There’s a great article on the front page of Sunday’s Dallas Morning News, "Foes say TAKS system rates schools more on demographics than quality."

It refers again to the impressive fact that Richardson ISD has been singled out in the entire state as the "largest diverse district to earn the recognized rating." It also points out that dirty little secret (can something be a secret when everybody knows it?) that wealthy, homogeneous districts routinely excel in these rankings, while diverse districts have to struggle to boost achievement within a variety of subgroups. "Overall," says Katherine Leal Unmuth, writer of the article, "of the students attending exemplary districts last year, 5 percent were poor and 88 percent were white."

I’m not jealous that Highland Park and other districts outscore us. We have a large percentage of LH students who ace that test. I’m not jealous that they don’t have all the issues to deal with that we have. We enjoy diversity in LH. We celebrate it. And, when a kid (or a bunch of kids) need help, we roll up our sleeves to volunteer tutor, raise scholarship money, donate school supplies, provide school clothes, and deliver holiday meals.

But I admit to being jealous about one thing. Their teachers just teach. And if the discussion in class leads them down a rabbit trail, if the kids are digging talking about MacBeth or evolution or how the pancreas works or the history of the Middle East, those teachers just run with it. Our teachers can’t. They MUST stick to the curriculum. They may not permit a diversion to knock them off their TAKS-based course.

I have been active at 5 LH-area schools. At the Lake Highlands Freshman Center, where I served as a PTA executive officer and Local School Council member for four years, there is only one topic of conversation among dedicated administrators – improving TAKS scores. That’s all there is time and money for. I’m sure the fine teachers at LHFC would love the freedom to follow fascinating class discussions wherever interested students might take them. But they must focus on that one student in that one subgroup that might knock them down a peg on the TAKS hierarchy. And, as a homeowner captive to values tied to TAKS, I don’t want to move down a peg, either.

I wish we could give our teachers the freedom those elite districts have – when a bright young mind asks a question that isn’t on your agenda for today, TEAR UP your agenda and sit down with the kids and share with them how our world works and how they can make a difference in it.