Texas to Hold Districts Accountable for Failing Schools

Aug 13, 2015 by

by Sophia Bollag and Mallory Busch –

If school district leaders don’t fix failing schools, the state may strip their authority under a new law effective Sept. 1.

“We wanted to apply both a carrot and a stick to the boards saying we’re going to let you have the flexibility to do what you want to do, but we also expect to hold you responsible at some point,” said state Rep. Jimmie Don Aycock, R-Killeen, the primary author of House Bill 1842. “The whole district is responsible for turning those schools around.”

The new law sets deadlines for each step in a new reform process advocates say puts pressure on districts to improve failing schools, and allows the Texas education commissioner to install a board of managers replacing district leaders who fail to fix underperforming campuses.

“They’ve never done that for academic reasons in the past,” said David Anthony, CEO of the education advocacy group Raise Your Hand Texas. “In the past, there hasn’t been a definite outcome if we don’t turn the school around. [HB] 1842 provides a definite outcome.”

After two years of academically unacceptable ratings, districts must develop reform plans with input from parents and other community members who have a stake in the success of the school, such as representatives of local higher education institutions.

Schools have not previously been required to gather community input so early in the reform process, Texas Education Agency spokeswoman DeEtta Culbertson said.

A reform plan must describe the school’s budget and academic programs. The district can also plan to turn the school into a charter school.

After three years of academically unacceptable ratings, the education commissioner can approve the plan to fix the school, install new leadership at the school or district, or close the school altogether. After five years of academically unacceptable ratings, the commissioner must either install new management at the district level or close the school.

Although the new law establishes a protocol for closing schools, Aycock says he hopes it results in fewer school closures and more school reform.

“This is the school improvement bill,” he said, “which hopefully will keep them from closing these schools.”

Source: Texas to Hold Districts Accountable for Failing Schools | The Texas Tribune

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2 Comments

  1. Avatar
    Sandy Kress

    One clarifying comment: other than districts that have been “held accountable” because of pervasive academic or financial failure as real “basket cases,” I have never seen a district lose its charter or be held accountable in any meaningful way under any of a number of laws that currently authorize states to go straight after districts.

    The only effective accountability has been based on the school as the unit of evaluation and the locus of required change. Both the district and the school may be required to take action, but the unit of focus that is realistically and effectively actionable is the school.

    Unfortunately, for a variety of reasons, the state agency has botched accountability for schools in the past 5-7 years. But that’s due to a failure of leadership, not a problem in law or policy.

    Sadly, the new Texas law will only worsen things and, to use today’s parlance, will prove over the years to be a big “nothing burger.” I would love to be wrong, but there’s no evidence anywhere I will be.

  2. Avatar
    Sandy Kress

    I’ve never seen or even read of a state holding a school district “accountable” in any meaningful way in all the 20-plus years I’ve been in reform activity. The only exception has been when the whole district has been a “basket case.”

    The only leverage point has worked has been through districts AND schools but based discreetly on individual school evaluation and change.

    This new law will make virtually no difference in improving education.

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