Facts and insights about Texas public schools

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Most Texas Districts Get Superior Financial Ratings

Earlier this month, the Texas Education Agency (TEA) released preliminary financial accountability ratings for more than 1,100 public school districts and charters. The School Financial Integrity Rating System of Texas (FIRST) was created “…to encourage public schools to better manage their financial resources to provide the maximum allocation possible for direct instructional purposes.”

The results show that overall, public schools and charters are doing an overwhelmingly good job of using their resources wisely, with 87 Eighty-seven percent of districts (902) and charters (126) receiving the highest possible rating (A–Superior). Just 1 percent of districts and charters received the lowest rating.

The ratings are calculated using 15 financial indicators, including administrative cost expenditures, the accuracy of submitted information, and whether districts or charters have financial vulnerabilities (as determined by an external auditor).

Read “TEA releases preliminary 2018–2019 financial accountability ratings,” TEA.

August 16, 2019

Research Raises Questions about Vouchers Improving Student Learning

Voucher proponents have long asserted that school voucher programs lead to learning gains for students. But school choice researchers see a new consensus emerging that says the opposite: vouchers have no effects or negative effects on student learning.

“In April, a large-scale study—conducted by voucher advocates—found substantial negative impacts for students using vouchers to attend private schools,” write education researchers Christopher Lubienski and Joel Malin in an article republished in the Miami Herald.

“Rigorous research on statewide programs in Ohio, Indiana, and Louisiana, as well as Washington, D.C., shows large, negative impacts on academic achievement of students using vouchers compared to their peers who stayed in public schools,” the article reads.

Given the new evidence that vouchers harm student learning, voucher advocates have changed their argument to say that test scores aren’t as important as “attainment,” for example the rate at which voucher students enroll in college. “However, some of the most recent research finds that vouchers don’t really lead to better college enrollment, either,” the article adds.

Read “Do school vouchers lead to better education? New research raises questions,” by Christopher Lubienski and Joel Malin, Miami Herald.

August 8, 2019

Commentary: State Takeovers of Schools Can Fail

A new commentary in the Houston Chronicle notes that the Texas Education Agency (TEA) should heed evidence from across the country about state takeovers when considering the fate of Houston ISD. Tennessee, Ohio, and Philadelphia all had schools taken over by the state, and in each case, little improvement was seen.

“…In state after state, the American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC) has peddled A–F school report card legislation based almost entirely on standardized test scores. These A–F ratings irrevocably harm children, schools and communities,” the authors write.

Education leaders said using the A–F accountability system would unfairly punish campuses and districts that serve high rates of economically disadvantaged students and that the framework is too reliant on standardized test results. In Texas, the test results of students who were flooded out of their homes by Hurricane Harvey will be used to partially rate high schools.

“We are hopeful that a new administrative rule, proposed by Commissioner of Education Mike Morath, would allow common sense to prevail by providing an “intervention pause”—meaning that TEA would not pursue additional interventions or sanctions but would instead allow [Houston ISD] to continue its targeted improvement plan,” the authors write.

Read “School takeovers fail. Is Houston next?” by Ruth Kravetz, co-founder of Community Voices for Public Education, and Zeph Capo, president of the Texas chapter of the American Federation of Teachers, Houston Chronicle.

August 2, 2019

Editorial: Dallas ISD Working to Close Achievement Gaps

Dallas ISD has a new plan to address black student achievement, which is persistently lower than that of white and Hispanic students. The district is working to get more students into pre-K by offering scholarships to hundreds of children, some who are in a student group that is unlikely to perform well on STAAR tests and some whose parents earn more than the income limit set by the state to qualify for free pre-K.

“The data points suggest the district is on the right track. Already, 50 scholarship students are enrolled, 30 of them black, the district says,” according to the editorial. The district’s 2018 STAAR results indicate that students who attended pre-K scored higher than the state average on 3rd-grade STAAR reading tests.

Read “Dallas ISD may have found the key to finally closing the achievement gap for black kids,” Dallas Morning News.

July 31, 2019

Report: Federal Funds Wasted on Problem Charters Exceeds $1 Billion

The report “Asleep at the Wheel” published by the Network for Public Education (NPE) detailed federal funds spent on charter schools that never opened or that closed because of mismanagement or for other reasons.

NPE Executive Director and report author Carol Burris now concludes, “The waste and fraud may be worse than the original report stated.” The report found 1,203 charter schools in 15 states either never opened or have closed. That represents 40 percent of the total grantees.

Read “A report that detailed up to $1 billion in wasted federal funds on bad charter schools may have underestimated the problem,” by Valerie Strauss, Washington Post.

July 16, 2019

More School Choice Often Means Less Democracy

A new commentary by Forbes Contributor Peter Greene points out that one way to understand the problems created by school choice is simple: Look at who’s holding the purse strings.

In a public school system, the money is controlled by taxpayer-elected school board members and state legislators. In voucher or charter systems, the money is controlled by the parents of students in the system. That means taxpayers without children in charter schools or voucher systems have no say in how their money is spent. Tax credit scholarships (TCS) disempower taxpayers even further by putting the purse strings in the hands of wealthy individuals and corporations. “A TCS system essentially lets those folks give their dollars to schools instead of using the money to pay their taxes,” Greene notes.

The implications of such a system were just seen by Rosen Resorts, million-dollar funders of Florida’s TCS system. When they discovered that some of the schools they support discriminate against gay students, they stopped supporting the system until the state stops the discrimination. There is no democratic process to allow taxpayers or student families to stop the problem. If there’s a policy change, it will be because private donors demand it.

“Each version of school choice is about cutting some number of taxpayers out of the loop, giving them no say in how their dollars, collected for the express purpose of educating students, will be spent. More choice too often means less democracy,” Greene concludes.

How school choice undermines democratic processes,” by Peter Greene, Forbes.

July 9, 2019

Editorial: Texas Can Do More to Improve Kids’ Chances for Success

Texas lawmakers got high marks for pumping billions of dollars into education this legislative session. By passing school finance reform, they ensured that more than 5 million public school children will have a better chance for success.

An editorial in the Dallas Morning News notes that the Annie E. Casey Foundation has released a new Kids Count report that underscores just how far Texas kids have to go. “Texas ranked 41st—one of the 10 worst states for kids—in child well-being. States were ranked across four areas—health, education, economic well-being, and family and community—and Texas was near the bottom in every category,” the editorial says. “…It’s shameful that in a state with so much overall economic success, the child poverty rate remains alarmingly high. A fifth of Texas’ 7.4 million children are poor,” it continues.

A couple of policy solutions could make a real difference for Texas kids: An accurate count of Texas residents in the 2020 Census, which will determine how billions of federal dollars for health care, housing, and food programs are allocated. The state could also act to ensure the vulnerable kids and women of child-bearing age have health insurance.

Read “Editorial: Texas isn’t doing right by its kids. Here are ways we can do better,” Dallas Morning News.

July 3, 2019

The 2020 Census Is Critical for Public Schools

The National Education Agency (NEA) is sounding the alarm about the need for an accurate 2020 census count for public schools. “An accurate census is key to schools getting the funding they need to serve every child who walks through their doors,” author Amanda Litvinov writes. But experts believe the accuracy of the census is imperiled by the recent addition of a citizenship question, which is likely to lower the response rate.

The census is critical to public schools because it determines the distribution of more than $14 billion in Title 1 grants to help schools serve 24 million students from low-income families; $11.3 billion in state special education grants; $13.6 billion for the National School Lunch Program; funds for the Head Start preschool program; and grants to improve teacher quality. An inaccurate count will result in public schools not receiving adequate resources to meet those needs.

Several states are suing over the decision to include the citizenship question. The NEA has signed onto an amicus brief urging the Supreme Court to strike the citizenship question from the census.

Read “The 2020 census could make or break your public schools. Here’s why,” by Amanda Litvinov,  Education Votes, NEA.

June 26, 2019

Commentary: School Finance Reform Is the Starting Point

A new commentary by education researchers David DeMatthews and David S. Knight says that the passage of House Bill (HB) 3 was a big step in improving Texas public education.

“Texas families should be appreciative that Republican and Democratic lawmakers were able to advance a funding bill that provides additional support to public schools, including opportunities for increased teacher pay based on performance and incentives for teachers to work in high-needs and rural schools that are often difficult to staff with high-quality teachers,” they write.

“Education dollars in Texas do not come easily, and this is a win for public education. But HB 3 is a starting point, not the finish line for school reform,” they write.

“…We should continue to expect our lawmakers to enact monumental policies that advance public schools in future legislative sessions as well as in regulations and oversight enacted by the Texas Education Agency,” they write.

“We can do this by electing politicians who value public education and recognize that the state must make ongoing investments into schools. They must also focus their attention on how money is being spent to ensure governance over education reflects the values of the state’s communities,” they conclude.

DeMatthews is an associate professor of educational leadership and policy at The University of Texas at Austin. Knight is the associate director of the Center for Education Research and Policy Students and an assistant professor at The University of Texas at El Paso.

Read “Commentary: School finance reform law marks the starting point, not the finish line,” by David DeMatthews and David S. Knight, Austin American-Statesman.

June 19, 2019

Texas Students Achieve Gains on 2019 STAAR Tests

Texas students made gains on the spring administration of the State of Texas Assessments of Academic Readiness (STAAR). Results for high school students who took end-of-course exams were particularly strong, with gains in all subjects.

“This year’s STAAR scores demonstrate Texas students are learning more in the core subjects designed to set them up for future success,” said Education Commissioner Mike Morath. “More students are meeting grade-level expectations in Texas, and this is because of the incredibly talented work of our educators in classrooms around the state.”

State-level results are available for download from the Texas Education Agency website.

Read “Texas Students Achieve Gains on 2019 STAAR Tests,” TEA.

June 17, 2019