Every night, as I put my daughter to bed, we have a routine: she asks me questions, and I try and answer them to the best of my ability. These questions are always about something different: outer space, how the human body works, tornadoes, whether fairies and Santa exist (if anyone asks: yes, yes they do!). Every night, I am surprised and amazed– the range of curiosity in a clever eight year old is astounding. Sometimes she even asks questions I have no real answer for, like why we can't see perfect darkness with our eyes closed, or what exactly happened before the Big Bang.
To her, the world is a place of wonder, of excitement, of adventure. Knowledge is not just fun; it's a daily –hourly– quest, a constant search for the treasure trove that explains how the world works, how people interact, and where kittens come from.
Her teachers are fantastic; they encourage this neverending thirst for knowledge every day, in every class.
Yet –as my daughter enters third grade, I worry. I worry because, as all parents in Texas know, third grade is when schools stop teaching knowledge, and start 'teaching to the test.'
Standardized testing is not a bad thing in and of itself –it's good to know where your child stands– but in Texas, standardized testing has completely taken over the education system from top to bottom. Schools with poor tests get less funding and vice versa, creating a perverse incentive for schools to teach only to the test –to the detriment of actual learning.
And these tests cost Texas taxpayers more than $13 billion a year: a full fifth of the entire education budget! And as a result, teachers earn less, staffs are drowning in pointless administrative overhead, and your children grow disconnected from the joys of learning.
Is there any wonder why public discourse is where it is today?
No matter where you come from or what you believe in, nearly everyone agrees that the key to success in life is quality education. All governments, at every level, realize this, and take special care to invest heavily in schools, teachers, and programs that will help their citizens achieve their dreams. When school funding is slashed due to mismanaged budgets or poorly thought-out priorities, everyone suffers: the student, the student's family, the student's future employer, and the community as a whole. Good schools bring in families from other states and countries, attract businesses looking for top-notch employees, and can have a positive impact on a person's entire life.
Texas currently ranks 43rd in the nation in education.
There could be several reasons for this: low teacher salaries, teacher burn-out, underfunded urban and rural schools, misplaced directives, and error-ridden textbooks that are the laughingstock of the entire country.
We must face these problems head-on before it's too late.
With companies continuing to hemorrhage jobs due to cheap overseas labor and automation, it has never been more important to stress education, particularly in our hardest-hit communities. If elected, I will fight to help fix Texas' educational system.
Incentivize Parental Involvement
It's no secret that the single most critical factor in a child's development is parental involvement. Unfortunately, many parents leave the child-rearing to their teachers, which creates undue stress on everyone involved. Incentivizing parental involvement –by, for example, opening up after-school or pre-K opportunities to parents that volunteer for the school or join the PTA– would go a long way towards improving parent-teacher relations.
Stop Teaching to the Standardized Test
Making school funding dependent on one-size-fits-none standardized testing was a huge mistake. Teachers should be allowed to teach actual subjects, not waste time prepping students on test-taking tricks that have no value in the real world.
Reward Honor Roll Students With U.S. Passports
You can't be a citizen of the U.S. without being a citizen of the world. Those who excel, particularly in distressed communities, should be encouraged to experience and explore, first-hand, the amazing things the rest of the world has to offer.
Bring Back Trade Schools and Apprenticeships
This will allow our high schoolers to learn skills that cannot be outsourced to Malaysia in ten years. There are millions of open and available jobs in every city in this country, jobs that cannot be filled because workers don't have the required trade skills to fill them.
Re-prioritize What We Teach
Certain required classes, such as Calculus or World History, may be best taught as electives, while other subjects, such as Critical Thinking, Home Economics, Statistics and Probability, and Group Dynamics would better prepare our students to succeed in their post-school lives.
Eliminate the Student Loan Bankruptcy Exemption
Student loans are unique among all forms of credit in that they never go away, even in bankruptcy. Because of this, colleges have jacked up tuition rates to astronomical levels, knowing that no matter what the price of admission, they will get their money. No other loan works like this: if a 17 year old with no money and no work history walked into a bank and asked for $100,000 for a car or a credit card, the teller would call security. This exemption has devastated young Texans when they can least afford it. It's time to treat student loans the same way we treat any other unsecured debt.