lots of good teachers in Texas public schools. We need to pay them well and give them the tools to do the job.

We also have some bad teachers in our schools. In our current system. It is extremely difficult to fire a teacher. It is almost never done. The “school culture” only allows non-renewal of a teaching contract of an undesirable and/or unskilled teacher during the first year. So, another school district hires that teacher without any real indication of effectiveness or character.

In addition, we sometimes read or hear of teachers who are caught in illegal or criminal acts, yet they were hired with such things in their past and background checks were insufficient to reveal wrongdoing.

Texans—st udents, parents and taxpayers —are still paying for a system that was separate and unequal and we adjusted to account for the shortcomings inherent in that kind of system. We haven’t overcome those shortcomings.

While, on one hand we say we must ensure that we have good teachers in every grade in every school, we also must make sure we empower administrators to find and hire good teachers, and to eliminate bad ones.

But, we must also empower teachers to do what it takes in the classroom to have year-long learning growth by students.

Some say we need to de-politicize our public education system. That’s impossible. We can’t depoliticize, say, our State Board of Education (SBOE). We can, however, eliminate it through legislation and/or the sunset review process.

Then, the board’s principle function—curriculum and textbooks— could fall, say, to the Texas Commissioner of Education, who is appointed by the governor.

There’s still political involvement but it’s someone whose every move is more scrutinized than the heretofore relatively unknown SBOE. In addition, the commissioner employs and relies on educational professionals, whereas the SBOE pays little attention to the teachers and experts designated to give recommendations for curriculum to the board.

Our SBOE seems so intent on promoting political and personal ideology that it eliminated Thomas Jefferson, the principal author of the U.S. Constitution, from a world history segment on Enlightenment thinkers.

It was Jefferson who wrote, “If a nation expects to be ignorant and free in a state of civilization, it expects what never was and never will be.”


Willis Webb is a retired community editor publisher of more than 50 years. Email him at

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2010-05-06 digital edition

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