Bias Against Texas Private Schools Continues

According to the National Center for Education Statistics 25% of all schools, nationwide, are private, serving 11% of all students. In recent public statements, Texas public educators show their dismissive, if not outright contempt for private schooling. So entrenched is this attitude that most in the Texas public school establishment don't realize the glaring bias.

The latest case in point was in the El Paso area, where seventeen Canutillo High School seniors who failed the standardized TAKS test were asked by district Superintendent Damon Murphy to withdraw from the public district and obtain their diplomas from an accredited online private high school in Pennsylvania.

Penn Foster High School, the regionally accredited cyberschool at issue, could not admit the students because their requirements for graduation were more rigorous. It required four math and four science credits, whereas Texas public schools will not require this recommended curriculum until 2011.

Even though two of Murphy's comments acknowledged there were credible private school options by affirming Penn Foster as having, "high academic standards," and "a reputable program;" just as telling was his assertion that some private schools are "diploma mills." It is also reflective of the public school mindset that out of the hundreds of private schools in Texas, almost all of which are accredited and recognized by TEA, he could not find one that was a viable option for these students.

According to the article, DeEtta Culbertson, a spokesperson for TEA, said school districts in the Houston and Brownsville areas had tried to do what Canutillo did this year. Because the agency keeps track of dropout rates, she claimed this practice is not new. Instead, she asserted, "Any student in Texas can withdraw from any school and move to an online program, a charter school, a private school or even just be home-schooled." She further admitted that she didn't know how often it occurred, but theorized this option was possibly an acceptable practice by some districts to pad their dropout rates reported to the state.

To further disclose the system-wide bias, Murphy claimed that only "wealthier families" can afford this option. In this instance, he found a way to where it would be free for these students. Also, the only reason he was considering the cyberschool in PA is that his district did not have the remediation programs in place that are found in other ones, and said, "Next year it should be a different story."

The underlying prejudices are clear and system wide. The Texas public education establishment, which includes public colleges and universities, public schools, and all of the support mechanisms that fund and feed off of the revenue generated, suffer from a mindset that is dismissive and at times openly antagonistic toward Texas private schools. Such are reflected in Murphy's and Culbertson's inadvertent public comments that some private schools are "paper mills," while others are good for dumping grounds for those students who couldn't pass the TAKS test.

Those in the private school profession could have recommended a dozen viable alternatives that would have addressed the needs of those students, yet not serve as a "paper mill." However, this is another instance where the Texas education establishment's marginalization of the private school industry has adversely effected students who could have received the necessary remediation and successfully passed the TAKS, so they could move on to college.

The superintendent should not be blamed in this instance. To his credit, he was trying to do what was in the best interest of the students. Who is to blame is the establishment, the TEE (Texas education establishment), which proliferates disinformation, to the point that the rank-and-file believe it to be gospel. The superintendent was uninformed of the private school services available because of the prevailing myths that are endemic in the teacher colleges and public school culture.

Although private schools produce a disproportionate number of National Merit Scholarship qualifiers, TEE says, "It is because they get the cream of the crop." Although Texas private schools regularly score in the top quarter of national-ranked, norms-referenced assessments like ITBS and Stanford, the TEE says it's because private schools only take "good kids with lots of money." Even though the Department of Education and NCES affirm that most private school students come from middle class.

Surveys, research, and quantified data at the NCES affirm that private schools tend to outperform public schools in many measures. As is often the case, when this data comes out, TEE says, "Its because they only admit the high academic achievers."

Although some Texas private schools target those students, most have a broad spectrum of students served, and some are designed specifically for those students with learning disabilities and are disadvantaged.

Yet, Texas public schools have scored in the bottom quarter in SAT scores for the past five years. Of course the TEE says, it's because public schools have too many illegals, low socio-economic disadvantaged, and on and on go the excuses.

There are some of us who are old enough to remember the pitchfork storming frenzy by taxpayers and parents every year when national-ranked, norms-referenced testing was published. Annually, Texans howled at the poor performance of Texas students compared to other states. It was as predicable as the Luling Watermelon Thump.

The shrewd strategy by the politicians was to move from national-ranked testing to the TAAS state-standardized tests in 1991. That way, politicians and public educators were no longer being compared to other states. Now, Texas politicians and establishment insiders can call schools, "exemplary," "recognized," and "blue ribbon." Which begs the question, "Exemplary compared to what, our own test?"

How is it that in 2009, Texas students performed 47th out of 50 states in SAT reading and writing, and 38th in Math, yet TEA boasts that 91 percent of eighth-grade students passed the TAKS reading test and 80 percent passed the TAKS mathematics test?

How is it that SAT scores have dropped in reading by 8 points, yet TEA recently boasts that, "93 percent of high schoolers passed the English language arts test." They go on to claim, "These passing rates represent gains of one point in social studies, one point in English, six points in science and eight points in mathematics over 2009 passing levels." So according to the TEA, performance is up. According to SAT, it is down and falling in all measures but math.

Shouldn't Texas at least consider the fact that four of the top five states performing in the SAT, also have the highest number of private schools? To the contrary, in the state's infinite wisdom, if something isn't working, let's do more of it. In the near future, performance outcomes may look even more disingenuous with Texas public schools implementing EOC (end-of-course) exams in 2011-2012, entitled STAAR tests.

Even many public educators lament the loss of richness in education on the altar of TAKS testing. Unfortunately, some private schools have opted into this well-meaning, but misguided strategy. However, most have opted for the classic and taxonomy focused pedagogy, which has served generations with the ability to be lifelong learners, prepared for college and life. Thus, many Texas private schools have managed to continue to perform high in national-ranked testing.

The TEA, TAKS-STAAR shell-game is about to be exposed by those pushing for nationalizing education. There is a national movement to create a national standardized test, nationally recognized teacher certification, with nationally recognized learning objectives. This is gaining traction in many quarters of the edu-industrial giant. The irony is that as Texas works harder to fine-tune the TAKS-to-STAAR assessment system, yielding bottom tier results in the SAT and ACT, it is more likely to be absorbed into this national system. Once that happens, it will be pre-1991 all over again, and everyone better get ready to sharpen their pitchforks.

This is not to say that all public schooling is bad, all private schooling is good. There are many good public educators, working tirelessly to better the system. It is, however, intended to expose the systemic bias, which precludes the utilization of current private schooling to the states advantage.

As the Texas budget is less able to fund the burgeoning cost of the current system, it would be to the advantage of the state to be more inclusive of the private school systems, more acknowledging of the contribution they make toward education, and create structures to help them flourish (which by any estimate is minuscule). It will not be able to sustain partisan protection of the current unions and systems for much longer. Well-crafted public policy regarding the inclusion of proliferating private schooling may very well be the ticket for expanding valuable services, without adding to the state's burden.

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Tags: High School, SAT, Standardized test, Texas Assessment of Knowledge and Skills


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