While campaigning for the presidency, George Bush touted his educational success as Governor of Texas, claiming what he called The Texas Miracle. According to 60 Minutes reporter Rebecca Leung, “It was an approach to education that was showing amazing results, particularly in Houston, where dropout rates plunged and test scores soared.”
Governor Bush was convinced by his education advisor that low test scores and high drop out rates were stifling the public schools. He believed the solution was to make every school give the same test, and depending on the results, direct resources to schools with the most need, and eventually Black and Hispanic students would catch up to the white students. Initially scores rose, and this was considered The Texas Miracle. Bush used this as his platform to be the “education president”.
The Texas School Superintendent at the time was Rod Paige. He said credit for the schools’ success, came by making principals and administrators accountable for how well their students did on standardized exams. Principals who met the goals of increasing test scores, and decreasing drop out rates were awarded cash bonuses of up to $5,000 along with other perks. Those who fell short were transferred, demoted or forced out. Education researchers had concerns about making test scores the single indicator of success.
But in Houston there were even bigger problems. Houston won national acclaim for raising the average scores on a statewide achievement test given to all 10th graders, and principals were evaluated on how well their students performed on the test. But inside many Houston schools there was something about the good news that bothered many people.
An investigation by 60 Minutes found principals were doing some math of their own-perhaps motivated by the $5,000 incentive They raised average test scores by keeping low-performing kids from taking the test. And in some cases, kept students from entering the 10th grade. Here’s more evidence of Texas cooking the books:
- Sharpstown High School was one of the “outstanding” schools. The Houston school district reported a citywide dropout rate of 1.5 percent. But educators and experts 60 Minutes checked with put Houston’s true dropout rate somewhere between 25 and 50 percent.
- Texas started to lose 70,000 kids a year, most dropping out before they had to take the 10th-grade tests that would count against the school. Almost a third of kids in Texas who started high school never finished.
- Scores on the Texas test rose, but SAT scores for prospective college students dropped. Researchers discovered that the Texas tests primarily measured test-taking ability. Overall Texas lost ground to the rest of the country, according to Julian V. Heilig, an education researcher at the University of Texas (MSNBC).
Once he was elected president, Mr. Bush named Paige Education Secretary, and Houston became the model for the president’s “No Child Left Behind” education reform act. At the national level NCLB set out to punish schools not showing ‘adequate yearly progress’ and reward schools that did – just like in Texas. But there was no miracle in Texas.
This January marked the 18th anniversary of NCLB – George Bush’s signature piece of legislation. Diane Ravitch called it “punitive, harsh, stupid, ignorant about pedagogy and motivation, and ultimately a dismal failure.” She concluded, “Those who still admire NCLB either helped write it, or were paid to like it, or were profiting from it.”
Though NCLB and its platform of testing and punishing ended in 2015, many of the ramifications of the legislation still exist. Part of the law stated schools not meeting adequate yearly progress on annual testing were either closed or privatized. This is when the privatization of public schools gained momentum.
Why do we keep replicating failed education policies, and failed models for privatizing public schools? After Rod Paige came Margaret Spellings, Arne Duncan (and John King for a bit), and now Betsy DeVos. Each of them stood behind failed policies-with DeVos still pushing failed policies.
I’m torn between quoting Einstein’s definition of insanity, or George Santayana “Those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it.”
These are my reflections for today.
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