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.





The “best” school district in Texas doesn’t represent Texas


When it comes to educational quality and student success, money does more than just talk. It screams. And I don’t mean just the money spent on education, although that is critical. I also mean the family financial resources available to students.

These facts were emphasized –once again – in an article published this week on 24/7 Wall St., an online site that publishes financial news and opinions on a number of issues, including education. This particular article rated what the author, Mike Sauter, considered the best school district in each of the 50 states, based on school funding, graduation rates, students enrolled in AP classes, student-teacher ratios and various socioeconomic factors, such as student poverty and the education levels of adults living in the district.

The article concluded that the best school district in Texas was Eanes ISD in Austin. With about 8,000 students, Eanes is one of the smaller urban school districts in Texas. It also is one of the wealthiest and whitest.

Some 56 percent of Eanes households make more than $100,000 a year. One-third make more than $200,000. An estimated 86 percent of its students are white. Eanes also has one of the highest graduation rates in the state and one of the highest levels of adult residents with college degrees. That means most Eanes students are from families with comfortable (or better) financial resources and an environment that nurtures educational attainment.

But Eanes ISD doesn’t represent the future of Texas. It doesn’t even represent the present.

Most students in Texas public schools (about 60 percent overall) come from poor families, and most (52 percent) are Hispanic. White, non-Hispanic students accounted for only 28 percent of Texas’ public school enrollment in 2016-17, the most recent data available. Almost 13 percent were African American. The percentage of Hispanic students, in particular, will continue to increase in Texas, as the percentage of Anglo students declines.

Hispanic and African American families have a higher poverty rate than Anglo families, and that poverty makes a significant difference in educational success. Most Eanes families have a legacy of educational attainment, and most Eanes parents can afford the luxury of tutors or whatever it takes to improve the educational outcomes for their children.

Meanwhile, many poverty stricken Hispanic and African American parents in Houston ISD, Dallas ISD, Austin ISD and hundreds of other Texas school districts are too busy holding down two or three jobs to pay the rent and put food on the table and don’t have the money for tutors or the time or educational background for something as simple as helping their children with homework. Many of their children also are having to take jobs that interfere with their school work and put them at risk of dropping out. Inadequate health care also is an issue that affects their educational progress.

Almost one-fifth (19 percent) of Texas students are English language learners, immigrants or the offspring of immigrants, who are going to continue to come to Texas in search of economic opportunity despite all the presidential blathering about a border wall. And how well they are educated will be essential to Texas’ future.

Low-income students and English language learners generally cost more to educate than affluent students, and many of them are in districts that are much poorer than Eanes, districts that don’t have Eanes’ property tax base to help compensate for the inadequate funding they receive from state government.

Gov. Greg Abbott, Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick and their legislative allies, who persist in short-changing Texas’ school children, love Eanes and other property wealthy districts that continue to take up part of the slack for their own neglect. And then they pretend to cry over high property taxes.

I suspect that even the well-heeled taxpayers in Eanes are getting tired of that charade.





A lot of votes, including educators’, are being taken for granted


If you are an educator or just about any other middle-class, working Texan, you can find a lot about government to complain about. Your local property taxes continue to soar. You may be discovering the added irritation and growing expense of toll road bills, even as you continue to spend hours every week trying to crawl through clogged traffic.

You may have lost count of the officeholders, including the Tweeter-in-Chief, who deny proven facts, including the science behind global warming, in favor of embracing political fantasy. And if you are a teacher, the U.S. House of Representatives just gave you a big slap in the face by voting to kill that very modest $250 tax deduction you have been getting for buying school supplies for your under-funded classes.

I could go on, but you probably get the idea.

All problems that negatively affect our daily lives and our children’s futures are the consequences of elections, the consequences of electing officeholders who would rather preach ideology or pander to fear and ignorance than actually try to govern. They also are the consequences of not voting, which thousands of Texans fail to do, because of indifference, frustration or intimidation.

Property taxes are sky high because officials like the governor and the lieutenant governor would rather waste political energy trying to tell a handful of transgender school kids where they can’t use the bathroom than adequately pay for classrooms for everybody’s children. They want to preach their own perverted brand of “morality” and pass the buck on what really counts.

Texas roads and highways are overloaded partly because of our growing population but also because of the refusal for years of most elected officials to raise the taxes necessary to address the problem. Instead, they stole some tax revenue from education and health care, transferred it to highways and suckered the public into thinking that would help speed up your drive home. It hasn’t.

They also embraced tolls and now are wailing crocodile tears because tolls have soared and become so unpopular with toll-payers still stuck in traffic.

These inane government “leaders” who neglect our schools, highways, health care and basic childhood safety – Child Protective Services also is under-funded and many kids still are vulnerable – nevertheless are shameless. To distract from their own deficiencies, they may quote the Bible. Then they bully and spread hate against law-abiding, hard-working immigrants, transgender citizens and low-income women in need of health care. I am not talking about abortion rights. I am talking about basic, life-saving health care that no longer is available to many women because clinics were shut down under the guise of fighting abortion.

Who elected these officials? Lots of people did. Look in the mirror. You may have been one of them.

If so, they have been taking your votes – or your indifference about voting — for granted. They have been doing it for a long time. And if you are a teacher, the U.S. House majority just did it again by taking away your $250 tax deduction.

If you are tired of all this, there is something you can do about it. There are elected officials and candidates out there who really do want to meet our education, transportation, health care and other important public needs, but they have been out-numbered by those who take your votes or indifference for granted. Another election is around the corner, beginning with the March party primaries, and it is time for more educators and middle-class Texans to start voting in their own best interests for a change.



A-F grading system is shameful


The editorial board of The Dallas Morning News was wondering the other day: “Why does the A-F campus report card have superintendents in such a tizzy?”

“Tizzy” may not be a strong enough word to express the outrage that many superintendents feel – or should feel — over this latest effort by the legislative majority to transfer the blame for their own failures and neglect of public schools to educators who actually are helping many school children improve their lives.

The scheme to label individual schools with an A through F grade, beginning with the 2017-18 school year, will do absolutely nothing to improve educational quality in Texas. But it will unfairly place a stigma of failure on low-income children in property poor school districts, where most of the Ds and Fs will be posted. Here’s why:

# Some 55 percent of the grading model for a school’s letter grade will be based on STAAR test scores, which persistently have been lower among low-income, minority children.

# Another 35 percent of a school’s grade will be determined by such factors as attendance and graduation and dropout rates, which also are heavily affected by poverty. That’s 90 percent, and it’s loaded against disadvantaged kids.

The legislative majority adopted this scheme to help provide cover for its own policy failures, beginning with a refusal to adequately and fairly fund public education, and to make it easier to declare neighborhood schools “failures,” clearing the way to have them taken over by corporate, for-profit charter companies.


# Some 38 percent of Texas school districts received less state and local funding per student in 2015 than they did in 2011, when the legislative majority slashed $5.4 billion from public school budgets. Texas now pays about $2,700 less per child than the national average.

# The Legislature pays for only about 43 percent of school operating expenses, with local property taxpayers kicking in the rest, including Robin Hood transfers from districts that aren’t really wealthy to districts that are even poorer. The state even uses some of these local Robin Hood tax dollars to pay for other programs.

# The same legislators who persist in shortchanging education also insist on under-funding health care and other programs that are crucial to ensuring that a low-income child is able to attend school and function effectively in the classroom. Everyday, educators work tirelessly to help kids like these who have been neglected by policymakers who now want to slap an “F” on their neighborhood school doors.

That’s a shameful act of cowardice, and educators – superintendents, principals and teachers – have every right to be in a “tizzy.” So do parents.