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For Which School District the Bell Tolls

The views expressed are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of ASPA as an organization.

By Horace Blake
August 28,2015

The notion of education conjures up thoughts of well-groomed students or proud parents dropping of students to attend classes. However, time and technology has altered how education is delivered to the student population. The growth of technology, for example, has created a distinct gap between urban and small town school districts in the delivery and quality of education as well as available educational amenities.

In Texas, there are several very large urban school districts in Houston, Fort Bend, Fort Worth, Dallas, North East, Cypress-Fairbanks, Austin and Northside. By sheer numbers, these school districts dwarf small, rural school districts and cost more money to operate. The demands placed on offering suitable programs for immigrants and culturally diverse student populations become an ongoing challenge for large urban districts.

Calls for change

During the past few decades, ethical scandals, political infighting, growing numbers of economically poor students, constant competition of charter schools and private school entities have rocked many school districts. For example, a superintendent was ushered off to federal prison for decorating her condominium with $11,000 of the district’s funds. Another school district had to grapple with a high-level executive being charged for mail fraud and money laundering associated with the district’s technology contracts. Parents were outraged; it became difficult for the trustees to conduct public meetings without endless banter and demonstrations.

The rampant abuses of public administrator’s office had caused the state and legislators to step in. This ultimately placed many districts at loggerhead with the state education agency and legislators, who were determined to produce results for their constituents.

Texas to Lead Nation in Educational Reforms

Texas has very grandiose plans to lead the nation in the reform of its school system. The state’s mantra is based on accountability for not only teachers but students as well. The cornerstone of this change is House Bill 5: Foundation High School Program (FHSP). This began in 2013 where the 83rd Texas legislature embarked on a new program for all students entering high school beginning with the school year of 2014-2015.

The state board of education adopted rules related to FHSP in January 2014. This program would allow students who entered high school before 2014-2015 school the option to graduate under the new FHSP initiative. The Texas Education Agency working in collaborative action with The Texas Workforce Commission and The Texas Higher Education Coordinating Board became the lead agencies who developed a graduation toolkit to be utilized by parents, teachers, administrators and school counselors.

Assessment of FHSP

According to The Texas Education Agency (TEA) 2015 state accountability ratings, 1200 school districts and charter schools have met with many successes. Districts, campuses and charters receive one of three ratings under the accountability system: Met Standard, Met Alternative Standard or Improvement Required. The ratings have revealed 94 percent of the state’s school districts and charters have achieved the rating of Met Standard.

School district ratings (including charter operators) by category in 2015 are as follows:

2015 RATING

DISTRICT

CHARTER

TOTAL

PERCENT

Met Standard/Alternative

983

168

1,151

94.4

Met Standard

983

136

1,119

91.8

Met Alternative Standard

N/A

32

32

2.6

Improvement Required

40

17

57

4.7

Not Rated

1

10

11

0.9

TOTAL

1,024

195

1,219

100.0

Under the 2015 state accountability system, campus ratings (including charter campuses) by category and school type are as follows:

2015 RATING

ELEM

MIDDLE

HS

K-12

TOTAL

PERCENT

Met Standard/Alternative

4,166

1,555

1,453

298

7,472

86.4

Met Standard

4,166

1,544

1,221

272

7,203

83.3

Met Alternative Standard

0

11

232

26

269

Improvement Required

426

102

43

39

610

7.1

Not Rated

62

56

285

161

564

6.5

TOTAL

4,654

1,713

1,781

498

8,646

100.0

Source TEA 2015

Summary

The subject of education having a productive outcome is never easy. There are many different stakeholders involved. Government and public administrators have to perform a balancing act, adhering to the law while making sure all valid concerns are addressed amicably. Recently, the newly sworn in state agriculture secretary became adamant about returning fryers and soda machines in the schools. While many of the large school districts are not budging such frivolous ideas takes away the focus from getting the best educational options delivered to our youth.


Author: Horace A. Blake has been involved in public service for more than 25 years. He currently serves on the city’s storm water management committee and previously served on the City Charter Committee. Horace also served in a volunteer capacity for the State of Texas and Dallas County for a total of eight years. He is a county volunteer to register and educate voters and work with candidates seeking offices in the region.

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The American Society for Public Administration is the largest and most prominent professional association for public administration. It is dedicated to advancing the art, science, teaching and practice of public and non-profit administration.

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