Sunday, April 25, 2010

The Best and The Worst Schools In Texas

Children At Risk, a nonprofit organization that drives change for children through research, education and influencing public policy, has issued its fifth annual Texas schools report card that can be viewed here.

For the first time, they have also rated elementary and middle schools.

The rating system is a little arcane because the group bases its ranking system on data that is gleaned from the Texas Education Agency.

Data we know to be reality-challenged.

But I believe in the extremes. I believe that you can glean information by looking at the poles and not by comparison of things that appear to be similar. So the second thing I did, after looking at where my place of work was ranked, was to compare the highest ranked school to the lowest ranked one.

First, there is some debate on which highest ranked school I should look at, because clearly, the schools right at the top of the list are all specialty schools or magnet schools where they cherry-pick their students. These schools need not be included because their data is skewed.

So using that as a culling criterion, and including only schools who open their doors to all students within their attendance zone, the top-ranked school in Texas is Highland Park High School in Dallas. The lowest ranked school in Texas is L. G. Pinkston High School, also located in Dallas.

These two schools are six miles from each other.

Six miles and 1011 school ranking positions separate them.

Ranked in position 7, Highland Park High School is the highest-ranked school that is open to everyone within its attendance zones. L. G. Pinkston is ranked dead last in position 1018. Comparing them on the rating criteria is illuminating.

Pinkston H S has a total student enrollment of 1,194, Highland Park’s enrollment is 1,934.

65.8% of Pinkston’s students are Hispanic (20.5% Limited English Proficient), 33.1% are African-American, and 0.4% are classified as White. Highland Park’s students are 4% Hispanic (0.1% LEP), 0.3% African-American, and 92.3% White.

The Student/Teacher ratio at Pinkston is 13.4. At Highland Park it is 14.5.

Total dollars spent per student at Pinkston is $7,461. At Highland Park it is $7,806. According to this research group, Texas’s state average expenditure per student is $7,934.

The percent of Pinkston’s students classified as Economically Disadvantaged stands at 78%. Highland Park has no ED students.

The high school graduation rate at Pinkston is 34.9%. Highland Park’s average is 93.3%

54.3% of Pinkston’s students take either the SAT or ACT test as opposed to 100% at Highland Park. Average SAT score at Pinkston is 756. At Highland Park it is 1201. And while 12.8% of Pinkston students take an AP or an IB test, none of them pass them. This is opposed to Highland Park students, 88.3% of them take at least one of those tests and 65.5% pass them (roughly 75% of the test takers).

What did I learn? I learned the obvious. Academic rankings based on anything other than how affluent you are, or more to the point, how un-affluent you are, are completely bogus. How well a school does, or how poorly it does has nothing to do with how much money you throw at it, school size, or what the student/teacher ratio is. It has nothing to do with anything else but how poor you are – everything extends from that one thing.

It’s an old, old story but I guess it bears repeating as we keep hearing the views of consultants who keep coming up with a new flavor-of-the-day on how to improve test scores – and get well-paid for that advice.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Interesting story. I found you by Googling "Worst Schools in Dallas." The reason I was looking for the "worst schools" is because I have begun to study The Leader in Me which is Stephen Covey's 7 Habits for children. Are you familiar with the book / concept?

BTW - I live in the HPISD school district and when I think of how much time and money I give to offset the Robin Hood policy that steals our programs it makes me sad to hear other schools complain.

I agree that you cannot make a school great by throwing money at it. It starts at home. HPISD has fully parent staffed cafeterias at every school in the district - we have to. I imagine that's not the case at the school 6 miles from here. They can't! Their parents are pressed to afford food and necessities. Their time has to be invested in hard labor during the day (and sometimes again at night). I understand that. But what about teaching the students AND the parents how to take control of their destiny and see if a change can't be made.

What do you think? Is it worth trying to make things better by a systemic change or is it better just to write off the kids and the school and say, "What a shame," and just let it go? How many generations must fail before real change is implemented and things get better?