Reaction to the preliminary results of an A-F accountability system claiming to assess school performance across the state has been uniform, consistent and convincing.
No one disagrees with the requisite mission of reporting to educators, parents and the general public the results of how well we are doing with preparing the next generation to succeed with their lives.
But that same majority is saying the new system designed to produce that result is a bigger failure than any of the schools scheduled to receive F’s for their performance in any category.
So, the compelling question is, why are we doing this?
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I’ll suggest an answer, but first let’s look at some crucial realities that the A-F system doesn’t seem to even attempt to consider.
I’ll use the Arlington ISD as a good example because it is recognized across the state as outstanding, and its superintendent, Marcelo Cavazos, currently holds the high distinction of being Superintendent of the Year as determined by the Texas Association of School Boards.
Cavazos was called on by the Texas House Public Education Committee to inform lawmakers in the last session of the Texas Legislature, where the letter grades law, House Bill 2804, was being crafted.
He was clear, convincing and compelling in explaining why his district and the Texas School Alliance, where he currently serves as its president, were opposed to the letter grade approach.
He emphasized that, above all other reasons, letter grades oversimplify information about school quality and they would actually miscommunicate about school performance.
“The premise that letter grades will exert pressure on schools to improve performance is flawed,” he declared, and he backed up his assertion with evidence including that such systems had failed in eight other states across the country.
In their apparent superior wisdom, legislators proceeded to pass the new law anyway. Now, with the predictable result having become reality, there are calls across the state to repeal it.
“This demoralization of public education is based at least in part on test questions that even the author of the literature can’t answer,” declares AISD President Jamie Sullins.
“To be fair, this is a work-in-progress policy and our legislators can put an end to this. Telling hard working students and educators that ‘it looks like you are going to be ranked as a failure’ is unfair, inaccurate and demeaning.”
Getting back to the question of why this is happening, there are those who aren’t afraid to lift the curtain and offer answers.
Former school board member Tony Pompa: “I actually think that this system brilliantly accomplishes the objective that those who designed it wanted it to. It compellingly tells the story that they have been trying to sell to Texans that public schools don’t work and that we should scrap it entirely in favor of a privatized system.
“Yes, let’s subsidize parents who want to send their children to private school and not worry about the millions that depend on public schools to give them a chance at success.”
Accomplished attorney Justin Chapa, a graduate of Sam Houston High School, which is getting F’s pretty much across the board in the new ratings: “If the Texas Legislature wanted to grade schools based on socioeconomics and penalize students and educators in less affluent campuses and districts, they picked a pretty good way to do it.”
Hopefully, the Legislature is getting the message: Do the right thing and forget this terribly flawed letter grade approach.
Maintain and improve the current methods of rating schools’ performance and quit handicapping the vital work of the state’s educators.
Richard Greene is a former Arlington mayor and served as an appointee of President George W. Bush as regional administrator for the Environmental Protection Agency.