The Numbers Behind the Numbers

Before the Board of Trustees’ meeting last week, SISD Administration gave a presentation on the Texas Academic Performance Report (TAPR) for last school year.  The TAPR is a comprehensive overview of metrics for the district, compiled by the Texas Education Agency.  It goes through all of the test results from last year, which I have discussed in previous posts.  Today, I want to focus on a few of the numbers that are both causes and effects of our troubling test scores.

Causes first.  Let’s look at staffing.  In 2014-2015, the district employed 1068.5 people.  Of those, 644.9 were teachers.  That’s 45.8%.  The state average is 50.8%.  If SISD employed the state average percentage of teachers, we would have hired 54.5 more teachers.  That’s a LOT of teachers.  Or we could reach it by eliminating some non-teaching positions, freeing more funds for instruction and teacher support.  Central Administration employees, on the other hand, are 0.2% of total employees compared to 0.1% statewide.  In SISD, 19.4% of our teachers hold a Masters Degree.  Statewide, that number is 23.4%.  21.9% of our teachers are beginning teachers (no prior experience).  Statewide, that percentage is 8.5%.  The average years of teacher experience of our teachers is 9.5 years.  Statewide it’s 11 years.  Our average teacher salary is higher than the state average for teachers with no prior experience, but after one year of teaching, it is below the state average by $1,500-$3,000.  We have a teacher turnover rate of 21% annually.  Recruiting teachers to a rural area and retaining them is difficult to be sure.  It is made more difficult by below-average compensation.

In sum, we employ fewer teachers as a percentage of employees than the average, pay them less than average, and have a higher teacher turnover than average.  Our teachers as a group have less experience than average and fewer hold advanced degrees.  How does this manifest?

The effects are that our students struggle with the STAAR proficiency tests.  Beyond that, we have only 35.9% of students enrolled in an “Advanced/Dual Credit” course.  Statewide, that number is 53.2%.  Only 40% of students in the Class of 2014 were “College and Career Ready” in English and Math compared to 54% statewide.  You can see the standards for that here (page 8).  Only 26.3% passed an Advanced Placement Test (51.3% statewide).  And then our students graduate.  Then what?  According to the Texas Higher Education Coordinating Board, about 29% are enrolled in a 4-year institution.  Of those, 81 are enrolled in a public university in Texas.  Of those 81, 23 are failing, with a GPA below 2.0.  That’s 28% of students from SISD that we sent off to a Texas Public University who are unable to pass their first year.

I submit to you that this is a crisis.  One that we must address.  Do we have good teachers here?  Yes.  But not enough of them and not enough with experience.  Until we commit to invest more in the front lines of our district, our students and our graduates will continue to struggle and many will fail.  We must not allow this to continue.  We need more teachers, more experienced teachers and more training for teachers.

Together we can do better.

Bob Stephens

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Let’s Stop Blaming the Parents

How many effective schools would you have to see to be persuaded of the educability of poor children? If your answer is more than one, then I submit that you have reasons of your own for preferring to believe that pupil performance derives from family background instead of school response to family background.

                                                      -Ron Edmonds                                                                                                                       educator, author, and pioneer of effective schools research

I want to talk today about something I hear from members of our community on a regular basis. Some say our students are struggling not because our educational system is failing them, but rather because their family situation is unstable.  Perhaps they are poor.  Perhaps they live in a single-parent home.  Perhaps they are being raised by grandparents or relatives.  Whatever the situation, their lack of a “nuclear” family is given as the reason why they do not succeed in school.

Now, everyone is entitled to their opinion.  I certainly feel pretty attached to mine.  But we aren’t all entitled to our own facts.  And my opinion is that the facts don’t support this notion of blaming parents, or the lack thereof, for a student’s failure to reach his or her potential in school.  I could show you instances of many school systems, some in Texas, some not, that are very successfully educating economically disadvantaged (ED) students.  But then some would claim that those students aren’t like our students here in Seguin.  Fortunately, I can show you some examples right here at home.

Let’s take a look at the passing rates for the Grade 5 Reading STAAR Test from March of 2015 for some of our elementary schools.  As you probably know, we had 4 schools that either failed to meet the state standard last year or barely passed:  Jefferson, McQueeney, Patlan, and Vogel.  The pass rates for economically disadvantaged (ED) 5th graders on the reading test for those four schools were 60%, 58%, 68%, and 57% respectively.  Keep in mind a couple of things I have written about before:  first, these numbers are just for students who are ED, second, these are PASS rates, third, this is a PROFICIENCY test.  It is designed to measure whether a student meets the basic level of achievement to allow progression to the next grade.  In theory, ALL students should be proficient, so ALL students should pass.  On this test, at these schools, two-thirds or less of students passed the test.

At the other end of the spectrum is Weinert Elementary, about which I have written in the past.  At Weinert, 86% of ED students passed the very same test.

What does this mean?  I submit it means that ED students in our community CAN succeed in school.  In order to continue to argue that family circumstance prevents academic success, one must argue that the ED students at Weinert are somehow different from the ED students at our other elementaries.  I don’t believe one can find any facts to support that.

An educator here told me last year that “parents give us their children for 8 hours a day for 180 days each year.  Given that much time, I should be able to help them master the skills they need to succeed.  If I don’t, then it’s on me, not the child and not the family.”

Let’s stop looking to blame students or families for the failures of our schools.  Rather, we need to make certain all teachers have the training and tools they need to educate ED students.  Until we do this, we aren’t going to be able solve our problems.

Together, we can do better.

Bob Stephens

Let’s Make a Difference

This is not the post I wrote for this week.  I am also bypassing my editorial review board, which means I’m in for it.  Oh well.  Some things are worth it.

I got an unannounced visit today from Jack Lee.  Many of you know Jack.  He is a long-time teacher of government and economics at Seguin High School.  He also mentors the Interact Club at the high school, a service club affiliated with Rotary.  Jack is a long-time Rotarian himself.  Jack came to ask a favor.  And when someone with Jack’s history of dedication to teaching asks, I listen.

Jack has a student named Jade.  Jade is a sophomore this year at SHS.  She’s a good student.  Very bright, mature for her age, and, as Jack says, “driven”.  She is active in both choir and the drama program.  She is also active in Interact, where her passion for serving others helps drive the program.  To this point, Jade sounds like a great many students at the high school.  And she is.  Except for this:  Jade is being raised by her grandmother.  Both of her parents are incarcerated.  I would wager Jade has seen more in her life than many of us who are considerably older.  She could have, by now, given up on getting anything like a fair shake in life.  We all know the statistics for children from broken homes:  high delinquency rates, high dropout rates, high rates of substance abuse, high rates of teen pregnancy.

But that’s not Jade.  Jade has plans.  She has dreams.  Right now her biggest dream is to be an exchange student, spending her junior year studying and living in France.  The program, sponsored by Rotary, costs $6,000.  Of that, $2,100 is due on Sunday.  So far Jade, her friends, and family have raised $1,400.

As Jack sat in my office, I could see the passion he has for Jade and her dream.  He has taught both of my children and I know it’s the same passion he has for each of his students.  That’s why it’s hard to say “no” to Jack Lee.  So let’s try to help.  Let’s show Jade and Jack and each other that we want our young people to realize their dreams.  Let’s help send Jade to France.

Tax deductible contributions can be made to:

Rotary District 5840 Youth Exchange

C/O Britt Etheredge, Treasurer

15 Mission Trail

New Braunfels, Texas 78130

Put “Jade” in the memo line.

I am pledging $250 and sending the check.  What can you do?

Together, we can make this happen.

Bob Stephens