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Texas.

No common core adaptation.

No Race to the Top ambitions.

No problems?

 

If you look at any ranking of the best schools in the country, schools from Texas are prevalent. However, the state also is home to some of the lowest-performing schools and districts in the country.

 

So how do they make education in Texas?

BIG of course.

 

Hutto, Texas is located outside of the state capital of Austin

Population: 17,120

5 elementary schools

2 middle schools

1 high school

Part of Region 13-which is a compilation of districts inclusive of Austin

 

This city along with the surrounding cities outside of Austin has been trying to open schools as quickly as possible to keep up with the expanding populations. Ray Elementary has only been open for four years. A brand new building in the middle of a cornfield, it’s picturesque. These 660, K-5th graders experience classrooms sizes below the state-mandated 22 students, oftentimes two teachers in a classroom and a variety of electives and amenities.

 

As an individual school, there is success. The principal is a beloved leader and the school has experienced minimal staff turnover. Even though state tests keep changing, their results for the 3rd, 4th and 5th grade exams have been commendable.

 

But the other schools in the district haven’t been so lucky. The high school, middle schools and two elementary schools in Hutto have been labeled academically unacceptable. Due to budget restraints, one elementary school is closing and the grades are being reconfigured making the elementary schools K-4 and the middle schools 5-8.

 

I wondered-what was Ray doing differently than the rest of the schools? However, that’s the BIG thing in Texas—everyone is supposed to do the same thing. Everyone in the region uses CSCOPE curriculum that is scripted for all content areas from K-12. All teachers are evaluated using the state’s Professional Development and Appraisal System. All schools face the same accountability system and threat of being taken over by the Texas Education Agency.

 

The Assistant Principal of Ray said it best, “A school is a reflection of how people feel.”

 

Ray is a community school. All students live close-by. Texas requires schools to have 40% economically disadvantaged students in order to qualify for Title 1 funding, Ray is at 39%. However, as students get older the schools’ demographics change. The schools are still a community school but more affluent families are electing to send their children to private middle and high schools in downtown Austin versus attending Hutto schools. The families of Hutto aren't hungry for what the schools are offering after 5th grade. Now the students left behind, who seemed to thrive under the state-mandated set-up in elementary school, are now struggling.

 

But let's take a closer look at what Ray is doing. They have initiated a Response to Intervention framework which 66 students have gone through this year. This has allowed students who are struggling but not labeled special education to receive tiered interventions and support. When you walk the hallways of Ray you see animals in cages. Students are responsible for feeding, changing the cages and general care of the animals. The school has an extensive support staff for teachers including instructional aides and coaches. Although the school uses the CSCOPE curriculum, teachers are free to go off the scripted curriculum to include more hands-on experiences for students.


Texas believes in sticking to the script but the successful schools like Ray are not playing by the rules. Should the rules change?

 

This post is part of the 40/40/40 series.

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