About this same time of year, each year in the state of Texas, a group of parents and public education professionals receive a collective kick to the teeth.
It’s too bad, because most of these folks have just spent nine months steering our children through a tough year of school – where criteria for success has changed once again – they feel positive about the growth of those children, and they look forward to a few months of watching their youngsters take a break from the books.
Earlier this week, a group called Children at Risk released its 2019 rankings for schools in most of the big cities across Texas – including, obviously, Houston.
Locally, we always look for our children’s schools to find out where they rank, hoping against hope that all the work parents have done in the classrooms of their children has paid some sort of dividend. Maybe, just maybe, our beloved schools have surged up the rankings, giving us yet another source of pride in our children, and another reason to celebrate the summer months.
You see, for most parents – the ones truly involved in the mental and social growth of their children – the quality of the schools these children attend really matters. Think about it: When a family buys a new home, what’s one of the Top 3 questions?
“How are the schools?”
When mom or dad takes a new job and the transfer means a new zone school for the child, what’s the first question asked?
“How are the schools?”
Schools are more than just glorified day care centers. They matter to most of us. Their success is personal to us. And the success of the school, only second to the success of our own children, has an enormous psychological impact on the educational expectations of our children.
In fact, in more than two decades of covering education for some sort of media outlet, I’ve never seen a more important issue to parents than the quality of education their children receive.
If you don’t know much about Children at Risk, and how they calculate the rankings of schools in Houston, I’ll give you a quick primer:
If your child is in elementary or middle school, there are three categories (all representing 33 percent of the total) that make up a school’s grade. One third is based on STAAR testing. Another third is based on the achievement of the school compared to other schools with similar poverty levels. And the last third is based on improvements in STAAR testing scores.
If your child is in high school, it’s basically the same criteria, except they all count for a quarter, with the last quarter being how ready your child is for college upon graduation.
We can talk about this methodology all we want, but I want to put in perspective some of the scores we saw from schools in our area (complete scores can be found in our news story that starts on Page 1A).
Field Elementary topped the list of local schools, ranking as the 22nd best elementary school in all of Houston and receiving an A+ grade. Oak Forest got an A-, while Harvard, Travis and Crockett Elementary got a B+. An 89.9 is an A in my book anyway, and those schools, and their administrators and teachers, should be proud of the sustained achievements of their students.
But as I analyzed these scores, I went back five years to the same report listed by Children at Risk. I wasn’t as concerned about year-over-year rankings as I was a longer-term trend. What I found, to be honest, is almost unbelievable.
Let’s start with Stevens Elementary, just a few blocks from The Leader’s office. In 2014 – five year ago – Stevens ranked 577th of all the elementary schools in Houston and received an overall grade of D.
In this year’s report, Stevens now ranks 814th with a grade of D-.
Likewise, Love Elementary moved from 600th with a D grade in 2014 to 703rd and the same D grade five years later.
And the one that’s most personal to me, Durham Elementary, ranked 609th with a D grade, and five years later, and thousands of parental-involvement hours later, now ranks 617th and jumped all the way to a C- grade this year.
Durham is personal to me because that was my son’s first public-school encounter as he entered Pre-K (we moved at the end of the first semester and he started at another school in January).
Beyond my son’s enrollment at Durham, I lived in the Shepherd Park Plaza neighborhood for more than six years, and I spent a lot of time around that school. Six years ago, I reported on the horrible conditions around that school, and began to understand what schools like Durham face in order to move up the rankings.
Here’s what I saw in six years of observation: Parents walking their children to school every day and not leaving the school because they wanted to volunteer. Our neighbors, Carrie and Warren, spent every possible hour at the school running the PTA or helping weed the garden. They knew everything happening in that school, and their investment in time was multiplied over hundreds of times by other parents in the neighborhood.
And you’re telling me that in the past five years, Durham has slid in the Houston elementary school rankings, even though they became an IB school in during that time?
Look, I don’t question Children at Risk or their methodology. I’m not one of those people who thinks we should all be winners, and that everybody deserves an A.
But I bet a lot of you have had similar experiences to the one I had with our children and their schools. What matters most is that parents stay involved, regardless of rankings. The longer that happens, and the more we show our faces in our children’s schools, the less we have to worry about what the methodology says.