Despite the bleak report on learning loss following pandemic school closures, Texas got some very good news last week with the release of the annual A-F school ratings. Fully 95% of the 38 school districts and 10 charter systems in the Region One Education Service Center area received either an A or B rating in the latest round of state public school grading, compared with 87% for school districts statewide.
Region One includes Laredo and runs south through the Rio Grande Valley to Hidalgo County. Region One also had the most individual campuses of any other district in the state receiving an A grade. The vast majority of the students in Region One are economically disadvantaged or living in poverty, and 96% are Hispanic.
If we’d left it up to the teachers’ unions, we would never know how well the students in Region One were doing. Leadership in Texas’ public schools, including teachers unions, school administrators and school boards fought against enacting an A-F grading system for Texas public schools for almost a decade. They spent millions to convince Texas lawmakers that holding public schools accountable with an A-F letter grade—like we do public school students—was a threat to our children and communities. They insisted that poor schools and poor communities would get bad grade ratings that would stigmatize the children and their schools.
Superintendents flocked to the Legislature to argue that A-F ratings ignored the “real” problem—which was the lack of funding. Sen. Sylvia Garcia, then a Houston state senator and now a member of Congress, said called A-F “redlining.” She added, “Poor performance is more because of lack of resources than anything else. I would really caution us from getting into any scheme that redlines school districts.”
A-F opponents said the old pass/fail rating system was good enough. Before A-F was established, a school was rated either “Met Standard” or “Needs Improvement.” Those ratings obscured any real problems at schools from parents and the community—and that was the point. It is hard for parents to demand that schools do better if they don’t know how they are performing in the first place. Teachers unions and school administrators predicted the results would be obvious—poor kids would do poorly in school, and those schools would get bad grades. These educators had apparently never heard of the idea of the “soft bigotry of low expectations.”
Teachers unions were so afraid of being held accountable for the performance of their students that in 2017, when A-F ratings finally passed the Texas Legislature, they demanded that the ratings only be given to school districts for the first year—not individual campuses.
Teachers unions fought against A-F ratings until the last minute before they were finally released, but once the public school ratings came out, the lies of the teachers unions, school administrators and school boards became crystal clear.
Region One in the Rio Grande Valley established the record that it repeated last week. No Region One school was graded lower than a B. Teachers in those schools proudly talked about the positive impact of having high expectations and a “no excuses” attitude when it comes to their students.
They also talked about innovative ideas including making sure that their students were fed—both breakfast and lunch. Both meals are known to be key factors in improving school performance.
Parents love A-F ratings. If their child’s school is doing poorly, they want to know why. They get engaged, and, if possible, they can make another choice. Many parents have no idea that their elected officials, school administrators and teachers had been working against A-F ratings for years.
That’s partly because teacher-union backed lawmakers who had led the battle against A-F showed up at A-rated schools for a photo ops and pretended they’d supported A-F all along. About a third of public schools were A-rated this year, including schools that are in low-income communities.
In terms of the Rio Grande Valley, there are a number of factors in play that likely led to the high quality of public schools there, including a strong network of charter schools, which fostered competitiveness in innovative teaching strategies.
Of course, teachers unions are now fighting charter school expansion too, just like they fought to keep schools closed during the pandemic and they tried to block A-F school ratings in Texas. They also oppose increasing transparency in schools and expanding parent empowerment and increasing parental choice. Clearly, their track record is no good when it comes to our children. Parents and policymakers should ignore them.