Texas isn't 'dumbing down,' lawmaker says

Posted Tuesday, Apr. 16, 2013  comments  Print Reprints

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AUSTIN -- State Sen. Dan Patrick, supporter of legislation that would allow Texas students to focus more on vocational training than on college prep courses, scoffed at coverage of the issue in two leading U.S. newspapers that asserted that Texas is about to drastically ease its public school curriculum and standardized testing requirements.

"Nothing could be further from the truth," the Houston Republican said Tuesday as he opened a hearing on the bill.

Of the idea that Texas is "generally dumbing down" standards, "That's just false," Patrick said. "Nothing could be further from the truth."

The sweeping proposal would allow students to earn a "foundation" diploma without taking upper-level math or science courses, including Algebra II, while reducing the number of standardized tests students must pass in order to graduate from a nation-high 15 to five.

House Bill 5 sailed through the state House last month, then cleared the Senate Education Committee on a 7-0 vote, with two abstentions. It now goes to the full Senate.

Critics say it would lower the bar for students. They point to studies showing a correlation between being able to pass Algebra II, as well as courses like chemistry and physics, and succeeding in college and beyond.

Under the bill, though, students could still earn "distinguished" degrees by completing top math and science courses, and thus qualify for automatic admission to any Texas state university -- just as all those who graduate in the top 10 percent of their high school classes do now.

Those who don't earn distinguished degrees, meanwhile, wouldn't qualify for automatic admission under the new standards.

Patrick, who is sponsoring House Bill 5 in the Senate and is chairman of the Education Committee, opened Tuesday's packed public hearing on it by scoffing at a recent New York Times story suggesting that Texas may water down school and student accountability evaluations, and a Washington Post editorial opposing such a move.

"If they are the end all and be all to what we should do in Texas, than maybe the Legislature should just go home and just let The New York Times represent the House and The Washington Post represent the Senate," Patrick a Tea Party leader, intoned. That drew applause from more than 100 people crowded into a small hearing room.

Patrick said hundreds of thousands of businesses statewide support House Bill 5 while only eight have publicly opposed it. Still, one of those is Bill Hammond, president of the powerful lobbying group the Texas Association of Business, who noted that 80 percent of Texas students are currently taking demanding course curriculums -- but that only about a quarter leave high school ready for college or an immediate career.

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