LET'S PREPARE TEXAS STUDENTS FOR THE TECHNOLOGY AGE
Old School Reform Debates are Out of Date
Guest Column by Dan Patrick
For nearly two decades, the debate over how to improve Texas schools has largely been a battle between voucher proponents and advocates for more funding. Meanwhile, other states have developed new education models that are producing higher-achieving students nationwide. Texas must move past this old, narrow debate and implement the best thinking from around the country to dramatically improve our schools.
The situation is urgent. Only three in 10 Texas fourth-graders scored proficient or advanced for reading, according to national measurements. And though Texas has made some progress in achievement, it’s not nearly enough to keep us competitive. In fact, our workforce remains alarmingly under-educated.
While 80 percent of the new jobs created in Texas over the next decade will require some form of education or training beyond high school, less than one out of four Texas students completed any certificate or degree program within six years of high school graduation.
Texas must close this learning gap or we will fall hopelessly and permanently behind.
Putting to work the most effective education policies from around the nation is the leap forward Texas needs to achieve lasting education reform. Leading foundations, policy experts and civic leaders, united as Texans Deserve Great Schools, have thoroughly studied what works in education. The resulting best practices will transform Texas schools.
For example, all Texas students should be allowed to take state-approved courses online, particularly when their school doesn't offer those courses in the classroom. By combining innovative, online learning techniques with personal instruction, blended learning can benefit students and teachers alike through personalized instruction.
Using the nationally-recognized School of One blended learning program in New York State, students are learning at a rate of 50 to 60 percent higher than those in traditional classrooms. Yet today, only one-quarter of 1 percent of Texas’ 4.9 million students is permitted to access online learning for school credit.
Texas should award credit to all students who can pass an exam that proves their knowledge of the course material, regardless of how much time they have spent in a classroom. Students should also have greater access to career technologies and vocational specialties like health care training and other skilled trades, while still receiving an educational foundation for college.
Zip codes should no longer limit Texas students’ access to a quality education. Students should be allowed to attend whichever public school they choose with priority given to local students. Texas should also remove the arbitrary cap on public charter schools to meet the demand from across the state, while ensuring strong accountability for all schools’ performance.
It shouldn’t take six years or more of committee reviews and bureaucratic intervention before the state or parents can intervene to fix a failing school. Expedited fixes after two years of failing are proven to work, as they have in the Louisiana Recovery District where graduation rates doubled in only four years.
We know constructive competition among schools of all types improves education for all children. We know innovation, rigor, transparency, empowerment and flexibility form the equation for meaningful education reform. Texas should seize this opportunity to apply best practices that are proven to improve education. It’s our best chance to create great schools for all Texas students.
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Senator Dan Patrick is chair of the Senate’s Education Committee.