|In 2009, Texas put in place a public education assessment and accountability system that, when fully implemented, was rated the most rigorous in the nation and represented the first to require that a high school diploma truly represented postsecondary (college and career) readiness. Unfortunately, the pushback from the education establishment was immediate and relentless, resulting in the significant rollback of the standards over the following two legislative sessions. The results have been predictable–student achievement has not improved; in fact, by most measures it has declined. Achieve, Inc., a Washington-based non-profit, released a revealing report in March that brings high relief to the troublesome trends, particularly in Texas. Achieve reports that only 27% of ACT test-takers and 32% of SAT test-takers in Texas meet the college readiness benchmarks, yet the state reached an all-time record high school graduation rate of 88% while lowering student expectations!
Courtney Boswell, Executive Director of the Texas Institute for Education Reform (TIER), expresses her concerns in a recent essay as follows:
As I watched and listened to a recent Texas Senate Education Committee hearing, one thought reverberated in my mind: “It’s time to change course.”
Senators took up two interim charges, but one stole the show for me: how can we better prepare children for a future after high school? As a teacher, I had the opportunity to do everything in my power to make sure every one of my students was ready for the next step in school and in life. Now, as an advocate, I believe the state has the same opportunity on a much larger scale.
Here’s the scary part; we’re not doing it. Much to my chagrin, we’re actually getting further from that ideal. Why is that? Do we lack empathy? No. What we lack is a collective political will to make the hard choices for ALL students. Change can be painful. It takes time.
Years ago, we held our students to higher standards for graduation. We required all high school students to take courses like Algebra II that are integral for postsecondary preparedness. There was value in a Texas diploma, because it took work to earn.
That graduation plan was rigorous and challenging. That plan was focused on bright futures for all. That plan made people uncomfortable, which was its downfall. Responding to pressures from nearly all sides, policymakers drew back, and we are left with little to no idea how well we are preparing students for their next steps after high school.
I am troubled that we can’t answer the question: “Are students being prepared?” Without that answered, the secondary question, “How do we prepare them better?”, becomes impossible to answer. The information needed to answer those questions is just one of the babies we threw out with the bathwater when we lowered our standards just a few years ago.
Am I saying we should hit the rewind button? Absolutely not. But we have a rich history of innovation that we can draw on. It’s time we take what we know from our past and make it new again. It’s time for more rigor, not less. It’s time to make every grade a rung on a ladder to postsecondary success. It’s time to change course.
TIER advisor Michael Petrilli of the Fordham Foundation recently wrote: “Texas has clearly lost its leadership position. While the rest of the country is moving toward higher standards and tougher tests, Texas continues to set the bar tragically low. The Lone Star State needs to stop telling parents that their kids are on track for success when they’re not.”
We are at a critical point in the direction of education policy. If you want to learn more about how you can get involved with this issue, go to www.texaseducationreform.org.