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Wednesday, December 2, 1998
Houston, Texas
Volume 64, Issue 70






Staff Editorial



About the Cougar
 

School districts could find ways to improve, given some freedom

R. Alex Whitlock

There is a very unfortunate rift in America's public school system. Some schools have new Pentium computers with CD-ROMs, while others are struggling just to be able to afford books. Some schools are shooting for an average 1100 on the SAT, while some would just love to be "satisfactory."

This is what happens when each area generally runs its own schools -- some succeed, some fail.

Conventional wisdom tells us those schools that succeed are those wealthier districts in the suburbs, and those that fail are the poorer urban schools. More often than not, this assertion is right. Why is this the case? Many will argue that it is a matter of money. Suburban schools have it; urban schools don't. After all, everyone knows that Clear Lake and Kingwood have a wealthier tax base than Sharpstown and downtown Houston. But these kinds of thoughts can be misleading.

For instance, if it is a matter of tax base, then why is it that two schools in the same district can have vastly different reputations? HISD's Bellaire High School, for example, is generally well-regarded, while Reagan or Sharpstown are more troubled. Perhaps Bellaire is getting a larger piece of the pie. Maybe so, but that much larger? It bears questioning.

Another counter-example to this line of thought is my very own Clear Creek Independent School district, which takes in parts of the Clear Lake, Friendswood and League City areas. You would think that an area like this would have some of the best schools in Houston. You would be right. You would think that a school district in this area would generate more revenue than an area like Sharpstown. But you would be wrong.

The fact is that CCISD spends substantially less per student than neighboring districts, including HISD. Let's read this again: CCISD spends less, per student, than other school districts in the area. Despite this fact, CCISD still has some of the best schools around, and the district can compete with any other in the area.

Why? There are a number of reasons. Among the most prominent are affluence and money management. What do I mean by affluence? I mean that the fact that the students have money outside the school is almost as important as how much money the school they attend has.

At Clear Lake High School (in CCISD), not having a computer is against the norm. Not having cable is downright odd. Why is this important? Because professional parents are more demanding of professional children. Plus, they generally have more time and are more able to keep their kids up to speed.

So what's the point of this column? There are a couple. Primarily, it is to illustrate that throwing money at a school is not the answer. Edgewood School District, which went to court in order to receive more money from the state, is little better off now, with more money, than it was before.

El Paso's Ysleta School District, on the other hand, with similarly small revenue, is one of the best in the state. Why? Because it instituted a sort of intradistrict voucher system. Such a system probably wouldn't work for every district, but it exemplifies two things that needs to be implemented in schools today: ingenuity and freedom.

The state needs to give districts the freedom to come up with solutions to their problems, and the districts need to take advantage of these. In some cases, such as Edgewood, a new school board is needed. Unfortunately, that can't be fixed by anyone but those who run and vote in the districts involved.

If more school districts thought like Ysleta and less thought like Edgewood, the "Robin Hood" plan would not be so unpopular.

Whitlock, a sophomore information systems technology 
major, can be reached at rwhitloc@bayou.uh.edu.

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