Will a New Ranking System Help or Hurt Low-Performing Schools?

The Texas Education Commissioner has said he’ll be imposing harsher interventions on chronically underperforming districts.

By Michael MarksAugust 18, 2016 8:26 am| ,

Texas Education Commissioner Mike Morath has been on the job for less than a year. One of his biggest jobs is administering a new accountability system that will give schools and districts a “grade” by rating them on a scale ranging from A to F.

At a state Senate Education Committee hearing Tuesday, Morath gave some clues to how he’ll carry out the new system. Part of the plan will be to come down hard on districts with chronic performance issues. The philosophy, in Morath’s words, is that “if the medicine tastes particularly bad, you’re less likely to take it.”

Jo Beth Jimerson, a professor of education at Texas Christian University in Fort Worth, says that this philosophy isn’t a new one – the federal No Child Left Behind act and other programs before it in Texas took the same approach.

“There’s always been this underlying way of thinking that somehow the adults in schools just aren’t trying,” Jimerson says, “and if we threaten them with some kind of sanction, then they’ll get it together.”

Jimmerson says that while schools should get incentives, that’s only part of the solution.

“We also need a lot of interventions. We need support for teachers. We need adequate and equitable funding, so that people can provide good facilities and teachers for kids,” she says. “If you make the medicine too bitter, you’re going to do harm in maybe unintended ways.”

She says that those rankings can make it harder for schools to recruit and keep quality teachers, whom she calls the “lifeblood” of the schools. As a former principal, she says her job of recruiting skilled teachers would have been much harder with a letter ranking system.

“I can’t imagine how difficult my job would have been if I would have had to recruit teachers, really great teachers, to a place that was already labeled F or D,” Jimmerson says. “A lot of teachers did well in school, they liked it, it worked well for them. But they don’t want to go work in an F or D school.”

But Morath has also mentioned holding school administrators more accountable – shifting some of the blame off teachers and onto the higher-ups. That’s something Jimmerson says she agrees with.

“This is somewhere I can find some common ground with Morath,” she says. “I work in educational leadership programs, and I can tell you a great leader – a really solid leader – can do really great things for a school. But a bad leader can wound schools for years.”

Post by Alexandra Hart.