Welcome to Hall Pass. This newsletter keeps you plugged into the conversations driving school board politics and governance. Each week, we bring you a roundup of the latest on school board elections, along with sharp commentary and research from across the political spectrum on the issues confronting school boards in the country’s 14,000 school districts. We’ll also bring you the latest on school board elections and recall efforts, including candidate filing deadlines and election results.
In today’s edition, you’ll find:
- The debate over high school grade inflation and its effect on students
- School board filing deadlines, election results, and recall certifications
- A look at Tarrant County school board election results
- Extracurricular: links from around the web
- Candidate Connection survey
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On the issues: The debate over high school grade inflation and its effect on students
In this section, we curate reporting, analysis, and commentary on the issues facing school board members.
Grade inflation refers to an upward trend in average grades students receive for a particular level of work. For example, if a student submitted an assignment and received a “B” one year, and the next year another student submitted the same level of work and received an “A,” grade inflation would have occurred.
Below, Zachary Bleemer writes that grade inflation could benefit students and encourage them to graduate. Bleemer also says higher grades could give students the confidence to pursue what he considers more difficult subjects like science and math.
Brandon L. White says grade inflation is particularly harmful to students who are most likely to fail a class or drop out of school entirely. White says the lowered expectations harm all students and do not prepare them for careers or college.
Grade inflation is just plain bad. Right? Maybe not. | Zachary Bleemer, The Washington Post
“A series of recent studies by several independent teams of economists, though, have advanced a surprising hypothesis: that in many circumstances, grade inflation may be providing important benefits to many of today’s students. Everyone agrees that kids should learn more in school. Grade inflation may weaken some students’ incentive to study and could frustrate colleges’ ability to identify well-prepared applicants — but higher grades may also bolster some students’ confidence and encourage them into rigorous disciplines where they might succeed. …STEM courses tend to award lower average grades than other fields, and female students are more likely than male students to switch their fields of study if they earn low grades in introductory courses. As a result, inflating grades in STEM courses might increase the share of female students earning STEM degrees, narrowing the worrisome gender gap in those majors. … All of these studies focus on college grades, but the same arguments hold for high schools. Higher grades could mean less discouragement from challenging subjects and maybe even greater confidence and persistence to graduation.”
Rampant grade inflation is harming vulnerable high schoolers | Brandon L. Wright, Thomas Fordham Institute
“Pressure to boost those [graduation] rates, often due to school accountability policies, plays a role [in grade inflation]—but so do complex motivations like empathy and concern for kids’ future well-being. It’s these latter impulses that lead folks to believe that easing expectations, at least for disadvantaged and struggling students, is a victimless, thoughtful, and maybe even noble act. Though it does young people no real good to be awarded unearned diplomas. The harm done by lowered expectations doesn’t just befall the kids who are barely making it through high school. As illustrated by those profiled in the Globe, a disservice is being done to their high-achieving peers—not young people at risk of not graduating at all, but those who leave high school at the top of their class and under the impression that they’re fully ready for college, including elite schools like Bryn Mawr, B.U., and B.C. They discover—with surprise, pain, angst, embarrassment—that they’re nowhere near ready. The culprit is grade inflation, which occurs when subjective course grades exceed objective measures of performance.”
School board update: filing deadlines, election results, and recall certifications
Ballotpedia has historically covered school board elections in about 500 of the country’s largest districts. We’re gradually expanding the number we cover with our eye on all of the roughly 14,000 districts with elected school boards.
Election results from the past week
The following districts within our scope held elections on May 17:
- Lackawanna City School District (general)
- Guilford County Schools (primary)
- Johnston County Schools (primary)
- Union County Public Schools (primary)
- Winston-Salem/Forsyth County Schools (primary)
- Durham Public Schools (general)
States with school board filing deadlines in the next 30 days
- Five seats on the Minneapolis Public Schools board are up for general election on Nov. 8. A primary is scheduled for Aug. 9. The filing deadline for this election is May 31.
Upcoming school board elections
Districts in Alabama and Georgia are holding primary and general elections on May 24. Districts in California are holding primary elections on June 7.
We’re covering the following school board primary elections on May 24. General elections will be held Nov. 8.
We’re covering the following school board elections on May 24. General elections will be held Nov. 8.
- Cherokee County School District (primary)
- Clayton County Public Schools (primary)
- Cobb County School District (primary)
- Forsyth County Schools (primary)
- DeKalb County School District (general)
- Fulton County Schools (general)
- Gwinnett County Public Schools (general)
- Henry County Schools (general)
- Muscogee County School District (general)
- Savannah-Chatham County Public School System (general)
We’re covering the following school board elections on June 7.
- Long Beach Unified School District (primary)
- Los Angeles Unified School District (primary)
- San Diego Unified School District (primary)
- Compton Unified School District (general)
- Twin Rivers Unified School District (general)
School board candidates per seat up for election
Since 2018, we’ve tracked the ratio of school board candidates to seats up for election within our coverage scope. We view candidates per seat as a proxy for interest in school board elections, sometimes driven by greater awareness of issues or conflicts around school board governance. Periods with more awareness or conflict tend to correlate with more candidates running for seats on school boards. Click here to see historical data on this subject.
In 2022, 2.5 candidates are running for each seat in the 508 school board races we are covering in districts where the filing deadline has passed. That represents a 29% increase in candidates per seat compared to 2020.
A look at Tarrant County school board election results
On May 7, school districts across Texas—including some of the largest in the state—held school board general elections. Districts across the state, especially in Tarrant County, home of Fort Worth, saw conflicts about some of the biggest issues facing school boards today.
The Texas Tribune’s Jason Beeferman wrote that “All but one of the 11 Tarrant County conservative school board candidates, who were backed this year by several high-profile donors and big-money PACs, defeated their opponents during Saturday’s local elections, according to unofficial results. The one candidate backed by the groups who didn’t win outright advances to a runoff election in June.” The candidates ran for seats in the Keller, Mansfield, Grapevine-Colleyville, and Carroll school districts.
Tarrant is the third-largest county in Texas. In 2020, President Joe Biden (D) received 49.3% of the vote in the county, while Donald Trump (R) received 49.1%.
School board races in Texas are nonpartisan, though The Dallas Morning News’ Talia Richman writes “they have become extremely politicized in the past year as school boards tackled increasingly divisive — and high-profile — issues, including COVID-19 protocols and how to teach children about history, race, gender and sexuality.”
These nonpartisan races drew attention from the major political parties and satellite groups alike. Last December, The Texas Tribune reported the Texas Republican Party had formed a Local Government Committee, which would work to identify and back candidates in nonpartisan municipal races. The Texas Democratic Party also identifies and backs candidates through its Project LIFT initiative.
The Dallas Morning News reported that “[a]t least 10 conservative PACs have launched in the past year in cities across the Dallas area with the goal of steering local districts in a more conservative direction.” Funding for PACs came in part from Patriot Mobile, a Grapevine-based cell phone company which the Fort Worth Star-Telegram’s Abby Church reported “poured $500,000 into a PAC to support candidates in the Carroll, Grapevine-Colleyville, Keller and Mansfield school districts, where the races included debates about critical race theory and what books are on library shelves.”
Not all candidates backed by conservative organizations and PACs won their elections. According to The Texan, candidates in the Coppell Independent School District and Highland Park Independent School District elections were not successful.
Below are details on a few of the Tarrant County school districts within our coverage scope.
Three at-large seats on the Keller Independent School District school board were up for election.
Micah Young defeated incumbent Craig Allen 63.4% to 36.6% in election for Place 1. In the Place 2 general election, Joni Shaw Smith defeated Julie Nors and incumbent Karina Davis with 56.1% of the vote. In the Place 3 general election, Sandi Walker defeated James Duncan 69.2% to 30.8%.
According to the Fort Worth Star-Telegram, all “the candidates backed by the conservative KISD Family Alliance and True Texas Project won seats.” The Texan reports that Young, Smith, and Walker were also backed by the 1776 Project PAC, which says it is fighting back against the teaching of Critical Race Theory.
Four seats on the Mansfield Independent School District school board were up for election.
In the Place 3 general election, Craig Tipping and Benita Reed advanced to a June 18 runoff election. Tipping earned 49.2% of the vote to Reed’s 42.9%. Shawn Thompson earned 7.9%. In the Place 4 election, incumbent Keziah Valdes Farrar defeated Amanda Jackson Sneed 56.2% to 43.8%. In the Place 5 election, Bianca Benavides Anderson defeated Jo Anna Cardoza and Le Keishia Dawkins. Anderson won 51.5% of the vote to Cardoza’s 32.6% and Le Keishia Dawkins’s 15.9%. In the Place 7 election, Courtney Lackey Wilson defeated Yolanda McPherson 57.6% to 42.4%.
This year, around 10,300 people voted in the Mansfield Independent School District elections. In 2020, two seats—Place 6 and Place 7—were on the ballot. Because of the coronavirus pandemic, the election date was moved from May to Nov. 3. The Place 6 race was uncontested. In the Place 7 race, 51,775 people voted in the general election, and 9,391 people voted in the Dec. 8 runoff. In 2018, three seats were on the ballot, and 10,454 people voted across all three races.
The Fort Worth Star-Telegram reports Patriot Mobile endorsed the candidates who won their elections. Patriot Mobile also endorsed Tipping, who will compete against Reed in a runoff election on June 18. The 1776 Project PAC also endorsed the highest vote-getters in all four races, including Tipping.
Tracking school board conflicts
Since 2021, we’ve tracked conflicts in school board elections around the following topics: race in education/critical race theory, responses to the coronavirus pandemic, and sex and gender in schools in school. To date, we’ve identified 695 school districts in 40 states where candidates took a stance on one of these issues. In the May 7 Texas elections alone, we identified 28 districts where one or more candidates took a stance on at least one of these topics.
You can read more about our research tracking conflicts in school board elections here.
Not all districts in Texas held an election on May 7. On Nov. 8, 27 districts within our scope will hold general elections.
Extracurricular: education news from around the web
This section contains links to recent education-related articles from around the internet. If you know of a story we should be reading, reply to this email to share it with us!
- Facing pushback, Biden administration clarifies charter school rules | Washington Post
- Schools could get extra time to spend COVID relief on building fixes | Chalkbeat
- California set to launch hundreds of community schools with $635 million in grants | EdSource
Take our Candidate Connection survey to reach voters in your district
Everyone deserves to know their candidates. However, we know it can be hard for voters to find information about their candidates, especially for local offices such as school boards. That’s why we created Candidate Connection—a survey designed to help candidates tell voters about their campaigns, their issues, and so much more.
In the 2020 election cycle, 4,745 candidates completed the survey.
If you’re a school board candidate or incumbent, click here to take the survey.
The survey contains over 30 questions, and you can choose the ones you feel will best represent your views to voters. If you complete the survey, a box with your answers will display on your Ballotpedia profile. Your responses will also populate the information that appears in our mobile app, My Vote Ballotpedia.
And if you’re not running for school board, but there is an election in your community this year, share the link with the candidates and urge them to take the survey!