CVPE member, Daniel Santos, is a teacher at Jackson Middle School. In this op ed for the Houston Chronicle, he writes about what schools could do with the money wasted on high stakes testing.

Source: Posted by: Daniel Santos, an HISD teacher and CVPE member Date: February 15, 2014 santosImagine for a moment that public education meant educating every student in every neighborhood. Imagine for a moment that tests were utilized to inform schools and not punish or demean them. Imagine for a moment that teachers were viewed as respected professionals whose professional opinions about education policy matter. And, finally, imagine policy makers and school district trustees adopting regulations based on peer-reviewed research and not ideology. One would say that I'm a dreamer. It is regrettable that education policy, as practiced in the Houston Independent School District and in public schools across the nation, has been driven by the corporate reform ideology of the Bill Gates Foundation, Eli Broad Foundation and Wal-Mart's Walton Foundation, whose ideas have yet to produce any substantive results. After 13 years, for example, HISD has yet to close the achievement gap, judging by the 53 schools that were spotlighted by the Texas Education Agency last month as needing improvement. Furthermore, according to the Nation's Report Card results released in December, only 19 percent of fourth-graders in Houston scored "proficient," far less than the state and national averages.

The corporate reform ideology promotes competition and emphasizes test scores to determine the net worth of a child, a teacher and a school. It has no basis in education research, according to New York University professor Diane Ravitch. Because of the high-stakes decisions that are tethered to these results, a rich curriculum is often diluted so that "Johnny" may bubble the correct answer. Critical thinking and the fine arts are sacrificed as coaches and band directors are pulled away from the gyms and band halls to teach math and reading "elective classes." Teachers' professional opinions are suppressed in place of Wall Street-style instruction. This ideology even influenced the HISD board of trustees to institute an experiment with merit pay called the ASPIRE Award program. Millions of taxpayer dollars have been wasted on this experiment despite the criticism from Harvard University professor and Apollo 20 architect Roland Fryer that there is "no evidence that teacher incentives increase student performance, attendance or graduation." We taxpayers and educators of HISD have been witnessing for 13 years the extent to which the corporate reform ideology and its overemphasis on test scores have further diluted the district of talent. Hundreds of extraordinary teachers who chose to help students with the greatest challenges have been forced to quit or have been fired because of a faulty teacher evaluation system tied to test scores and which produces false positives and false negatives. The evaluation system has contributed to an attrition of experienced, quality teachers which has unnecessarily cost taxpayers millions of dollars so that the district can hire and train new teachers. It is unfortunate that the school board in 2010 approved a policy allowing the teacher evaluation system to include a component called EVAAS, or Education Value-Added Assessment System - a metric that consistently produces invalid data and which has been criticized by the RAND Institute, the National Academy of Sciencesand Stanford University professors Edward Haertel and Linda Darling-Hammond. The corporate reform ideology has also played a part in the board's decision to fund with millions more in taxpayer dollars the Apollo 20 program, which has failed to increase reading scores in several of its schools. However disheartening this may appear, imagine for a moment a new vision. Imagine for a moment the millions of dollars in taxpayer revenue that could be better utilized to fund quality pre-K education, tutors, greater library resources, technology in classrooms and state-of-the-art science labs, which could be done if HISD eliminated both the ASPIRE Award and Apollo 20 programs. Imagine a more positive school climate and stronger, healthier faculties if HISD removed the EVAAS component from the current teacher evaluation system and incorporated a system similar to the Montgomery County system, which uses peer and administrator observations to successfully evaluate teachers. Imagine HISD trustees listening with an open mind to parents, teachers and neighbors, giving all a greater voice when policy regarding public education is being decided. One would say that I'm a dreamer, but I'm not the only one. Imagine HISD as great. Santos, is a teacher in the Houston Independent School District and is a member of Community Voices for Public Education, a local organization that advocates community-led school reform.

Ruth Kravetz


teacher, parent, progressive, committed to public education equity and adequacy