Texas Education Commissioner: Frustrated with the Feds’ and His Own Overreaching Influence in Local School Districts

Robert ScottJenny LaCoste-Caputo, who is the director of communications and media relations with the Texas Association of School Administrators, reported on Texas Education Commissioner Robert Scott’s speech at their Midwinter session.  She called the speech “surprising” and from what I’ve seen out of most chief state school officers I’d have to agree with her.

Usually, Scott delivers a Power Point presentation full of AP participation rates, NAEP scores and graduation results to the crowd of district administrators. He started off by telling them he was dispensing with that today and instead told them about the book he’s reading: Carrots, Sticks, and the Bully Pulpit, a book critical of the role of federal involvement in K-12 education.

He said his frustration isn’t limited to the federal government, but also with himself for being complicit in the state’s overreaching influence in local school districts.

“I believe that testing is good for some things, but the system we have created has become a perversion of its original intent,” Scot said to applause. “The intent to improve teaching and learning has gone too far afield.”

I can’t say I’ve ever seen a a chief state school officer chide themselves for meddling with local school districts.  Interesting.  Then he’s thought of resigning, but U.S. Education Secretary Arne Duncan has provided the motivation he’s needed to stay in the fight.

Scott said if he’s looking a little under-rested and under-fed these days, it’s because he’s been in “fight mode” for four and a half years, so much so that the thought of resigning crosses his mind. 

“And then Arne Duncan says he feels sorry for the children in the state of Texas…and then the Irish in me comes out,” Scott told the crowd. “And I say not just ‘No’ but ‘Hell, No, I’m gonna fight.’”

Then there’s the public exchange he’s having with Bill Hammond who is the President of the Texas Association of Business over local control:

The commissioner also called out Bill Hammond, president of the Texas Association of Business, who publicly criticized Scott last week saying that TEA has been “derelict” in not issuing uniform grading guidelines for the new accountability system. He also said school districts are “gaming the system” and that students will follow by “gaming the system.” Scott fired back with a news release that said that power rests with local school boards.

Isn’t that refreshing?  A chief state school officer who believes that school boards should actually have authority and control over policies like grading.  Something I wish Iowa’s Jason Glass and Indiana’s Tony Bennett would understand.