With the start of a new school year here, it is easy to feel the excitement in the air. But this year IS different than any previous year in Texas. Many districts aren’t feeling the “cheer”. I have regularly documented the plight of large urban districts that have an excessive number of English-challenged students. That number has reached record levels this year.
The Texas Education Agency has identified over 40 school districts who under House Bill 1842’s district rating system MUST show improvement by 2018 or face possible forced change of their Boards by outside boards of managers. Unsurprisingly, the largest districts of Dallas, Austin, Fort Worth, and San Antonio are included. The largest district of them all is Houston, with its 200+K students and $2+Billion budget. 2017 test scores and ratings are due out later this month.
This is the consequence under AEIS, the Academic Excellence Indicator System adopted in 2003-04 districts which are rated as “Improvement Required” for 5 or more years. TEA clearly holds administrations responsible, in spite of their claims of their demographics being out of their control and therefore are unfairly held accountable for their continued decline, in spite of their promised improvements.
One amusing anecdote occurred during last week’s White House press conference. When press secretary aide Steven Miller announced the administration’s immigration reform proposal, it included a merit based immigration system identical to that utilized in countries like Australia and Canada. When CNN’s Jim Acosta made the laughable assertion that only citizens of Australia and England speak English, the accusation was made that this was a racist attempt to omit any immigrants of color.
An under-reported fact is that the number of foreign born residents in the US has quadrupled in the past 40 years. There is an obvious strain on the public education system to teach English skills to students who are English as a Second Language and have non English speaking parents. The strain is both emotional and financial and felt most in the largest districts.The agency’s prescribed “remedy” for these districts which have proven unable to cure their own maladies is to, “Throw the buns out”. “It changes our focus from the level of the campus to the absolute top — where I think needs to be — sort of school boards and superintendents,” said Texas Education Commissioner Mike Morath at a hearing last August. Morath an ex Dallas ISD school board member himself realizes that this is a drastic step. It is almost unfathomable to imagine the state finding literally hundreds of “managers” who are competent and able to make the necessary changes to fix these broken urban schools.
HISD Attorney David Thompson of the law firm Thompson and Horton described it as an “almost nuclear option of the governance of an entire community’s schools.” Bills have been submitted in either the Regular or current Special Session to increase funding and Teacher pay but NONE changing 1842’s requirements so it looks like these 40 districts are faced with Mission Impossible, should they choose to accept it. This message will self destruct in 10 months.