Texas schools: average? Report on education policies critical; state disputes some points

By Joshua Benton
Staff Writer

Page 19A

Texas schools don’t deserve a spot on any honor roll, according to a new report that rates the state’s education system as downright average.

As in previous years, the state got middling grades in the annual Quality Counts report, which attempts to judge the education policies of 50 states and the District of Columbia, report card-style.

The final tally for Texas: one B-minus, two C-pluses, a C, and a D-plus.

“We do not grade on a curve,” said Susan Ansell, a research associate who helped assemble the report.

Quality Counts is released each year by Education Week, a newspaper based outside Washington, D.C. The report rates the states in five areas: standards and accountability; efforts to improve teacher quality; school climate; and both the adequacy and equity of school funding.

In each category, states gain or lose points based on whether they’ve enacted specific policies. For instance, in the teacher quality category, Texas gained points because it uses test scores to identify weak teacher training programs at state universities. But it lost points because it doesn’t create financial incentives for teachers to earn an elite national certification.

“Texas tends to be a little bit ahead of the pack in some things, like targeting efforts to improve teacher quality in high-need schools,” said Melissa McCabe, another research associate at Education Week who worked on the report. “We look at an extensive set of research to determine what’s effective practice, what’s best for student achievement.”

Among the other things that cost Texas in the ratings:

*Not having external experts go over the state’s standardized tests to make sure they align with the state’s educational standards.

*Not requiring prospective teachers to pass a basic-skills test before being certified. Texas educators must pass tests in their teaching fields, but they’re not screened for basic skills.

*Not regularly surveying teachers, parents and students about school conditions.

Of course, not everyone agrees on what the right policies are. Texas officials, for example, say the state suffers in the ratings because many education policies are left up to local school districts, not dictated by the state. Since many of the scoring elements in Quality Counts’ report require state mandates, Texas doesn’t score as well.

“Quality Counts penalizes states that believe in local decision-making,” said Adrienne Sobolak, a spokeswoman for the Texas Education Agency.

The grades aren’t all that different from last year’s: The state’s grade-point average remains a lowly 2.1, right where it was in 2002.

The state nudged up slightly in the two school finance categories and dropped in standards and accountability.

That might seem surprising, since state officials such as Gov. Rick Perry routinely use words like “failed” to describe Texas’ school finance system – while the Texas accountability system is often held up as a national model.

“Some of the information is not exactly accurate in relationship to what’s happening in the state of Texas today,” Ms. Sobolak said. “A lot of educational experts around the nation consistently rank Texas and North Carolina as having the best accountability systems in the country. Here, they’re ranked below places like Louisiana. There are different ways to look at it.”