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New Texas School Ratings Could Be Used in Voucher Push

A new method of evaluating public Texas schools has met with intense resistance from the schools themselves. Once concern is that the scores might be used to push a “failing schools” agenda.

The new system continues the trend of rating schools on an A-F scale. However, many districts feel that the new grading criteria is too opaque and rush out too fast for the schools to prepare to meet the new standards. That’s why several districts are suing Education Commissioner Mike Morath to block the new system.

The largest district in the suit is Dallas ISD. Last year, nearly three-quarters of DISD schools received an A or B grade. That number would plummet if the new measurement system was in place, and the amount of schools with a D or an F would quadruple. Dallas ISD is the latest to join Kingsville, Canutillo and Crowley ISDs in the suit, with more expected on the way.

Dallas ISD Superintendent Stephanie Elizalde has been a fierce opponent of the new system. She worries that it will be used to push a Texas Republican agenda that public schools, especially those in blue cities, are badly failing students.

“They want a narrative to be provided that says public schools are failing,” Elizalde said in an interview with The Dallas Morning News.

The primary change in the scale is an increase in the number of students who pass the College, Career and Military Readiness, or CCMR. Previously, a school received an A if 60 percent of students met that criteria. Under the new guidelines, schools must have 88 percent of students meet it for an A.

Morath has called the rating change a normal, periodic adjustment that school’s require to make sure they are meeting standards. That may be the case, but districts feel they have been given inadequate time and information to prepare to meet the new benchmarks. If they don’t, it will look like a widespread decline of the public school system.

This cannot be divorced from the current debate on school vouchers, which is set to resume in the legislature as Attorney General Ken Paxton’s impeachment trial comes to a close. The primary argument from Governor Greg Abbott and allies is that Texas schools are not meeting the needs of parents. This has largely been along ideological lines, claiming “woke” indoctrination and suppression of Christian nationalism.

That argument has not won over enough supporters in the Texas House, but it may gain some clout if ratings drop suddenly across the state thanks to the new system. There wouldn’t be any significant changes to the schools themselves, but the new ratings would give the illusion of a sudden loss in education quality that might spur some parents and lawmakers to accept using taxpayer money on private school tuition.

Currently, the release of scores is on hold until late October or November. The lawsuit may delay it further. The time limit on special sessions is running out as lawmakers will soon have to begin campaigning for the 2022 election.  

Jef Rouner
Jef Rouner
Jef Rouner is an award-winning freelance journalist, the author of The Rook Circle, and a member of The Black Math Experiment. He lives in Houston where he spends most of his time investigating corruption and strange happenings. Jef has written for Houston Press, Free Press Houston, and Houston Chronicle.

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