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Where does your school rank?

How good is your neighborhood school? Not just in terms of its Texas Education Agency’s rating, but in comparison to other schools? Here’s a way to find out.

The greater Houston area is home to some of the best — and worst — public schools in Texas, according to the 2010 Children at Risk/ Houston Chronicle rankings.

The Houston Independent School District boasts seven campuses among the state’s top elementary, middle and high schools, but it also has four that placed at the bottom. The Fort Bend and Alief districts each had one school among the state’s best, while five charter schools in Harris County landed at the bottom.

Children at Risk has ranked area high schools, primarily based on student achievement data, since 2006, but this is the first time the nonprofit advocacy group has rated local elementary and middle schools. The rankings use a formula created in consultation with the Chronicle’s education reporting staff.

The full list was in yesterday’s print edition. A searchable database is available at the Chron and also at the Texas Trib, which adds a few items as well. The Trib delves more into how these rankings came about.

When Children At Risk first started ranking Texas public schools five years ago, it only named the top performers, wary of embarrassing educators and students at campuses that didn’t measure up.

The hesitance emerged even though widespread educational failure had prompted the project in the first place, says Robert Sanborn, the president and CEO of the Houston-based nonprofit advocacy and research organization. The rankings grew out of a conference at Rice University that focused on high school graduation and featured John Hopkins Researcher Robert Balfouz, who talked about “drop-out factories.”

“At first, we didn’t want to make any high schools look bad,” Sanborn says. “But we’ve changed that over the years. What we’ve found is that [spotlighting low-performing schools] proved to be a tremendous advocacy tool for parents — they can ask, ‘Why isn’t my school better?’”

So now, the group’s rankings — including the ones we’re publishing today, for most public schools in Texas — lay out the worst schools along with the best and every gradation in between. That’s a stark contrast from the state’s accountability system, which simply groups schools in one of four broad performance categories: Exemplary, Recognized, Acceptable, and Unacceptable. Though Children at Risk uses some of the same data that are the basis for the Texas Education Agency’s “ratings,” it does something that TEA doesn’t: It gives every school a hard number that compares its performance with that of every other school.

“You see the best in the state and the worst in the state,” Sanborn says. “This isn’t a PR campaign — they are straight-up rankings. … We used to have [district] superintendents angry with us, arguing this isn’t the right way to measure, but they’ve gotten away from that.”

Sanborn was in the studio for Houston Have Your Say: Education Crisis last week. He had an interesting idea about Houston’s high schools in the Chron story:

While HISD had eight high schools ranked in the top tier in the state, the district had double that in the bottom quarter. Jones was listed as the worst high school in the Houston area and the sixth-worst in Texas.

HISD is planning to turn Jones into a magnet school for science, technology, engineering and mathematics that would be open to students across the city.

To Sanborn’s way of thinking, “Big, comprehensive urban high schools do not work. That’s something we see across the whole state.” He suggests smaller, specialized schools would help engage students.

Hair Balls wrote about the Jones proposal last month. Large suburban high schools still do pretty well, though I suspect they will come to have similar issues as their urban counterparts over time.

Anyway. I’m glad and not surprised to see our neighborhood elementary school ranked highly, not glad and not surprised to see our neighborhood middle school ranked poorly, and not prepared to start thinking about our neighborhood high school just yet. How did your schools do?

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2 Comments

  1. br allen says:

    Interesting, thanks again for a great piece Kuff! This is the kind of stuff we need to know.

  2. […] it comes down to is this: The stakes are way too high to screw this up. Houston has a number of very good schools in it, and an unacceptable number of students who don’t make it all the way through them. Our […]