A state official says the longtime education focus on teaching students to pass standardized tests is having a detrimental effect on Texas’ job market.
As a Texas Workforce commissioner representing employers, Tom Pauken said he hopes to lead an effort to change that. He was in Longview on Friday promoting business and the role it plays in job creation and economic growth while addressing the Texas Business Conference at Maude Cobb Convention and Activity Center, where about 250 business owners, managers and human resource specialists gathered.
“I’m really concerned we’re choking off the pipeline of skilled workers that our employers need,” he said. “We’re spending too much time and effort teaching to the test instead of focusing on real learning.”
Pauken said he plans to vacate his seat on the commission about a year ahead of schedule. But before he leaves, Pauken said he plans to focus much of his energy in working with Texas Legislative leaders to have the past and present focus of the Texas public education system do away with standardized testing that has had acronyms such as TAKS and STAAR.
Instead, he would like to see at least three optional pathways high school students could follow, depending upon their interests and abilities. Pauken suggested a math and science focus, one with an arts and humanities emphasis and a third with a vocational technical focus.
“With the system we have now, we’re losing lots of students who drop out because the focus is on preparing them for a four-year college path,” he said. “We learn differently. Some with our hands and some with our heads.”
Students who have an interest in technical and vocational areas do better in school when they are allowed to follow that interest.
“They have a higher graduation rate,” Pauken said. Not only that, often they are prepared to either directly enter the workforce making a much higher than minimum wage salary or can enter more advanced certification programs at junior colleges or technical schools.
Pauken said he has visited with lawmakers across the state, including state Rep. David Simpson, R-Longview, and state Sen. Kevin Eltife, R-Tyler.
“We’re trying to put together some draft legislation to change the way we educate our students,” he said. Pauken said he is not sure how far along his efforts will get in the Texas Legislature when in convenes in January, but he is optimistic some headway will be made on efforts to strengthen the state’s future work force while encouraging capable student to remain in school.
What chance is there that Mark Wilson from the Florida Chamber of Commerce would have a similar epiphany on testing? They’ve been providing muscle for Jeb Bush’s test-based initiatives. There couldn’t be more different testing philosophies of state republican parties than there is for Florida and Texas. Texas republicans are realizing that high-stakes tests are inhibiting student development while Florida’s still feels they are that the reasons students succeed. Perhaps the collapse of Florida’s test-dominated accountability system that’s happening right before their eyes is opening some eyes.