Major Education Reform Underway

Judging from the first few weeks of the new Texas legislative session, lawmakers are responding to calls for major education reform. Employers, educators, and parents have been calling on our state elected officials to allow for more flexibility in the high school curriculum rather than a “one size fits all” approach to education which pushes all students to go to a four-year university.

Over the past two decades, Texas education policy had moved towards a highly-restrictive 4x4 curriculum and a high-stakes, standardized testing system which resulted in the neglect – even the denigration – of vocational education. This elitist-designed educational policy in Texas and at the national level had the unfortunate effect of choking off the pipeline of skilled workers. Nor has the current emphasis on “teaching to the test” worked all that well for students interested in pursuing a college-oriented curriculum.

Their message has resonated at the highest levels. In his speech to the House on opening day, House Speaker Joe Straus (R-San Antonio) said, “To parents and educators concerned about excessive testing, the Texas House has heard you. We will continue to hold our schools accountable. But we will also make our accountability and testing system more appropriate, more flexible, and more reasonable.”

Recently-appointed House Public Education Chairman Jimmie Don Aycock is hard at work drafting bills that provide more flexibility, local control, and career and technology education. Straus also appointed Rep. John Davis (R-Houston) and Rep. Joe Deshotel (D-Beaumont) to the House Public Education Committee. Both legislators are strong advocates for increasing the opportunity for Career and Technical education training at the high school level. Rep. Bill Callegari (R-Houston) also has taken a leadership role in this effort to return more control to local school districts.

Currently, the state’s overly restrictive 4x4 high school graduation plan makes it difficult for students to take a coherent sequence of vocational education courses they need in order to earn an industry-certified credential or license that can lead to a good-paying job.

On Jan. 31, Senate Education Committee Chairman Dan Patrick (R-Houston) announced Senate Bill 3, which addresses some of these concerns. Patrick’s bill maintains a foundation curriculum in core subjects like English and math but also provides students with more flexibility. His bill allows students to earn multiple endorsements on their diploma, including one that rewards students who complete career and technology education courses. It also includes a career explorations course in the eighth grade.

In addition to more flexible graduation requirements, we need to reduce teaching to the test an excessive emphasis on state-driven STAAR testing, so that more real learning occurs in classrooms. Several influential lawmakers have filed bills that reduce the number of standardized tests required in high school, and I believe this issue will get acted upon as well.

Four years ago, when I gave a speech in Freeport on the need for more opportunities for vocational education programs in our schools, two school superintendents in the audience came up to me afterwards and expressed surprise that someone in state government would make such a statement. Now, it appears a consensus has developed within industry, education, and among parents, which is being reflected in serious legislative initiatives.

As one example of this growing consensus, the Jobs for Texas Coalition has brought together various business and industry organizations from all across Texas in a broad-based coalition to push for more emphasis on career and technical education.

We have made incredible progress over the past four years in moving toward a more common sense approach to education policy. Let’s finish the job by providing multiple pathways to a high school diploma which recognizes that “one size doesn’t fit all” when it comes to educating young Texans!



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