Category Archives: charter schools

Virtual charter school students experienced learning loss, study shows

Virtual schooling is in the spotlight right now, especially with many parents considering how to approach returning to school this fall in the wake of the coronavirus pandemic. For this reason, we took note of a recent study published in the prestigious, peer-reviewed journal Educational Researcher, which found a significant decline in achievement for Indiana students who switched to a virtual charter school. The virtual setting’s impact on the students’ achievement in math and English language arts (ELA), compared to that of their traditional public school peers, was “uniformly and profoundly negative,” according to the study’s authors.

The Indiana study showed that students in grades 3-8 who switched from a traditional setting to a full-time virtual setting experienced an 11 percentile point loss in ELA and 16 percentile point loss in math on annual assessments when compared to their peers who stayed in the in-person setting, even controlling for factors such as race, sex, poverty, achievement, and teacher and classroom characteristics. Other studies outside of Indiana have found similar results. The study authors conclusion suggests that parents who choose this type of virtual option may be putting their children at a severe disadvantage when it comes to learning.

Why might this learning loss occur in students attending virtual schools? The researchers note that the virtual schools in the Indiana study had an average class size of 100 students, which is about four to five times greater than the acceptable class-size limits fought for by education advocates such as ATPE. Additionally, virtual schools often use for-profit vendors, aiming to capitalize on the need for children to learn, to deliver the school’s educational content. Unfortunately, profit-oriented behaviors never seem to play out well in the public education field because it is difficult to cut corners in an industry that thrives on human relationships. In fact, the integral nature of relationships to teaching and learning has become even more apparent during the pandemic, as both teachers and students have resorted to parades, sidewalk chats, yard signs, driveway lessons, personal mail, and other methods of interacting when virtual classrooms just won’t cut it.

In a recent blog post, the authors of the study wrote that virtual charter schools are “ill-equipped” to expand their presence and enrollment during the COVID-19 pandemic. They recommend that policymakers focus on greater accountability and oversight for these schools. ATPE has also long fought for greater accountability and oversight in numerous debates over full-time virtual programs, whether such a program enrolls students through a charter school or a school district.

Here in Texas, after the pandemic began, Republican members of the Senate Education Committee asked the Texas Education Agency to consider expanding virtual school options in Texas, despite the negative data showing virtual schools do not perform as well as their brick-and-mortar counterparts. The Coalition for Public Schools, of which ATPE is a member, responded by sending a letter in early May to Texas Commissioner of Education Mike Morath to explain why such an expansion would not benefit Texas families. ATPE will be weighing in as developments unfold with regard to virtual schooling amid the pandemic, such as potential efforts to expand virtual or private schooling options using federal emergency dollars as touted by U.S. Secretary of Education Betsy DeVos. Stay tuned to the Teach the Vote blog and Twitter for updates.

SBOE hosts April meeting via videoconference

The Texas State Board of Education (SBOE) met virtually Thursday for its scheduled April meeting. In compliance with the governor’s social distancing executive order, the 15 members of the board met via Zoom videoconference to consider an abbreviated agenda spread over Thursday and Friday of this week.

The SBOE’s April 16, 2020, Zoom meeting was livestreamed to the public.

The board began Thursday by consolidating career and technology education courses as required by the legislature, which includes aligning graduation requirements and Texas Essential Knowledge and Skills (TEKS) standards.

Members then turned their attention to second reading and final adoption of TEKS for a new African American studies ethnic studies course. The board has been working on this course over the last few meetings and has expressed great interest in this project. Several witnesses offered written and video testimony with suggestions for this course, such as including authors James Baldwin and Toni Morrison as additional examples of important figures. This led to a debate over the appropriate balance of providing enough examples versus being overly prescriptive, as well as the process through which the currently proposed standards were developed. After spending several hours debating and amending the TEKS, the board voted to tentatively approve the course with an effective date of August 1, 2020.

Texas Education Agency (TEA) staff updated the board on federal Perkins funding, which the U.S. Department of Education has allowed the state to extend during the COVID-19 outbreak. The state’s application will be submitted by April 29.

SBOE Chair Keven Ellis speaks during the April 16, 2020, Zoom meeting

Members concluded the morning session with an update on current TEKS standards under review. The brunt of testimony focused on health education standards. The board’s discussion of health and physical education TEKS scheduled for this week has been postponed to May due to logistical hurdles presented by COVID-19 social distancing requirements. Board Chairman Keven Ellis (R-Lufkin) said the agency is tentatively targeting the end of the second full week of May (May 14-15) or the beginning of the third week (May 18-19) for discussion, but acknowledged that it’s difficult to predict when the agency will have the educator feedback necessary to present to the board. The review of high school biology, chemistry, IPC, and physics TEKS scheduled for March and April has also been postponed. This will in turn delay the review of the remaining high school science courses, as well as K-5 and CTE courses for science credit. Agency staff acknowledged that the transition to having TEKS review work groups meet virtually has posed a significant challenge and further delayed the process.

The board separated into its three standing committees for the remainder of the day. The Committee on School Initiatives discussed updates on the Generation 25 application for charter schools. A total of 96 entities showed up for this year’s initial informational meetings. Of those, 22 submitted applications by the January 21 deadline, which is 11 fewer than the previous year. TEA advanced 16 applications to the review stage. The commissioner will propose applications to the SBOE in August for the board to either approve to disapprove in September.

Member Ruben Cortez (D-Brownsville) questioned the need for creating additional charter schools — which are funded 100% by the state and reduce the money available to local independent school districts — at a time when the state faces significant funding challenges as a result of the COVID-19 outbreak. Cortez asked TEA staff if the commissioner had yet to respond to a letter from education organizations including ATPE calling for a moratorium on new charter schools. TEA staff indicated they would follow up and share the commissioner’s response with the board.

The committee also reviewed board rules determining the criteria for the board’s veto of new applications and its ability to revoke a charter or place it on probation. Members discussed whether to amend its rules to place additional requirements on new charter applications, and whether it could do so without handcuffing its authority.

Members of the Committee on School Finance/Permanent School Fund (PSF) discussed the health of the PSF in the wake of market disruptions caused by the COVID-19 pandemic. The PSF is the state’s investment account that helps fund public education and is managed by TEA under the oversight of the SBOE. The fund lost $2.7 billion in March, dropping to $31.7 billion from $34.4 billion. Despite this loss, agency staff reassured the board that the fund will be able to recover due to the long-term nature of its investment strategy. The agency said it will likely be another month before numbers will be available to compare the performance of the PSF to that of other peer funds.

The full board will gather virtually at 9:00 a.m. Friday to conclude its April agenda.

ATPE joins call for moratorium on charter expansions

The Association of Texas Professional Educators (ATPE) has joined with 17 other education organizations in sending a letter urging Texas Education Commissioner Mike Morath to place a moratorium on the expansion of charter schools across the state during the coronavirus pandemic.

A broad group of education organizations including ATPE emphasized the critical need to sustain state funding for public schools under House Bill (HB) 3 passed during the last legislative session, and pointed out that increasing charter school enrollment, which is funded 100% by the state, would place an additional and unnecessary burden on state funds that will be desperately needed to sustain public education during and after the COVID-19 crisis.

There are currently 94 charter expansion amendments on file with the Texas Education Agency (TEA), which could cost the state an additional $90 million per year if approved. Charter school enrollment is still well below the current maximum capacity approved by TEA of 558,728. If charter schools were to reach the maximum capacity allowed by TEA, the cost to the state would be estimated as an additional $250 million per year.

In asking Morath to deny or significantly limit the approval of charter expansion amendments in 2020, education organizations are requesting the commissioner consider the following:

  • Charter schools should serve special needs students in at least the same proportion as the state average;
  • special education and English language learner (ELL) students in charters should be served by appropriately certified educators;
  • charter schools should show compelling need and public support for new campuses;
  • charter saturation in a given district should not negatively impact the fiscal health of the district;
  • the track record of charter expansion applicants should be successful;
  • charters should not send Texas taxpayers’ money to an out-of-state charter management organization (CMO); and
  • charter expansions that would open in 2020 should be denied in the absence of a compelling reason otherwise.

The authority to approve or deny charter expansions rests solely with the Texas commissioner of education. You can read the full text of the letter signed by 18 education organizations including ATPE here.

SBOE committee discusses charter applications

TEA staff answer questions about charter school applications during an SBOE committee meeting.

The State Board of Education (SBOE) Committee on School Initiatives met Thursday morning, Jan. 30, 2020, in Austin, where their agenda included a look at applications by charter schools to open new schools or expand to new campuses.

Member Marisa Perez-Diaz (D-San Antonio) asked Texas Education Agency (TEA) staff to consider the geographic location of existing charter schools and pending applications for new charters when it comes to considering whether to grant existing charter schools permission to expand to additional campuses.

Member Matt Robinson (R-Friendswood) suggested staff require charter applicants and applicants for expansions to provide the agency with the specific location of proposed new charter schools, either down to the zip code or independent school district level, as part of the application. Member Georgina Perez (D-El Paso) took time away from the Committee on Instruction to press TEA staff to provide additional information on charter applications.

A number of witnesses testified before the committee regarding new charter schools, focusing on market saturation and duplication of services in many cases. Suggestions to improve the application process included requiring applicants to identify specific services that are not addressed by ISD schools, as well as the specific location of planned new campuses. Board Chair Keven Ellis (R-Lufkin) expressed agreement with the concept of including more information in applications, such as geographic information.

The SBOE will conclude its week-long January meeting on Friday, when the agenda is set to include advancing curriculum standards for a new course on African-American Studies. As always, we invite you to stay tuned to Teach the Vote for updates.

Teach the Vote’s Week in Review: Jan. 17, 2020

As you slip into the three-day weekend and celebrate the legacy of Martin Luther King, Jr. on Monday, take a look at this week’s education news from the ATPE Governmental Relations team.


ELECTION UPDATE: We have just over a month until the Texas primary election on March 3, 2020. Check out ATPE Lobbyist Mark Wiggins’s most recent election-related blog post for the latest campaign finance insights and other tidbits. Remember that the deadline to register to vote in one of the primaries is Feb. 3, and you can verify your voter registration status here.

As the primaries get closer, here are some helpful resources for educators and the general public:

  • Learn more about the candidates by checking out their profiles here on Teach the Vote. All candidates running in 2020 for the Texas House or Senate or the State Board of Education are featured on our website, with their answers to the ATPE Candidate Survey (where available) and existing legislators’ voting records on education issues.
  • TexasEducatorsVote.com is another great source for election-related resources, advice, and voting reminders.
  • Learn everything you need to know about Texas elections in the Texas Tribune’s five-week crash course called “Teach Me How to Texas.” It’s free and fun! Click here to sign up.
  • Additionally, check out the upcoming candidate forums around the state being sponsored by the Raise Your Hand Texas Foundation. Click here for details and the full list of their “For the Future” town hall events beginning this month.

RELATED: If you live the Houston or Dallas area, don’t forget about the upcoming runoff election for three vacant House seats in House Districts 28, 100, and 148. Early voting starts Tuesday, Jan. 21. Registered voters in those districts can vote in the runoff even they skipped the first special election back in November. Learn more about the special election candidates on our Resources page.


ATPE’s Monty Exter

The Texas Education Agency (TEA) held a public hearing on Monday regarding proposed new commissioner’s rules affecting expansion of charter schools in Texas. ATPE Senior Lobbyist Monty Exter joined other education stakeholders, including school district leaders and parents, at the hearing to testify on proposed revisions to the charter performance framework and charter expansion amendment process. Their input focused on concerns about the potential for significant expansion of charter schools with little state oversight or consideration of the fiscal consequences or impact on students.

Specific points offered through the testimony included the following:

  • TEA does not consider proximity to existing campuses when approving new charter school campuses, which can lead to duplication, waste, and inefficiency. Existing school districts near the new charter campus retain fixed costs but receive less funding.
  • State law requires TEA to consider the impact on all students served by the Texas public school system when proposing rule changes like these. This includes the economic impact of a program serving only a small subset of students and the educational impact on students, especially if the local population is not large enough to support robust programming at both the existing school(s) and the added charter campus in the same location.
  • TEA already has approved more than 557,000 seats at charter schools, which exceeds the enrollment level on which the state’s budget is based. If all those seats were filled, it would cost the state more than $11 billion over a two-year period s and consume more than a quarter of the funding under the Foundation School Program. Moreover, this maximum approved enrollment capacity of 557,000 would grow even larger under the commissioner’s proposals.
  • The state’s performance framework should not reward charter operators for things like maintaining their status as a 501(c)(3) nonprofit organization, which is already required by law.
  • A charter operator should not be labeled “high quality” if its performance is based on excluding students with disabilities or filtering out other students who are harder to teach. Under federal law, TEA must ensure all public schools identify, enroll, and serve special education students.

ATPE joined more than a dozen other education advocacy groups in submitting formal written comments to the commissioner, as well. Click here and here to read the text of the proposed rule changes that were published in the Texas Register on Nov. 22 and Nov. 29, 2019, respectively.


Thank you to all ATPE members who took our very first “Your Voice” survey this winter. The results provided valuable insight into what our members’ top policy issues are, such as standardized testing, educator compensation and benefits, and the Teacher Retirement System (TRS). Look for a blog post diving deeper into these issues on Teach the Vote next week.


On Thursday, Jan. 16, 2020, President Donald Trump announced from the Oval Office that nine federal agencies, including the U.S. Department of Education (ED), would release new guidance regarding religious expression. In public schools specifically, the new guidance clarifies protections for students who want to pray or worship in school and eases access to federal funds for religious organizations that provide social services. The guidance also requires that, in order to receive federal funds under the Elementary and Secondary Education Act, school districts must certify with their state agency that they do not have policies in place that would prevent students’ right to pray. Additionally, states must have a process in place to receive complaints against school districts regarding religious expression and must notify ED about such complaints.

Under the First Amendment of the U.S. Constitution, students and teachers have a right to pray in public schools. However, while acting in their official capacities, teachers, administrators, and other school employees are not permitted to lead, encourage, or discourage students from participating in prayer. Read more about the new rules in this reporting by the Washington Post.


On Tuesday, Jan. 14, 2020 three Texas voters, the League of Women Voters, and the Move Texas Civic Fund filed a federal lawsuit to challenge Texas’s lack of online voter registration when residents update or renew their driver’s licenses online. Under The federal motor voter law allows for voter registration when obtaining a driver’s license, but in Texas, the law is only carried out in face-to-face interactions. This is the second iteration of the case, which was originally dismissed by a federal court because the plaintiff had become re-registered to vote before a verdict was reached and lost standing to sue. Should the plaintiffs ultimately win this latest case, Texas would have to allow online voter registration through the driver’s license process. Read more about the new case in this reporting from the Texas Tribune.


As ATPE Lobbyist Andrea Chevalier reported earlier today on our blog, Texas House Speaker Dennis Bonnen (R-Angleton) has announced his appointment of Rep. Giovanni Capriglione to chair the powerful House Appropriations committee. Read more about the announcement here.


 

New School Year, New Laws: Charter Schools

In last week’s “New School Year, New Laws” blog post, we discussed changes to pension and retirement benefits for Texas public school educators. This week, we will discuss legislative changes made during the 86th legislative session that will impact charter schools in Texas. The 2019 legislative session saw a number of bills filed and debated regarding charter schools, both from charter proponents looking to expand the footprint of charters in Texas and from those hoping to impose additional restraints and regulations on charter schools. Below is a look at the charter-related bills that passed this year.

House Bill (HB) 1051 by Rep. Gary VanDeaver (R-New Boston): Goodwill Excel Center

HB 1051 makes permanent the Goodwill Excel Center, an adult high school diploma and industry certification charter school pilot program, and codifies its best practices. The Goodwill Excel Center is a charter school that has resulted in improved outcomes for older students who are in unique circumstances and need a more flexible school setting. This law became effective immediately upon its passage earlier this year.

HB 2190 by Rep. Todd Hunter (R-Corpus Christi): Children of charter employees

HB 2190 allows children of charter school employees to attend the charter school in which their parents work, regardless of where they live. This bill also took effect immediately.

HB 4205 by Rep. Tom Craddick (R-Midland): Charter operation of re-purposed campuses

HB 4205 is a two-part bill that includes provisions regarding repurposed schools as well as school turnaround. The portion of the bill dealing with repurposed campuses allows for large charter operators to repurpose a public school district campus that has been closed. The new school operator is required to admit the same students who were at the campus before it was closed. The author of this bill referenced a Midland campus as the impetus for the idea. This bill became effective immediately.

HB 4258 by Rep. Jim Murphy (R-Houston), co-authored by Rep. Barbara Gervin-Hawkins (D-San Antonio): Charter school bonds

HB 4258 provides the attorney general with the sole authority to approve the tax-exempt status of charter school bonds, nixing the previous authority held by municipalities. Charter supporters contended that municipalities could prevent charter schools from expanding by withholding the tax-exempt status of the charter school bond. This bill became effective immediately.

SB 372 by Sen. Donna Campbell (R-New Braunfels): School safety in charters

SB 372 allows charter governing bodies to employ security personnel, commission peace officers, and enter into agreements with law enforcement to assign school resource officers to charter schools. The bill created parity by giving charter school governing bodies access to the same safety resources already available to boards of trustees for traditional public schools. This law became effective immediately.

SB 2293 by Sen. Pat Fallon (R-Prosper): Charter employees and common application

SB 2293 subjects charter school employees to the same collective bargaining prohibitions and anti-striking laws that apply to all other public school employees. SB 2293 also creates a common application to be used for charter school admission throughout the state and a requirement that the Texas Education Agency (TEA) maintain and report on the “charter waiting list.” Charter proponents have often cited claims of a massive list of students who are waiting for slots in a charter school as justification for expanding charters in Texas; however, no such statewide list has been shared. ATPE will be monitoring the rule-making process for the development and implementation of the common application and charter reporting.

 


Visit Teach the Vote next week for our next “New School Year, New Laws” blog series update post on funding and compensation changes that resulted from the 2019 legislative session. ATPE believes it is vitally important for educators to make sure they know and understand the laws that govern their profession and affect their classrooms. For even more information on new laws impacting public education in Texas, be sure to check out ATPE’s comprehensive report, “Know the Law: An Educator’s Guide to Changes Enacted by the 86th Texas Legislature,” created by the experienced staff of ATPE’s Member Legal Services department.

SBOE committee discusses charter schools, ed prep

SBOE Committee on School Initiatives meeting Sept. 12, 2019.

The Texas State Board of Education (SBOE) members met Thursday in their respective committees to discuss a number of items of interest to educators. The Committee on School Initiatives began with a discussion of a new educator preparation pilot program called “EdTPA.” This two-year pilot program was discussed at length by the State Board for Educator Certification (SBEC) and aims to increase rigor, although the final examination comes with a higher price tag. Members of the committee had several questions regarding the structure of the program and challenges unique to the EdTPA system.

Members then heard updates on the Generation 25 charter application, which is the process by which applicants may apply to the Texas Education Agency (TEA) for a new charter. It’s important to note that this application is not needed for existing charters to expand the number of schools under operation. The application is to establish new charter operators, which may plan to operate multiple schools and may expand in the future.

Member Matt Robinson (R-Friendswood) expressed concern over the number and quality of new charters expanding across the state, and in particular a lack of transparency in the process. Member Ruben Cortez (D-Brownsville) expressed disappointment that suggestions from board members to improve the application have yet to be incorporated into the new application. Members secured a commitment from TEA staff to consider a list of recommendations provided by a group of public education organizations, including ATPE, and report back to the board.

Member Georgina Perez (D-El Paso) questioned TEA staff at length over requirements that charter applicants notify the communities within which they intend to open a new charter school, as well as the requirements for a charter to expand its geographical boundary to beyond what was set forth in its initial application. Much of the criticism around charter schools has concentrated on the lack of public input on proposed new charters as a result of minimal notification requirements, as well as few checks on the ability of charter school organizations to expand far beyond their initial size.

The board will conclude its September meeting Friday with an update from TEA Commissioner Mike Morath.

From The Texas Tribune: Texas lets struggling schools partner with nonprofits or charters for improvement. But many got Fs this year.

Kate Yetter teaches fifth grade writing at Ogden Academy in San Antonio ISD, which has been low-performing for seven years in a row. Photo by Laura Skelding for The Texas Tribune

Adrain Johnson was one of five Texas school superintendents last year to take a Hail Mary pass in order to improve two low-performing schools: He let a new nonprofit take over the management of Hearne ISD’s elementary and junior high, both of which had failed to meet state academic standards for years.

The partnerships, an idea lawmakers approved in 2017, are supposed to give the outside organizations — charter groups, private nonprofits or universities — flexibility to try out new educational models and hopefully lead to major gains in student test scores. In return, the low-performing schools get more money per student and a two-year pause from any state penalties, which are required after a school has underperformed for five years or more in a row.

But after a year being run by Hearne Education Foundation, and managed by a separate appointed school board of regional educators, Hearne Elementary School received its seventh consecutive failing rating from the state this month, meaning it may have to shut down unless it passes over the next couple of years.

In fact, seven of the 12 schools across the state in similar partnerships with nonprofits or charters received F ratings this year, including four that, like Hearne Elementary, that could face state sanctions if they don’t pass in the next couple of years. All 12 schools serve student populations that are between 70% and 100% economically disadvantaged, in school districts with higher rates of teacher turnover than state average.

Partnerships with charters and nonprofits show mixed results

The 2017 Texas Legislature allowed public schools to partner with charter groups and nonprofits, giving them two years to demonstrate progress and avoid shutdown. After the first year, the direct effect of the partnerships is unclear.

Hearne Junior High, a rural Central Texas school with 100% economically disadvantaged students, had actually managed to improve significantly before the partnership even started and its performance remained relatively steady this year. That means it’s safe for now from any state penalties.

Johnson said he’s proud of the district’s improvement, given the challenges an underperforming school faces in being able to overcome the stigma of working or learning there. It’s hard to convince high-quality teachers to work in a school that may close within a few years. And the elementary school’s new principal didn’t have much time to build relationships with staff members and students before the next round of state tests came.

“It’s like running against the wind. You can be a good runner, but if you’re running against the wind, it makes it hard for you to perform well,” he said.

Texas recently switched its school assessment system to give schools and districts letter grades based almost entirely on state standardized tests, especially in the elementary and middle schools, replacing a previous pass/fail system. And alongside the new report card came higher stakes and drastic penalties for the schools that perform poorly year after year.

But lawmakers gave school officials a life raft from those penalties by incentivizing them to partner with private or governmental groups — a last ditch effort at improvement before the schools are forced to completely shutter. Any school can be under a partnership; underperforming schools get the benefit of a temporary pause on having their ratings count against them.

Transforming a long-struggling school into a top-rated one requires more than just a focus on academics. It also requires a massive cultural shift: stopping teachers and principals from leaving at such high rates, figuring out better ways to manage student behavior and erasing a negative reputation earned over the course of several years.

“This first year would’ve been great if all our partnership schools would have done amazing. But this kind of change and these turnaround strategies don’t happen overnight,” said Bibi Yasmin Katsev, executive director of the Texas District Charter Alliance, which advocates for district-charter partnerships.

She warned against coming to conclusions too soon about the value of the partnerships.

“Just looking back on this one year, we are really hopeful and we really think a lot of these schools will improve themselves after the next year,” she said. “If not, we really need high-quality partners.”

The challenges a school district faces don’t just go away with a new partner. Ector County ISD, in West Texas’ oil-rich Permian Basin, is missing almost 20% of needed teaching staff, starting the year with 349 vacancies, said Scott Muri, the new superintendent. Housing is extremely expensive in the area and teachers have turned jobs down because they can’t afford to live there.

“You can get a good wage job here. The oil industry pays. But in education, we have a hard time competing,” he said.

In Waco ISD, where five low-performing campuses were turned over to a new nonprofit, administrators said many teachers jumped ship at two of the schools before the partnership even began. That left the nonprofit starting at a disadvantage finding high-quality educators — a key goal of the partnership.

Those schools — J.H. Hines Elementary and G.W. Carver Middle — both improved significantly in 2017-18, but then plummeted to an F this year, with the latter dropping the equivalent of two grades.

But all of Waco ISD’s schools have met state standards for at least one of the last five years, meaning they won’t face state sanctions anytime soon. Waco ISD officials created their own nonprofit to partner with while state education officials were creating rules outlining how the partnership law would work — a serious logistic challenge, according to Kyle DeBeer, the district’s assistant superintendent of communications.

Other districts also faced logistical issues getting ramped up in the first year, with some guidance but little established structure from state education officials.

Besides Hearne Elementary, Ector College Prep Success Academy in Ector County ISD, Ogden Academy in San Antonio ISD, and Mendez Middle School in Austin ISD all need to do better in the next couple of years or else they might be forced to shut down. Shutting down a school is generally extremely unpopular with parents and community members, and requires a school officials to figure out other schools for those students.

Instead of shutting down Ogden Academy, San Antonio ISD handed the management of the elementary school to Relay Lab Schools, a charter organization affiliated with the Relay Graduate School of Education. The school is now a training ground for student teachers, who commit to work in the district for three years after graduation.

“Turnaround is hard and it takes some time and it takes relentlessness,” said Mohammed Choudhury, chief innovation officer at San Antonio ISD.

According to Choudhury, Ogden Academy students started off further behind academically than students at Stewart, another chronically low-performing elementary school that improved significantly the year before its partnership began and then plummeted to a D rating this year. Families of students at Ogden are more likely to have less education and lower incomes.

The 10-year contract with Relay Lab Schools allows school district officials to consider dissolving the partnership if they don’t see needed results within the first few years.

A little-known provision in the partnership law allows low-performing schools to get up to two additional years of a reprieve from state penalties, if the Texas education commissioner approves it. Both Choudhury and Johnson, of Hearne ISD, said they would consider asking the state for an extension from those penalties, if their schools don’t improve.

Johnson said Hearne’s partnership, which has drawn on the expertise of local school district and university educators, allows them to use data more effectively to pinpoint specific weaknesses. Some of the best teachers from local school districts in East Texas and the Houston area have gone to teach Saturday classes in Hearne, and Texas A&M professors helped with professional development for Hearne’s teachers.

Johnson wants those benefits to last.

“We didn’t create this and go into this with it being a two-to-three year and done system,” he said. “We’re trying to build a system that has sustainability.”

This article originally appeared in The Texas Tribune at https://www.texastribune.org/2019/08/27/texas-charter-nonprofit-ratings/.

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TEA releases 2019 “A-F” accountability ratings

On Thursday, August 15, 2019, the Texas Education Agency (TEA) issued a press release announcing the 2019 “A-F” accountability ratings for Texas public school districts and campuses. Last year, A-F ratings were available for school districts only. Yesterday marks the first time that A-F accountability grades have been shared for individual campuses, too. The foundation for the A-F accountability system was created in 2013 under House Bill (HB) 5. In 2015 and 2017, the system was modified through HB 2804 by Rep. Jimmie Don Aycock (R-Killeen) and HB 22 by Representative Dan Huberty (R-Houston), respectively.

The A-F system was highly controversial among the education community in large part because it places a label of “failure” on schools, students, and educators based on a narrow view of school success. Additionally, many factors that strongly influence the outcomes that are measured by the A-F testing and accountability system are outside the scope of what educators can control. These include generational poverty, food insecurity, homelessness, family status, and adverse childhood experiences. For the reasons, ATPE opposed the inclusion of A-F ratings in the public school accountability system throughout the multiple legislative sessions in which it was developed.

Keeping in mind the limitations of the A-F accountability system for substantiating broad conclusions about the performance or effectiveness of schools, educators, and students, the ratings do lend themselves to some observations that can be useful for stakeholders to review. For example, a preliminary analysis of school district ratings shows that charter districts tend to have more C’s, D’s, and F’s than traditional districts. Eighty-six percent of traditional districts had either an A or B rating, compared to only 56 percent of charter districts. In fact, the percentage of charters rated D and rated F was six times and four times the percentage of traditional districts, respectively. It does appear that districts have overall improved since last year in the number rated A and B.

At the campus level, charter ratings are also more heavily weighted towards D and F. However, the overall percentage of schools that are rated A or B has increased since last year. Additionally, Texas Commissioner of Education Mike Morath stated that he is, “particularly proud of the 296 high-poverty schools that achieved an A rating this year.” The commissioner, several lawmakers, and members of the State Board of Education (SBOE) held press events around the state yesterday related to the announcement of the ratings.

ATPE representatives also participated in a number of interviews with the media to discuss the A-F accountability grades. In one news story yesterday about the A-F ratings of schools around central Texas, ATPE Lobbyist Mark Wiggins discussed the myriad additional factors beyond accountability grades that will need to be considered when measuring the future impact of this year’s major school finance and reform bill, House Bill 3.

Of course, much more information is needed to decipher the meaning and validity of these new A-F ratings. In the past, ATPE has urged caution in interpreting A-F ratings, especially due to their reliance on data from student test scores. The TXschools.gov website promoted by TEA is meant to help parents understand ratings and make comparisons. Stakeholders can find further resources from TEA here, including video presentations on each of the three domains used in the rating system. ATPE will continue monitoring the system and fighting to ensure that it is fair and meaningful to educators, school leaders, students, and parents.

Teach the Vote’s Week in Review: June 14, 2019

Here’s a look at this week’s education news from ATPE Governmental Relations:


This week, Gov. Greg Abbott signed the school finance and property tax reform bill, House Bill (HB) 3, into law. This bill modifies how public schools are funded and attempts to shift some of the burden of paying for public education that has fallen heavily on the shoulders of local property taxpayers closer toward a balance point with the portion financed by the state. The bill also affects teacher compensation. Read a recap of the governor’s signing ceremony, as well as links to our analysis of what HB 3 does, in this blog post by ATPE Lobbyist Andrea Chevalier.

Gov. Abbott also signed Senate Bill (SB) 12 into law on the same day. The bill improves funding for the state’s pension system for educators. As a result of the bill’s signing this week, the Teacher Retirement System (TRS) expects a 13th check to be sent to retirees this fall, with a more specific date to be discussed at the TRS board’s next meeting in July.

Stay tuned to Teach the Vote for updates as this legislation is implemented, and don’t forget to check out ATPE’s full recap of all the education legislation that passed this session.


ATPE Executive Director Shannon Holmes discussed HB 3 with CBS Austin.

Speaking of HB 3, your ATPE lobbyists have been busy taking to the airwaves over the last two weeks to talk about the bill and its consequences for school finance and teacher pay.

ATPE Executive Director Shannon Holmes joined state Rep. James Talarico (D-Round Rock) and Austin education leaders on CBS Austin to take part in an hour-long panel on school finance last week. You can watch the entire panel’s discussion here on the CBS Austin website.

Also discussing HB 3 on TV and radio programs this week was ATPE Lobbyist Mark Wiggins. He joined the statewide politics program Capital Tonight on Spectrum News this week to discuss how teacher compensation is affected by the bill. You can watch the segment here on the Spectrum News website.


The State Board of Education (SBOE) met this week in Austin, where a handful of applications for new charter schools came under scrutiny. On Thursday, a board committee voted to exercise the board’s statutory authority to veto four of the five proposed new charters. Members expressed concerns over the fiscal impact, qualifications of the applicants, and accuracy of the applications. On Friday, the full board reversed course and voted to approve the new applications with one notable exception. Members voted 8-5 to reject the application for a new charter by the founder of Harmony Public Schools. Read ATPE Lobbyist Mark Wiggins’s recap of Friday’s SBOE meeting here.

Commissioner of Education Mike Morath also updated the board this week on legislation passed by the 86th Texas Legislature that will affect public education, including HB 3 and changes to the STAAR assessment. Several of the education bills that passed this session will also require rulemaking by the commissioner before they can be fully implemented. Read a recap of the commissioner’s comments here.



A group of ATPE state officers and lobbyists were in Washington, DC this week to discuss federal education issues with elected officials and their staffs. ATPE State President Byron Hildebrand and Vice President Tonja Gray were accompanied by ATPE Executive Director Shannon Holmes and Senior Lobbyist Monty Exter on the fly-in, which was organized by ATPE’s longtime Washington-based lobbyist David Pore.

Issues discussed included education funding and the repeal of Social Security offsets like the Windfall Elimination Provision (WEP) that negatively impact educators and other public servants throughout the country. Stay tuned to our Teach the Vote blog next week for a complete report on these ATPE meetings in the nation’s capital.

If you are an ATPE member who’ll be attending the ATPE Summit in July, make plans to attend our legislative update session where the lobby team will brief members on these federal issues and the results of the recent Texas legislative session.