In a desperate effort to boost student performance and save a school system from closure, one Texas school district has made the mid-year decision to eliminate its athletic programs -- in a state where sports are a highly coveted pastime.
The Premont Independent School District in South Texas lost accreditation last year after it had failed to meet adequate yearly progress requirements since 2007 under the federal No Child Left Behind law. Premont ISD was slated to close by this July, but the closure has been suspended to allow the district more time to turn around its student performance and attendance rates.
"A Not Accredited-Revoked status means that the Texas Education Agency no longer recognizes the district as a Texas public school," according to the Houston Elementary Education Examiner.
Threats to closure have already sent many packing, and others are looking to leave the district. Enrollment has fallen to 570 students this year, from 800 five years ago, the Associated Press reports. About 100 students take part in school athletics.
Now, schools Superintendent Ernest Singleton is looking to go door-to-door for truant students, seeking to raise the district's 88 percent attendance rate. The Texas average is 96 percent, according to AP. Student athletics will be suspended at least until next spring.
By cutting sports, Singleton seeks to increase study time for students and save $150,000 over two semesters, to be reinvested into bringing in highly qualified teachers and install two new science labs by August.
Parents and critics are worried that the elimination of athletics will decrease students' opportunities for physical activity and increase chances for bad behavior. Some say that the loss of sports could further demotivate students to go to school, and do well.
The Texas Education Agency, charged with school accreditation, can suspend Singleton's experiment at the agency's discretion if the district is not making sufficient progress.
"The hole is so deep it's going to be very hard for them to dig out of it," TEA spokesperson Debbie Graves Ratcliffe told AP.
Overall, Texas' education policies and curriculum have seen mixed reviews. A report in the fall by University of Texas at El Paso professor Keith Erekson said the state's K-12 standards in history are inadequate, ineffective and "fail to meet the state's college readiness standards."
Texas' failures, as well as the poor national performance, contribute to a low level of college readiness among the state's high school students, to the extent that Erekson's report says college readiness was almost completely ignored in Texas' revised history standards, "Texas Essential Knowledge and Skills" -- presenting history as a series of factual memorization and one-sided analysis.
The report also notes that In 2006, when the College Readiness Standards were created, 40 percent of Texas college students weren't prepared. Last year, 48 percent of those entering community college and 14 percent of incoming college freshmen needed remedial courses in at least one subject, and the gap is only widening.
Texas students' math scores on the National Assessment of Education Progress test have increased, though progress has stalled recently. NAEP reading scores are still relatively low, and Texas leads the country in the number of adults without high school diplomas. And while Texans scored slightly below the national average on the 2011 ACT, few of those students are college-ready.
Groups of school districts in Texas are also putting questions of distribution of funding to the test. In the fall, groups of school districts filed suit against the state, alleging that the system of financing public education is inadequate and unfair to low-income and English-learning students. The plaintiffs argue that the current system of using property taxes for more than half of public school funding is unfair, creating a revenue and funding gap between schools zoned to higher-income neighborhoods and those in lower-income communities -- a gap as large as $1,000 per student.
A separate suit filed by Texas districts accuses the state of inadequately funding schools, and another filed in October claims that the funding system is unfair, inefficient and unconstitutional by taking an "arbitrary hodgepodge" approach, exacerbating flaws in the system by slashing resources for schools but at the same time heightening performance standards.