Texas’ Greatest Need

I hope that you have enjoyed seeing the information on this website and that you are looking forward to reading our book when it arrives in bookstores in October. We are planning book-related events starting next month. Please check back for more information on the news page of the website.

With the start of the new school year, everyone’s focus briefly turns to an issue that is one of my passions – education.

Texas’ greatest need now is better education. This was Texas’ greatest need 100 years ago, 50 years ago, and 10 years ago, and it will likely be the greatest need 10, 20, 100 years from now. Unfortunately, education hasn’t been an historical priority in Texas and it isn’t one today.

Texas continues to underinvest in education and underproduce educated people. Texas ranks last in percentage of high school graduates and 35th in percentage of college graduates.

This is true even though nearly every candidate for public office, from school board to governor, promises to do something about the sorry state of public education. But some things really are better. We now grade our schools from “low-performing” to “exemplary”. The Texas Assessment of Knowledge and Skills tests ensure a basic body of knowledge is covered. The no pass-no play rule says academics are more important than football.

Look ahead, though, and you will see an unskilled, uneducated labor force, a larger prison population and growing welfare rolls – a greater gap between haves and have-nots. Education has always been the great closer of gaps. It’s been doing the job for years. As I wrote some years ago, the path from good intentions to good education is paved with difficult choices and hard cash.

The problem is that we have ducked the difficult choices and held onto the cash. We have chosen to criticize, audit, howl for reform, change management, castigate, carp and opt for the easy solution. Tax cuts are more popular than teachers’ payraises. No wonder that school superintendents’ salaries have gotten bigger as beleaguered school districts try to find someone willing to take on a thankless job with too big a task and too small a budget.

But we also confuse tinkering and meddling with progress, we focus on reform rather than improvement, and we demand better management while we shortchange teachers and children. For the past 50 years at least, two issues have consumed most of the hours spent by the Legislature –  education-governance and school finance.

We get what we pay for. Houses, cars, and groceries cost more today. So do private schools and private universities. Do we really think we can get the same public school education without spending more?

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