Published May 16, 2014
In a recent Houston Chronicle section, school rankings for all Houston-area public school districts were released. The analysis was conducted by the “Children at Risk” non-profit organization. True to its mission, the ratings are primarily based on how well schools educate disadvantaged students. Schools are rated based on whether “students scored at the highest levels on state-mandated exams.” All of the schools were rated on a letter grade from A to F. I contend that, contrary to the newspaper narrative, Pearland ISD outperformed ALL other school districts in the entire area! Let me explain:
- ALL of our Pearland ISD schools received A’s or B’s as their ranking. (15 of our schools received an A; 6 received a B.)
- No district of 5A size in 2013 had all A’s and B’s like we did. All those districts had multiple schools with C’s and many with D’s and some F’s. The much smaller districts of Friendswood ISD (with 4 A’s and 2 B’s), along with Barber’s Hill and Waller ISD, came closest to us.
- Even the most touted charter school enterprises (e.g., KIPP) had schools receiving C’s or lower. (I note such schools are exempt from many state regulations and have distinct advantages in terms of who chooses to enroll — and the extra time/effort which can be required of them.)
- Only schools with high percentages of economically disadvantaged students — including magnet schools which can cherry pick their applicants — can realistically be at the top of the top of the list. For example, the DeBakey school in Houston ISD was decreed as the best of the best for two years running — but has highly selective admissions criteria and highly pre-motivated students/parents. It admits only 250 freshmen a year, though between 1,200 and 1,400 students typically apply and they must have high grades, conduct, and test scores.
- The explanation of the rankings state that “Suburban schools with more affluent students or specialty schools that require students to apply continue to dominate the top of the rankings.” However, I would contend that Pearland ISD is the overall winner — and we did not have ANY specialized schools or selective admissions.
Congratulations to each of our schools, to our hard-working teachers and staff, and to our students who produced these test scores! This analysis is only one way to measure success. Our goal to become “world-class” requires success in many other areas as well. But we take a step forward when we outperform the entire Houston area on any student achievement measure!
Note: Children at Risk revised their ratings on Sunday, May 18, 2014. The above article now revises the stats – and continues to confirm the conclusions reached.
Published May 5, 2014
The week of May 5-9 is Teacher Appreciation Week throughout the nation. I thought I’d share my e-mailed message to our Pearland ISD Teachers:
To the Pearland ISD Teachers and Teacher Aides:
Last Friday evening was spent congratulating those who have reached certain yearly milestones in their time with us — or who have been pronounced as “Teachers/Employees of the Year.” They are truly deserving. There remain many, many other teachers and aides deserving our praise and encouragement.
I’d like to share an experience from 30 years ago. As a Peace Corps volunteer, I taught high school biology along with a few other duties in a remote area of Southern Africa. The most remarkable thing was this: Parents had their children walk every day from homes located many miles away to attend the little school. In order to graduate in that country, students had to pass the overseas Cambridge high school exams– which were quite difficult. The school had no running water and no electricity. The campus was a long building of four masonry walls and a corrugated tin roof with a closet-size kitchen nearby. At lunch, students were fed cabbage and maize meal. Many “boarding” students lived in nearby rooms, grouped four to a tiny space — and almost completely without adult supervision. Yet these very grateful students and parents saw education as a HIGH privilege. Despite very poor English skills, they wrote down everything I scribbled on the board and then memorized it — even if they had little initial understanding. And believe me, I was not the excellent teacher that many of you are.
I contrast that with 21st century education in America.
All of society’s problems are gradually becoming the responsibility of the American public schools. K-12 education is no longer treasured as a high privilege. Society says that when the Xbox child is unmotivated or undisciplined, the solution starts with a better trained teacher! We live in the era where “everyone deserves a trophy” — regardless of effort. Schools are now absorbing the responsibility for feeding malnourished students and for keeping others from obesity. Increasingly and inevitably, the personal responsibility for learning and achieving has shifted from the student to the teacher.
YET. I believe that people “vote with their feet,” meaning we have many students here in Pearland because YOU establish, every year, the strong reputation of Pearland ISD in the greater Houston area. Truly, there are many and most parents and students who are grateful for what they receive here. It is too rarely expressed. You are more likely to hear when you “dare to discipline” or when a student’s earned grade is below genius level.
YET. You are producing National Merit finalists, high-scoring AP students, CTE students with superior technical skills, miraculous skills in children with special needs, accomplished musicians/artists, and state champion athletes. Students have a place here where their gifts and talents can be discovered and nurtured — when properly mixed with student GRIT!
Despite overwhelming burdens, YOU are performing everyday astonishments. Remember this when you “burn the midnight oil,” when you endure the unreasonable parent/student, when you wince at your dwindling bank account, and when your own children see less of you than those in your classes. You have more admirers than you know.
One final thought: A few weeks ago, I was e-mailed a picture. A terminally-ill child was at the center in his hospital bed surrounded by teachers, counselors, and a principal — all from Pearland ISD. The remarkable thing was this: Between those in the picture and visits the day before, this child saw teachers from ALL of the schools he had attended (in this case: Lawhon, Sablatura, and Junior High West). In short, the love and care for this young boy far outlived the times in which each of those assembled were personally responsible for his education. That picture captures the heart of Pearland ISD — our teachers and our staff.
I beseech God’s blessing on each of you. Surely He knows and is pleased when you bestow these gifts He has given you — on our children.
Blog readers: If you feel the same way I do, then my request is this: Please e-mail/write/call a teacher or two today — and thank them for what they do. Thanks! JPK