Facts and insights about Texas public schools

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New Report: The Iceberg Effect

In American public schools today, the rate of childhood poverty is five times greater than it is in Finland, according to a new report released by the Horace Mann League (HML) and the National Superintendents Roundtable. The report, School Performance in Context: The Iceberg Effect, shows that the United States (US) remains the wealthiest nation with the most highly educated workforce compared to other G-7 nations (Canada, France, Germany, Italy, Japan, and the United Kingdom) plus Finland and China. However, the US also reflects high levels of economic inequity and social stress compared to the other nations, which are related to student performance.

The study is a unique analysis, which for the first time compares K–12 education internationally on an array of social and economic indicators, not just test scores. The goal was to provide a clearer snapshot of each country’s performance, including its wealth, diversity, community safety, and support for families and schools.

January 28, 2015

STAAR End-of-Course Passing Rate Hits 90 Percent

Latest figures from the Texas Education Agency show that 90.3 percent of students in the Class of 2015 have successfully completed all exams required for graduation. Under House Bill 5 passed by the Texas Legislature in 2013, students are required to pass five end-of-course exams along with their courses to receive a high school diploma. The Class of 2015 is the first graduating class under the State of Texas Assessments of Academic Readiness (STAAR) testing requirements.

Students will have one more opportunity to take the STAAR end-of-course assessments before graduation this spring. As a point of comparison, 90.2 percent of students in the Class of 2005—the first required to take four Texas Assessment of Knowledge and Skills (TAKS) exams for high school graduation—passed all tests at the time of graduation.

January 21, 2015

Texas Schools Making Progress

“Texas schools have made remarkable progress in very important areas, and everyone should know about it,” says Michael Marder, professor of physics and co-director of UTeach at The University of Texas at Austin. In the Winter 2014 issue of the Association of Texas Professional Educator’s ATPE News, Marder reviews assessment numbers by subgroups, showing that the state’s students are making gains. He says that overall rankings can be deceptive:

“Why do Texas students overall rank much lower than both the state’s low-income students and its well-off students? The answer is that Texas has a particularly large share of low-income students, around 50 percent. In judging the effectiveness of teachers and schools, it is only fair to take that into account, and the way to do that is to pay more attention to the rankings of subgroups such as low-income students than to overall rankings.”

This is a statistical phenomenon Jim Hull, senior policy analyst at the National School Board Association’s Center for Public Education, explains in his article “High School Achievement Paradox.” As Hull writes, “Numbers don’t lie, but they don’t always tell the whole truth.”

January 20, 2015

Vouchers Back on the Table

School vouchers will be a key topic again this legislative session.  News Radio 1200 WOAI reported on a new bill introduced in advance of the session that would “allow public property tax money to ‘follow the child’ and help pay tuition into a private school.”

The proposed legislation comes with the release of a report by the Texas Public Policy Foundation and the Texas Association of Business. The Austin-American Statesman editorial board commented on the report: “The result is a study that cherry picks data from existing school choice programs around the country, including an experiment in Milwaukee, Wis., that the Laffer report uses to suggest Texas could cut its existing drop-out rate in half. Hogwash. The evidence from educational research is far from clear that school choice programs improve student outcomes. While the state may save money initially by spending 40 percent less than it already spends under our current inadequate public school funding, there might be high costs down the road.”

January 16, 2015

Texas Schools: More Students, More Diversity

The state’s public schools are seeing a steady increase in the number of students they serve. Enrollment has increased by more than 59 percent in the past 26 years. Total enrollment for 2013–14 was 5,151,925—a 19 percent increase, or more than 823,897 students, from 2003–04.

Texas schools also are growing faster than the national average. According to national figures, public school enrollment in Texas increased by 20.1 percent in 2001–11, which is more than five times the increase in the United States (3.9 percent) over the same time period.

The TEA report, Enrollment in Texas Public Schools 2013–14, shows that schools are serving more ethnically and culturally diverse populations. In 2013–14, the student body was 51.8 percent Hispanic, 29.5 percent white, 12.7 percent African American, 3.7 percent Asian, and 1.9 percent multiracial. The percentage of students receiving bilingual or English as a Second Language (ESL) instructional services increased from 14 percent in 2003–04 to 17.1 percent in 2013–14.

December 8, 2014

An Inside Look at the Job of a Teacher

What it really means to be a public school educator today,” a recent article in The Washington Post, offers a teacher’s perspective on what educators face in their day-to-day work. The post is a response to Time magazine’s cover story, “Rotten Apples,” on efforts to reduce or end job protections for teachers.

Other articles of interest: “Teacher to parents: About THAT kid (the one who hits, disrupts and influences YOUR kid)” and “You think you know what teachers do. Right? Wrong.” Texas Public Radio also posted a roundtable discussion on what makes a great teacher.

November 21, 2014

Checking the Graduation Numbers

TribTalk columnist Michael Marder examined the state’s high school graduation rates in the recent post “Stop doubting Texas’ graduation numbers.” He reviewed the Texas Education Agency’s recent report on the Class of 2013 and prepared his own analysis. As Marder concludes:

“Maybe the reason for the general disbelief is that good graduation rates could ruin a good story—that our schools are failing, that they’re inequitable, that they need radical overhaul, that not everyone is meant to go to college. But arguing over details and doubting the professionals who’ve done their jobs detract from how Texas stacks up against the other states… .”

October 23, 2014

Permanent School Fund Reaches Record High Value

A recent report shows the state’s Permanent School Fund is now the largest educational endowment in the country. The Fund’s $37.7 billion value as of June 30, 2014, surpasses that of the Harvard University endowment which stood at $36.4 billion at the same time.

According to Texas Land Commissioner Jerry Patterson, advancements in hydraulic fracturing technology are helping fuel the gains in the Fund.

A distribution from the Permanent School Fund is made every year to help purchase instructional materials and pay a portion of education costs in each school district. During the 2014–15 biennium, the Fund is distributing about $1.7 billion to Texas schools and anticipates distributing more than $2 billion during the next biennium. The endowment also provides a guarantee for bonds issued by local school districts and charter schools.

October 1, 2014

PDK/Gallup Poll, Part Two

A majority of Americans oppose using student standardized test scores to evaluate teachers, according to the PDK/Gallup Poll of the Public’s Attitudes Toward the Public Schools. The second part of this year’s annual report, which was released this week, covers teacher quality and student experiences.

Americans support more rigorous entrance requirements into teacher preparation programs, and more than 70 percent think new teachers should spend at least a year under the guidance of a certified teacher before assuming sole responsibility for their own classes.

In response to questions about school reform issues, 77 percent of respondents feel there should be more focus on preparing students for career fields with better prospects for employment. However, Americans are split on encouraging students to choose a career specialty in high school vs. placing more emphasis on attending college.

Visit pdkpoll.org to view the poll results, including the first report on Common Core State Standards, standardized testing, international comparisons, school governance, and school choice.

September 17, 2014

Districts Receive High Marks on Financial Report

More than 98 percent of Texas public school districts earned passing grades in the 2013–14 financial accountability ratings. The Texas Education Agency report shows that almost 89 percent of districts received superior achievement status. For charter schools, 78.4 percent earned passing grades, with 37 percent receiving a superior rating.

2013-14 RatingDistrictsPercentChartersPercent
Superior91288.98%7637.13%
Above Standard838.10%5326.24%
Standard161.56%3115.35%
Substandard121.17%4020.30%
Suspended Data Quality20.20%20.99%
TOTAL1025100.0%202100.0%

The rating system, known as School Financial Integrity Rating System of Texas (FIRST), is based on 20 established financial indicators, such as operating expenditures for instruction, tax collection rates, student-teacher ratios, and long-term debt.

View the FIRST ratings for all districts and charters, including ratings from previous years.

September 12, 2014