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December 5, 2012

School leaders speak out

TERRELL — Led by Micheal French, superintendent of the Quinlan Independent School District, leaders from teaching and education organizations voiced their opposition of high stakes school testing and school vouchers during the “Educating the Educator” event.

Speaking to the crowd of more than 1,100 seated Monday in the Terrell Performing Arts Center, French applauded the state lawmakers, local government and educators in attendance.

“You are truly the backbone of any school system,” he said. “And we applaud your efforts and what you do for children every day.”

According to Bill Barnes, legislative committee coordinator for Texas Retired Teachers Association, government should stay out of the teachers retirement program.

“Our retirement program has $113 billion and can pay teachers retirements until 2075,” he said. “The Texas Public Policy Foundation and others are speaking against the retirement plan. Changing it would cost the state of Texas badly.”

Barnes said it is the teachers and educators duty to inform others and be informed.

“If we don’t tell the story, no one will tell it to you,” he said.

Blake Cooper, superintendent of Commerce ISD, agreed with Barnes and added that state senator Bob Deuell, who was in attendance, is on the right side.

“We’ve got to get informed,” he said. “Historically we aren’t vocal. That’s got to change. Senator Deuell is a champion for us.”

Cooper said this was not a political forum, but an informative one.

“We’re not telling them how to vote, we are just informing the public to what is going on,” he said.

A hot topic in Austin legislation lately has been the idea of using vouchers for parents to use on schools other than public ones. David Anthony, of Raise Your Hands Texas, said vouchers are not the way to go.

“Vouchers use poll-driven words like school choice, parent empowerment and no child should get trapped in a failing school,” he said. “No child is trapped in a failing school under our legislation. Vouchers do not give parents choice. This is government subsidy disguised as philanthropy.”

Anthony said that unlike public schools, private and religious schools are not held to the same standard by the government.

“Vouchers place legislation in a no-win situation,” he said. “Private and religious schools are not subject to open meetings requirements, required to be financially transparent, or required to administer state assessments or release other measures of academic quality.”

According to Thomas Ratliff, R-Mount Pleasant, of the State Board of Education, high stakes testing is draining the creativity of teachers and students.

“High stakes testing is sucking the soul out of schools in Texas,” he said. “TEKS (Texas Essential Knowledge and Skills) are too long and too convoluted. From day one of school forward it’s a race to the test for teachers.”

Ratliff shared experiences his wife and sister-in-law have had during testing days.

“Schools go into lock down mode,” he said. “My wife noticed a kid using his pencil in one hand and rubbing rosary beads in the other. There was a student whose nose started bleeding once the test started due to the stress that was placed on them. I don’t know how they do it.”

Ratliff said he is not opposed to standardized tests or trying to do away with them, but he is opposed to the way it is being implemented.

“Nobody is opposed to standardized tests,” he said. “Testing is a form of accountability. I am opposed to stakes that are riding on the tests.”

Ratliff gave a four point plan to reduce the standard of the tests, which included repealing the 15 percent grade requirement, reducing the amount of TEKS, stop grading districts on the lowest performing subgroups and to cut down the amount of tests students take.

“The cow doesn’t get heavier the more you weigh it,” he said. “It’s time to put our high stakes testing regime out to pasture.”

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