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Texas: America’s School Reform Laboratory


The Lone Star State remains America’s leader in education innovation. As the nation’s leader in test-based accountability, Texas is graduating a higher percentage of students than California and New York and at a fraction of the cost. But now Texas is looking to make some changes to its rigid system of frequent testing, giving teachers more flexibility to customize their curricula and giving students more freedom to choose what they want to study. The NYT reports:

The Texas House of Representatives overwhelmingly passed a bill this month that would reduce the number of exams students must pass to earn a high school diploma to 5, from 15. Legislators also proposed a change that would reduce the required years of math and science to three, from four. The State Senate is expected to take up a similar bill as early as this week.

[…] Proponents say teachers will be able to be more creative in the classroom while students will have more flexibility to pursue vocational or technically oriented courses of study.

The Texas legislature is responding to constituent concerns that the testing regime, despite its success, has spun out of control. Some, especially parents and teachers, think the system allows students who learn differently or at different paces to slip through the cracks. But others are worried that a more flexible and free system might undo the gains the state has already made.

The debate raging in Texas spotlights an important truth about the modern wave of education reform: Nobody knows what works yet. Via Meadia is not a fan of the big box, one-size-fits-all model; more flexibility for teachers and integration of vocational training into curricula are both things we like to see. We think standardized tests have a place, but mechanistic over-reliance on tests is the enemy of excellence and creative teaching. Great teachers and great leaders make great schools, and an important goal of education policy must be to give educators the freedom to excel.

There is much work still to be done, but Texas has made a healthy commitment to a long process of trial-and-error while finding ways to let the public have their say. (It’s worth noting that Texas’s relative lack of strong teachers’ unions a la California or Illinois has helped the state explore new and creative approaches.) Education reformers in other states should be watching Texas closely.

[Texas flag image courtesy of Shutterstock]

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  • ojfl

    Interesting approach but one that cannot be replicated in the states with strong unions, as highlighted in the article.

  • Martin Berman-Gorvine

    Reducing math and science requirements from four years to three hardly seems like the kind of forward-looking, 21st century model thinking Via Meadia favors.

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