Category: Education

Pushing beyond mediocrity in Texas education

Is education in Texas mediocre?

State District Judge John Dietz, who is presiding over Texas’ school finance trial in Austin,  wondered Tuesday, Nov. 20, if “maybe we as a state have been satisfied with mediocrity,” according to the Fort Worth Star-Telegram. Dietz added that Texas’ tougher academic standards may simply reflect a new global reality.

First, are we mediocre when it comes to education? It is not easy to determine, but here’s one look at it:

Education Week ranked Texas 12th nationally this year in “six areas of educational policy and performance.” Not bad (with a score of 79.2), and above the national average (76.5). Texas did its best in “Transitions & Alignment,” with an A or 92.9 grade, and in “Standards, Assessments, & Accountability,” with an A- or 92.2. We garnered C grades in “The Teaching Profession,” “Chances for Success,” and “K-12 Achievement.” Texas took a big hit in regard to “School Finance,” drawing a D+ or 67.6.

It looks like we are pretty mediocre. So, what about tougher academic standards.

“Last year, the state began implementing a new, more difficult standardized test known as STAAR,” the Star-Telegramreported.

At the trial, Nabor Cortez, superintendent of La Feria Independent School District in the Rio Grande Valley, said schools with large concentrations of low income-students struggle to meet Texas’ rising performance standards. “He said 90 percent of La Feria’s low-income students didn’t pass the English Language 1 test and that virtually none of the district’s students are on track to pass the higher STAAR standards that will be phased in through 2016,” the Star-Telegram reported.

This apparently is when Judge Dietz interjected the comment about past satisfaction with mediocrity. “Maybe through our testing and accountability, we have been kind of pushing people through the education factory,” Dietz said. “Maybe this — with the increased rigor — is an attempt to reach reality.”

Cortez responded: “We don’t have a problem getting kids to that level. We just need the resources to be able to do it.”

You get the picture. We are in an educational bind in Texas. We need to raise our standards to compete nationally and globally. We have been satisfied with mediocrity for way too long. But all of our students need the opportunity to progress.

Poverty impacts education. Funding impacts education. The children living in poverty cannot do anything about their starting point in society, but we as a state can provide the funds to help them achieve.

Followers of Christ are big on helping those in poverty to gain an economic foothold in society. There is no more effective or inexpensive way to do that than to encourage and to fund quality education for all Texans.

Another person for whom to be thankful

Last night I wrote an e-mail to Dr. Ellis Sandoz, who had been head of the Political Science Department at East Texas State University in Commerce when I attended there. He changed my life by introducing me to some of the classics of literature. As I wrote in the letter:

“You surprised me when I took the Intro to Political Science class. I thought it would be about American politics, but you took us instead to the classics and that is why I have been thankful for your impact on my life.

“I did not grow up in a rigorous educational environment. I had been an average student with average work habits, and my reading habits were even worse. My parents wanted me to go to college so I could get a better job someday, the kind of job that my dad could never get because of his lack of a degree.

“When I entered your Intro class I had never read any of the classics, not even the English ones. I thought the ancient writers would be out of my league. Then, because of you, I read Aristotle’s Ethics. It was like an epiphany. I actually could understand what he was saying and loving it. I found myself wanting to underline every sentence, because each one seemed to contain so much insight. Not only did I fall in love with the classics, but I realized I could pursue learning that I had previously thought was beyond my mental reach. In short, I realized I was bright enough to stay with the smart people.”

Here’s one other paragraph from the rather long e-mail:

“And there was one other way that you influenced me. When I was in college I did not attend church regularly, but one Sunday I attended First Baptist Church in Commerce and you were there. I don’t know anything about your religious beliefs then or now, but your presence at church said a great deal to me. It said that if a man with a mind and an education like Dr. Sandoz can have a place for God in his life, then I, too, can have a healthy life of both the mind and the spirit. That dual approach to seeking to understand reality has served me well. It has made me a bit of an oddity at times in either intellectual or religious circles, but it has been a wonderfully fulfilling way to approach life.”

I never had a close relationship with Dr. Sandoz, but it’s amazing the impact that a teacher can have on the lives of his or her students. Maybe this post will inspire someone else to say “thank you” to a teacher.