By Nick Braune
There is much discussion of an education bill in the Texas legislature, HB 3 – SB 3, which has some good aspects and some bad ones. I recently interviewed Rev. Bob Clark, a peace and justice advocate in the Valley who is a Methodist pastor serving the economically hard-hit San Juan/Pharr area.
Braune: Rev. Clark, you told me about a bill you are tracking. It apparently has a lot of supporters and some who have worries about it. It would allow, if I understand it right, two types of high school diplomas in the state. What is the issue and how are you looking at it?
Clark: For the last twenty-five years the state of Texas has been dealing with education accountability, bringing us successively the TAAS and TAKS tests; this new bill (HB 3 – SB 3) is the latest installment in the state’s ongoing crusade to fix students and rate our schools.
While the new bill is a slight improvement (doing away with mandatory retention) there are some glaring problems. Of these, one that is of special concern is this: if passed in its present form, the bill would create a two-track system in our schools. One group of children would be aimed at university and the other at tech-school or a job. There would actually be two different diplomas issued depending on which track the student completed.
Braune: How do you answer those who simply respond that everyone is not ready for college?
Clark: While it is true that not everyone will go to college, and on the surface, it seems good to identify those students who will not be “college ready”, such a plan is ripe for abuse. Here in the Rio Grande Valley, we are painfully aware of the negative effects of tracking. For years Hispanic students were automatically tracked toward “job readiness” while Anglo students were all tracked toward University. (As we know, abuses like that are what created the famous Edcouch/Elsa High School Walkout in 1968.) And tracking assumes that through testing one can determine the future potential of a student, even as early as in eighth grade. Imagine the loss to the world had Albert Einstein, who could not pass high school algebra, been tracked toward a career as a Wal-Mart greeter.
Braune: Is it going to pass?
Clark: There will be a fight. Backers of the current bill include champions of industry and commerce, the business community. Why? In a word, profit. A two diploma system creates an underclass marked as workers and a higher valued class destined to become professionals. Those with a “Texas Diploma” will automatically be considered of higher value than those with the inferior diploma. An inferior diploma translates into lower wages for workers and by extension higher profits for big business. In the same way that a person with a B.A. can be hired for a lower wage than a person with an M.A., a person without a “Texas Diploma” can be hired for less.
Additional note: After learning about this issue from Rev. Clark, I spoke to State Representative Armando Martinez about it. Already alert to the problems in HB-3, he and some other legislators are hoping to x-out that sort of “two-track” talk from the bill. I also spoke with Terry Brown of Valley Interfaith. Her organization does considerable lobbying and is worried about the bill, and she told me about a conversation she had with a Valley school superintendant who is dead-set against the two-track approach. There is growing opposition.
[The interview with Rev. Clark previously appeared in the Mid-Valley Town Crier.]