Tag Archives: low-performing schools

From The Texas Tribune: Analysis: School districts are getting report cards. They shouldn’t be the only ones.

Analysis: School districts are getting report cards. They shouldn’t be the only ones.” was first published by The Texas Tribune, a nonprofit, nonpartisan media organization that informs Texans — and engages with them — about public policy, politics, government and statewide issues.

A “Come and Take It” flag depicting an apple instead of the traditional cannon at the Save Our Schools rally at the Texas Capitol on March 12, 2011. Photo by Bob Daemmrich.

It’s time to start grading the papers of the people elected to run the state of Texas, to translate voters’ thoughts and feelings about the way things are going into the job reviews that will be delivered in this year’s general election.

It’s the seasonal cycle of this electoral democracy. We elect them. They do stuff. We decide whether to keep or replace them.

Elected officials adore this sort of judgement when it’s directed at others.

Later today, for instance, the state will issue its inaugural set of A-F grades for more than 1,000 public school districts. That has agitated a lot of Texas educators; when the grades are out, odds are good that it will agitate — in ways both negative and positive — parents, business people and taxpayers. If the politicos are lucky, it will divert angst over public education in Texas away from the folks who’ll be on the November ballot.

Accountability is an admirable thing in politics. It can show citizens where responsibility lies, the better to direct their blame and, more to the point, where to repair or replace policies that don’t work.

It can also diffuse responsibility. When today’s school grades come out, keep an eye on who’s taking the heat and who’s getting the credit. Ask yourself, as it unrolls, whether the right people are getting the right kind of attention.

This is supposed to be a way for the government ministers in Austin and the public across the state to see what results they’re getting for their money. It’s controversial, to say the least. Educators contend the grading system is both too general — not taking the complexity of any given school district into account — and too reliant on standardized tests and other inappropriate yardsticks that don’t give accurate readings of educational progress. Many are not crazy about grades of any kind, but they’re irked that these grades, in their view, will give voters and policymakers false readings about school districts’ performance.

But for a Legislature that can’t muster a consensus for what public schools should do and what they should cost, it’s a way to outsource the blame from the pink building to local “educrats.”

It’s a pre-election test of whether voters trust politicians more than teachers.

Education isn’t the only forum for this sort of deflection. The telling sign is when the people at the top try to separate themselves from the people who work for them, a strategy that allows them to make policy and take credit for passing laws while also blaming someone else when the execution of those instructions falls short.

Maybe the blame should crawl up the management ladder; they’d rather you didn’t make the connection.

Rats, mold and other filth in state buildings? The budgeteers at the Capitol have been skimping on building maintenance and upkeep for years. Multi-billion-dollar contracting troubles at the Health and Human Services Commission? That sort of thing happens if you put all those disparate agencies into one pot and then wander off, forgetting the second part of the business maxim: “Put all your eggs in one basket — and then watch that basket very carefully.”

A federal “zero tolerance” immigration policy that splits adults and children at the border and then cannot reconnect them — whether they’re staying here or being sent home? That is, in fact, a bureaucratic nightmare. But it’s a product of bad design, of putting a policy in place before figuring out how it’s going to work. The blame for that kind of empty-headed governance belongs at or near the top of the organization chart. Roughly 500 of those kids are still unattached to the adults with whom they entered the country. That terrible foul-up took place at the border, but the credit and blame really belong to the high officials who got things rolling.

This is going to be a hard day for some school superintendents and school boards and a great day for others. In both situations, some of them deserve it. Some of them don’t. Examine the results. Make your own judgements. And when you pass out cheers and jeers, think of the people who are responsible for education policy who aren’t on today’s report cards.

They’ll be on your election ballot a few weeks from now.

 

This article originally appeared in The Texas Tribune at https://www.texastribune.org/2018/08/15/analysis-texas-school-report-card-election-2018/.

 

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Updates from the Texas Education Agency

Several news reports and announcements came out this week from the Texas Education Agency (TEA). Here’s a rundown:

SPECIAL EDUCATION

The big news concerning TEA this week continues to be the agency’s arbitrary cap on students receiving special education services; a story first reported by the Houston Chronicle’s Brian Rosenthal. In response to attention from the U.S. Department of Education, TEA sent a letter to the department insisting the agency “has never set a cap, limit or policy on the number or percent of students that school districts can, or should, serve in special education.” The agency argued schools had simply misunderstood policy relating to the state’s reporting system for special education services.

“The allegation that the special education representation indicator is designed to reduce special education enrollment in order to reduce the amount of money the state has to spend on special education is clearly false,” an agency staffer wrote to federal regulators. “Allegations that TEA issued fines, conducted on-site monitoring visits, required the hiring of consultants, etc. when districts provided special education services to more than 8.5 percent of their students are entirely false.”

“The Education Department will carefully review the state’s response and, after the review is concluded, determine appropriate next steps,” a department spokesperson told the Texas Tribune Wednesday.

The agency has nonetheless vowed to stop enforcing the 8.5 percent “target.” The decision comes after Texas House Speaker Joe Straus (R-San Antonio) wrote TEA Commissioner Mike Morath, expressing the concerns of the Texas House of Representatives over school districts excluding eligible children from special education services in order to comply.

SUPERINTENDENTS ORDERED TO SCHOOL

Superintendents and school board members from eleven districts have been ordered to attend a class on how to fix their problematic schools. The districts include Houston, Dallas and Fort Worth, all of which contained several campuses designated as “improvement required” in the 2016 TEA accountability ratings.

Districts are required to submit turnaround plans for schools that fail to meet minimum standards for two consecutive years. It’s up to the education commissioner whether to approve those plans, and in the event they’re disapproved, the commissioner can replace the entire board or shut down the school.

According to the agency, the eleven districts in question submitted plans the commissioner deemed insufficient to fix their problems. The order for district officers to attend a two-day training session marks a clear crackdown, and appears in keeping with Commissioner Morath’s initial promise to get tough on failing schools.

Read more in this article from The Texas Tribune republished on our blog this week.

TITLE I REWARD SCHOOLS

Earlier this week, the agency identified 300 “Title I Reward Schools” as part of the conditions for the state’s waiver from the U.S. Department of Education for certain provisions under the Elementary and Secondary Education Act (ESEA), otherwise known as No Child Left Behind. Title I campuses are those which serve at least 40 percent low-income students, and the rewards are broken down by “High-Performing” and “High-Progress” schools.

The agency defines a high-performance reward school as “a Title I school with distinctions based on reading and math performance. In addition, at the high school level, a reward school is a Title I school with the highest graduation rates.” A high-progress school is defined as “a Title I school in the top 25 percent in annual improvement; and/or a school in the top 25 percent of those demonstrating ability to close performance gaps based on system safeguards.”

The distinction is given to both public schools and charter schools. The full 2015-16 list is available here.

ACADEMIC PERFORMANCE REPORTS

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The agency released preliminary 2015-16 Texas Academic Performance Reports (TAPR) on Thursday. Part of TEA’s statutory reporting responsibility, TAPR “combine academic performance, financial reports, and information about students, staff, and programs for each campus and district in Texas.”

The preliminary statewide numbers indicate 62 percent of STAAR takers in all grades “met or exceeded progress” in all subjects, while 17 percent “exceeded progress.” Students posted a 95.7 percent attendance rate and 2.1 percent high school dropout rate for the 2014-15 school year. The Class of 2015 graduated 89 percent of students, up from 88 percent graduated by the Class of 2014. Roughly 68 percent of 2015 graduates took the SAT or ACT, and scored an average of 1394 and 20.6, respectively. Of students who graduated with the Class of 2014, 57.5 percent enrolled in a Texas institutional of higher education.

Broken down by demographics, Texas’ 5.3 million students are 52.2 percent Hispanic, 28.5 percent White, 12.6 percent African American and 4 percent Asian. A total of 59 percent are economically disadvantaged, 18.5 percent are English language learners (ELL) and 50.1 percent are considered “at risk.”

Texas schools employ around 347,000 teachers, with an average of 10.9 years of experience. The average teacher’s salary is $51.891, with the average beginning teacher earning $45,507 and teachers with more than 20 years earning just over $60,000.

Statewide, regional, district and campus-level reports are available via the TEA website. Districts are allowed to appeal their preliminary ratings, and final ratings are scheduled to be released by December 2, 2016.

Legislative Update: A busy week of hearings, good and bad bills on the move

The House Public Education Committee is set to meet tomorrow afternoon, April 7, for a public hearing on a dozen bills. The agenda includes a controversial bill to do away with the minimum salary schedule for teachers, a bill that may eventually become an overhaul of the state’s school finance system, and a popular Senate bill that would give some high school students a chance to graduate despite failing a STAAR exam.

First, the committee is slated to hear House Bill (HB) 2543 by Rep. Marsha Farney (R) relating to public school teacher performance appraisals, continuing education, professional development, career advancement, and compensation. HB 2543 is identical to SB 893 as filed, a bill that ATPE similarly opposed on the Senate side. In lieu of compensation tied to the state’s minimum salary schedule, the bill calls for tying teacher compensation and appraisals to students’ performance on standardized tests. It places too much emphasis on student testing and not enough emphasis on observations and giving teachers meaningful feedback through the evaluation process. HB 2543 needlessly eliminates the minimum salary schedule in favor of performance-based strategic compensation systems, which districts can already implement on their own as a supplement to the salary schedule. Additionally, HB 2543 infringes on local control by requiring districts to adhere to a state-imposed framework for personnel actions.

ATPE is encouraging our members to contact their state representatives and ask them to oppose HB 2543 (along with its Senate companion bill, SB 893, which is expected to be debated soon on the floor of the Senate). Visit our Officeholders page to find contact information for your state representative.

Another bill on tomorrow’s agenda in the House Public Education Committee is Chairman Jimmie Don Aycock’s (R) HB 1759. The bill is merely a placeholder at this point for a future plan to try to fix the state’s broken school finance system. Read more about the bill here. Also on tomorrow’s agenda is SB 149 by Sen. Kel Seliger (R), the bill that allows individual graduation committees to recommend that an 11th or 12th grade student be permitted to graduate despite being unable to pass a STAAR exam that is required for graduation. ATPE supports the bill, which already passed the Senate by a vote of 28-2 last month.

These are the remaining bills scheduled to be heard by the committee tomorrow:

  • HB 744 by Rep. Dan Huberty (R) relating to the purchase of certain insurance by public school districts.
  • HB 1170 by Rep. Marsha Farney (R) relating to the applicability to open-enrollment charter schools of certain laws regarding local governments and political subdivisions.
  • HB 1171 also by Rep. Farney relating to the applicability of certain immunity and liability laws to open-enrollment charter schools.
  • HB 1706 by Rep. Gary VanDeaver (R) relating to reducing paperwork and duplicate reports required of a school district.
  • HB 1796 by Rep. Dwayne Bohac (R) relating to public school choice, including school campus information, student transfers, the public education grant program, and the transportation allotment.
  • HB 1798 by Rep. Joe Deshotel (D) relating to local control school districts.
  • HB 1804 by Rep. Elliott Naishtat (D) relating to notice by campuses and open-enrollment charter schools about events that may significantly impact the education of certain foster children.
  • HB 1993 by Rep. J.D. Sheffield (R) relating to the authorization of independent school districts to use electronic means to notify parents of a student.s academic performance.
  • HB 2545 also by Rep. Sheffield relating to the eligibility of certain students to participate in a school district’s special education program.

Earlier today, the House Public Education Committee held an impromptu meeting to vote out pending bills that had already been heard. All the bills except one were approved by the committee unanimously. The bills approved today included the following:

  • HB 506 by Rep. Eddie Rodriguez (D) relating to the issuance of tax-supported bonds by certain school districts and increasing the tax rate limitation on the issuance of those bonds. The committee’s substitute version of the bill was approved by a vote of eight to one, with Rep. Dan Huberty (R) voting against the measure.
  • HB 743 (committee substitute version) by Rep. Huberty relating to the essential knowledge and skills of the required public school curriculum and to certain state-adopted or state-developed assessment instruments for public school students. ATPE supported the bill at its prior hearing.
  • HB 771 by Rep. Joe Deshotel (D) relating to funding for the Texas Academy of Leadership in the Humanities.
  • HB 917 (committee substitute version) by Rep. Jason Villalba (R) relating to school marshals for private schools, notifying a parent or guardian whether an employee of a public or private school is appointed school marshal, and the confidentiality of information submitted to or collected by the Texas Commission on Law Enforcement in connection with a certification for appointment as school marshal.
  • HB 1305 (committee substitute version) by Rep. Greg Bonnen (R) relating to a program to provide a free or reduced-price breakfast to eligible students attending a public school and the method of determining the number of educationally disadvantaged students.
  • HB 1430 by Rep. Susan King (R) relating to the inclusion of mental health in the public services endorsement on a public school diploma and in information about health science career pathways. ATPE supported the bill at a prior hearing.
  • HB 1843 (committee substitute version) by Rep. Jimmie Don Aycock (R) relating to providing training academies for public school teachers who provide reading instruction to students in kindergarten through grade three. ATPE supported the bill at its prior hearing.

The Senate Education Committee is meeting tomorrow morning (April 7) to take up bills that would place certain low-performing schools into a special statewide school district. The idea was conceived in Louisiana around the time of Hurricane Katrina, when many struggling schools were placed into that state’s Recovery School District. The idea has been replicated in a few other states and has been fraught with controversy. In 2013, legislation was filed in Texas to create a similar program called an “Achievement School District.” ATPE opposed that legislation, which would have opened the door for private management of public schools by entities not accountable to local parents and taxpayers. Those bills died, but similar proposals have resurfaced this session and are now being called “Opportunity School Districts” or “Innovation Zones.” The bills on tap for tomorrow’s hearing include SB 669 by Sen. Royce West (D); SB 895 by Sen. Larry Taylor (R), who chairs the committee; and SB 1241 also by Sen. Larry Taylor.

It is also believed that the committee may vote out a series of private school voucher bills during tomorrow’s hearing. SB 4, SB 276, and SB 642 were all heard by the committee on March 26; ATPE testified against the bills and will continue to oppose any effort to funnel taxpayer dollars to unregulated private or home schools. Read more about the voucher bills and our position on privatization here.

Finally, the Senate Education Committee is also expected to hear SB 1483 by Sen. Sylvia Garcia (D) tomorrow. The bill, which ATPE supports, encourages the use of a community schools model for turning around struggling schools and as an alternative to reconstitution or privatization. The plans combine wraparound services and community partnerships to help a struggling school improve its academic performance and avoid closure.


Stay tuned to Teach the Vote for updates on tomorrow’s hearings, and don’t forget to follow us on Twitter for the latest developments.

Legislative Update: Education committees meet, Senate hears controversial bills, House focuses on pre-K

The Senate Education Committee met yesterday and heard several of the Senate leadership’s high-priority bills. One of the bills was Senate Bill (SB) 894 by Sen. Larry Taylor, who chairs the committee. SB 894 would vastly expand the virtual school network in Texas. Most of the Texas education community came out unified in strong opposition to the bill and expressed concerns that it would set up a system of virtual vouchers, expand access to a low-quality education that evidence indicates is less effective in most cases, and offer little to no accountability to taxpayers on the virtual providers.

ATPE Governmental Relations Director Brock Gregg testified against SB 894. Gregg noted that ATPE has long supported virtual and distance learning opportunities but has worked to ensure quality controls and stressed the importance of containing the cost to taxpayers. A good portion of the day’s testimony on SB 894 focused on its cost, with education advocates questioning the relatively small fiscal note on the bill considering the fact that SB 894 would allow home-schooled and other children free access to virtual courses on the state’s dime. Testimony ultimately revealed that the bill’s fiscal note was largely the product of guesswork, since it is impossible to predict how many existing private or home-school students might take advantage of the bill’s funding provision. ATPE and others believe that funding virtual courses for those students not currently enrolled in public schools would cause the cost of the program to balloon and would further burden the state’s already underfunded public school system. In his testimony, Gregg also cited research showing 42 percent of the state’s virtual schools as low-performing and noting that many of the largest virtual course vendors are companies operating in multiple states that use a national curriculum based on Common Core, which has been prohibited by Texas law.

Another major bill heard yesterday in committee was SB 6, also by Chairman Taylor, which calls for assigning “A through F” letter grades to school campuses in lieu of existing accountability ratings. ATPE’s Brock Gregg testified against the bill and explained that labeling schools as failures is equivalent to calling students who attend those schools failures. The committee heard several hours of testimony, including remarks by numerous members of the education community who oppose the legislation. “A through F” legislation has been proposed in several states and is being pushed vigorously by affiliates of former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush, who is widely viewed as a strong contender for the Republican nomination for President in 2016.

ATPE’s Gregg also testified in support of SB 13 by Sen. Charles Perry, a bill relating to measures to support public school student academic achievement and career preparation, including measures to improve and support dual-credit courses. The committee also heard a handful of bills relating to health and safety.


Interestingly, the Senate Education Committee’s hearing on SB 6 occurred on the same day that the fact-checking journalism group PolitiFact Texas rated as “false” a recent claim by Texas Land Commissioner George P. Bush that a majority of Texas students are “trapped in schools that are underperforming.” George P. Bush, the son of Jeb Bush, made the statement at a pro-private school voucher rally at the State Capitol in January. PolitiFact agreed to look into the claim upon the request of Rev. Charles Johnson, a member of the anti-voucher Coalition for Public Schools who was also a guest speaker at ATPE’s recent Political Involvement Training and Lobby Day. Looking at 2014 state accountability data, PolitiFact determined that more than 90 percent of districts and 80 percent of campuses were meeting state standards, making it impossible for the majority of Texas’s students to be “trapped” in low-performing schools.


Earlier this week, the House Public Education Committee devoted an entire hearing to bills relating to pre-kindergarten. Early childhood education is one of five priorities designated by Gov. Greg Abbott as emergency items for the 84th Legislature to tackle. ATPE Lobbyist Monty Exter testified or registered support for all of the following bills during Tuesday’s committee hearing:

  • House Bill (HB) 4 by Rep. Dan Huberty relating to a high quality prekindergarten program provided by public school districts. According to Exter, the bill provides school districts with additional formula funding in exchange for adding quality control measures into the districts’ pre-K programs.
  • HB 173 by Rep. Carol Alvarado relating to information reported by a public school district regarding prekindergarten classes.
  • HB 296 by Rep. Gene Wu relating to certain prekindergarten programs offered by a school district.
  • HB 424 by Rep. Harold Dutton relating to providing free full-day prekindergarten for certain children.
  • HB 1100 by Rep. Eric Johnson relating to a gold standard full-day prekindergarten program provided by public school districts. Similar to HB 4, this bill provides additional formula funding to schools districts that implement certain quality control measures in their pre-K programs. Exter notes that HB 1100 requires districts that opt into the bill’s provisions to provide a full day pre-K program but offers additional funding above the amounts contemplated by HB 4.
  • HB 1188 by Rep. Joe Deshotel relating to the creation of a joint interim committee to study and make recommendations regarding early childhood education.

Exter believes, based on testimony and remarks from committee members during Tuesday’s hearing, that “the question the committee has chosen to answer is not whether to expand Pre-K and pre-K funding but rather by how much.”


Today is the last day that legislators may file bills in the 84th session with the exception of certain local and emergency bills. More than 6,000 bills or resolutions have already been filed this session. It is estimated that at least one-quarter of those will relate to public education in some manner.

TEA announces 2013-14 school district and charter accreditation statuses

Today, the Texas Education Agency (TEA) released 2013-14 accreditation statuses for school districts and charters across the state. Accreditation statuses are based on state academic accountability ratings, the Financial Integrity Rating System of Texas (known commonly as School FIRST), data reporting, special program effectiveness, and compliance with statutory and regulatory requirements.

Under state law, the commissioner of education annually assigns one of four accreditation statuses to each school district or charter. Below is an explanation of each status along with a breakdown of the number of districts or charters assigned that particular status for 2013-14:

  • Accredited. Of Texas’ 1,222 school districts and charters, 96 percent are designated as Accredited for the 2013-14 school year, reflecting that they have met specific academic and financial standards. Accredited status applies to a total of 1,176 districts or charters.
  • Accredited-Warned. 13 districts and 17 charter schools have been assigned this designation. An Accredited-Warned status means a district or charter exhibits deficiencies in academic and/or financial performance that, if not addressed, could lead to probation or revocation of its accreditation status.
  • Accredited-Probation. Three school districts—Trinity, La Marque and Brooksmith ISDs—received an Accredited-Probation accreditation status this year. This means that a district or charter school has exhibited deficiencies in academic and/or financial performance over a three-year period that must be addressed to avoid revocation of its accreditation status.
  • Not Accredited-Revoked. Jonesboro ISD, Rio Vista ISD and the Varnett Public School (a charter school) have received Not Accredited-Revoked status for the 2013-14 school year. This means that TEA does not recognize the district or charter as a Texas public school following multiple years of deficiencies in academic and/or financial performance. Those assigned an initial Not Accredited-Revoked status will have the opportunity for further review by TEA and the State Office of Administrative Hearings.
  • PendingThe accreditation statuses of Beaumont ISD and nine charter schools have been left pending due to revocation hearings currently under way, ongoing TEA investigations and/or pending litigation.

A full list showing the 2013-14 accreditation status for every school district and charter school in the state can be viewed on the TEA website.

Interim charges for House committees released

Earlier today, Texas Speaker of the House Joe Straus (R–San Antonio) issued interim charges—topics legislative committees are asked to study and report on before the next legislative session begins in January 2015—to the 83rd Legislature.

The charges to the House Public Education Committee are as follows:

1. Monitor the implementation of House Bill 5 (83R) and report on recommendations for improvement. Work with the Texas Education Agency (TEA), the State Board of Education (SBOE), and public and higher education stakeholders to ensure the creation of additional rigorous mathematics and science courses needed to address the current and projected needs of the state’s workforce.

2. Explore innovative, research-based options for improving student achievement beyond standardized test scores. Evaluate standards for effective campus management as well as teacher preparation, certification and training. Review current teacher evaluation tools and instructional methods, such as project-based learning, and recommend any improvements that would promote improved student achievement. Engage stakeholders on how to recruit and retain more of our “best and brightest” into the teaching profession.

3. Solicit input from leading authorities on the traits and characteristics of good governance, effective checks and balances between the board and administration and the effective relationship between a board and the superintendent. Review current oversight authority by TEA over school board policies on governance. Make recommendations on trustee training, potential sanctions and means of grievances, as well as recommendations on whether the role of trustee or superintendent needs to be more clearly defined.

4. Review successful strategies and methods that have improved student achievement at chronically underperforming schools. Identify alternatives that could be offered to current students who are attending these schools and determine how to turn these schools around. Identify the benefits and concerns with alternative governance of underperforming schools.

5. Review the broad scope and breadth of the current Texas Essential Knowledge and Skills (TEKS) in the tested grades, including the format, testing calendar and the limitation on instructional days available. Recommend options to streamline the assessment of TEKS and focus on core concepts. Review current federal testing requirements in grades 3–8 to determine if testing relief is possible.

6. Examine the role of the Harris County Department of Education (HCDE) in serving school districts. Review the programs and services of HCDE, specifically the department’s ability to assist school districts to operate more efficiently. Report any costs or savings the HCDE provides districts and taxpayers. Make recommendations to improve the operation of the HCDE.

7. Review the state regulatory and administrative systems related to public school bond issuances. (Joint charge with the House Committee on Investments and Financial Services.)

8. Study the impact of Senate Bill (SB) 393 (83R) and SB 1114 (83R). Assess the impact of school discipline and school-based policing on referrals to the municipal, justice and juvenile courts, and identify judicial policies or initiatives designed to reduce referrals without having a negative impact on school safety. (Joint charge with the House Committee on Corrections.)

9. Conduct legislative oversight and monitoring of the agencies and programs under the committee’s jurisdiction and the implementation of relevant legislation passed by the 83rd Legislature. In conducting this oversight, the committee should:

a. consider any reforms to state agencies to make them more responsive to Texas taxpayers and citizens;

b. identify issues regarding the agency or its governance that may be appropriate to investigate, improve, remedy or eliminate;

c. determine whether an agency is operating in a transparent and efficient manner; and

d. identify opportunities to streamline programs and services while maintaining the mission of the agency and its programs.

The charges for the House Appropriations Committee include reviewing public education funding formulas. The Appropriations and Pensions Committees will jointly study the fiscal impact of TRS-Care and health care affordability for public school employees.

View the entire packet of House interim charges.