The State of our Children: Education / Part IV

WORDS
The Texas Tribune writers and DFWChild editors
ILLUSTRATION
John J. Custer
PUBLISHED
March 2017 in
DallasChild, FortWorthChild, NorthTexasChild
UPDATED
March 8, 2017
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The status quo: In the annual “Quality Counts” report from Education Week’s research center (a report they’ve been producing for two decades) in 2016, Texas ranked 43rd in the nation in public education and spent $3,000 less per student than the national average.

Since 2010, spending on pre-K to 12th grade has fallen by almost $3.6 billion.

Yet Texas has one of the strongest economies thanks to being a low-tax state, so businesses remain profitable while our schools suffer.

Consider this: All public schools and districts received preliminary grades in early January in four categories — student achievement, student progress, closing performance gaps and college and career readiness — as part of the transition to a new state accountability system that will be officially rolled out in August 2018.
The new report rates schools and districts in four domains:
D1: Student achievement
D2: Student progress
D3: Closing performance gaps
D4: Postsecondary readiness
So where does your district rank?
  D1 D2 D3 D4
Allen ISD A A A C
Dallas ISD D B B B
Carrollton/Farmers Branch ISD C B B C
Frisco ISD A A B C
Garland ISD C B B D
Highland Park ISD A A   C
Little Elm ISD C B C C
Lovejoy ISD A A A B
McKinney ISD B A C C
Mesquite ISD C C B F
Plano ISD A A C C
Richardson ISD B B B B
Rockwall ISD B A C C
Wylie ISD A A B B
 
Source: TEA report to 85th Legislature

Educators argue that the preliminary grades are not representative of their work in schools — such as increasing access to AP courses or improving performance on exams — are based on math too complex for parents to understand and often contradict previous school ratings.
They have also argued that schools and campuses with higher percentages of low-income students have scored poorly. But proponents of the A-F ratings argue that the new accountability system actually helps schools with more low-income students to judge their progress because one category grades how well schools are closing the achievement gap.

"If we can grade our students — if their futures are impacted like that — our schools should be under the same grades," Patrick says.
SIDEBAR

Get Involved

Reading to children early helps develop a young child’s brain, sets them up for early academic success, helps grow their self-confidence and independence and improves their vocabulary, spelling and overall communication. The Avance-Dallas parent-child book clubs focus specifically on low-income parents reading to their little ones ages infant to 3. How can you help? Volunteer to lead one of these 24-week book clubs at an elementary school or library (there are over a dozen locations).
Multiple locations, 214/887-9907, ext. 104

Buckner Family Hope Center reaches half a million people around the globe each year, and their headquarters in Dallas provide the perfect outlet for serving vulnerable children. To get involved, become a mentor at the Family Hope Center, which provides after school care for children in struggling families. During tutoring, (weekdays from 3:30-6pm), mentors develop a relationship with the children (ages 8-12) by helping with homework, teaching basic life skills and fostering an environment where kids feel safe. To volunteer, commit to one afternoon per week, complete a background check and fill out the application online.
Dallas, 800/442-4800

Students reading below grade level in the third grade are four times more likely than their peers to drop out of high school, which is why Reading Partners North Texas wants all kids to read at grade level by the fourth grade (which, unfortunately, isn’t the case for 4 out of 5 students who come from low-income families; some of them are actually two and a half years behind grade level). Tutor at-risk kids in kindergarten through fourth grade in 24 schools in Dallas, Mesquite and Fort Worth ISDs, plus KIPP and Uplift charter schools. After completing a training program and a background check, pick an ISD or charter school that’s most convenient for you and set up a time (Monday-Thursday during school hours) with the school’s coordinator to work one-on-one with a student at least one hour per week. If you work full time or have little ones at home all day, you can still help. Organize a book drive to collect gently used, donated books for Reading Partners Take Reading Home, a program that encourages kids to build their home libraries. You determine the dates, promote the event and provide boxes for book drop-offs in various locations — Reading Partners takes care of the distribution.
Dallas-Fort Worth Area, 214/821-4500

 According to United Way of Denton County’s Community Needs Assessment, over 10,000 children are at risk of dropping out of school in Denton ISDs. Advocate for increased access to effective early childhood programs and at-risk student programs by contacting your representative (see the sidebar on page TK). Volunteer to be a one-time career day speaker, a science fair judge, a club advisor or a festival helper. Or if your schedule allows, get involved in the school-based mentoring and tutoring programs. Start by filling out the questionnaire online.  
Denton, 940/898-8976
SIDEBAR

Now Hear This

Facebook shares and likes and Twitter retweets can’t create change. Calling your representatives on the phone (or emailing them can). Calling is the most effective way to have your voice heard (aside from making an in-person visit). Calls are tallied by staffers and the count is given to your representatives, informing them how strongly their constituents feel about an issue. So reach out now. (Type your address into fyi.legis.state.tx.us/Home.aspx to find out who represents you.)
SIDEBAR

An Easy Guide to Contacting Your Rep

Find your reps here

Telephone calls will be taken by a representative’s aide, or you may have to leave a message. After identifying yourself, and providing your phone number, say that you’re a constituent from District ____, ZIP code ____ and that you support or oppose Senate Bill ____ or House Bill ____ (the aide keeps tallies). State the reasons for your support or opposition, then thank your representative for their work.

If you prefer to email, state your purpose for writing in the first paragraph, giving your stance on the Senate or House bill number, and include examples to support your position.

It goes without saying, you should always be courteous and polite, and only address one issue in each phone call or letter. 


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