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Texas education system must change for our future

San Antonio Express-News
May 8, 2013

By Ramiro Mojarro, Marcelo, Tafoya, Fidel Acevedo, & Arnoldo Torres

For too long, Texas schoolchildren have been handcuffed by a concept of education that is outdated and underfunded. It has been outperformed by more progressive and choice-driven models throughout the United States.

We expect our students to shoulder the burden of our failures, but we increase that burden by providing no opportunity to succeed.

Our future deserves legislators to honor the right to a free, quality public education for all rather than stubbornly adhering to a relic of a system that consistently produces subpar results. It is time we put the interests of schoolchildren ahead of politics and ideology, provide new concepts and discard traditional constraints that have been stubbornly perpetuated.

It is not a coincidence that more than one-fourth of Texas high school students fail to graduate on time. For African-American and Hispanic students, the dropout rate is more than one-third.

Out of all 50 states, Texas has the highest percentage of adults who have not completed high school. Not only does it threaten the economic well-being of all Texans, it has and continues to impede economic progress for at least two generations of Mexican-Americans and African-Americans in Texas.

A world-class education system offering the best opportunity, technology and equipment for a 21st century education is a moral imperative and an economic necessity. It requires parents, educators and community leaders to work together to provide our children the skills needed to compete and succeed in a global economy.

A child's future should not be hindered or dictated by economic status, place of residence or personal aspiration that does not conform with a one-size-fits-all curriculum and poor performing schools that never seem to change. Every parent and student should have the opportunity to choose which educational philosophy they will participate in without interference.

Consistent with these objectives for a public education system, the Texas Legislature has been debating and approving a package of legislative initiatives backed by the bipartisan group Texans for Education Reform.

The goal of these reforms is to create a public education system that fosters learning while exceeding national and state standards through rigorous academics, evidence-based practices, and real world experiences.

Two reforms are critical. A Parent Trigger bill would allow parents to petition to reconstitute, convert to charter schools or close failing schools in three years as opposed to six years. In Achievement School District legislation, schools that are unacceptable for two consecutive school years under the state's rating system would leave their districts and join other failing schools in a Texas Achievement School District, which would have educational experts to improve these schools.

These two measures offer Hispanic and African-American parents and students, who are mired in low performing schools in Texas, improved, effective and vital tools to reconstitute their local school, create a new learning system or close it down, if necessary.

We need to provide choice in education that does not include vouchers. Our students deserve a public school system that prepares them for college and a career upon graduation.

Our communities should expect the facilitation of school-community collaboration to help at-risk students and their families. To do what is best for Texas, we must do what is best for each individual Texas public school student.

Ramiro Mojarro is president of Comunidades Mexicanas de San Antonio. Marcelo Tafoya is deputy state director of Texas State LULAC. Fidel Acevedo is legislative chair of Texas State LULAC. Arnoldo Torres is a consultant for Texans for Education Reform.