The full story on public education

Dr. Sylvester Perez1

June 10, 2013

Dear SAISD Staff,

With the 2012-13 school year coming to a close, I want to take this time to thank each and every one of you for your many contributions. As I attend our graduation ceremonies, it is evident that you have done a fantastic job of preparing our students for a lifetime of success – it’s inspiring to watch our seniors cross that stage and receive their diplomas.

I’ve had the opportunity to meet personally with many of you this year, in a variety of forums, and I’m always struck by the passion and dedication we have here at SAISD to helping our students succeed.

While we know we have challenges, and there is much work to be done, I know that together we will continue to achieve successes and make this District even stronger.

That’s an important message to keep in mind, particularly when there are less than positive reports about education issues such as accountability systems, school budgets, and charters versus public schools – something I have been asked about quite a bit lately.

In recent months, charter schools have been a hot topic in our city and across the state. You may have seen the TV ads promoting charter schools or heard about the legislation to increase the number of external charter schools that can operate in Texas.

With all the current buzz, it can be easy to lose overall perspective—and more importantly, to undervalue the critical role that public schools continue to play in the education of the vast majority of our youths. So when we hear claims that charter schools are simply better at educating students, or that public school officials tend to oppose choice, it’s important to keep the entire story in mind.

When it comes to choice, for example, the truth is that SAISD offers many options—including our 13 internal charter schools and our successful magnet programs. Our “choice” programs are taught by highly qualified, certified teachers; and we offer a range of enrichment opportunities too, including fine arts, athletics, ROTC and extracurricular activities.

Under the 2011 state accountability system shown on the TEA website, almost 18 percent of external charter operators were rated academically unacceptable—more than three times the rate among public school districts (17.6% vs 4.6%).  Additionally, the percentage of charter campuses in the state rated Academically Unacceptable by TEA was nearly twice that of traditional public schools (11.2% vs. 5.9%).Public schools have always welcomed accountability. We work hard to analyze how our student performance measures up—within the district, between districts, across the state, around the nation and even with other countries. On the whole, those measures prove that public schools work.

Public schools still educate the largest number of National Merit finalists, recruit and retain the best teachers, offer the most opportunities to learn lessons outside the classroom, and provide students with opportunities to develop the career, technology and "soft skills" needed for success.

Public schools accomplish all that, while also making it a point to serve ALL students, including Special Education, English Language Learners, Economically Disadvantaged students, and students with behavioral issues.

Do external charter schools have a role to play in improving education? Certainly. At the same time, it’s worth noting that just 3 percent of the five million school-age children in Texas attend external charter schools today. The vast majority—97 percent—are enrolled in traditional public schools. So it only makes sense that, as a state, we’d want to focus most of our resources on the public school systems that serve them.

At times, it can be difficult to sort through all the noise surrounding education today. But when you consider the whole story, I think it’s pretty clear that public schools remain the cornerstone and foundation of an effective educational system. We have good reason to take pride in those achievements, year after year.

I want you to know, too, that I am deeply grateful for your hard work in our schools and in supporting the District—and for your proven dedication to our students.

Have a great summer!

Sincerely,
Dr. Sylvester Perez
Interim Superintendent