Having served on the Texas House of Representative’s education committee for over 34 years, Harold Dutton, State Representative of District 142 admits he did not expect to be named chairman. The 76 year old said, “I know that there are a lot of people who are shaking in their boots and they should be, because I told my committee, ‘I don’t know all of the answers, but I do know the question is, does it benefit children?’”
At the top of the list of issues on the education agenda is COVID and how to address the gap created by remote learning. “I think it’s been more remote than learning…. But the reality is we do have a huge learning loss that’s taking place. It’s particularly pronounced in the grades. pre-K through fifth grade where we don’t recover from that. It doesn’t just go away when the school semester ends. That translates into tomorrow and all the tomorrows,” added Dutton.
Acknowledging the education crisis that was pre-pandemic with large numbers of children at the bottom educationally, Dutton has introduced a new bill called Accelerated Learning which creates tutoring programs for kids. Anticipating the opposition to the half a million-dollar price tag, Dutton summed up the problem facing the education committee stating that traditionally the legislature focuses on improving public education by raising the ceiling while he wants to begin to raise the floor.
“We have lots of programs that we try to do with dropouts and we target the eighth and ninth grade. But I’ve told people that kids don’t drop out in ninth grade, they leave in ninth grade. They drop out in third grade, when somehow or another, they’re not third grade ready and they get to fourth grade. And then, when they get to fourth grade, it becomes a problem because in the grades, pre-K through third grade, you learn to read. And after that, you read to learn,” said Dutton. “So, if you never get beyond learning to read, you never get to the point of reading to learn. As a consequence, when that doesn’t happen (learning to read), what a child does is get frustrated to the point where somehow or another, they hang around until eighth or ninth grade, and then they simply leave. So, I’m trying to make sure that we target every child so that every child is third grade proficient.”
According to Dutton we have to “change the dynamic so that children are not just treated as seven-year-old, eight-year-old, then 10-year-old, but they’re treated on the basis of where they are educationally.”
COVID put the spotlight on some students’ limited access to the internet with Dutton spouting 350,000 children don’t have access in Texas. His alternative: “Most of the kids have TVs, so why couldn’t we deliver education services via television instead of relying on the computer?”
“What this pandemic has taught us is that we are now limited only by our ability, and not to accept the things we’ve been doing as the way it’s gotta be done,” said Dutton.