Monday, October 09, 2006

New agenda for Texas education: Current trends that reveal gaps must be reversed

Oct. 7, 2006, 6:18PM


New agenda for Texas education
Current trends that reveal gaps must be reversed


During the 1990s, Texas became a national leader in education reform when a bipartisan group of Texans joined together to establish academic standards and accountability as the framework for transforming public schools.

The reforms began in 1993 when the state adopted a new accountability system that linked school accreditation with success in meeting academic standards. At the time it was a radical concept, but over the next few years Texas adopted other sweeping initiatives that would place it at the forefront of a growing effort to improve education.

Chief among the changes was Senate Bill 1, legislation that in 1995 began the largest overhaul of the Texas Education Code in half a century. It increased local control of schools, created the State Board for Educator Certification and established charter school authority.

Over the next 10 years, Texans would adopt knowledge and skills standards, statewide reading and math initiatives and end social promotion. Tougher high school programs and graduate exams would be instituted and in 2006 math and science courses were added to high school curriculums.

The reforms made a dramatic change in the delivery of public education in Texas. They resulted in an increase in state assessment pass rates from 45 percent in 1992 to 85 percent in 2002. The percentage of students taking college prep curriculum increased to 68 percent and the number of AP scores acceptable for college credit tripled. In addition, each ethnic group in K-8 outperformed the national average for their peers and began to close achievement gaps on state and national tests.

The progress was remarkable but problems remain. Gains were largely at the elementary level, and our students' proficiency to succeed in middle school and beyond presents a huge challenge. Even with the progress, K-8 Hispanic and African-American students lag two years behind their Anglo classmates. Eighth-grade reading proficiency is below national average and eighth-grade reading (26 percent) and math (31 percent) proficiency are too low to support success in advanced studies.

Although more students are taking a more rigorous curriculum, proficiency of high school graduates has not improved. Only 18 percent of high school graduates acquire skills necessary for college and the workplace, and 52 percent of high school graduates require remediation to do college work. There are major gaps in the pass rates between the high school exit exam and the college ready scale score and the Texas higher education graduation rate is the fifth lowest in the nation.

The bottom line is that unless current trends are reversed, a majority of Texas students will be unprepared for success in higher education and the 21st century workplace. How we meet that challenge is important for the educational future of our children and the economic future of our country.

We are already behind. Most of our international com-petitors are producing larger, more highly competitive work forces; most industrialized countries outperform American students in science and math; and most have higher standards for high school graduation. The result likely means that our children will be the first generation of Americans worse off economically than their parents.

The Texas Center for Demographic and Socioeconomic Research predicts that, based on the current rate of population growth and pace of educational improvement, Texans will experience a 12 percent decrease in average household income and a 40 percent increase in poverty in less than forty years.

The urgency for action couldn't be more evident. We must not allow this prediction to become a reality. We must develop a long-term plan for moving to the next phase of public education reform so that our students can begin to immediately accelerate their preparation for success.

Here is an immediate agenda:

• Enhance educator effectiveness: No education delivery system can be better than the educators in the school building. We need much better and more competitive preparation, certification reform, research-based professional development, effective mentoring, performance-based compensation, value-added evaluation, mandatory remediation and dismissal of ineffective educators.
• Raise standards: After 10 years, it is clear that TEKS needs a complete overhaul. The expectations for our kids are too low, there is no grade-level specificity, no progression of rigor from grade to grade and in many instances, the standards are not measurable.
• Strengthen accountability: We should phase into a 90 percent proficiency standard for accreditation of a campus, strengthen the consequences for school failure, adopt statewide public school choice, and expand charter school authority with equalized funding and tougher standards.
• Refine academic performance assessments: We should adopt value-added evaluation for charters, educator preparation programs and educator compensation; add end of course exams in high school; and connect all assessments to college and workplace readiness expectations.
Finally, we should create a comprehensive agenda for systemic long-term reform for public education that will fulfill the objective that every child in Texas will graduate from high school fully prepared for higher education, the 21st century workplace and responsible citizenship. What Texans can dream, Texans can do. Working together, with the energized leadership of the business community, we can build the schools we need to thrive in the highly competitive knowledge-based economy and once again lead the nation in public school innovation.

Windham heads the Texas Institute for Education Reform.

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