Wednesday, August 17, 2011

New report shows 1 out of every 4 kids in Texas lives in poverty

The Annie E. Casey Foundation released its annual Kids Count Data Book Wednesday and, once again, Texas ranked near the bottom in key indicators of child health and wellbeing.

Of the 6.6 million children in Texas, the foundation found that 24.3 percent live in poverty. Women receiving late or no prenatal care made up 40 percent of births and 13.5 percent of all live births were to teens ages 13-19. For the second consecutive year, Texas had the third highest teen birth rate in the nation.

The state also saw a 14 percent increase in the number of babies born at low birth weights and an 11 percent increase in the number of infant deaths since 2000.

Another startling statistic: Texas has had the largest percentage of uninsured children in the country for nine of the last 10 years. Nearly one out of four children – 23.3 percent – are uninsured.

Looking at all the indicators combined, Texas ranks ninth worst in the nation in terms of child poverty, according to Texas KIDS Count director Frances Deviney.

"There's been a steady climb in child poverty throughout the 2000s, but over the data from the last couple of years that we have, we've seen a real spike. Texas now has one of every four kids living in poverty," Deviney said.

"Poverty is really one of those bellwether indicators where we say if we don't really see a significant turnaround, we're going to have a whole generation of kids getting off on the wrong foot for the rest of their adult lives."

Sadly, reports like this are no surprise to educators. They see these children every day in their schools and are doing their best to meet students’ overwhelming needs. That monumentally difficult job will be even tougher this year with more than $5 billion in budget cuts to Texas public schools, including to programs that specifically target children in poverty, like full-day pre-kindergarten and Communities in Schools.

The Legislature also cut money to family planning services, so the state’s teen birth rate is likely to rise even higher, according to Deviney.

The report also found that 30 percent of Texas children live in families where no parent has year-round, full-time employment. Many are in homes where parents earn minimum wage or less and don't have access to private healthcare coverage.

With historic cuts to the state's education finance system, and no plan to restore funding come 2013, how can we build a skilled work force that will attract higher-paying jobs?

Hopefully our state leaders pay attention to reports like this and consider the ramifications of slashing aid to a system that is dealing with a massive number of increasingly needy kids. Those littlest and most vulnerable Texans need more of an investment, not less.

Tuesday, August 2, 2011

AYP results to be released Thursday

Less than one week after state accountability ratings were released, the Texas Education Agency will announce how Texas schools and districts performed on the nation’s accountability standard: Adequate Yearly Progress.

TEA plans to post the results on its website at 1 p.m. Thursday.

Explaining AYP results has always been tricky, particularly when they often conflict with state accountability ratings. This year may be even more challenging for districts since many are dealing with lower ratings from the state due to changes in the state’s formula, including the elimination of the Texas Projection Measure, higher passing standards and more students than ever before being tested.

U.S. Secretary of Education Arne Duncan announced in June that he would offer waivers to states from parts of No Child Left Behind because Congress hasn’t made much progress on reauthorizing the law.

The US DOE hasn’t provided a lot of details on the waiver process since then, but according to Education Week’s Politics K-12 blog, here’s what’s under discussion:

• There would be three kinds waivers under No Child Left Behind, and states would have to sign up for all of them—it wouldn't be an either/or thing. This is something Duncan made clear in the initial waiver announcement.
• To waive the 2014 deadline for all students to be proficient in math and language arts, states would have to adopt college- and career-readiness standards and assessments. It's not clear yet what that would mean. But, presumably, Common Core would be involved. Student growth could be used to measure achievement.
• To essentially freeze in place the law's system of sanctions, states would have to propose their own differentiated accountability systems that would incorporate growth and establish new performance targets. States also would have to establish differentiated school improvement systems that more accurately meet the needs of schools with different challenges. The accountability systems would not have to include choice or free tutoring. Districts also no longer would have to set aside Title I money for such programs.
• To waive the law's highly qualified teacher requirement and get funding flexibility, states would have to adopt evaluation systems for teachers and principals that are based on growth and make sure districts actually do what they say they're going to do.

I asked TEA if Texas would seek relief from No Child Left Behind requirements but was told there would be no waivers requested relating to AYP for 2011.

However, a TEA spokeswoman said Commissioner Robert Scott will decide at a later time whether to pursue any waiver requests from the US DOE relating to AYP in the future.

Last week, the DOE gave Idaho approval to keep its annual proficiency targets in math and reading the same for the third year in a row after Idaho Superintendent of Public Instruction Tom Luna told the feds he planned to defy key parts of NCLB.

In a letter to the state, DOE officials made it clear that the approval is a change to Idaho’s accountability plan, and not a formal waiver.

But without details about the waiver process, Idaho isn’t the only state to jump the gun, according to Education Week. Tennessee and Michigan are the latest states to formally seek a waiver.

Other states, including South Dakota and Montana, have flat out told the feds that they plan to freeze proficiency rates. 

Regardless of what’s happening across the country, Texas is still being measured against the stick that requires 100 percent proficiency in all sub-groups by 2014. When explaining your schools' results, a quick tutorial of how the system works – and most importantly how the performance of a handful of students can brand an entire school – is essential. The community should understand that the proficiency rates go up every year until the only way to meet AYP is for every single student to be proficient – a noble but impossible goal.