Facts and insights about Texas public schools

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Editorial: Continue What Works, Fix What’s Broken in Houston ISD

A Houston Chronicle editorial points out the challenges of turning around struggling schools. While Houston ISD has its share of low-performing schools, it also has schools that have improved enough to avoid state sanctions, including Worthing High School, Henry Middle School, and Kashmere High School.

The editorial recommends the following steps to turn low-performing schools around:

  • Start with an inspirational, effective principal. University of Minnesota education researchers studied 180 schools in nine states and noted, “To date we have not found a single case of a school improving its student achievement record in the absence of talented leadership.”
  • Hire and train strong educators who have the skills to work with challenging student populations. Dallas ISD’s successful Accelerating Campus Excellence program hires master educators and offers them signing and retention bonuses to teach in struggling schools.
  • Finally, assuming that the state replaces school trustees, the replacements should be from Houston and put HISD students first. “HISD parents and community members worry…that a replacement school board that may not have children’s best interests at heart, that trustees may not reflect the values or the demographics of Houston,” the editorial reads.

Read “HISD isn’t all broken. Leaders should continue what works,” Houston Chronicle.

September 13, 2019

Editorial: It Doesn’t Take a Genius to Figure Out What Poor Texas Schools Need

A new editorial in the Corpus Christi Caller-Times notes that more than 60 percent of Texas schoolchildren are economically disadvantaged. It also noted a strong connection between household income levels and the grades of local schools in the state’s new accountability system. Schools with more disadvantaged students were much more likely to get Ds or Fs in the system.

The state has considered tying school funding to student performance, which would reward the best-performing schools. While incentives for teachers sometimes work, incentives for schools would do little to improve the performance of struggling schools. “…If you incentivize school performance…you make the rich schools richer when the poor schools are the ones that need the help. If your roof leaks, do you withhold money for a new one until the old one stops leaking?” the editorial reads.

The authors credit the Legislature for increasing education spending but note that there are no assurances that the new funding represents a new path. “The first statistic we cited—more than 60 percent of Texas schoolchildren are economically disadvantaged—is why we can’t afford for it to be a one-time thing,” the editorial states.

“Not replacing a roof ruins a house. This doesn’t take an Einstein to explain or understand. Putting more money into schools that need it is an investment Texas can’t afford not to make,” the editorial concludes.

Read “It doesn’t take a genius to figure out what poor Texas schools need,” Corpus Christi Caller-Times.

September 10, 2019

High-Poverty Schools More Likely to Get Lower Accountability Ratings

A recent Texas Tribune news article notes that poverty continues to play a role in district ratings under the state’s new A–F accountability system. Overall performance showed improvement, with more districts receiving As and Bs this year. But, as many educators predicted, districts with more economically disadvantaged students were more likely to earn the Ds and Fs in the new system.

“Many educators refer to this trend to point out the flaws with the state accountability system: It’s much less likely that a school will perform poorly if its students come from higher-income families. The majority of a school’s rating is based on state standardized test scores, and low-income students tend to perform lower on those tests,” the article notes.

South Texas schools provided a bright spot. Despite their high student poverty rates, no school district received a score lower than a B.

The penalties for failing grades in the new system are harsh, with the state grappling with forcibly closing schools or taking over districts, including the state’s largest district, Houston ISD.

Read “Texas schools with more student poverty got the most Ds and Fs in state ratings,” by Aliyya Swaby and Mandi Cai, Texas Tribune.

August 29, 2019

TASA Executive Director Responds to A–F Accountability Ratings

The state’s A–F Accountability Ratings were recently released, ostensibly grading Texas schools and districts and generating plenty of discussion. “We think it’s really important for schools to be accountable to their communities, the state, the federal government. But we also think it’s really important to be accountable to our students and for the learning experiences that we provide them,” said TASA Executive Director Kevin Brown in a recent interview.

“We don’t believe A-F represents or recognizes the complexity of the work that schools do. Students go through all kinds of experiences in schools. They have all kinds of demands on them, and our communities have a lot of expectations of what they want for their students so that they’re ready for the real world…our parents want their children to be prepared for the future and they don’t see the link between an A or B or C rating and what they want for their children,” Brown said.

Brown added that the high stakes of the State of Texas Assessments of Academic Readiness (STAAR) incentivizes teaching to the test.

He noted that 40 Texas school districts are piloting community-based accountability systems that rate progress based on community-identified priorities in addition to test results.

Listen to “Texas schools receive new A–F ratings,” Spectrum News.

August 26, 2019

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