It was time for another media roundtable Tuesday and Houston ISD Superintendent Terry Grier, a still somewhat recent arrival to the great state of Texas, started musing about why the state legislature involves itself in setting the date for the start of the school year, or as he put it: "the Legislature has started to play school board member."
"It just doesn't make a lot of sense that the Legislature listens to the tourism lobby and has decided to play school board member and imposed when school starts and when school stops on school districts. "
Grier said he could understand why tourist magnets such as San Antonio, Corpus Christi or Galveston would be dependent upon the vacationers' dollars and want to wrest every last employable moment of the summer season out of its high school kids.
But Houston is different, he said, and proposed that each local school board should be able to decide its own start date.
"In Houston, we would like to have the opportunity to even start earlier, for not all schools but maybe just some schools. Because in some schools, children may need longer in class," Grier said.
"We would like to have the flexibility to have a start time just say 20 percent of your lowest performing schools."
The district has four high schools -- Lee, Jones, Sharpstown and Kashmere -- in so much trouble that the district has to come up with turnaround plans for them by mid-June. Basic to any change plan is the district's desire to add 10 days to the calendar for these schools.
Grier also questioned the huge emphasis on standardized testing in Texas.
"One of the things we've got at some point time in Texas to talk about, and I don't have a clue about the answer, is the amount of testing we do. Someone told me that our 11th graders missed 37 days of school because of testing. And we have these untimed tests in Texas.... We are all in here and we have all day to take the test. If one student in the room isn't finished, then the whole class has to wait."
"That's a heck of a lot of testing."
He'd also like to see the state move away from the maximum class size of 22 students, saying studies have shown that unless a class drops to no more than 17 students, there's no more substantial academic benefits. So a class of 22 students will fare as well as one with 24 or 25 students -- although the teacher will have more work, he said.