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In as much as public education in Texas has gone through a number of changes, it has for a long time been the heart of the state. The whole concept of public education in Texas came about in 1836 following the Texas Declaration of Independence, which resulted from the letdown of the Mexican Government (Preuss, 2009). This is due to the fact that Mexican Government, despite being in possession of vast resources, failed to put in place a public system of education.
The Origins and Evolution of Public Education in Texas
The year 1840 saw the enactment of the first Anglo-American public school in Texas, with about 17 acres of land being set aside in each county in support of free public education centers (Preuss, 2009). Over the next five years, the constitution of Texas as a state directed that 10% of the annual state revenue should be utilized in the support of free public schools.
After the Civil War and Reconstruction, the constitution of the state in 1876 dedicated 45 million acres of public domain to support free public schools. Additionally, the constitution also directed that proceeds for new Permanent School Fund be invested in bonds. Again, the year 1884 saw the rewriting of the school law. At this point in time, the office of the state superintendent was formed, thus affirming the investment of Permanent School Fund in county bonds for the sake of increasing income.
In 1885, the state authorities decided to create an accreditation system with high schools sending selected question papers for examination by the Texas University. In this regard, schools whose test papers were found satisfactory were granted affiliation with the university. As a result, graduates from these schools got admission without examination (Preuss, 2009). However, over the years, other legislations have granted towns and cities more liberty in the development as well as management of their schools. This led to the development of self-governing school districts. Today, there are over one thousand district schools in the state.
Major Milestones and Reforms of the System
The passage of the Gilmer-Aiken laws in 1949 introduced landmark reforms in the public education system in Texas. This is because the Gilmer-Aiken laws led to the creation of the Foundation School Program which introduced the allocation of state funds to local school districts.
Additionally, the legislation restructured the running of public education, following the election of a 21-member State Board of Education, which was given the task of hiring a Commissioner of Education. Through the legislation, there was also a restructuring of the state public school policy through Texas Education Agency (Preuss, 2009).
In 1984, a landmark education reform bill was ratified by the Texas Legislature, thus practically overhauling every feature of the state’s public education system. This included a pay rise for the teaching fraternity as well as the requirement that the state should channel more resources to property school districts and enhanced equity among districts across Texas (McBeath, 2008). Students were also required to surpass every course with a bare minimum score of 70 so as to be eligible to take part in extracurricular activities.
Additionally, there was the provision that required students to pass a basic test prior to being awarded a diploma, with schools being required to abide by a uniform grading scale. Teachers were also required to go through a statewide teacher evaluation system (Preuss, 2009). The reform bill also instituted compulsory pre-kindergarten curriculum for the financially underprivileged or limited English proficiency for four-year olds.
Strengths and Weaknesses of the System
The public system of education in Texas its current form has been beneficial since it has led to equity spending among school districts. In many ways, the system has largely leveled the financial support for Texas schools. As a matter of fact, there is legislation that ensures that none of the Texas’ school districts receives more than the set amount of property wealth per student. In this regard, districts that receive beyond the set limits are in a position of giving away some wealth, including merging tax bases or moving a quantity of taxable property to other district’s tax rolls (Preuss, 2009).
Additionally, students in Texas continue to be held to ever rising answerability standards through dynamic programs of study and graduation necessities. Again tough statewide assessment tests are promoted, including the requirement that third-grade students have to pass the test along with their coursework (Champagne, 2008). This is of great importance since it discourages laziness among students but rather promotes hard work. However, the strict and routine structures greatly diminish any kind of inventiveness and gusto among students.
Reforms Currently Underway or Being Discussed
One of the key reforms that are being discussed include the need to reconsider the abolition of an exit standardized state test which in many ways does not reflect the students’ reading/writing grade level true proficiency as confirmed by the high percentage of recent high school graduates who have to sit for corrective lessons at the college level.
In this regard, the idea of teaching to a test needs to be brought to an end, with more teacher autonomy and empowerment being granted especially in the designing of core curriculum as well as pedagogy in schools. Additionally, some people are of the view that community education programs need to be integrated into the system to ensure that crucial lessons like the Holocaust are included into the teaching curricula.
By and large, I support the abolition of an exit standardized state test. This is mainly because after spending years in school, a single standardized examination should not be used to gauge a student’s true proficiency. As a matter of fact, different students in different counties undergo different challenges in the academic process. In this way, a standardized state test is likely to give others an unfair advantage over the less privileged.