Facts and insights about Texas public schools

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Opinion: Public Schools Are Open to Their Communities

“Public schools are open — open for classes, open to all students, and open in their governance,” says Andra Self, immediate past president of the Texas Association of School Boards and Lufkin ISD school board member. Self’s recent guest column shares the importance of transparency in Texas public schools.

“As parents search for the best schools for their children, it’s important to consider the value of an open governance structure, a system that allows for parents’ input and participation.

Public schools are designed to be accountable to the public that funds them.

While we don’t often think of the benefits of public meetings, publicly posted agendas and minutes and regular elections for trustees, it is important to consider these things before blithely moving to for-profit schools, which have little transparency.”

October 6, 2015

‘Testing Doesn’t Measure Up’

Americans believe there is too much emphasis on standardized tests, according to the recent PDK/Gallup Poll of the Public’s Attitudes Toward the Public Schools. Respondents said that student engagement in classwork and the percentage of students who feel hopeful about their futures were better measurements for the effectiveness of schools.

Other highlights:

  • For the 10th consecutive year, financial support tops the list of the biggest problems facing local schools.
  • Public schools continue to rank high in performance, with 57 percent of parents rating them an A or B.
  • Americans do not support using tax dollars (school vouchers) to pay for private education.

August 25, 2015

Searching for Outstanding Schools?

Parents need to get the facts about the schools in their communities, says Andra Self, president of the Texas Association of School Boards and Lufkin ISD school board member. In a new guest column, Self offers resources and some insights on what public schools provide Texas students.

We’ve heard a lot of talk lately in Texas about how necessary it is for parents to have the chance to make the best choice for their children’s education. However, choosing a school can be challenging. There seem to be so many options these days. From private schools to home schooling to virtual schools to the neighborhood public school just down the street, how do you know what is right for your child?

Find the facts

Don’t base your decision on hearsay or where your neighbor sends his kids. Finding the right school is important. Your child either thrives in the school or falls behind.

I am a strong fan and outspoken advocate of Texas public schools. There are many great sources of information about public schools in our state. If you are new to Texas public schools, you might want to check out the My Texas Public School Website. It is designed to provide reliable background information on how Texas public schools are structured and function. Other excellent sources of information include the Stand Up Website and a website dedicated to helping you know what is correct and what is not: Truth About Schools.

Cut to the chase

I’ve been involved with Texas public schools for many years, first as a student, then as a parent, and now as a locally elected school board member and president of the Texas Association of School Boards. All of those hours focusing on schools have led me to a firm conclusion: if you are searching for outstanding schools, you may find that they are closer than you expect! In fact, there is a good chance that the Texas public school just down the street may outshine all the other options once you have the facts. Here are some of the reasons why public schools generally win in the comparisons:

  • Wide range of academic courses—generally speaking, public schools across the state offer many more choices of study, ranging from Chinese or Russian to robotics and rocketry
  • Variety of extracurricular activities—this list is long, including music, theater, dance, all kinds of sports, ROTC, service clubs, and more
  • Highly-rated, experienced teachers—whether you are looking at the federal definition of a “highly qualified teacher” or just looking at years in the classroom, public school teachers outshine teachers at other schools
  • Additional services—public schools provide a wide range of services for students who have special needs, are English language learners, or who just need help from a nurse or counselor
  • A voice in the decision making (elected boards, public meetings)—if you choose a public school, you will get to elect the decision-makers and have clear information about the goals and operations of the school
  • Proven track record in your community—your public schools have served your community well over the years, unlike some competitors who recently set up shop and have no history of accomplishment
  • Open to all students—public schools are purposefully established for all children, regardless of the child’s background, ethnicity, economic status, or other qualifying characteristics

Take a serious look

Let me urge all parents to take the time to learn the facts about schools in your area. Take the time to visit the school, meet the teachers, and establish a relationship that will support your child’s educational experience. I am a firm believer that a school will produce well-educated students and be a strong focal point in the community when parents are engaged.

I think you will find that public schools in Texas are outstanding, offering more of what’s important for your child’s education than any of the other options. Texas public schools are truly the best choice!

August 5, 2015

SBOE member: ‘Game, Set, and Match’

Texas public schools outperform charters schools, according to State Board of Education Vice-Chair Thomas Ratliff. Ratliff reviewed the Texas Education Agency’s Snapshot and offered his analysis in an open letter. The Austin Chronicle reports that Ratliff’s letter has sparked some interesting responses.

Ratliff’s letter reads as follows:

Every year the Texas Education Agency releases the “snapshot” of the prior school year’s academic and financial performance for ISD’s and charter schools. These are the facts from the 2012-13 school year (the most recently released report – released last week). Check them for yourself here: http://ritter.tea.state.tx.us/perfreport/snapshot.

I offer the following key comparisons between ISDs and charter schools:

Dropout and Graduation Rates:

  • ISDs had a dropout rate of 1.5%, charters had a 5.5% dropout rate
  • ISDs had a 4-year graduation rate of 91%, charters had a 60.6% rate
  • ISDs had a 5-year graduation rate of 92.9%, charters had a 70% rate

Academic Performance:

  • ISDs outperformed charters on 3 out of 5 STAAR tests (Math, Science, Social Studies)
  • ISDs matched charters on the other 2 out of 5 STAAR tests (Reading and Writing)
  • ISDs tested 64.5% for college admissions, charters tested 44.2%
  • ISDs average SAT score was 1422, charters average was 1412
  • ISDs average ACT score was 20.6, charters average was 19.7

Staff expenditures & allocation:

  • ISDs spent 57.4% on instructional expenses, charters spent 50.9%
  • ISDs spent 6% of central administrative expenses, charters spent 13%
  • ISDs had 3.8% of employees in central or campus administrative roles
  • Charters had 7.6% of employees in central or campus administrative roles

Teacher salary/experience/turnover and class size:

  • ISDs average teacher salary was $49,917, charters average was $43,669
  • ISDs had 15.3 students per teacher, charters had 16.8
  • ISDs had 32.1% of teachers with less than 5 years experience
  • Charters had 75.2% of teachers with less than 5 years experience
  • 24% of ISD teachers had advanced degrees, charters had 17.4%
  • ISDs had a teacher turnover rate of 15.6%, charters had 36.7%


Keep in mind these are statewide numbers and admittedly, there are good and bad ISDs and there are good and bad charter schools. But, at the end of the day, we are talking about the state of Texas as a whole and over 5 million kids and their families.

Here are the conclusions I reach after studying the data and talking to experts, educators and people in my district and across Texas.

1) For at least the second year in a row, ISDs outperformed charter schools on dropout rates, state tests, graduation rates, and college entrance exams. If charters are supposed to be competing with ISDs, they are getting beaten in straight sets (to use a tennis analogy).

2) Charter schools spend more on central administrative expenses and less in the classroom, which leads to larger classes being taught by less experienced teachers.

3) Charter schools pay their teachers $6,248 less per year than ISDs. Many refer to competition from charter schools as a key factor to improving education. I do not see this “competition” helping teachers as some try to claim. The fact is charters hire teachers with less experience and education to save money. This results in a high turnover rate. Over a third of teachers at charter schools leave when they get more experience or more education. Many times, they go work for a nearby ISD.

In conclusion, when you hear the unending and unsubstantiated rhetoric about “failing public schools” from those that support vouchers or other “competitive” school models, it is important to have the facts. ISDs aren’t perfect, but they graduate more kids, keep more kids from dropping out and get more kids career and college ready than their politically connected competitors. Any claims to the contrary just simply are not supported by the facts and at the end of the day facts matter because these lives matter.

July 26, 2015

Opinion: Why Not Support Public Schools?

What state leaders are saying about public schools just doesn’t add up, according to Andra Self, president of the Texas Association of School Boards and Lufkin ISD school board member. In a new guest column, Self looks at the questions many Texans are asking about the state’s schools.

“Why choice?

Some politicians push for school choice—but, in truth, parents already have many choices and are exercising those choices: In addition to Texas public schools, parents can consider private schools, public charter schools, virtual schools and homeschooling.

Furthermore, there are often many choices within the public school system: magnet schools, transfers within districts, and transfers to other districts. School choice already exists.

Why vouchers?

Vouchers are designed to allow students to attend private schools using public tax dollars, and some lawmakers are going through all sorts of gyrations to find ways to divert funding from public schools to private schools.

They want to take dollars away from the many students who attend public schools (almost 94 percent) to pay for the few (about 7 percent) who attend private schools—schools that will have no accountability for tax dollars or academic achievement.

Why not support?

Some lawmakers are working hard to support public schools, and we deeply appreciate that. Others, however, are denigrating public schools with statements not based on facts or needs.

As we move forward, it’s critical that all Texas lawmakers work together to stand up for Texas public schools.”

May 28, 2015

Texas Superintendent’s Plan to Save Students from Failing Charter Schools

Mark Henry, superintendent of the Cypress-Fairbanks ISD (CFISD), says that the students who need saving are the ones at failing charter schools. In a recent blog post, Henry notes that nearly 1 in 5 charter schools are considered failing. Henry’s solution: the Cypress-Fairbanks ISD Opportunity School District.

“CFISD is recognized as one of the most effective school districts in the state when considering academic achievement and financial efficiency. We don’t pick and choose our students; we educate all students within our borders. The principles we practice should be quite useful in assisting the great number of failing charter schools. We feel that with more funding, less regulation, and our processes, we can give thousands of students trapped in failing charter schools hope for a better tomorrow.”

May 8, 2015

Mr. Voucher Video: ‘Can I Pretend to Rescue You?’

Raise Your Hand Texas has a released a new video as part of the “VOUCHers Hurt Public Schools and Students” campaign. From Raise Your Hand Texas: “Texas public schools educate 94% of school-age children, and they deserve our full attention to realize world-class educational opportunities for all students and a strong future economy for our state.”


May 7, 2015

Campuses Named Title I Reward Schools

More than 400 Title I schools across Texas areas have been rated high performing and/or high progress for 2014–15. Title I schools are defined as campuses with a student population of at least 40 percent coming from low-income families.

According to the Texas Education Agency (TEA), 192 campuses are high-performing reward schools based on reading and math performance, as well as high graduation rates at the high school level. TEA also reports that 218 campuses are high-progress reward schools that are in the top 25 percent in annual improvement or in the top 25 percent of those demonstrating ability to close performance gaps.

Commissioner of Education Michael Williams said:

“While we talk of the need to close the education achievement gap, the real work in accomplishing that goal is already taking place on these campuses. Whether identified as high performing, high progress, or both, we should be proud of what’s taking place at these schools and what it means for the future of Texas.”

The complete list of high-progress and high-performing schools is posted on the TEA Website.

May 4, 2015

Reaction to the Texas Senate’s ‘Scholarship Program’

“School vouchers aren’t really about education at all,” says John Young, a columnist and adjunct English instructor in Colorado. Young, who formerly served as opinion editor of the Waco Tribune-Herald, shared his thoughts on the Texas Senate’s voucher bill in a column in the Austin American-Statesman.

“In other words, if a family has trouble paying rent and buying food, there is almost no chance that it can send its children to Sacred Inheritance Academy, even under the Texas Senate’s incentives.

Of course, even if such a family could find the money, the school it desires could decline to admit its child. That’s why they call private schools ‘private.’

Money aside, voucher proponents assume that people in inner-city neighborhoods want to send their children away from their local schools. In truth, offers of this nature rarely create the Oklahoma Land Rush proponents imagine.”

Charles Foster Johnson, executive director of Pastors for Texas Children, also offered his perspective on what he called “the assault on public education this legislative session.”

May 1, 2015

Opinion: Vouchers Are Not the Right Choice

Jim Rice, Fort Bend ISD school trustee, recently shared a guest column on why the school voucher bill is a bad choice for Texas students. Rice, who also serves on the Board of Directors of the Texas Association of School Boards, says the Texas Legislature should be held accountable for providing a public school system that provides a quality education for all students.

“The Legislature needs to uphold its constitutional duty to support and maintain a system of public schools in Texas, and fund it adequately and equitably. Let’s not squander this legislative session with arguments over school choice to benefit a few; rather let’s focus our efforts on improving our public schools which have and always will educate the majority of our students. If you agree, let your legislators know.”

April 27, 2015