We need trust and local control in schools

When a school policy or curriculum gets changed, the students are the ones who are impacted the most

In a time of regular staff shortages and constant mental health strain, debates are raging about the cause of teacher burnout and student stress. One overlooked component involves the lack of trust in the public school system.
There is a major problem within Texas’ schools, and it’s a problem that a lot of people tend to overlook. The problem is that schools have no trust, and all control is centralized in the school districts and state. In some cases, not only is there distrust from the State leaders but there’s also distrust from school district administrators. These are issues that put too much stress on students and teachers in school’s across Texas. It affects teachers and their ability to teach and affects schools with their ability to be a good learning environment, even affecting the students and their ability to learn.
First, it does more harm than good when it comes to teachers. The people who are responsible for educating future generations are under constant scrutiny. To start, most teachers have to structure their entire teaching curriculum to prepare students to pass Texas’ mandated standardized test called the STAAR test.
Texas has had required standardized tests since the 1990s when the “accountability movement” became a popular focus for state lawmakers, who wanted to make sure that Texas educators were adequately preparing students for jobs in certain industries after graduating. There have always been concerns that students in public schools are not learning as much as they should to be competitive. Usually, state leaders turn to standardized testing and punitive consequences to schools and teachers as the solution.
Because these tests have such high stakes for both students and schools, teachers often feel like they have less ability to be creative in their lesson planning and ability to customize their curriculum to meet individual student needs. Teachers are not given the final say in designing the learning process in their classrooms, removing some of the joy that teachers get from their jobs.
The Texas Education Agency uses an A-F grading system that is mostly dependent on STAAR test scores. Once these schools have been graded, those grades are posted to the public for all to see. This does not improve certain schools, but it just includes more stress than school needs.
This is just one example of how distrust in the public education system leads to rampant overreaches by state and district leaders to maintain an iron grip of control over individual campuses and what goes on in classrooms.
Teachers along with students are caught in a constant crossfire because of what politicians and parents think is best for their children. The reality is that this isn’t always the case. People are constantly raging and bickering about topics like Critical Race Theory, or anything having to do with the LGBTQ+ community. All this does is just make it harder to create a curriculum that works to address students’ individual needs.
Because of all of the political fights, teachers are quitting all across the state, and the supply of high-quality teachers is starting to become depleted.
To fix these problems we should first simply get rid of standardized testing so that teachers are able to teach students an appropriate curriculum that meets their needs. We need to just let teachers be teachers. State politicians should leave the education system alone and just let it run its course.
We need to just put our opinions aside and stop trying to change the school system to reflect the rhetoric we support. Let’s trust educators to work as the professionals they train to be and see what kinds of benefits this approach yields. We need more subject matter experts who are knowledgeable and passionate about the subjects they teach. What we are doing now is just leading more and more teachers to quit, leave their teaching positions vacant and led by permanent substitutes. The reality is that culture wars are lethal to the education system in Texas.
The lack of trust in public schools manifests in large and small ways at the school district level as well. One small example of this is how the school district limits teachers’ ability to use their air conditioning units to a window of time each day and even controls the temperature ranges in classrooms.
This is justified as an attempt to cut costs by saving money on electricity use but the reality is that it does more harm than good.
Teachers and other school staff have to email the school district’s main office if they want the AC on for a little longer than they’re usually shut off, or if they just want the temperature to be a few degrees higher or lower. This makes things a lot more complicated than needed because schools have to wait 48 hours (2 days) rather than just a few minutes with normal AC units. The other problem is that thanks to standardized testing, schools have more stress to deal with that which they could certainly do without.
Unfortunately, public schools are too often caught in the political crossfire of our country’s ongoing culture wars. A recent example of this is that the State legislature passed a law that requires any schools in Texas to hang up an “In God, We Trust” poster if they are donated to a campus. A school’s refusal to hang up those posters could result in costly fines. This is additional propaganda that schools really don’t need to have in their classrooms. What’s worse is that this action is a violation of the long-standing ideology of separation of church and state. Religion in general should not have any place inside public schools, but it seems the state doesn’t really care that much. All in all, it’s just propaganda that students don’t need to be exposed to because of the fact that it puts religion in schools.
The quality of student’s educational experience is often overlooked because bashing schools makes for good politics for certain politicians. It’s why if students fail the STAAR test, there’s a possibility that they could be held back a grade. It doesn’t matter if they still made good grades in all their classes, they still get held back for not doing well on the STAAR. Students’ knowledge of this is lethal to their confidence and mental health. They’re practically trapped under a heaping pile of stress, anxiety, and other emotions all because of this test.
Decisions on student advancement to the next grade should be made based on their course performance rather than a standardized test, making it easier to be able to make judgments on how well a student is doing in a grade and whether or not they should be held back.
Students are also facing a lack of trust from school districts and the state. School districts in Texas don’t trust the students to use their electronic devices correctly. Because of this, they have a lot of different security software downloaded on their electronic equipment that is designed to control what students do on computers and what websites they can or cannot go to. The district blocks access to many websites while using the district network and uses a service called Gaggle to scan web searches on district devices What this does is it monitors students’ search history to alert school staff if certain trigger words are looked up (i.e. “suicide”, “self-harm”, etc.). This is an egregious violation of every student’s privacy, which they have the right to.
While the idea of installing this software on school computers was well-intentioned, it turns out that it has a lot more drawbacks than perks. The other problem with all this software is that it boggs down the school district’s computer reliability. Websites take much longer to boot and programs constantly crash. Also, schools need to stop using Gaggle and put the web browser in restricted mode instead. Doing that uses far less computing power, and it doesn’t violate any privacy. What that does is it allows the administrator to block websites that can be not suitable for minors.
Students are affected, perhaps the most by the ongoing culture wars. In fact, they’re really the pawns of this ordeal. They’re the ones affected by laws that restrict what can be taught in social studies and sex education classes. They’re the ones who could be affected if Texas follows Floriday’s lead and passes a “Don’t say gay” law. It often feels like students are an afterthought when it comes to rulemaking for Texas public schools.
When a school policy or curriculum gets changed, the students are the ones impacted by far the most. Teachers quitting because of the culture wars also has a major effect on students. If there’s no teacher there to teach a class, then students don’t learn anything because there’s no one to teach them anything. So, to stop this ongoing issue, we as a society need to take schools and education in general out of the culture wars. Doing so could possibly make hiring new teachers much easier as teachers will be more willing to work in education.
To put an end to all of this, change needs to be made. We need to start trusting schools, teachers, and students to just do their jobs. We also need to let teachers decide their own curriculums, we need to have better accountability measures for all schools.
We need to let schools, teachers, and students be more independent and trust teachers to work as professionals. If a teacher can’t set the temperature in their classrooms to an appropriate temperature, it says a lot about how much we trust them to do the right thing.
What we need in schools is trust and freedom of choice, because it will allow teachers to actually teach more effectively. it will allow schools to be a place to learn without any kind of prejudice, and it will allow students to learn without any unnecessary censoring.