According to this October 2, 2015 article written by Roy Johnson at IDRA, "They have the lowest graduation rate of all subgroups, at 71.5 percent statewide." That's far too many young people in our state without a high school diploma. For a sense of perspective, check out this 2015-16 report by the Texas Education Agency titled, Enrollment in Texas Public Schools, 2015-16 - Texas Education Agency [pdf] which offers the following sobering statistics:
In 2015-16, 50.0 percent of students were identified as at risk of dropping out of school (Table 14 on page 24).
• The percentage of students participating in bilingual/ESL programs increased from 14.6 percent in 2005-06 to 18.3 percent in 2015-16, an increase of 47.3 percent (Table 14 on page 24 and Figure 8).
• The number of students identified as ELLs increased by 269,091, or 37.8 percent, between 2005-06 and 2015-16. In the 2015-16 school year, 18.5 percent of students were identified as ELLs, compared to 15.7 percent in 2005-06.
• The percentage of students served in special education programs decreased from 11.3 percent in 2005-06 to 8.7 percent in 2015-16.*
• Between 2005-06 and 2015-16, the number of students participating in Title I programs increased by 23.9 percent. In the 2015-16 school year, 64.8 percent of students were enrolled in Title I programs.**
* Do check out this policy brief by UT Masters student in Education Policy and Planning, Rob Walker, who brings much-needed attention to the 8.5 percent arbitrary cutoff in services for special education services that took place in 2004. The analysis in fact reveals that, in effect, the state preyed on its sub-population of ELLs by not providing them with the special education services to which they were entitled.
**Title I is a federal program that provides resources to schools with high percentages of low socioeconomic students.
Hopefully, this will move more of us to do more for these children, our children, to obtain not just equitable school finance in our state, but also better monitoring of our programs serving special populations like English language learners in bilingual education and English as a Second language programs, as well as Special Education students.
A couple of such worthy attempts with legislation that didn't get far this session—in part because we're too busy fighting the "show me your papers bill [SB4]" as well as the "bathroom bill [SB6]"—were by State Representative Diego Bernal with HB184, as well as by Senator Judith Zaffirini SB61.
It's ridiculous and tragic that neither of these bills had much of a life this session. This has got to change if Texas as a state is to prosper and if our ELL and Special Education children are to receive the quality education to which they are legally entitled.
Published 10:13 pm, Friday, October 2, 2015
Photo: Gary Fountain, Freelance
But many will disappear by May. Some seniors who start this year by dressing up for graduation photos will not walk the stage in caps and gowns at the end of the year.
According to a new report by the Texas Education Agency, 88 percent of students in the class of 2014 graduated. In school districts across Harris County, graduation rates ranged from 79 percent to 95 percent. Across Houston districts, the rates range from 79 percent to 93 percent.
But a deeper look shows a picture that is not as rosy, specifically for English language learners. They have the lowest graduation rate of all subgroups, at 71.5 percent statewide.
ELL students are one of the fastest-growing student groups in Texas with almost 1 million students, making up 18 percent of the school population. In the Houston area in 2014-15, ELLs are one in four students with 202,000 ELLs in Harris County and 198,000 ELLs in Houston alone.
The oftentimes poor quality of instructional programs for ELL students, particularly in middle and high school, has been a concern of educators, communities, parents and civil rights advocates for a number of years.
A decade ago, I served as an expert witness in a court case filed against the state for its poor monitoring of schools' ELL instruction. Texas relies on standardized test results in ways that merge data for students of all ages - elementary and secondary - and thus prevent targeted improvement efforts. So we can't tell which programs are working and which need improvement.
The late Senior U.S. District Judge William Wayne Justice ordered the state to establish an effective monitoring system and a language program that would fulfill the requirements of the Equal Education Opportunity Act. Apparently unwilling or unable to take the steps necessary to ensure ELL students were effectively educated, the state appealed to the Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals, which remanded the order.
Not surprisingly, the problem did not go away. As the numbers of ELL students grew, schools found themselves ill-equipped. Fewer than one in five elementary bilingual and ESL teachers in Texas are fully certified to teach ELL students. Schools with high concentrations of ELLs tend to have higher student-to-teacher ratios and are more likely to be property-poor schools.
One year ago, Texas District Court Judge John Dietz ruled in the largest school finance case in Texas' history that the current system of education funding was "constitutionally inadequate, unsuitable and financially inefficient." The San Antonio-based nonprofit Intercultural Development Research Association conducted research and provided expert testimony finding that the funding system is inequitable and fails to provide the adequate funding for educating ELL and low-income students. Judge Dietz agreed.
His ruling was heard on appeal in September. Regardless of the final ruling months from now, federal policy requires schools to serve every ELL student.
The results of Texas' neglect are clear. ELL students in Harris County and the city of Houston are not graduating with comparable percentages as other student groups, and they are dropping out at higher rates.
In fact, the average longitudinal dropout rate for ELLs is more than twice that of all students. In Harris County, the all-student rate is 6.3 percent compared to 14.1 percent for ELLs. In the city of Houston, the all-student rate is 7.3 percent compared to 16.1 percent for ELLs.
In February, more than 80 education and community leaders, and experts in law and education research gathered to examine this issue and hear the results of research conducted by Dr. Oscar Jimenez-Castellanos, IDRA's inaugural José A. Cárdenas School Finance Fellow.
Participants were alarmed to hear from the research that no secondary schools in Texas are consistently exceeding academic benchmarks with ELLs.
And those schools with highest ELL achievement spend significantly more general funds than other schools. Texas is significantly underfunding ELL education, and it shows.
Only 10 out of 613 secondary schools had a high proportion of ELL students passing all end-of-course exams, according to research by Dr. Jimenez-Castellanos.
While 56 percent of Texas students were considered college-ready in math and English language arts, only 8 percent of ELL students were considered ready.
This cannot go on. We cannot start filling our champagne glasses celebrating when our schools across the state are losing three out of 10 ELL students.
We would not be OK with only seven in 10 airplanes landing safely at their destination. We would not sit idly by if our electricity only worked seven out of 10 days. And we would not sit still if our banks lost $3 of $10 from our paychecks. And yet, the loss of hundreds of students hardly gets a second glance.
It doesn't have to be this way.
A few weeks ago, families from across the Texas Rio Grande Valley convened to encourage superintendents to set as the standard graduation plan one that gives students the opportunity to graduate college ready. Parents in the poorest parts of our state are calling for rigorous college-prep courses for their children. One high-poverty school district that serves a large ELL population has decided it's not OK to lose thousands of students and has taken steps that have cut its dropout rate in half. And they're not done.
Houston ISD itself has almost tripled the number of dual-language campuses in three years. And some Houston students made headlines when they joined other Texas teens in submitting an amicus brief calling for more school funding.
With greater attention to the quality of instructional programs for ELL students and to adequate and equitable funding for ELL education, we can secure educational opportunity for our all of students.
And all means all.
We must make sure every student is counted, because here in Houston, every student counts.
Johnson directs evaluation work at the Intercultural Development Research Association and is the lead author and researcher for IDRA's annual school attrition study.