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By W. Gardner Selby March 12, 2015

George P. Bush says a majority of "our students" trapped in underperforming schools

George P. Bush, the first-year Texas land commissioner, maintains that most students are stuck in bad schools.

Bush, addressing a "school choice" rally outside the Texas Capitol Jan. 30, 2015, said: "I believe that most teachers are doing the very best in very difficult situations when a majority of our students are trapped in schools that are underperforming. Some schools don’t work and refuse to change — and that’s why we need school choice and that’s why we need it now."

The Rev. Charles Johnson, executive director of Pastors for Texas Children, which describes itself as an independent ministry and outreach group supporting quality public education opportunities for Texas children, asked us to check Bush’s statement, which Johnson said he heard about from someone who watched the rally.

We were curious too.

Asked where Bush’s data came from, Brittany Eck, a General Land Office spokeswoman, pointed out a comment by the state’s chief education official in October 2013, when Texas received a waiver from the federal Adequate Yearly Progress requirement that more than 90 percent of students in each school and district pass the state’s standardized tests in reading and math, in accord with the No Child Left Behind Act that passed into law when George W. Bush was president.

At the time Texas got its waiver, Eck said by email, the state’s education commissioner, Michael Williams, said 95 percent of the state’s school districts would not have met the federal law’s expectations, according to an October 2013 news story in the Dallas Morning News. Eck noted the same judgment was aired by a non-governmental group, the Texas Classroom Teachers Association.

Meantime, Eck wrote, only 28 percent to 41 percent of Texas fourth- and eighth-graders chosen to take the National Assessment of Educational Progress, sometimes called the nation’s report card, met "proficiency" levels in math or reading in 2013. Some perspective: According to the 2013 results, 62 percent to 84 percent of the Texas students scored well enough to meet basic expectations or better.

State accountability ratings

Next, we asked the Texas Education Agency what it considers the best measurement of schools in Texas. Spokeswoman Debbie Ratcliffe said by email the state’s own accountability system is the only rating system in place. And according to the latest state summary of the ratings, released in December 2014, 949 of the state’s 1,025 school districts, 93 percent, "met standard" while 76 districts were rated "improvement required."

The summary said 6,723, or 86 percent, of the state’s individual schools "met standard" with 142 meeting an alternate standard — leaving 636 campuses rated "improvement required," meaning the campus missed the state’s standard on one or more performance indicators, according to the TEA. Those indicators include student results on the State of Texas Assessment of Academic Readiness (STAAR) and graduation and annual dropout rates, according to the TEA’s Accountability Manual.

For 2014, the summary said, some 484 campuses weren’t rated and one school had "data integrity issues." (We did not consider charter schools to carve out these counts; there aren’t a lot of them.)

Overall in the year, Ratcliffe said, 372,287 of the state’s 5,151,925 public-school students, 7 percent, were enrolled in schools that received the "improvement required" rating.

Ratcliffe did not dispute that Williams had said 95 percent of the state’s districts would not have cleared the AYP hurdles. The waived expectation under the federal law was that more than 90 percent of students in each school and district pass the state’s standardized tests in reading and math.

"We do fall short of perfection," Ratcliffe said.

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Texas Classroom Teachers Association

Given that Eck singled out the classroom teachers association, we asked that group, which advocates for teachers, to assess Bush’s statement.

By email, Holly Eaton focused on doubts about the usefulness of the AYP standards, which she said have long been regarded as not attainable at the law’s stipulated pace, explaining why many states (more than 40, the News story said) got waivers, she said. "Accordingly, the projection that 95% of Texas schools would have failed to meet AYP in 2014 shows that Texas was in the same predicament as every other state in the country due to a poorly conceived and widely discredited federal standard," Eaton said. By phone, she elaborated: "We don’t think the federal AYP ratings are of any significance."

Broadly, Eaton said, the association disagrees with Bush’s characterization.

Other perspectives

We also reached out to other close observers of Texas schools.

Lori Taylor, a Texas A&M University associate professor in the Bush School of Government and Public Service, commented by email: "I think the term ‘underperforming’ is really squishy. If one has exceedingly high standards for education, then every school is always underperforming."

Taylor pointed out the state’s 2014 accountability ratings — and called AYP an "odd standard of performance" because of the law’s everyone-must-pass requirement for a school to be considered acceptable. "Most researchers are highly critical of AYP as a measure of performance, so schools that are performing badly by this measure are not necessarily underperforming as most folks understand the term," Taylor wrote.

Also by email, Torey Tipton of Children at Risk, which analyzes test results and other indicators in its own way, said many Texas children are in failing schools. In spring 2014, she said, 2,275, or 30 percent, of more than 7,000 schools ranked by the group landed Children at Risk grades of D, needing "significant improvement," or F, which the group defines as "highly concerning."

Our ruling

Bush said the "majority of our students are trapped in" underperforming schools.

Bush relied on another official’s speculation about how well schools might meet disputed federal standards that don’t apply to Texas this year anyway. Meantime, 2014 state ratings indicate more than nine in 10 districts fulfilled state-set standards and more than eight in 10 campuses did so.

We rate this claim False.

FALSE – The statement is not accurate.

Click here for more on the six PolitiFact ratings and how we select facts to check.

Our Sources

Web page, "NAEP, Texas results, 2013," U.S. Department of Education (accessed March 6, 2015)

Press release, "Final 2014 accountability ratings released," Texas Education Agency, Dec. 3, 2014

News story, "U.S. grants Texas a waiver on No Child Left Behind rules," the Dallas Morning News, Oct. 1, 2013

Emails, Holly Eaton, director of Professional Development and Advocacy, Texas Classroom Teachers Association, March 5, 2015

Emails, Debbie Ratcliffe, director of media relations, Texas Education Agency, March 4 and 6, 2015

Publication, "2014 Accountability Manual," Texas Education Agency, chapters posted online in May and June 2014 (accessed March 6, 2015)

Email, Lori Taylor, associate professor, Bush School of Government and Public Service, Texas A&M University, March 6, 2015

Emails, Torey Tipton, assistant director of the center for Social Measurement and Evaluation, Children at Risk, March 6, 2015

Web pages, "School Rankings, 2014," spring 2014; "Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs)," Children at Risk, undated (accessed March 6, 2015)

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George P. Bush says a majority of "our students" trapped in underperforming schools

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