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Robert Sanborn

HISD and the TEA

Still catching up on things.

Texas education officials are warning that Houston ISD could be placed under the jurisdiction of state-appointed managers as early as next year if 13 district schools don’t show improvement.

The warning was issued during a meeting [last] Monday between Texas Education Agency officials and Houston’s legislative delegation.

TEA officials told lawmakers that if even one of the district’s 13 schools that has struggled for at least the past three years receives failing accountability marks in 2017 and again in 2018, it could trigger state oversight of the entire district. Alternatively, the state agency could take over individual, chronically failing campuses.

Houston ISD is among 46 independent school districts that could face such sweeping changes thanks to a law passed by the Republican-controlled legislature in 2015 that targets schools that have been in “improvement required” status for five or more years, as of the 2018-2019 school year.

[…]

“Houston ISD is aware of major concerns the Texas Education Agency has expressed regarding several of our schools considered ‘chronically underperforming,'” the district said in a written statement Tuesday. “HISD shares the agency’s concerns and is working closely with TEA on the transformative work we must do at the local level to ensure every HISD student receives an excellent education.”

District officials said Wednesday that state officials told them only eight of their campuses, along with two charter schools it took over in 2016-17, must improve to avoid triggering the new law.

The discrepancy is due to conflicting interpretations of the law. Houston ISD believes its only at-risk campuses are those with six straight “improvement required” ratings as of 2018. The Texas Education Agency confirmed Wednesday that schools with five straight “improvement required” ratings as of 2018 put the district at risk.

Houston ISD officials also said Wednesday that they expect some schools to break their “improvement required” streak in 2017. They declined to specify how many. School districts have received preliminary school ratings for 2017, but they will not be publicly released until next week.

Several other large school districts — including the Dallas, Fort Worth, San Antonio, Corpus Christi and Waco ISDs — also have multiple struggling campuses that could fall into “improvement required” status again this year and in 2018, potentially prompting a state takeover.

Locally, the Aldine, Alief, Brazosport, Galveston, Spring Branch and Victoria ISDs all have at least one campus that could potentially trigger such major changes by 2018.

Bob Sanborn, president and CEO of the advocacy group Children at Risk, said Houston ISD and other districts facing potential state takeover are not in nearly as dire straits academically or financially as other districts that the TEA has taken control of or forced to close. He said data supported the TEA’s closing of North Forest ISD in 2013 and of La Marque ISD in 2016.

“HISD on the other hand, and Dallas ISD — they clearly have many success stories, many good schools,” Sanborn said. “Dallas and Houston ISDs have a lot of high-performing, high-poverty schools, and if you look at Houston ISD’s record in the last five years they have seen a turnaround.

It’s hard to believe the state could do more to enhance that turnaround than what’s already being completed.”

For sure it’s hard to imagine the TEA being better equipped to handle a challenge like that. HISD was good enough to be the landing place for North Forest ISD students – by the way, have we ever seen any data about how those students have fared since the NFISD shutdown? – and I doubt anyone would argue that it’s substantially worse since 2013. I imagine there will be a lot of discussion about this, so I have hope that a sensible solution will be found. The Chron wants Mayor Turner to be involved, and while I think he should have a role as advocate, I’m not sure what more he can or should do, given that HISD is a completely separate governing body. But yes, he should speak out and forcefully advocate for not screwing around with what is overall a pretty successful school district, as should all invested stakeholders. And if we’re honest with ourselves, we should remember that poverty is the common factor among these schools, and while some schools and some students can overcome that, there is a lot more that the state and the federal government could do to help more schools and students overcome it as well. There’s blame that goes beyond HISD, is what I’m saying. Campos has more.

More reactions to the city’s settlement with the strip clubs

Not everyone likes it.

Bob Sanborn, CEO of the nonprofit organization Children at Risk, and other advocates against human trafficking said on Wednesday that they should have been consulted before a deal was struck.

Mayor Annise Parker, who brokered the agreement, said it ended a lengthy lawsuit and gives the city more funds to fight trafficking.

“We settled a 16-year-old lawsuit and it’s unfortunate that they don’t agree with my decision,” Parker said. “I don’t think we should get sidetracked by those folks who simply don’t like the adult entertainment industry.”

Sanborn said his group wants to make sure the city is committed to going after traffickers, even if they are connected to those topless clubs making yearly payments to the city. Children at Risk also wants the city to license or close almost 300 other unlicensed sexually oriented businesses, like some massage parlors and cantinas.

“Houston is a hub for human trafficking; some would say we are ‘the hub’ for trafficking,” Sanborn said during a news conference. “This is the wrong deal and it’s certainly the wrong city.”

See here and here for the background. I don’t think the city was required to consult with anyone on the settlement terms of this 16-years-long litigation, and if their goal was to bring that case to a reasonably satisfactory close then the last thing they would want to do is involve more parties in the negotiations. That said, the city clearly did at least run the terms of the deal past the other groups that were present at their own press conference. I don’t know if the city included Children at Risk on the list of those it notified about the settlement or not – perhaps they did and [email protected] chose not to attend that press conference, and perhaps they had a smaller list of invitees in mind. I think the terms are acceptable, and I think it makes sense for the city to try to get the bigger clubs to voluntarily cooperate so they can concentrate on the more marginal players. Licensing and enforcement is a matter of resources, and the city hopes that this settlement will allow it to deploy its resources more efficiently. Check back in a year or two and we’ll see how that’s going. As for the complaints raised by some Council members about the settlement, well, that’s just how it is. As there was no payout to be made by the city in the deal, there was nothing for Council to approve, so there was no role for them to play. There’s not much more to it than that.

One more thing:

Sanborn noted that Harris County Sheriff Adrian Garcia and District Attorney Devon Anderson support Children at Risk’s anti-trafficking efforts and read statements from each.

“Prostitution is not a victimless crime,” according to Garcia’s statement. “It’s a greedy industry that thrives on forced labor, drug addiction and sometimes even illegal imprisonment.”

The story, especially the headlines, gives the impression that Sheriff Garcia and DA Anderson were standing with Sanborn, [email protected], and the other groups in criticizing the settlement. We don’t know what Anderson said, but that clip from Garcia’s statement isn’t specific to the deal. Out of curiosity, I contacted the Sheriff’s office to ask about this, and was informed that Sheriff Garcia was not making a comment on the city’s deal with the strip clubs, and has not made any comment on that deal. Like I said, that wasn’t clear – to me, at least – from the story, so now you know.

More cuts, fewer teachers

We knew this was what had happened, and now we have the numbers.

New data from the Texas Education Agency illustrate what school officials have decried for months: Their staffs are stretched thin following the unprecedented state budget cuts that took effect this school year.

Statewide, districts eliminated roughly 25,000 positions, including more than 10,700 teaching jobs. Overall, districts cut their workforce by 4 percent – through attrition and, in some cases, layoffs – since last school year.

“I’m hoping the Legislature will see there’s hard data showing that, yes, districts are making some good decisions in terms of efficiencies,” said Bob Sanborn, president of Children at Risk, a Houston-based nonprofit that analyzed the state figures. “But the Legislature should be very worried that in the haste to be more efficient we are cutting our future out from under us.”

Remember that the cuts from the 2011 budget are somewhat backloaded for the second year of the biennium, so there’s more of this to come. This is why HISD is grappling with its budget again, and is considering a property tax rate hike as one option to close another multi-million dollar shortfall. Don’t like that idea, or the other things they’re considering? Blame Rick Perry and the Legislature for putting them in that position. And yes, it could have been so much worse.

Texas lawmakers, agreeing with Gov. Rick Perry’s no-tax-hike pledge to balance the budget, cut per-student funding to public education by $5.4 billion over the biennium, which includes the current school year and next year.

“The cuts weren’t as bad as they could have been,” said Rep. Rob Eissler, R-The Woodlands, who chairs the House Education Committee.

One House proposal would have reduced school funding by $10 billion, costing an estimated 100,000 jobs.

The budget the House passed would have $7.8 billion from public education. Every House Republican voted for that budget. The economic news in Texas is getting better, but we’re going to keep getting more of the same from the Lege for as long as we have the same Lege.

On calculating graduation rates

The Texas Education Agency publishes graduation rates for all Texas public schools every year. Some people and organizations disagree with their methodology, saying they assume too many departing students wind up in school elsewhere or are homeschooled rather than counting them as dropouts. One such objector is Children At Risk, and they released their own report this past week.

Based on the most recent data, 61 percent of low-income students in Harris County public schools graduated, compared with 72 percent of those from wealthier families, according to the study. The rates reflect students who entered ninth grade in 2004 and graduated by 2010.

Children at Risk used data from the Texas Education Agency to calculate its own graduation rates because the researchers believe the agency’s publicly reported numbers don’t count all the dropouts.

For example, [Children At Risk President Bob] Sanborn said, he is skeptical when districts report to the TEA that numerous students leave after their freshman year to attend private school, to be home-schooled or to return to their native country. The state doesn’t require proof the students enrolled in new schools – and doesn’t know if they end up graduating – so Children at Risk counts them as dropouts.

Officials with the TEA and several local school districts strongly defended the state’s higher graduation rate calculation, arguing that the Children at Risk method punishes schools by counting as dropouts students who leave for legitimate reasons such as moving out of state or the country.

I don’t see Children At Risk’s report on their website, but K-12 Zone has their listing. I suppose you can see the two as the upper and lower bounds on graduation rates, since no one can ever be sure what happened to every kid that leaves a school before finishing it. Which one is closer to the truth, that’s the question. It sure would be nice to be more certain about this. In any event, the good news is that the trends are upward, though they’re still not where you’d want them to be. With the new exit exams coming, the concern is they’re in for a fall. However you tote up the numbers, we need to keep an eye on them.

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?

Graduation rates

According to one study, a little more than half of HISD’s high school freshmen ultimately graduate.

Despite dozens of commencement ceremonies planned for the next two weeks, only 58.5 percent of Houston-area students who should be graduating will be earning diplomas this spring, community advocates said today.

Robert Sanborn, president and CEO of Children at Risk, announced on the steps of Houston City Hall this morning that his group commissioned the Texas Education Agency to conduct a study of six-year graduation rates. They learned that that 53 percent of the students who begin as ninth-graders in the Houston Independent School District had not graduated from any Texas high school in six years.

“We feel there is a real crisis, a crisis of graduation,” Sanborn said, pointing out the link between poverty and education levels. “We really don’t think the TEA and the school districts are being honest with the public.”

Sanborn said HISD estimates it graduates as many as 77 percent of its students within four years. That number is based on faulty data that doesn’t count as dropouts students who claim they’re going to be home schooled, attend private school or move out of state or country.

Sanborn said the first step in fixing high schools is admitting the severity of the problem. He called for the state Legislature, the TEA and individual school districts to become more transparent and use the graduation rate calculation formula Children at Risk used in this study.

Karen Garza, HISD’s chief academic officer, said the district certainly sees dropouts as an important problem that they are working to address. She questioned whether the Children at Risk numbers fail to consider how mobile the population of this urban school district is by excluding students who may start here but graduated in Oklahoma or Mexico or anywhere outside of Texas.

“We acknowledge this is a major issue. We’ve got to get better at keeping kids in school,” Garza said. “We want solutions. We offer more and more options, things like flexible hours and on-line courses.”

But, Garza said, HISD uses the formula prescribed by the TEA and she doesn’t see the Children at Risk calculation as being any more reliable.

I don’t know which way of calculating the “true” graduation rate is superior. I’m not sure it matters that much – whichever method you choose, you can at least tell if it’s getting better or worse over time. The NCAA manages to keep track of graduation rates at its member institutions, so this can’t be rocket science. Pick a method and stick with it – let’s not lose the forest for the trees.

Council Member and Mayoral candidate Peter Brown comments on the Children at Risk study. I’m still a bit amazed at how education has become an issue in this race, and I’m still not sure what role the Mayor should be playing in Houston’s public education; it’s not clear to me how much of a role the Mayor could play without legislative action, anyway. That said, I’m always glad to see public education be the topic of conversation, at least among people who care about its success. Maybe just by keeping the spotlight on it, we can have a positive effect.