Day: <span>November 15, 2018</span>

A-F school blame game tracks student poverty, not school accountability

It is bad enough that state officials refuse to give low-income children enough support to succeed, but it is worse when they insist on blaming the kids when the kids fall short of the politicians’ expectations. That is essentially what the new A-F grading system for Texas schools is all about, and the practice is contagious.

You may recall that school districts with the largest concentrations of low-income children got a large number of the Ds and Fs when the Texas Education Agency released the first A-F grades last summer. Individual campuses won’t be slapped with letter grades until next summer, unless the Texas law is changed. But based on the numerical grades posted for individual campuses, the same pattern will hold true.

Similar results, to no one’s surprise, where found in Louisiana when that state recently released its A-F grades for the 2017-18 school year. As one commenter pointed out on the deutsch29 blog, “The scores track poverty very well.”

The blog also cites similar, historic results from Florida and North Carolina and credits former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush (brother of the former No Child Left Behind president) with coming up with the A-F idea. It then was spread by the American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC), as so many bad ideas are, to legislators and governors throughout the country.

Texas, Louisiana and Florida have a couple of other things in common, besides the A-F school grading system. All three under-fund public education, and all three have poverty rates that are higher than the nation as a whole.

Texas spends $10,456 a year per student in average daily attendance, Louisiana spends $12,030 and Florida spends $9,897, all below the national average of $12,756. These figures are based on the National Education Association’s estimates for the 2017-18 school year.

Some 20.7 percent of Texas children (one in five) lived in poverty in 2017. The percentage was similar in Florida, 20 percent, and Louisiana’s was even higher, 27.8 percent (more than one in four). Texas and Florida also have refused to expand the Medicaid program for low-income residents under the Affordable Care Act, even though the federal government would pay most of the cost.

Poverty impacts a child’s ability to learn in many ways, including through poor nutrition, inadequate health care, and in some cases homelessness. Poverty also impacts a child’s ability to pass the standardized tests on which the A-F grades for their schools are largely based.

Low-income parents can’t afford the tutoring and the special STAAR-prep classes that many children of middle- and upper-income families receive. Many low-income parents also are busying working second and third jobs to support their families and don’t have time to help their children with homework. Many don’t have the educational backgrounds to help their children with school assignments or prepare for STAAR exams. And many don’t speak English well.

I am encouraged that Dennis Bonnen, the new House speaker-apparent, has said fixing the school finance system will be his top priority. While he is at it, he also should get the A-F blame-the-kids law repealed.

“The truth of the matter is that A-F shames and blames poor children, it shames and blames the professionals that love those children and it needs to be repealed,” the Rev. Charles F. Johnson, executive director of Pastors for Texas Children, told the Austin American-Statesman.

The children whose schools stand to get the most Ds and Fs don’t deserve a stigma from state officials. They need more resources from state officials.