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Monday, April 14, 2014

TEARS AND FEARS AT NAVASOTA ISD- A Cry for Education Reform...

How could the black culture which bred such excellence one hundred years ago have evolved into the plateau of low expectations of today?  How could we ignore the disparity?

Descendants of  T. Winston Cole stand under his likeness at Navasota Junior High. Like other black achievers from the area, the essential part of his legacy was that HE LEFT.  Years ago, when asked to paint a mural in the new Navasota Junior High School, I painted this collection of local heroes because I thought our young people, especially minority youths, needed POSITIVE role models.  And I still think so. And they may be YOU.
This is a long blog. But if you are a taxpayer... if you are a parent, if you care about Texas schools, make sure you know what is going on right now...and this blog offers to be a part of that process. There is a state-generated epidemic of failure in Texas schools... and Navasota is one of the first public casualties. But the failure is NOT WITH OUR KIDS OR TEACHERS.
The State of Texas has been struggling with appropriate educational goals and standards for a long time. After many years, millions of dollars spent in education, and several generations of Texas students receiving “equal” educations, remedies for “inequality” continue to dumbfound administrators, discourage students and condemn hapless educators.

Some of us can actually remember when fellow Texan, President Lyndon Johnson declared the “war on poverty” in 1965 and began the first experiments with the “Head Start” program. A son of the South and familiar with the inherent handicaps most black children faced, Johnson’s Head Start vision was designed to help minority children compete in the American classroom as Civil Rights became a reality.  With a helping hand from the government, hopefully blacks could finally pursue the American dream.

By 1981, fifteen years later, President Reagan saw a continued need to give a helping hand and followed through with more funding and even broader goals for the Head Start program.

About this time Texas millionaire/politician H. Ross Perot began to complain about teacher accountability and flawed priorities in Texas schools, as Texas struggled to keep pace with the nation. Ever since then, Texas has waged its own war on ignorance and teacher incompetence, with most people satisfied that a purging was necessary.  Everyone who paid attention knew that Texas education was deadlocked in a three-way tug-of-war between Texas legislative branches, bureaucracies such as TEA, and the teacher’s union. Perot was ready to bust things up, and had one main strategy, and that was to establish standardized achievement tests for Texas students. The Governor put Perot to work as Chairman of SCOPE, the Select Committee on Public Education, and Texas education has never been the same.

The official solution became relentless testing, or “assessments,” and over the years more and more tests were applied at more grade levels. For almost thirty years most educators have been driven to distraction with concerns over State mandated assessments known variously as TABS, TEAMS, TAAS, TAKS and now STAAR. Each time a new test was introduced, the rigor in the curriculum had been raised.

Recently, for instance, approximately 20% of the Texas 7th grade math curriculum has been shifted all the way down to the 4th grade. In past years similar quantum leaps have been made in attempts to raise performance levels.

This tsunami of tests was intended to reveal student progress and therefore teacher effectiveness, but in the process over the decades, Texas educators have become obsessed with “making the grade,” understandably apprehensive of the telltale numbers revealed each year by these tests. The outcomes initially had real impact on teachers and principals, whose jobs were on the line if their schools did not perform at State standards. “TEKS,” the Texas Essential Knowledge & Skills is the official state curriculum which has the daunting assignment of preparing students for all of these tests. And here is the silent culprit in this process: TEKS has been ratcheting up the rigor in Texas schools gradually for many years until it has finally found the absolute tolerance level for many rural schools.

Like many small town schools in Texas, our schools here in Navasota have been warned and warned about possible consequences for so-called poor academic performance until drastic and even desperate measures have recently been implemented to get desired results. But it was not always so.

Born and raised in Navasota, T. Winston Cole left Navasota to attend Wiley College, where he eventually became its president. He later served  in two Presidential Administrations, and at Florida State.

Unsatisfied with the dismal gains made to bring minority children up to national standards, President George H. W. Bush, another Texan,  implemented the “No Child Left Behind” program in 2001, striving for greater accountability and wiser distribution of the best teachers for improved quality in schools. And now President Obama has followed the mindset of his predecessors and tweaked the 13 year-old strategy with his own ifs, ands or buts.

The President’s optimistic improvements to NCLB seemed to hinge on all of the failed assumptions American educators have faithfully embraced for 50 years; that what minority children need to become more competitive is better assessment, which means more tests, and bigger incentives for achievement. What surfaces from this 50 year war is that we are losing it, and our strategies were ineffective. Few educators argue with the final analysis, that Head Start, which ultimately evolved into a $7 Billion a year program, for all its idealism and altruism, could not make a lasting imprint on minority children and did not make a significant difference in the end. Head Start could not reverse the disproportionate number of minority students’ headed for an educational dead end.

It did not work. But that did not stop educators from continuing the struggle. And to a large degree, fighting the war on poverty with empty, disproven platitudes and strategies.

The No Child Left Behind era had somewhat better results, but at the expense of the long cherished concept of a “well-rounded” education. For many schools, “No child left behind” ultimately meant neglecting or leaving the arts and sciences behind instead. As math and reading tests at the primary level became more demanding, something had to give. Writing and social studies suffered greatly and the arts were almost abandoned. Many Texas children no longer developed handwriting skills or cultural awareness, or enjoyed a half hour of recess, or art and music, at the primary levels, which left a huge deficit for Intermediate teachers to fill.

No one spoke up as the whole ship of education listed towards left-brained thinking skills, all in an effort to supposedly carve out an educational paradigm suitable for all American ethnic groups.

 Since NCLB, a gradual skewing of emphasis has caused around 70% of American schools to reduce or eliminate classes in social studies, languages and the arts.  Nationally, under Common Core and other programs, elementary school teachers have completely fallen out of touch with the sciences, limiting early grade level exposure and development in this crucial area. Now parent and citizen groups in several states from New York to Oklahoma are pushing back on Common Core priorities, strategies and assumptions.

The cover of Andrea Davis Pinckney's children's book about Alvin Ailey, a world famous dancer who once lived in Navasota.

In a naïve attempt to raise student performance in math and reading levels, we sacrificed the Humanities, to our children’s demise. And after 50 years of Federal and State bureaucratic nonsense and experimentation, here are our results nationally:

High School graduations are on the increase. For whites. After a thirty year period of downturn and stagnation beginning in the 1970’s, when 80% of young people in America graduated, there has been a pleasant upturn across the board. This may be more of a reflection of an abysmal job market than anything, but regardless, black males still took an especially distinct ten-year nosedive between 1986 and 1996, which created a difficult rut to get out of. They are still significantly behind their peers because perhaps drugs, other criminal activities or cultural pressures (or something!) have set them back.  

GED graduates helped to recover High School graduations to old levels, but the GED process was not the same as education, and  it failed to adequately prepare graduates for the rigor and discipline of college or professional training. Even though blacks and Hispanics have increased their graduation rate since 2000 by around 10%, they are just beginning their necessary ascent. And even with the GED graduations, American students do not compare well with the percentages of graduates from other nations with similar educational standards.

College graduations are on the increase. For whites. There was a 300% increase in college enrollment from the 1960’s to 2005, and a steady increase since then. Now almost 40 % of whites enter college after High School. But blacks and Hispanics still lag behind whites by around 8% in enrollment in college. Their college graduation rate is still even farther behind. [It is only fair to remind everyone that whites had a huge head start, and it is unfair and unrealistic to expect minority students to compare evenly with second and third generation college graduates. It's unfair at the college level.. it's unfair at the high school level... its unfair at any level.

SAT and ACT college entrance scores are somewhat higher today. Again, among whites. But some experts argue that this increase is only because the tests have been adjusted to modern expectations and to accommodate priorities established by the current public school assessments. Still minorities, especially blacks, are left behind, with average scores much the same in comparison to their peers, as before.  

AYP reports continue to disappoint. Federal bureaucrats judge the state and individual districts by their “AYP”:  Annual Yearly Progress. Navasota schools are not the only ones who have trouble with these reports, which have become a death knell for many over-worked and overwhelmed educators. But even schools in California and Illinois struggle to show acceptable improvement, where every kind of progressive theory has been tried. Their problem schools which consistently bear insufficient Annual Yearly Progress, are predominantly minority schools. California schools which do make the grade are usually made up of less than 40% minorities. Navasota schools at the primary level are made up of over 70 % “minorities,” and this group is growing. 

With relentless Federal, State and District supervision and threats, Navasota educators have fought the good fight. But meanwhile the highest achieving racial group is leaving the district.  The Anderson-Shiro ISD next door, which was named as a participant of the “Texas High Performance Consortium,” and has become an irresistible asset to surrounding families with high academic standards. Over 100 NISD students, mostly white, have elected to not attend Navasota schools and enrolled in nearby Anderson schools.

Since competition is a major stimulant for achievement, this kind of lop-sided migration of many of the top achievers can only serve to lower morale and expectations and ultimately flatten the performance of the remaining students. This especially sabotages “Project Based Learning,” a team learning concept now popular, as the student academic leaders are not there to lead the way for their peers. Sadly, it is not unusual for District employees or others associated with the district to enroll their children in nearby Anderson schools. Others choose to “home school.” This is the sad state of affairs in NISD.

 Another illustration in Pinckney's book, by Brian Pinckney, showing Alvin Ailey and his mother attending Truevine Baptist Church in Navasota.

As the husband of a career educator and the father of a student who attended Navasota public schools I have shared the pain of these relentless threats of testing and evaluation with both of them. My wife has faced wave after wave of new education theories and testing and “teaching to the test,” as she worked at several grade levels over the past thirty-five years.  And, if we are to believe the numbers, after all these years students are losing ground and not gaining. This of course is not true, but few people understand the complicated testing system, its nomenclature, or the numbers it produces. And most people continue to blame the teachers for the alleged academic shortfalls. As a citizen and a person blessed with an excellent education I have watched these paradigm wars with growing concern and ultimate heartbreak. The truth is that our educators are succeeding while being branded as failures! 

Recently, after years of “failure” to meet state standards, our School Board and District Superintendant required the resignations of ALL of the Navasota Intermediate School educators, after they repeatedly failed to meet state goals. According to our academic performance, or “AYP,” Navasota Intermediate has become a “Priority” school (not a good thing), with low math and reading scores, and it is threatened with official State intervention. This to me was the distress signal which I have long feared from our sinking ship of education. That local administrators felt compelled to take such radical measures shows the kind of pressure they are operating under, and the hopelessness of their dilemma.

This action taken by NISD was rare if not unprecedented. Since the State has already announced plans to mitigate the harsh judgments of all ISD’s in the future, and make evaluations of school districts fairer across the state, it is a mystery why Navasota administrators elected to use the “nuclear option” anyway. That is the subject of my next article…

Regardless, the relentless testing is a statewide problem, soon to surface, born of massive demographic shifts in the state population and unrealistic expectations, especially of minority children who face a daunting mountain of increasing academic rigor.  Schools up and down the Brazos Valley, once the plantation belt of Texas, are facing the same failures and impossible demands from the State. In fact the state education system is almost overwhelmed by a statewide epidemic of failure, as the “PEG” list almost doubled from last year, with 892 schools with less than a 50% passing rate.

Navasota Intermediate School is just one of 670, or 8.4% of Texas Public Schools which were REQUIRED TO IMPROVE, OR ELSE.  46 school districts across the state, or 5% of all Texas school districts have to satisfy the TEA or face failure, humiliation, and usurpation. An even greater percentage of charter schools face the same fate.
 Chris "Stubbs" Stubblefield was born and raised in Navasota, but became a famous barbecue master and Texas music patron in the Panhandle... You can buy his legendary barbecue sauce at Brookshire Bros.

Waiting to modify their impossible demands only after great harm had been done to students and teachers in many districts,  TEA has proven itself unworthy of our trust in the management or supervision of our schools. It is time to relinquish control and standard-setting to those most qualified: Local educators.

The problem of the “failures” in our schools comes from a flawed TEA assumption; that all children are the same and should be treated the same. Nothing could be more politically correct but further from the truth, and the casualties from this simplistic ideal have been, and will continue to be catastrophic. The State ignores the simple fact that black and Hispanic children are struggling statewide, whether they are in Dallas or Houston or small towns like Hempstead or Navasota or Bryan.  After so many years of government experimentation, Asians and whites breeze through the tests, while Hispanics and blacks still struggle. The strongly focused education curriculums and relentless testing have only proven, unequivocally, that all children are not the same.

TEA has perfected the science of analysis of our children, according to race, and well documented the challenges of racial diversity, but after so many decades still has no clue about how to achieve its lofty goals. The only logical recourse was to start shooting the messengers. Thank goodness, because of recent adjustments, PERHAPS no other schools have to go through what the  dedicated educators in Navasota have experienced.

The overall graduation rate for Texas students is 88%, a very decent figure. But while Asians and whites graduate with 96% and 94% respectively, Hispanics and blacks lag behind by ten and twelve percentage points. The dropout rates have improved, but the dirty little secret for years in Texas has been the less visible but significant rate of drop-outs in the system discernible by the disparity between early grade level enrollment and actual graduation. Students were only tracked from Junior High on. And those who persevere face a wall of demands and ultimatums, an unpleasant place where many students become despondent, driven away by idealistic State educators who reach for an imaginary bar while they sabotage learning in classrooms they never see.

Born in Navasota, Milt "Tippy" Larkin was a popular big band leader who assembled a "who's who" jazz band in Texas, and took them all over the United States... 

It is a classic ivory tower situation, where idealists use the power of the government to intimidate, harass and finally usurp authority from local school districts if they fail to meet their difficult standards. It goes something like this: Someone in power in Austin thinks all Texas children are pretty much the same and they could and would perform better if challenged. So first they challenge the educators with tougher curriculums to teach, and then tests are given to measure the very narrow “education” our children are receiving. Teachers and administrators are then evaluated by how the students perform on these tests, and specifically, how they “closed the performance gaps,” or more accurately, how much the lowest achiever’s scores improved towards the State established “norms”. But here is the rub, and it has devastating effect: the achievements of the successful students have been ignored, and schools and districts are judged by the performance of their lowest performing student groups, (which are isolated by race) independent of overall achievement levels.

And nobody seemed to care, for all of these years, what was sacrificed to reach for these goals. Educational environment, teacher morale, student confidence, community self-esteem, all were dispensed with to please an oppressive system, that has made casualties out of all of us.

Milt Larkin and his "All Star" band.

This is unfair, as the young people in the Navasota ISD are "All Stars" and perform very well in regional, state and national competitions in UIL competitions, band, history fairs, sports, and science fairs, but the district is judged and punished if everyone does not improve as expected. More pressure and threats are applied, until administrators are forced to shake things up, even by non-renewing the contracts of scores of excellent teachers, all hard working professionals, all because the of the failures of literally a small number of students. This may shock you, or it may sound reasonable after years of this kind of chronic struggle. But before you join in on the official castigation of these friends and neighbors of mine, let me speak on their behalf.

If there has been a failure, it has been on the part of the TEA.

Does TEA assume the worst about local educators with no cause? Do they harass local administrators to affect viability for themselves? Do they routinely punish those who do not fit into their preconceived expectations? Do they ignore the real issues, while addressing false presumptions? Yes, they do.

Instead of Navasota getting extra help for its crippling load of low achievers, it has been doubted, persecuted and audited, which only pulled educators away from the children and their education. I know because my wife was one of them. Surely even Ross Perot never intended such travesties.

"Big Lu Valenz" was one of the biggest Tejano stars ever... he and his brother pictured on this album cover were born and raised in Navasota.

The well established fact, proven over decades, of a well-entrenched population of low achievers, did nothing to get Navasota any sympathy or grace from the State. No, it earned just the opposite.

And still, there was the main question. Why were there so many of these kinds of children here?  There has always been a looming and unspoken reality. Its implications were unsettling and controversial. It was easier to assume all children, all districts were the same, rather than to face the reasons for the disproportions. And it was easier to harass the teachers and threaten them, and even fire them, than to change the aptitude of our students, or even more appropriately, the academic goals of TEA.

This failure of 5% of Texas schools to meet state academic minimums is not a failure of educators but a failure of the TEA to know its schools and their various backgrounds. It is not the teachers’ fault for failing to close the “gap.”  It certainly is not the administrators’ fault. It is not anyone’s fault.  It is not even the School Board’s fault, and no one should be punished when our test score averages do not improve to meet expectations.

Annie Mae Hunt left the terror and oppression of the Brazos Bottoms to become a civic leader and political activist in Dallas. You can read her story in "I Am Annie Mae," a biography by Ruth Winegarten.

It is simply a matter of history.

Everyone talks about Black History, but few read or study it. Demographics and populations are not just numbers. They represent human beings, with cultural and ethnic traits and varying socio-economic and genetic backgrounds. The 150 year history of Navasota has formed several very distinct and predictable ethnic and cultural groups and they are not the same. The state assessments have inadvertently proven how various groups respond to the same educational experiences quite differently. But why the differences? For a moment consider the historical facts. Allow me, as objectively and lovingly as I can, to enter into the political incorrectness and controversy we have been avoiding for so long.

The population of Navasota began almost evenly split between whites and blacks. Before and during the Civil War, the population of blacks increased a great deal, as planters brought their assets inland for security. Therefore Blacks formed a majority in Navasota during the Reconstruction years, but were severely thinned out around the Turn of the Century after violent political and racial oppression. Thousands of blacks fled the county between 1900 and 1910 when the White Man’s Union set out to return the political scene over to the whites. The whites were successful in this persecution and this is important. For fifty or more years afterwards, those blacks who stayed lived in fear and oppression, until the Civil Rights Movement in the 1960’s. Meanwhile many whites left the area as well, during the Depression era, looking for jobs and never came back.

Strangely, during this era of adverstiy, Navasota produced an amazing hall of fame of notable achievers, never equaled since,  who made history and proved that at one time, Navasota was the epicenter of BLACK EXCEPTIONALISM.

Still, by the advent of Civil Rights, almost every independent, free-thinking, able-bodied black person had left the area if they could. Of course some of the teachers and preachers stayed. But those who fled were an extraordinary bunch, with many heroes and persons of the highest caliber, and history has recorded a few…  T. Winston Cole left Navasota around 1930 and graduated from Wiley College and became its president; Annie Mae Hunt left the Brazos bottom and became a political activist in Dallas and the subject of an inspiring biography; Milt Larkin left Navasota with his family and became a popular Houston band leader who travelled the Midwest; Alvin Ailey went to Navasota Junior High before leaving with his mother for California, to become a world class dancer in New York who founded a famous dance theater.

Disproportionately, the most famous and successful people from Navasota have been blacks. 

Never the less, Navasota has evolved from a town which enjoyed amazing "black exceptionalism" in the 1930's and even into the 50's, to a town suffering since Integration with a stubborn, under-achieving population characterized by black provincialism, and punished for it. 

But what happened? It is a matter of history. While the more proactive blacks sought safety and opportunities in the cities, what was left was the truly beaten and downtrodden; the old and sick and infirm; the completely passive and complacent; the weak of mind.  To be kind, this left a very unbalanced and quite static gene pool; A gene pool that had nothing better to do than reproduce itself.

 Had singer Joe Tex not moved to Navasota in the 1970’s, the black population would have had only old (and then unknown) guitar picker Mance Lipscomb to brag on. The others had been almost forgotten. Navasota was someplace to be from, not a place to live or prosper.

Still, the local black schools were on the cusp of recovery and making educational progress when Racial Integration in the 1970’s destroyed the black school culture which was far more successful at nurturing black children through High School to higher education. This turned out to be the first of several well-intentioned but devastating changes to ultimately impede black progress in education. The increased academic standards and the decreased incentives for blacks to get educated saw immediate negative results which have never been admitted or addressed. This group, and their offspring, was never successfully acculturated into Texas schools. Now we have decades of relentless testing to prove it.

The proof that it should have happened but did not is the swift rise we see every year in children of Mexican immigrants. They typically struggle and then amalgamate after a few years. Hispanics leap frog over blacks in a few short years, making the intellectual and educational journey that many blacks have not been able to start, after fifty years of special attention and funding. This failure to reach and acculturate the black group was not because they were neglected. Here in Texas we have failed to address the syndrome of black provincialism; the negative effects of popular black notions of race and opportunity, and the measures necessary to overcome them.  And Federal social programs have not been successful. Johnson’s war on poverty was an even more costly and ill-conceived and lengthy venture than Viet Nam.

I submit that the numbers  do show a deficiency in the education of blacks. But it is not a deficiency in aptitude, but ATTITUDE. A deficiency on both sides, black and white, government and governed, educators and students. Central to this syndrome which we are all very familiar with, is the basic insolence many blacks have for white authorities. Since slavery times white-imposed orders, goals and demands have been met with understandable suspicion and hostility. Racial Integration was implemented with all the wisdom and grace of a shotgun wedding. When many Texas black educators failed to meet state teacher skills requirements, and were forced into retirement, this left a credibility gap and an impossible quandary for the white teachers to overcome.

When white teachers began to drill and press expectations on black students they were met with resistant if not uncooperative attitudes. Black parents could not help their children with their school work, and there was no effective tutoring service made available to help black children achieve to white expectations. It did not take long for black students to reflect this subtle disenfranchisement, and follow the path of their black role models. What has evolved is a state-created culture of failure.

As an artist working in many Brazos Valley schools, I have seen lots of campuses and styles of leadership. Hands down, the most effective in these very mixed- race districts are schools led by a trusted person of color… who gains student and parental support as they protect and educate the children with a preponderance of white teachers.

 Hispanic children do better for at least one simple reason; there is no stigma for them to please white authority figures. Their parents often do the same in the workplace. Unlike their black counterparts, they see whites as the agents of opportunity. The failure to recognize these cultural dynamics has been foolish and devastating. The truth is that blacks have been held back by their own ideas about race and racism.

At this point all Americans should be furious with the failure and the cost of it, as generations of minorities in America have seen their hope for a better life grow stagnant, for stupid reasons. It is complex and dicey with all the racial banter that goes on, and a minefield of race accusations, but as someone witnessing this process for forty years, I will admit for all of us who care that today our schools have many black children who are almost immediately recognized as members of notorious families, part of a black sub-culture, stuck in a vicious cycle of poverty, backwardness and self-destructive lifestyle. It is not racism to recognize this social problem. It is racist to allow the cycle to perpetuate itself, leaving the unenlightened to enlighten themselves. This problem has not changed because it cannot change as long as the cycle, and the arguments over black verses white and “nature verses nurture” continue. With all the money in the world, schools still cannot overcome the negative impact of a child’s environment. The problem IS NOT WHITE RACISM, but is LACK OF PROPER NURTURE IN BLACK HOMES.

Understandably, teachers cannot overcome their negative expectations after witnessing this epic cycle. It is the black families, their children now mired and stigmatized by academic failure, who must prime the process by choosing to change towards advancement through achievement and mobility. But the first step is to quit blaming others for the dysfunction. And it is the absolute necessity that schools provide these high risk students with black administrators and principals to be their advocates. Otherwise Texas schools will be whipping themselves, and teachers will be threatened and fired fifty years from now.

There is no argument that the black community struggles disproportionately with drug addictions and broken families and the decline of the influence of the church in black communities. And here is the most important factor in this historical view. While the district has seen very significant increases in white and Hispanic newcomers, (helping to upgrade the overall average student aptitude), very few blacks move to the area. If anything they move away. That population has not grown in proportion with the growth of the community. The same static group that never found a way to get out when times were at their worst, now finds itself trapped again.

But this time all eyes are focused on this group and its performance. Their test scores have become the dipstick for the whole community. The future economic, educational and demographic development of the community hangs in the balance, as it is judged by its number one asset, and in some cases its number one public relations liability: Its schools.

Even though poor test performance by minority, underprivileged children qualifies the District for huge government grants, it destroys citizen confidence and thus support for property taxes and bonds. Negative perceptions about the District, such as assumptions made from a massive teacher lay-off, travel fast through the region as Realtors and would-have-been investors spread warnings. Educated, higher achievers balk at moving to such a place, and those with lower expectations, or no educational expectations at all fill the emptying neighborhoods.

In a short period of time, the schools in this district went from a white majority with about 35% blacks and perhaps 15% Hispanic, to an overwhelming Hispanic majority and shrinking white and black populations. Not only do black students (and their educators) have to overcome their ethno-cultural handicap, but they must cope with a diminishing profile in a robust community. They are once again becoming an overshadowed minority. The over-emphasis on test results has brought those who struggle with them a state-sponsored burden of fear, shame and condemnation.

All this to say that these poor children, hindered by a heritage of ignorance and illiteracy, and often drug and alcohol abuse in the family, who find themselves at the bottom of this heap and buried by a barrage of tests that constantly remind them of their inadequacies, now become the mark by which our whole community is judged.

THAT is pressure no child can endure. Now that so many teachers have lost their jobs, because of student performance, this is just another reason to hate school, and want to quit. These children in many cases will always be adversely affected by the stigma of poor test performance, but now their teachers, the very people striving to save them, are going down with them.

Here is where I submit, that for all the best reasons and highest hopes, TEA has followed a fruitless and hurtful strategy which could never anticipate or meet the needs of our children as well as the educators of Navasota could have.  The assumptions which inspired this persecution thirty years ago have long since been addressed and yet the TEA kept driving until it became ruthless taskmaster.

Because… the state bureaucrats were sure all children were the same.

I know some of these teachers whose resignations were required personally. My wife is an administrator in Special Education, and she would agree with me in saying that most Navasota educators are dedicated professionals, no different from any other school district, but given an impossible task, and then punished when they fail. I know of an administrator who transferred to the Intermediate School, to help out in a bad situation, only to be told to resign, and her contract was non-renewed with the rest of the staff after her campus test scores were in. Suddenly being the "Blues Capital of Texas" became especially true for all Navasota treachers. 

Ironically, this jobless administrator  may be one of the lucky ones, freed to find a more pleasant educational environment. This kind of miserable, self-flagellating institution, and the children depending on it, can only be pitied.

Navasota's favorite son Mance Lipscomb would surely sing the blues over the present public school woes.

Conversely, this very same statewide system, supposedly filled with expendable educators, sees millions of Hispanics enter through the same doors and eventually succeed. The Hispanics are just the opposite kind of group; searchers, travelers, adapters, finding opportunity and taking advantage of it, and they are rising in Navasota and are doing so all over Texas. They have proven that our educational system works, against great odds.   

BUT, the educational masterminds in Austin seem to constantly forget that many young Hispanics do not speak our language, or speak it with limited understanding, and most of them have parents who never received the kind of education their children are getting in Texas. Most of these uneducated migrants or immigrants cannot help their children with homework. (This has led to the near elimination of homework!) They do not implement the educational programming on television that gives many white children a tremendous advantage. Still, even with these hurdles Hispanic students are doing fairly well in Texas, despite their handicaps, and other than unrealistic curriculum demands which discourage them, they are going to make it. It will take discipline and a few generations before they will perform on an even playing field, but I believe that is all they are asking for.

Hispanic students seem to arrive, attempt American education and achieve with far less government help, as many are from immigrant families and do not depend as much on government assistance. They are more likely to have both parents in the household, to be open to cultural change and education, and to accept white role models and mentors.

It seems the well-intended net of the LBJ’s “Great Society” was not only unsuccessful, it was wrong-minded. In fact, The Great Society measures were just presumptuous, expensive political programs which have proven to retard and bury the black community in its own sorrow, as it was bribed into pacifism and perpetual reliance. Today the black community is rife with crime, addiction and income stagnation. Black educators are rare, and blacks have recoiled from education as a cultural goal. The average black home is barely better off, comparatively than it was 50 years ago. And sadly the children of these homes now define our whole educational strategy, and ultimately our concept of educational success.

According to TEA, no school is any better than its lowest achievers. Educators have long since lost track of our best and brightest students, as they obsessed with reversing what has turned out to be stubborn cultural paradigm.

The State has seen the train wreck coming, and taken recent measures to mitigate the coming damages, as more districts could follow Navasota over the slippery slope. District evaluations will soon include the achievements of the higher achievers by assessing graduates according to their “Postsecondary Readiness” or in plain English, by measuring college and career readiness. This will help. Future campus scores will also more accurately reflect the actual grade averages of all of the students. Local committees are also to be implemented to assess local education.

But regardless of this kind of additional scrutiny, they are just bones thrown into our dungeon after leprosy has already broken out. The damage has been done to our morale and our reputation, and it will be hard to repair. Many of our best families, formerly employed by the district, will be forced to relocate, and complete the demographic transfer. And these measures by the TEA will not solve the cultural problems which we have ignored for far too long.

It is time that state educators started admitting their own failures and began studying the real answers to this syndrome of minority under-achievement. Had the provincial black sub-culture of self-defeat been addressed in the beginning, instead of adopting brave assumptions about its transience, Navasota would be someplace to be proud of. Instead of indulging negative attitudes of these seemingly permanent victims of society, forever looking to the government for unrealistic ideals, alibis and sustenance, educators should have specially equipped schools to redirect minority students who needed acculturation before they could compete. More studies will not do it. Testing will not either. It is also a self-esteem issue, and that is why most local blacks could not recite my list of historic black heroes from Navasota. They have grown up accentuating the negative. I dare not repeat the black quips of self-deprecation my black friends say in front of me.

Texas educators will have to convince black parents that they can and will turn the cycle on its head in one generation with their cooperation, or these black parents will inadvertently condemn their grandchildren and great grandchildren to their own plight by continuing the negative, self-destructive cycle of racial distrust, indulgent excuses, and low expectations.

In the meantime, dozens of excellent, hard-working teachers and administrators have been laid off because of educational goals made by persons remotely in touch with these real challenges where the water hits the wheel. They build their expectations on one simple and erroneous assumption: all children are more or less the same. Strangely, they fail to recognize that if that could be true, then all  teachers would be the same as well. And none could possibly deserve the sudden, outrageous fate of these Navasota teachers and administrators. Either way, hundreds of lives, and dozens of families have just been unjustly uprooted and careers in some cases ruined because of these naive and short-sighted policies.

Meanwhile our minority children languish from failed strategies. It is time to stop throwing money at our at-risk children and time to start addressing generations of cultural disassociation and cycles of failure with community volunteer mentoring and tutoring programs, which will help these families nurture self-esteem, optimism and ultimate success.

TEA has more than purged the system, but failed to serve its purpose. It has out-lived its usefulness, and should be retired at its upcoming sunset revue. The present state policies must be reversed or all of Texas will be thrown into an educational wasteland, where students suffer needlessly and no teacher will be able to get, or KEEP, or even WANT a job.
We hear a lot about "American Exceptionalism." But never about BLACK EXCEPTIONALISM!  Yet Navasota has been the epicenter of Black Exceptionalism before the institution of LBJ's "Great Society." I believe these Navasota greats would ask us today... Who squandered the trail they blazed?
We owe it to them to put our minority youths back on track to excellence... where they belong.

Joe Tex (aka Joseph Hazziez) sang about race issues, and about Navasota and Grimes County, and tried to inspire blacks to excellence and achievement. He only lived in Navasota for a few years, but his family still owns property here.

Now- you tell me where I am wrong. Let's get the dialogue going, and SAVE OUR children and our SCHOOLS!


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Anonymous said...

Hi Mr. Cushman,

I ran into your blog as I was doing my homework, I too agree with you and enjoyed reading the history of Navasota, since I have not been born and raised in Navasota. I have become to love Navasota and am worried about what is going on with our schools here, I also work at NISD and see what you were talking about in your blog. I just wish that things change for the better, because Navasota is such a great place to live in with a great history and good people.