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Improve Opportunities for Students in Failing Schools


Nearly 70,000 students were trapped in low-performing public schools (not including charter schools) in the 2001-02 school year. The Legislature should enhance opportunities for students in failing schools by making changes to the Texas Public Education Grant Program and requiring the state’s commissioner of Education to reconstitute schools rated by the Texas Education Agency as “low performing” for two consecutive years.


The Texas Education Agency’s (TEA’s) Texas Public School Accountability System (TPSAS), in place since the 1993-94 school year, has used scores on the Texas Assessment of Academic Skills (TAAS), attendance rates and dropout rates to rank individual schools in one of four categories: “exemplary,” “recognized,” “acceptable” or “low performing.” The state’s 2002 accountability ratings are based solely on TAAS test results and student dropout rates.[1]

Since TPSAS was instituted, the number of Texas campuses rated exemplary or recognized has risen while the group rated acceptable has shrunk, a trend indicating that Texas’ accountability standards have in fact succeeded in improving the performance of many schools. The number of low-performing schools, unfortunately, more than tripled between 1994 and 2002, increasing from 54 to 149 campuses, including charter schools and alternative education programs. In 2001-02, nearly 70,000 students attended public schools (not including charter schools) that were rated low-performing. Failure to meet minimum TAAS passing requirements was a factor in the ratings given to more than two thirds of the total number of campuses classified as low performing in 2002.[2]

The American Association of School Administrators argues that, nationwide, one of the most effective strategies for turning around low-performing campuses, assigning the best principals and teachers to those schools, has not been adequately used.[3] Teacher and administrator quality matters, and it matters most for students who are not performing well in school. Research shows that students on low-performing campuses make significant performance gains when instructed by effective teachers. The impact of teacher effectiveness is also cumulative, affecting students’ academic performance even after they move to the next grade level.[4] Effective principals create a school climate that supports effective teaching and promotes learning for all students.[5]

The Educational Testing Service reports that students whose teachers majored or minored in the academic subject in which they are providing instruction performed better on National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP) mathematics and science examinations by 40 percent of a grade level. This study concludes that the impact of teacher quality on student learning far outweighs any benefits of smaller class sizes.[6] Unfortunately, many school systems assign their least effective, less prepared teachers to low-performing, high poverty schools.[7]

Many Texans have expressed concern over the plight of students trapped in low-performing public schools.[8] The 1995 Legislature adopted a Public Education Grant (PEG) Program that allows students to transfer out of a failing school to another campus.[9] In 2001-02, however, of 141,239 eligible students, fewer than 200 took advantage of the program.[10] This limited response can be attributed to the refusal of other districts to accept PEG students.[11]

The federal No Child Left Behind Act (NCLBA) of 2001 requires that parents be allowed to transfer their children out of failing schools as soon as their campuses are identified as needing improvement.[12] It also requires their original campuses to provide these children with transportation to and from their chosen campus and requires schools and districts to accept transferring students unless there are prohibitions in state law.[13] TEA, however, did not make public its list of schools from which students were eligible to transfer for 2002-03 until August 23, 2002, after many schools had already begun classes for the year.[14] TEA reports that this late publication date was due to the length of time required for the appeals process for campuses receiving a low-performing rating.[15]

A number of jurisdictions have enacted a firm but effective reform to address the problem of students stuck in failing schools: “reconstitution,” or the replacement of the school’s staff.[16] For schools that continue to fail for two more years after their initial identification as “needing improvement,” NCLBA requires that at least one of five corrective actions be taken. Reconstitution is one of these choices.[17]

Reconstitution requires all or part of a school’s administrators and teachers to resign and reapply for their jobs with the school district. Research confirms that the results of such measures are well worth the effort.[18] The Texas commissioner of Education was authorized to reconstitute schools in 1993 but has not yet used this power. A few Texas school districts, however, have voluntarily reconstituted one or more of their campuses.

Fort Worth ISD has reconstituted seven of its schools since 1995.[19] TAAS scores among the reconstituted schools rose by an average of 12 percentage points in the first year and 67 percentage points by the sixth year after reconstitution.[20] In 2001, two of the seven reconstituted schools attained Exemplary status, three were Recognized and two were rated Acceptable.[21]

San Antonio ISD has reconstituted three schools since 1996.[22] These schools have shown average TAAS performance gains of 37 percentage points since reconstitution.[23] Each campus principal and a site-based committee assembled solely for this purpose decided whether individual teachers would be rehired. Teachers not rehired were assigned to other positions in the district.

Corpus Christi ISD chose to reconstitute or “disestablish” its Wynn Seale Middle School in 1995. The campus changed its name to the Academy of Fine Arts and improved its scores dramatically.[24] In the first year after reconstitution, TAAS scores for students at the campus improved from 29 percent to 50 percent passing. By 2001, the passing rate had reached 69 percent.[25]

Blackshear Elementary School in the Austin Independent School District has made a dramatic turnaround after its reconstitution. The school went from being at risk of a state takeover to a rating of recognized in a two-year period.[26] The reconstitution of Blackshear Elementary was part of a district-wide effort to improve chronically low-performing schools.[27]


A. State law should be amended to require the commissioner of Education to reconstitute any campus rated as low performing for two consecutive years due to test performance.

Any public school rated as low performing for two consecutive years due to the failure of any student group to pass the Texas Assessment of Knowledge and Skills (TAKS)—the new testing series replacing the Texas Assessment of Academic Skills (TAAS)—should be completely reconstituted. Because of the upcoming transition from TAAS to TAKS, this recommendation would affect campuses for the first time during the 2005-06 school year.

B. State law should be amended to require the Texas Education Agency to publish its list of low-performing campuses no later than July 15 of each year.

C. State law should be amended to allow schools to reject Public Education Grant Program transfer students only if their acceptance would result in a health or safety code violation.

Fiscal Impact

These recommendations would have no significant fiscal impact on the state.

Based on the reported experiences of school districts that have reconstituted campuses, Recommendation A should have no significant fiscal impact on school districts.[28]


[1]Texas Education Agency, “Table 1: Accountability Rating Standards for 2002,” Austin, Texas, (Last visited October 1, 2002.)

[2]Texas Education Agency, Office of Accountability Reporting and Research, Division of Performance Reporting, “Campuses Receiving a Low-Performing Rating in 2002,” October 2002, Austin, Texas, Table L.3.

[3]Cynthia Prince, “Missing: Top Staff in Bottom Schools,” The School Administrator Web Edition (August 2002), (Last visited October 5, 2002.)

[4]William L. Sanders and June C. Rivers, “Cumulative and Residual Effects of Teachers on Future Student Academic Achievement,” (Knoxville, Tennessee, November 1996). pp. 1-8.

[5]Washington State Department of Education, “What Makes A School Successful,” School Improvement Process, (Last visited October 5, 2002.)

[6]Educational Testing Service, How Teaching Matters: Bringing the Classroom Back into Discussions of Teacher Quality, by Harold Wenglinsky, (Princeton, New Jersey, October 2000). pp. 7-8.

[7]William L. Sanders and June C. Rivers, “Cumulative and Residual Effects of Teachers on Future Student Academic Achievement,” (Knoxville, Tennessee, November 1996). p. 5.

[8]Express-Austin News Bureau, “State Action Unlikely on School Vouchers,” San Antonio Express-News (June 29, 2002). Section A, p. 1a.

[9]Tex. Educ. Code, Chapter 29, Subchapter G.

[10]Joshua Benton, “School Choice with a Hitch,” Dallas Morning News (August 10, 2002). p. 1A

[11]Melanie Markley, “Number of Low-Rated Texas Schools Unclear,” Houston Chronicle (July 4, 2002), Section A, p. 31.

[12]No Child Left Behind Act, Pub. L. No. 107-110 Section 1116(b)(7)(C)(iv) (2002).

[13]Diana Jean Schemo, “Few Exercise New Right to Leave Failing Schools,” The New York Times (August 28, 2002.) (Last visited September 17, 2002) and U.S. Department of Education, 34 CFR § 200.44 (2002).

[14]Texas Education Agency, “Student Transfers Available,” (Last visited September 17, 2002.)

[15]E-mail from B.J. Gibson, assistant commissioner, State and Federal Student Initiatives, Texas Education Agency, Austin, Texas, September 30, 2002.

[16]Education Commission of the States, Policy Brief: Accountability—Rewards/Sanctions, State Takeovers and Reconstitutions (Denver, Colorado, April 2002), available in PDF format from (Last visited July 1, 2002.)

[17]No Child Left Behind Act, Pub. L. No. 107-110 Section 1116(b)(1)(E)(i) (2002).

[18]North Central Regional Educational Laboratory, “Convincing Schools to Be Productive,” (Last visited October 1, 2002.)

[19]Fort Worth Independent School District, “Elementary Schools Initiative: Report Overview,” (Fort Worth, Texas, December 2, 2001.)

[20]Texas Education Agency, “2001 Campus AEIS History Reports,” Austin, Texas, accessible through (Last visited July 1, 2002.)

[21]Texas Education Agency, “2001 Campus Accountability Rating History, 1995 through 2001,” Austin, Texas, December 21, 2001, (Last visited July 1, 2002.)

[22]Telephone interviews with and notes from Fran Latour, Executive Assistant, Accountability and Accreditation, Texas Education Agency, Austin, Texas, November 7, 2000 and June 28, 2002.

[23]Texas Education Agency, “2001 Campus AEIS History Reports.”

[24]Telephone interview with Dr. Joseph Lopez, executive director of Instruction and Student Services, Corpus Christi Independent School District, Corpus Christi, Texas, September 11, 2000.

[25]Texas Education Agency, “2001 Campus AEIS History Reports.”

[26]Austin American Statesman, “Blackshear Deserves Praise for Turnaround,” Austin American- Statesman, (May 16, 2002). Editorial.

[27]Michelle Martinez, “Forgione Finalizes School Reform,” Austin American-Statesman, (April 23, 2002). News section, p. A1.

[28]For example, the San Antonio Independent School District reports no additional costs due to reconstitution: telephone interview with Dr. John Cadena, Research, Evaluation and Testing, San Antonio Independent School District, San Antonio, Texas, September 18, 2000.