Perry decides to sit this race out

In an election year, it can be difficult to tell when an incumbent makes a decision strictly motivated by desire to serve his constituency or when they act with an eye to possible effects on the polls. In Gov. Rick Perry’s case, he always seems to be campaigning.

Up for re-election in November, Perry announced last Tuesday that Texas would not submit an application to be considered for up to $700 million of federal stimulus money through the U.S. Department of Education’s new Race to the Top program.

The move is clearly intended to appeal to conservative Texans who are fed up with federal government spending and what they see as attempts to spread Big Brother’s reach.

As Perry put it, the program “smacks of a federal takeover of our public schools.”

This was not the first time Perry publicly clashed with the federal government.

In April 2009, at an anti-tax tea party, his suggestion that Texas should secede from the U.S. was reported across the country.

The notion of secession is ludicrous, but Perry’s goal was to please his audience, which he did.

As a staunchly red state, the move against accepting federal aid will probably be another popular move, but for good reason this time.

While the stimulus money might enable some reforms at schools around the state, once the funding ceases in four years, any programs begun under Race to the Top will likely become the financial responsibility of local communities.

But the most inconvenient truth of the matter is that throwing money at public education problems won’t solve anything.

Perry is right to suspect that changing laws to qualify for stimulus funds would force Texas down a slippery slope where parents and teachers have diminishing power to determine how and what their children are taught.

There is no basis to thinking that adoption of a national curriculum would make Texas schoolchildren any smarter or better prepared than a state-determined curriculum.

The only reasoning behind a change would be uniformity — a goal that would do more to harm education than promote it.

However, one provision of the Race to the Top program should be adopted by Texas: using students’ test scores in their teachers’ evaluations.

Thursday, the HISD board voted in favor of allowing schools to fire teachers if their students’ standardized test scores are continually low.

Under the policy, teachers will be evaluated on three to four years of data, giving them sufficient time to improve on one or two years of poor student test scores.

This should provide a system to treat the disease, not just the symptoms.

Despite debate regarding how accurately standardized tests measure a student’s knowledge, they should be the basis for evaluating teacher performance.

It is perfectly acceptable for teachers to be held accountable for their students’ progress, and teachers who can’t perform at an acceptable level should be terminated; it’s that simple.

That is how the rest of the professional world operates, and the teaching field should be no exception.

While using these tests to measure a teacher’s effectiveness is a good idea, Texas does not need to turn over the reins of its education system to the federal government to institute such a policy.

As Perry put it, “If Washington were truly concerned about funding education with solutions that match local challenges, they would make the money available to states with no strings attached.”

Well said, governor.

Jared Luck is a communication senior and may be reached at [email protected]

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