Local superintendents, school board members and administrators joined with business and community leaders at the Lufkin/Angelina County Chamber of Commerce’s Education Summit at the Pitser Garrison Civic Center on Tuesday, in an effort to change the effects current legislation has on schools and the future impact of the workforce.
“As educators, we know it is time for a change,” said Huntington ISD Superintendent Eric Wright. “We need to be getting our kids ready to compete in a global world, and in order to do that properly, we need candid feedback from businesses so that we will have a better understanding of the skills students need to be successful.”
Standing in the way of students being prepared for the global workforce, according to keynote speaker Jeff Turner, superintendent of Coppell ISD, is an education system that he believes is stuck in the past.
“Schools today are better than they have ever been, in terms of the ranking and sorting system that was effective in the industrial age,” Turner said. “Years ago, ranking and sorting students through test scores and grade-point average is what the economy and businesses needed. But that is not the case anymore, and yet ranking and sorting is still the only thing our education system does.”
The amount of focus the state puts on standardized testing has been opposed by many administrators across the state who, like Turner, say the system diminishes the ability to have a balanced and engaging curriculum.
“The standards of the tests are higher than they have ever been, and students are being challenged,” Turner said. “But they are only being challenged in testing, not in education, critical thinking skills, problem-solving, creative initiatives — there is not time for those crucial aspects of education when we are operating in a system dominated by testing. All of our energy, time and financial resources are being poured into testing, and it is killing the classroom curriculum and leaving our teachers with no time to offer engaging lessons to our students.”
Other superintendents and educators at the summit noted that Turner’s promotion of a new education system is courageous, since he is at the top of a school district that is thriving, based on state testing scores. Turner said those high scores are not the most important thing.
“You can have an exemplary school based on state testing, but are you preparing your kids for the future?” Turner said. “If we sat down with parents and talked about the expectations for the future of their kids and grandkids, do you think the first thing they say is going to be ‘Make a perfect score on the state test’? If we examined the expectations we have for education and then designed a system based on those expectations, there is no way we would have the system that is currently in place.”
One of the major changes that businesses have encouraged educators to make is the use of technology and digital devices. Turner said rather than limiting technology, schools should be embracing it and determining the best way to use it effectively in education.
“We are already 12 years into this century and we are still arguing about what technology students should be able to use,” Turner said. “We are going to end up arguing away an entire generation of students, preparing them for the 20th century, not the 21st. Students are different today. They live life differently. They are immersed in technology. In fact, they don’t even see it as technology, it comes so natural to them.”
This same philosophy has led area schools, including Huntington ISD, to encourage the use of digital devices for a variety of classroom purposes. Utilizing these devices, according to Turner, can help students have more success in the job market because of their familiarity with technology, as well as help teachers provide a more engaging classroom environment.
“Kids have phones and digital devices that they use for everything, and that includes accessing information,” Turner said. “And yet when they get to the door of most schools, we say they can’t have that, and if we see it out then we will take it up and they will have to pay to get it back. So in the world they live in, everything is 24/7 connectivity, they can look up something on Google faster than they can find it in a textbook; but what we do is isolate them in a desk, tell them to listen to an adult at the front of a classroom and then wonder why they aren’t more excited about that.”
The proposed changes, Turner said, whether it is limiting the hold testing has on curriculum, promoting technology or working closely with business leaders, have to begin at the local level. He encouraged those in attendance to fight for what they believe is the best system for their own students.
“Nobody cares as much about Angelina County students as the people in this room,” Turner said. “These people care more about their students than Rick Perry, and they care more about their students than Barack Obama. That is why if we are going to make a change, it has to start at the local level, with local administrators and educators making the decisions. The Texas Legislature cannot change education, but the people in this room can.”
Nick Wade’s email address is firstname.lastname@example.org.