With the new legislative session scheduled to kick off in January, public education officials are looking to overhaul the state’s system to accommodate the next generation.
At the forefront of the discussion of education reform is Joseph Kopser, Democratic candidate for Congressional District 21.
Last week, Kopser held a roundtable discussion in San Marcos on education and workforce development. A number of education professionals attended the event and discussed a number of issues surrounding public education, including funding, standardized testing and student readiness for the skilled labor force.
Among the crowd were education activists, Democrats and Republicans, a Texas State University student, former and current public school teachers and school board trustees from San Marcos and Hays Consolidated Independent School districts (HCISD).
There was a general consensus from the table that accountability in the classroom is healthy, but the state’s current standardized testing practices are creating barriers between students and their ability to learn.
“Standardized testing is a snapshot on how that child does on one particular day,” said Susan Seton, a current teacher at the San Marcos Consolidated Independent School District (SMCISD). “It does not account for what went on at home the night before, or whether they ate breakfast or ate the night before, or any other home situations. That’s what the current accountability situation is doing.”
Seton said there are better ways to assess accountability in the classroom including an end of the year content master exam, portfolios and a variety of projects.
“Sixty-five percent of teachers leave the profession within five years,” Seton said. “The biggest part of that, from talking to teachers, is that they believe they cannot stay in the profession when asked to do this to a child.”
Members of the roundtable said there is much to gain financially from the state when partnering with major companies that provide these standardized tests, giving way to a vicious cycle that takes the focus from the classroom.
During discussion on school funding, many believed charter schools and private school vouchers take funding away from public schools in an already limited system.
“The charter schools get to pick the best students from the public schools,” said Michael Sanchez, HCISD District 3 Trustee. “To compare a charter school to a neighboring public school is not correct. And there is data coming out that shows that charters are not performing any better than public schools.”
Anne Halsey, SMCISD trustee at-large, said universal pre-k could help put students on the same playing field as they advance in the school system.
Halsey said San Antonio has adopted this model so all students with different socioeconomic standing can succeed.
Kopser said that, as a businessman, he is concerned that the students of Texas are not ready to make the transition from school to the workforce.
“Only 14 percent of 18-year-olds in the state of Texas are career or college ready,” Kopser said. “We are so failing our communities to the point where our future workforce will not be ready for the next step in life.”
Kopser, a business owner himself, said that as his business grew, he was in search of a labor force to fill positions he needed in his company.
A lack of skilled workers in Texas forced Kopser to hire young talent from outside of the state, spending thousands of dollars in investments that were not products of a Texas public school population.
Kopser said those employees were predominately White, leaving some to conclude that the skilled labor force of the future must include the education and workforce readiness of minorities.
Sanchez pointed to the Hispanic and Latino community, adding that by the middle of the century, the Hispanic population will account for around 60 percent of the state’s population.
“The problem that I see is a cultural issue between Anglos and Hispanics,” Sanchez said. “Hispanics are working two jobs just to try and stay in the middle class, and parents don’t have the time to get involved as much as they would like. You are more likely to go to college if you came from a family of college graduates.”
Sanchez said investing in postsecondary career and technical education (CTE) programs is a way the state can provide funding for students that will prepare them for the workforce post public education.