Thursday, December 27, 2007

Gloria Padilla: Program vital to creating a college culture in Texas

San Antonio Express-News | Commentary
December 21, 2007

Some political decisions just make no sense.

Such is the case with Gov. Rick Perry's veto this summer of $500,000 to fund a Bexar County-based pilot program to monitor the transition of high school students to college.

Parents of school-age children will be glad to learn that despite Perry's veto of the higher education funding, the study will commence as planned.

The Higher Education Coordinating Board is funding the project for up to $200,000 to get it started in 2008.

The Bexar County pilot is being modeled after the California Partnership for Achieving Student Success, or Cal-PASS. Florida has also had great success with a similar program.

If successful, this important program could result in savings of thousands of dollars to future college students who graduate from public schools in Texas.

Regrettably, the state is not doing a very good job of graduating high school students who can step into a college level course and succeed.

Too many students, even some graduating at the top of their high school class, are finding themselves in need of remedial classes before enrolling in their first college credit course.

It shouldn't be that way, and the pilot program that the higher education board is funding will attempt to find out what can be done about this decades-long problem.

State Rep. Ruth Jones McClendon, who sponsored the legislation to fund the pilot program, was caught by surprise when the governor vetoed it. She plans to bring the issue back up in the 2009 session for the full funding.

The pilot program will be carried out by the Alamo Community Colleges in partnership with the Northside, North East, Judson, Edgewood and San Antonio school districts and the University of Texas at San Antonio.

The project is an important step in the state's goal to close education achievement gaps.

The Texas Education Agency and Higher Education Coordinating Board both spend a lot of time and money collecting data.

TEA has a wealth of information on student performance and accountability. The higher education board has large databases on retention rates and graduation.

Unfortunately, a lot of this data is never used collectively to determine what is happening to students as they transition to college or as they go from a community college to a four-year university.

One of the primary goals of the local research will be to identify gaps in the high school curriculum that will improve student success.

Academics are calling this a vertical alignment, but in simple terms it just means making sure students graduate high school with the skills necessary to allow them to immediately start taking college level courses.

For many students, the first semester or two of college are spent in noncredit development courses.

The longer a student spends in remedial classes, the less likely he or she will ever graduate from college.

Aligning high school courses so they coincide with what is needed for college sounds simplistic. One would think this would have been addressed long ago, but it is not surprising that it has not been. Up until a few years ago, TEA and higher education board folks did not visit with each other very much.

That entire culture is changing, and that is a positive step.

It was refreshing to see new Texas Education Commissioner Robert Scott and State Board of Education Chairman Don McLeroy at the higher education board's meeting in October.

Each rung of the education ladder is dependent on each other, and success requires major communication among the parties.

If the state is going to develop a college-going culture where families' thoughts are about where the children will attend college — not if they will go — the work needs to start early.

Accountability in education cannot be just about making sure a student passes from one grade to the next and gets through the exit exams.

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