As we begin the new year, many of us are focused on priorities for the upcoming 85th Texas Legislature, particularly as it pertains to public education. In case you missed it, I am posting below an op/ed that was co-authored by my colleagues–Susan Combs and Woody Hunt–and me, which ran in the Austin American Statesman several weeks ago and outlines the legislative priorities of our new organization, Texas Aspires. Go to www.texasaspires.org for more information and regular updates during the session and let us have your comments.
Texas Aspires: Advancing Public Policies that Benefit Texas Students
It seems that whenever you turn on the news, check your social media feed, or open a newspaper these days you hear one thing: Americans are divided. Reports say that we cannot agree on what we want, much less work together to get there.
In Texas we have always been a little contrary, even when it’s about being contrary! So last year, two of the state’s leading education reform organizations, Texans for Education Reform (TER) and the Texas Institute for Education Reform (TIER), partnered to establish a new group: Texas Aspires, a bipartisan, non-profit organization of education, business and community leaders committed to advancing public policies that benefit all Texas students.
We came together because we realized there are things we find common ground on. For example, we agree that a quality education is the foundation of success. We agree that our education system has a duty to ensure that young people in Texas graduate high school adequately prepared for life—whether that is pursuing postsecondary education, enlisting in the military, or joining our state’s flourishing workforce.
And we agree that we face a crisis if we cannot fulfill this obligation. Today only 40 percent of Texas’s 25-34 year-olds possess a certificate, two-year degree, or higher—a statistic that places us far below many other states and nations. Experts predict that soon as much as 65 percent of all new jobs will require a post-secondary degree or advanced training.
If Texas students cannot meet this workforce need, employers will move their higher-paying jobs out of the state, leaving our students with the job prospects that remain. Together, our organizations pledged to address this issue and recognized that it will take a huge joint effort to create change and develop a competitive workforce.
First and foremost, Texas Aspires believes that postsecondary readiness should be the organizing principle of K-12 education. We understand what levers need to move, in order to build a world-class education system that allows our students to thrive.
To best prepare students for postsecondary success, the right data must be captured, easily understood, and focused on dramatically increasing student achievement.
We must advocate for policies that increase educator effectiveness. No in-school factor has more impact on a child’s academic performance than a qualified teacher. We need wide-ranging policies that attract the best and brightest into the classroom, encourage educators to be data-driven and responsive to students’ diverse learning needs, offer personalized professional development and support, and reward teachers for making a meaningful impact on student achievement.
With 5.4 million students in over 1,200 school districts and public charters, the state needs to encourage the creation of many more competitive seats by allowing more innovation and autonomy.
We must also expand education options for families and students. For too many families, arbitrary lines determine the schools their children can attend. Lifting barriers that hinder access to high-quality school options will encourage an array of academic choices, such as specific program pathways within a school district, transfers within and between neighboring districts, or free open-enrollment public charter schools, either as part of the school district or independent of the district.
We must also provide local communities with opportunities to make their voices heard in the policymaking process.
That is why the Texas Aspires team has been crisscrossing Texas, visiting every corner of the state to meet with parents, teachers, administrators and education stakeholders to discuss their concerns about the issues our state’s education system faces. These candid, fruitful conversations gave us a “big picture” sense of the challenges Texans are facing in our state’s education system and will shape every action Texas Aspires takes to improve student outcomes in the upcoming legislative session.
Texas Aspires will serve as a voice in Austin to promote policies that blaze a path of innovation and ensure students’ academic success. Establishing a pathway to excellence and achievement for all Lone Star students is something we should all agree on.