Wednesday, March 16, 2011


The story goes that a preacher once asked a young lad if he wanted to go to heaven.  The young man quickly replied, “No, sir.”  The preacher then asked, “You don’t want to go to heaven when you die?”  The young man replied, “Oh, of course, I want to go to heaven when I die.  I thought you were getting up a trip now.”  

Unfortunately, too many Texans, particularly in leadership roles, have the same idea about quality education. Almost everyone wants quality education; however, too many are unwilling to pay the price.  Sadly, some who are not willing to pay the price are certified, card-carrying teachers in various teacher organizations.  

There are three major teacher groups in Texas---Texas State Teachers Association, Classroom Teachers Association, and Association of Texas Professional Educators.  The sad truth is, although all profess to be striving for the best education which could possibly be delivered to the young people of this state, none have taken action to match their rhetoric.  None of the teacher organizations mentioned above have any requirement for their membership other than paying their dues.  

If there is anything more elusive than finding the Holy Grail, it is defining quality in education and quality in teachers.  Seeking quality in education and teachers has to be among the list of things sought by so many and yet understood by so few.  

Politicians constantly yammer about keeping and rewarding great teachers and getting rid of those who are not so great or poor.  The problem is no one seems to be able to give an adequate formula or description of how to determine the quality of education in general or the quality of teachers in particular.  While serving on a committee which went far and wide throughout the United States in seeking how to define quality, the principals and teachers in almost every school visited were able to identify the outstanding teachers in the school.  They seemed to think it was  a simple matter to identify those teachers.  

Unhappily, nobody could give a definitive answer as to how they made that decision.

Lawmakers are becoming more and more frustrated over the issue of trying to obtain better quality teachers in the classroom and producing better results.  A recent article in the Houston Chronicle laid out a plan by the Houston Independent School District to use improved student test scores as 50% of the evaluation tool to determine teacher ratings such that good teachers by this scale would be rewarded and bad teachers would be fired.

Teacher groups consistently will tell you that tying teacher evaluation to student test scores is not fair and not a true measuring stick of the quality of the teacher.  Teacher groups vigorously oppose allowing subjective observation of the teachers as an adequate measuring stick because of favoritism among school administrators and evaluators.  Teachers getting the highest marks for quality could very well be those “sucking up” or doing favors for the administrators and not necessarily the ones who are the best teachers.  

My warning to teachers is this: Teachers had better wake up to the fact that the general public is demanding some measure of the quality of the persons teaching their children.  The best possible group to come up with such a formula should be teachers.  If teachers stubbornly cling to only seniority and minimal statutory requirements, teacher groups will soon be recognized as nothing more than groups akin to industrial unions protecting only seniority as a measure for job security.

While all institutions resist change, our public education systems have resisted change far too long.  The changes we are seeing in today’s world --specifically in interactive communications technology, the rapid expansion of knowledge, and ability of young people for increased comprehension--has outdistanced the traditional institutions of public education.  

And not only the substance of public education and quality of teaching should change. We should be far past the line of thought that the school year and time in class should be suspended for the summer because kids need to be home helping to harvest the crops.

It’s well past time for all kinds of change, and we need leadership from our teachers to make sure it happens.

Tuesday, March 1, 2011


I bought my first car at age 17. For $80 I purchased a 1940 Ford two-door from Angelle Used Cars on Gulfway Drive. As you might suspect from the price of the car, it was not really a show car. The body wasn't in great shape. It had no brakes, and the tires were all suspect.

Back then the tubeless tire was not in broad use. Changing a flat tire on a car at that time was quite an adventure. The tire contained a tube which needed to be removed after breaking the tire loose with a tire iron and prying it loose from the rim.  The cheap way to do it was with a cold patch.  You’d cut a piece of rubber, sand down the area where the leak was and by pressure and glue place the flat piece of rubber on the hole and thereby repair the tire.  Not being flush with money and very worn tires being very susceptible to having punctures, I did, as you might suspect, patch the tubes in my tires until there were almost patches on patches.  Although it gave temporary relief, the real problem was caused by the fact the overly patched tires were not very serviceable.

The moral to this story is that Texas, like my old car, needs a new tire, new tube or both. Texas has been having a serious problem with its constitutional mandate since the 1960s when our national Supreme Court warned Texas it was dangerously close to denying the school children of Texas their constitutional right of equal protection of the law.  The problem is, our state has attempted to avoid the education funding catastrophe by applying a series of patches.  We are gradually reaching the point where our patches now have patches.

The problem with funding education in Texas will not be permanently fixed until our state has the will to adopt some rational and reliable method of funding which will grow with our needs of a rapidly expanding state.   The most likely prospect of such a system is a state income tax.

A properly constructed state income tax would amount to about 1.5% of your net income and probably begin taxing your income at or above $50,000 per year.  The math would quickly prove to the average homeowner in Texas that paying a state income tax of that nature would be far better than the constantly and ever-increasing property taxes on our homes and small businesses.

Our basic problem in Texas is that politicians are so adverse to even discussing the issue of taxes that citizens never get around to determining whether or not some new tax would be better than all the old and inadequate taxes we now pay.

An unreal belief is that colleges in Texas, even though enduring draconian cuts, can somehow furnish Texas’ students with a bachelor degree for not more than $10,000.  Almost unanimously college administrators pronounce that attempting to furnish a baccalaureate degree for approximately $2,500 a year is unrealistic.  If our governor truly believes the dollar can be stretched that far, he should attempt to move out of his $10,000 a month rental and try to find the same amount of space with the same quality at only $1,000 a month rather than $10,000 a month which the taxpayers are now paying for his luxurious lifestyle.

Another example of flawed “fairy tale vision” is that businesses can only be attracted to Texas through bribery via the governor’s “slush fund.”  In the last few years, the governor has spent approximately 150-million dollars a year giving money to corporations in an effort to get them to locate in Texas.  Admittedly several have taken the bait; but on the other hand, several are start-up companies with no proven record, many of whom have fallen far short of their promised employment for Texas citizens in exchange for the multi-million dollar sop given by the governor.

Another reason luring businesses through this legalized bribery is not a good idea is demonstrated in numerous studies concerning the reason businesses locate in a particular place.  High on the list for most business decisions of that nature have to do with quality of life for their executives and employees.  On that list are arts, music and education–all items the governor has already pronounced as not very important and should either be unfunded or seriously curtailed.  

Many Republican legislators are beginning to realize that the governor’s wish to leave untouched the almost 10-billion dollars in our rainy day fund is not a rational decision.  If the fiscal position of Texas is not a rainy day now, it obviously will take a monsoon to justify spending this savings account in the governor’s mind.  Those of us who care about the future of this state need to be diligent in writing our state representatives and senators concerning adequately taking care of the financial needs of this state.