Where a student lives in Fort Worth can determine whether they have access to some of the best or worst performing schools in the city, according to a new report from a new education nonprofit.
That factor is out of students’ control, but has contributed to forming an inequitable public school system that is unacceptable, according to the Fort Worth Education Partnership, an organization that wants all children to have access to a high-quality education.
The group released nine report cards, based on public accountability data from the Texas Education Agency, detailing school performance by each of the eight City Council districts and the overall city. Partnership organizers say the effort is in an attempt to shift how people view education.
The topic is often thought of on a school district basis, but Brent Beasley, the president and CEO of the Fort Worth Education Partnership, disputes that approach.
“People think of Fort Worth and the (Fort Worth ISD) as the same, but what we saw when we put these reports together is that the education of our kids is not a single school district challenge; it’s a city of Fort Worth challenge,” Beasley told the Fort Worth Report.
Beasley presented his organization’s findings Tuesday to the City Council.
‘Not a one school district problem’
Fort Worth students attend schools in 12 districts and 12 public charter networks that combined serve more than 160,000 children. About half of students who live in the city are enrolled in Fort Worth ISD, 75,000 attend the other 11 school districts and the remaining 13,000 students are in public charter schools.
More schools in the city earned a D or F rating on the student achievement measure, one of three areas on which Texas grades schools and districts, in the state’s accountability system than those that got an A or B. The most common grade schools in Fort Worth received on student achievement was a C.
The student achievement marker looks at whether students performed at grade-level on the State of Texas Assessments of Academic Readiness tests, the graduation rates of schools and districts and how prepared students are for post-high school life.
Mayor Betsy Price made education a top priority when she entered the office in 2011. Although detractors said it was an area the city should stay out of, Price saw it as a key ingredient for Fort Worth’s economic development efforts. Her successor, Mattie Parker, the mayor’s former chief of staff and leader of an education nonprofit, plans to continue Price’s focus on improving schools when she becomes the city’s leader July 15.
‘How do we break it?’
Inequities in education often break along socioeconomic lines, which are drawn along existing geographic boundaries, said Gabriel Huddleston, an associate professor and director of the Center for Public Education at Texas Christian University.
That could be seen when the Fort Worth Education Partnership compared City Council Districts 7 and 5 and found one of the largest student achievement disparities in the city.
In west Fort Worth’s District 7, no school earned a D or F grade from the state. But in District 5, which covers southeast Fort Worth, 82% of schools scored a D or F. Additionally, 87% of students in District 5 are economically disadvantaged, compared with 31% in District 7.
District 7 Council member Dennis Shingleton was not surprised to hear that schools in his district are performing well when compared to other parts of Fort Worth. School districts inside Shingleton’s area are more suburban and affluent than other City Council districts. Residents who live in District 7 have the means to move their children to a school that better fits them.
“It’s a simple equation. Now the question is how do we break it? How do we take that same equation and transplant that into another area that needs it,” Shingleton said.
Council member Gyna Bivens, who represents District 5, did not respond to a Report request to comment.
Rethinking education to a citywide perspective would be a big step for Shingleton. School districts, such as Eagle-Mountain Saginaw ISD and White Settlement ISD, both B-rated systems, have worked toward providing quality education for students, he said.
“Now the question is are they willing to give up some of that freedom, that liberty of what they’re doing in order to raise all the ships in the harbor?” said Shingleton, who is leaving the City Council after 10 years and Leonard Firestone will take his seat July 15. “I don’t know. That’s a tough question.”
The city of Fort Worth, though, should take small steps to help all schools, the outgoing council member said. Shingleton suggested the city can provide better sidewalks so students can walk to school or give neighborhoods better policing so children and parents are in a safe environment.
The council member’s ideas are more in the wheelhouse of a municipal government, Huddleston said. Parents can decide which school they want their child to attend, but for many they may not have the time or resources to provide proper transportation to get their student to a better school. And that’s where the city could get involved, according to the education professor.
“If we supplied resources for those types of things, indirectly we could maybe have an impact on our schools and students,” Huddleston said, suggesting Fort Worth also could take the lead by eliminating food deserts. “It’s not going to translate to, ‘Wow, we saw a 30% rise in test scores in one year.’ You’re talking generational transformation over a period of time. But it can certainly help; it could certainly impact, especially if you start to look for ways to gauge schools beyond test scores, too.”
By providing additional resources, the city could create a culture where schools have more buy-in from parents because they have more time, energy and ability to engage because they don’t have to worry about transportation or food. Huddleston predicted drastic changes could come from that over time.
Although the Fort Worth Education Partnership has yet to propose solutions for improving Fort Worth schools, Beasley considered the report cards a first step toward bringing some sort of change.
“Our objective here is just to basically call attention to this to city leaders and help them to see this as a citywide challenge and hope that spurs them to action,” Beasley said.