Sunday’s With George Thatcher – An American Hero: A “Failing” School District. Can Public Education Be Saved? Should It?

A “Failing” School District

In a sweeping move this week, the State of Texas announced that they will take control of the Houston Independent School District.  This action comes after the ISD has failed to meet the required testing and/or graduation rate standards established by state law.  The Texas Commissioner of Education will then appoint a superintendent (master) to oversee the district during its probationary period.  Moreover, the state is reinforcing its determination to produce excellence in education by eliminating all tenure for teachers.  As a former public school teacher, I shudder to think of the implications of this draconian, all-encompassing decision.

In my armchair analysis of the possible effects over time, I first note that the state’s decision was primarily based on the failure of a single high school in the district.  Right away I flash back to my own school days when, if a single student caused disruption in the classroom, and the teacher’s control of the classroom was imperiled, the whole class was punished for the infraction.  They had ways of making us not talk, and they were employed skillfully by the crafty teacher who was wise in the ways of withholding rewards.  Treats could be denied, classroom breaks could be curtailed, the field trip could be cancelled.  The list goes on, but it strikes me as eerily similar to the somber prospects associated with a state takeover.  The major difference, of course, is the scale of the punishment, but the idea remains the same:  mass punishment for the infraction of an individual,

The threat of the elimination of teacher tenure is another matter altogether.  Job security will disappear, the school district will become a haven for sycophants and short-time employees.  The worst aspect of all will be the growing cynicism of the districts’ administration.  Always strapped for operating funds, they will latch onto any means at their disposal to save a buck.  What better way than to cull out mid-career teachers who have reached the limits of their earning potential, but who do not yet qualify for retirement?  Districts are already notorious for not making new hires of highly-experienced teachers,  After all, they’re at the top of the earnings food chain, and they can always hire newbies right out of college, who come into the field all starry-eyed and dedicated to the principle of giving their best, so that the student will get the best.  With this new rule in place, a teacher will receive a performance evaluation every year, whereby a single “outlier” can mean the end of their careers.  Would you trust the average school superintendent, appointed by the state, to be anything but an axe-murderer when it comes to re-hiring senior teachers (and principals) every year?  With their new-found power of the guillotine, every educator would be on the chopping block every year.  The prospects for abuse in this area are mind-boggling.  My educated (pun) guess is that the exodus of public school teachers will  become a flood, rather than a trickle.

And where would all these unemployed educators go?  For much lower pay and usually severely limited benefits, they can sometimes find employment in charter schools or denominational institutions.  And there are opportunities for overseas teaching in international schools, who will reap the benefits of U.S. training without spending a dime.  Finally, there may be a surge in home schooling, which can produce excellent students, but which, at the same time, have had very uneven results.  

Back to the future of the public school over the long term.  it is evident that, given the ominous prospects for remaining the jewels of the American education system (however tarnished) the prospects for public education to remain viable will become increasingly remote.  We already produce a high school graduate who cannot read, write or calculate at eighth grade level, so how long will the taxpayer continue to beat this moribund horse?  A complete overhaul of the system, while a totally necessary project, does not sit well with The Education Establishment, whose archaic policies, overburdening of the schools, and homogenization of curricula have made us the joke of the worldwide academic community, will not relinquish its iron grip on the system.  They’d rather save the village by destroying it.

Houston ISD, the eighth largest in the country, will be operating under a microscope over the coming years.  Whether they save public education or contribute to its demise is anyone’s guess at the moment.  I have my own personal thoughts on the direction in which we’re heading, but then I’m old and out of touch.  So what do you think?

George Thatcher

March 2023

George is an American Bad Ass. He grew up in Jersey, flew B-52s in Vietnam, taught English, Spanish and other languages to children around the world, makes his own salsa, has been known to enjoy a beer or two and has called Lubbock home for a few years, just to entertain the locals. Welcome to Raiderland, Major. We are going to feature some of his writings going forward. Some new, some old. Some rhyme, some don’t. When it comes to George, there’s no box. So… enjoy our friend and enjoy his writings! – Hyatt