Debates about the best way to approach education will never end, and nor should they. But schools matter to us all — parents, teachers, taxpayers. As a new academic year begins, schools of all kinds need help and support.
Public, private and charter. Urban and suburban. Special education, ESL and other programs. It’s been a rough ride for schools in recent years, and it’s in our interest to lift up all of them.
The pandemic both revealed and caused problems that our education system still grapples with. Kids took a double whammy, falling behind in learning and suffering emotional and social challenges as their lives were disrupted and the world around them roiled with uncertainty.
Many teachers reached their limit, especially some key veterans who were able to retire early. Districts everywhere, but particularly in our fast-growing region, are struggling to staff up. Add in COVID absences, and merely having enough adults on hand is often a principal’s primary daily task.
Remote learning opened a window into the classroom for parents, and some didn’t like what they saw. Political squabbling over education isn’t new, but it has a much sharper edge now and trickles down to individual teachers in unfair ways.
Parents and taxpayers have every right to challenge the content and methods of education, but it should be done respectfully and in the right venue. School board members campaign for their positions knowing they must represent the public. Teachers are largely on the job for kids, not politics.
Many of our local schools need academic improvement. But there are good developments to recognize and build on. Fort Worth school district test scores are up, and the district anticipates improved accountability ratings soon from the state. There’s a long way to go under a soon-to-be-hired superintendent, but we hope it’s a sign the worst is over.
The recent opening of a charter elementary, Rocketship Public Schools, in the Stop Six neighborhood provides new options for parents in a long-suffering area. Charters and other school choice measures will not be the panacea their most fervent supporters make them out to be, but competition encourages improvement. And for the families they serve, such schools can be a godsend.
At the start of a new year, we’re even cautiously optimistic that Texas could settle on a modest voucher program that could help some families without damaging public schools. What if students in certain low-performing schools were allowed to take some — but not all — of their funding to the campus of their choice? The state, expecting a massive budget surplus, could ensure that the schools they leave aren’t crippled by funding loss.
Conservative Republicans plan a hard push for vouchers next year in the Legislature, and Gov. Greg Abbott says he’s on board. Voucher legislation has never really had a chance, even in a state as red as Texas, because of opposition from rural communities and even some private schools. A targeted pilot program could succeed, though.
Schools need that kind of innovation. But they also need more support from the community, parents and the state. Even though the crisis portion of the pandemic is largely over, COVID still disrupts staffing and students’ lives. Volunteers and more substitutes could help ease the pain.
The promise of American education is that it can be the equalizer that helps us live up to our nation’s ideals. But it’s complicated and difficult work. If we all set our minds to helping more and sniping from the sidelines less, we can improve schooling for every child.