Thursday, April 14, 2016

What Grade Do We Give Lawmakers?

Much has been written lately about the proposed A-F grading system for districts and campuses across the State of Texas.  I’ve referenced this in prior blogs and expressed my concerns about the fairness of this approach as well as the stigmatization of campuses and, more importantly, students on those campuses.  Perhaps my greatest concern is that we are potentially using a grading system as a punitive measure, not as a resource or tool to assist campuses in better meeting the needs of students.

I recently read a report published in March, 2016 by Rutgers University and the Education Law Center that evaluated states on four different attributes relative to their support and commitment to public education.  Sadly, this continues to be a story of shortcomings relative to funding and the state’s commitment to meeting the education needs of all students.  The report, Is School Funding Fair? A National Report Card, can be found here.

Quoting the opening of the report, the report “evaluates and compares the extent to which state finance systems ensure equality of educational opportunity for all children, regardless of background, family income, place of residence, or school location.”  In their effort to address this, the authors provide an assessment of Funding Levels, Funding Distribution, Effort, and Coverage.  The report’s evaluation of each is as follows (see the report for details on each element) 


Not a good story!  So now where should we apply a grading system?  This falls squarely on the shoulders of our decision makers in Austin.  As Dr. Brian T. Woods, Superintendent of Northside ISD, so aptly put it in his blog Straight Talk, “STATE LAWMAKERS FAIL MISERABLY; CONTINUE TO IGNORE INVESTING IN PUBLIC EDUCATION”.  At the very time that lawmakers have pushed through legislation that mandates implementation of an A-F rating system for the 2017-2018 school year, we should continue to evaluate them and how well they are meeting the needs of their constituents; more specifically, how well are they meeting the needs of the nearly 5.3 million public education students in Texas?

In a sidebar on page 1 of the report, the authors note that, “Many of the lowest funded states, such as Arizona, California, Idaho, Nevada, North Carolina and Texas, allocate a very low percentage of their states’ economic capacity to fund public education”.  Texas currently ranks 40th in per student funding at $7404 per student.  But how can this be in a state that, despite the challenges presented by depressed oil and gas prices, continues to have a vibrant and growing economy?

In the end, this discussion should not be about grades.  The discussion should center on what is best for our students and what is best for the longer term viability of the Texas economy.  Clearly, what is best for students is a commitment on the part of all stakeholders, including legislators, to Make Education a Priority.

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