| "National Best Practices in Education Reform" Do Not Include Vouchers, Privatization-Let Your State Legislators Know It
Sen. Dan Patrick (R-Houston), chair of the Senate Education Committee, likes to label his policy preferences as "national best practices in education reform." But he has not yet sold a majority of his legislative colleagues on his agenda, which includes private-school vouchers, privatization via charter expansion, shutdown and conversion of neighborhood schools into privately run charter schools, and more.
Hence Sen. Patrick is expected to bring in some out-of-town talent to help his cause tomorrow in a special hearing of his committee occurring in the Senate chamber. Former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush, said to be readying himself for a presidential run in 2016, is expected to appear and to tout what his private foundation calls the Florida formula for student achievement.
That Florida formula, which Bush and his foundation are peddling in state legislatures across the country, requires state legislators to:
create third-grade retention policies
grade schools A-F based on performance
provide performance funding for schools
expand vouchers, online privatization, and charterization of schools
encourage alternative certification and evaluating teachers based on student test scores
That's supposedly the prescription that gave Florida some modest test-score gains since 1999. However, this "Florida formula" is in fact a distorted and incomplete version of Florida educational policy in the Bush years. What other factors does the former governor fail to give their due? Well, it turns out that Florida invested heavily in reading coaches, adding 2,000 of them, and in early-literacy screening. Extra help for students also included substantial investments in summer school and remediation. And Bush prefers not to recall that voters, over his opposition, passed an expansion of pre-kindergarten and also created a class-size reduction program. No thanks to Jeb Bush, grades preK-3 in Florida now have average class sizes with fewer than 16 pupils per teacher.
In fact, the "reforms" that Bush and his foundation prefer to tout do not have the same research foundation as class-size reduction or pre-kindergarten. What evidence there is on his testing, voucher, charter, and online-learning agenda does not bear out his claims. These "reform" notions do not deliver improved educational achievement; in many instances they actually produce inferior results.
What drives this agenda in spite of the evidence against it is a cadre of corporations that stand to profit if these policies are adopted. Thus, the Pearson testing company, its Connections online-learning subsidiary, and other entities such as K12, Inc., another for-profit "virtual school" operator, all turn out to be donors to the Bush foundation--whose chief executive officer on at least one occasion has even lobbied state education chiefs to use the services of a company partly owned by Bush himself.
Enough! It's time for you to make your voice heard! We urge you to start by sending the new letter from the Texas AFT Web site opposing vouchers and the rest of the anti-public-education agenda. We don't need the false nostrums and quackery of the "Florida formula" in Texas. We need a realistic Texas formula-one that restores funding for the services our five million students need, curbs the excessive, punitive use of standardized testing, and helps parents, educators, and communities build up their neighborhood schools rather than allow them to be undermined.