Leading Foundations Urge Bold, Innovative Education Policy Shift to Transform Texas Education

Collaborative Effort Showcases National Best Practices to Make Texas Model for Nation

AUSTIN, Texas, Jan. 24, 2013 (GLOBE NEWSWIRE) -- Leading foundations, education think tanks, policy experts and civic leaders today launched Texans Deserve Great Schools, a collaborative effort to raise awareness about the most successful education policies from around the nation that – if implemented together – will vastly improve student achievement in Texas. Texans Deserve Great Schools brings together long-time education champions including the George W. Brackenridge Foundation, the Laura and John Arnold Foundation, Parent Revolution, and the Texas Institute for Education Reform, who are working toward a paradigm shift in education.

"We can make a huge leap forward for all Texas schoolchildren by taking the best policies from around the nation and implementing them here in our state," said Victoria Rico, chairwoman and trustee of the George W. Brackenridge Foundation. "We have spent years studying and analyzing what works and what does not work. We've found that no single solution will by itself accomplish the transformational change Texas needs. Instead, we need a combination of policies. But we must act quickly. Texas is falling behind."

Less than three in 10 Texas 4thgraders scored proficient or advanced for reading on the National Assessment of Educational Progress, according to The Education Trust.[1] "The result of this underperformance in grade school is felt for a lifetime. Texas 25 to 34 year-olds rank 24th in educational attainment among the world's most competitive economies, lagging well behind the U.S. national average and the averages of other developed nations[2]," said Rico.

"Our schools were designed for the Industrial Age, not the Information Age," said Caprice Young, vice president of education for the Laura and John Arnold Foundation. "Students' experiences in most Texas classrooms are not preparing them for the competitive, technology-driven world that awaits them."

"Texans Deserve Great Schools' 'best-practices' approach brings an innovative, fresh perspective to not only help schools that are struggling, but also to further improve good schools and enrich education experiences for all students in all Texas schools," said Mike Trujillo, director of national advocacy at Parent Revolution. "Texas can be the first state in the U.S. to combine the very best education programs and comprehensively put them into practice in Texas schools."

Texans Deserve Great Schools embraces four core principles that can transform Texas education. (An expanded explanation of the following appears at the end of this document.)

  • Implement proven education technologies and teaching innovations;
  • Make high-performing school options available to every Texas family;
  • Invest in the best teachers and teaching policies to improve student learning; and
  • Integrate an emergency, expedited fix for any failing Texas public school.

Better preparing students for post-graduation success is imperative because 80 percent of the new jobs created in Texas over the next decade will require some form of post-high school education or training.[3] Yet, less than 22 percent of Texas students today earn any sort of post-high school degree or certificate within six years of graduation, according to the National Center for Higher Education Management Systems.[4]

Texans Deserve Great Schools urges Texans to address this unacceptable learning gap by providing access to coursework for students interested in career technologies and specialties like health care training and other skilled trades. Texans Deserve Great Schools also recommends allowing students to take state or district-approved online courses from accredited providers, especially when their school does not offer those courses in the classroom.

"Online learning can bring Ivy League-quality learning to students statewide and can be life-changing for students with health issues that stand in the way of traditional, classroom education," said Young. Currently, less than one quarter of one percent of Texas' 4.9 million students is permitted to access online learning for school credit.

"Texans Deserve Great Schools' singular focus is to make great schools available to all Texas students. Our policy framework will help struggling schools, improve teacher tools and compensation, empower parents, and increase the number of great schools so that we send all Texas students into the world prepared," said Andrew Erben, president of the Texas Institute for Education Reform.

"There is no cure-all for education reform," said Rico. "Comprehensive, meaningful reform tackles change from all angles. Taking the most effective education policies from around the nation is our best opportunity to accomplish real and lasting reform here," she said.

To learn more about Texans Deserve Great Schools and its policy solutions, visit www.texansdeservegreatschools.org. Connect with us on Facebook.com/TXGreatSchools and follow us on Twitter, @TXGreatSchools.

Texans Deserve Great Schools' Policy Principles to Transform Texas Schools

The following policies would make Texas the national leader in education:

I. Implement proven education technologies and teaching innovations.

1) Require schools to provide students with state or district-approved online classes, especially when their schools don't offer those courses in the classroom.

2) Stop limiting the number of students who may attend highly-effective online and blended learning schools by having them be part of the charter school system, thereby allowing them to be part of the state accountability system as well.

3) Provide access to coursework for students interested in career technologies and vocational specialties like health care training and other skilled trades, while continuing to provide a basic educational foundation for college.

4)    Award credit to students who can pass an exam that proves their knowledge on the course material, regardless of how much "seat time" they have spent in the classroom.

5)    Institute innovation waivers that allow school districts to implement pilot programs taking advantage of emerging learning technologies and new approaches. By the end of the pilot period, they must show positive results or they lose the waiver.

II. Make high-performing school options available to every Texas family.

1)    Allow every student to attend the public school of his or her choice, giving priority to local residents when more students apply than a school can serve.

2)    Remove the arbitrary cap on charter public schools in Texas and establish an independent oversight board to authorize new charters and close those that fail.

3)    Fund all public schools equitably, whether they are charter public schools or district schools, including giving equal access to facilities.

4)    Give more principals control over their budget, personnel, procurement, curriculum, instruction, school day and other vital areas they need to be efficient and effective.

III. Invest in the best teachers and teaching policies to improve student learning.

1)    Hold all teacher preparation programs to the same high-quality standards, regardless of the type of program (traditional, alternative, etc.), by basing accreditation on the teaching effectiveness of their graduates.

2)    Require local school districts to establish annual teacher and principal evaluations that include improvements in student achievement.

3)    Give school districts the right to set their own pay scales to be able to attract and retain highly- effective teachers.

4)    Allow teachers to give grades as low as zero if that is what the student earns, instead of current law that forces teachers to grade no student below 50 percent.

IV. Integrate an emergency, expedited fix for any failing Texas public school.

1)    Based on a consistent and appropriate system of accountability, rate schools and school districts on a standard everyone – particularly parents – can easily understand and measure – such as letter grades, A-F, like Florida's system.

2)    Strengthen Texas' Parent Trigger option by giving parents earlier control and access in their school governance, especially for chronically-underperforming and failing schools.

3)    Establish a special district to fix failing schools after no more than two years of being rated an academic failure by the state.

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[1] "Ed Watch State Reports – Texas 2012," The Education Trust, August 23, 2012

[2] "Education at a Glance 2012," Organisation for Economic Co-Operation and Development, September 11, 2012; "American Community Survey 2010," U.S. Census Bureau, September 22, 2011

[3] "Report on College and Career Readiness Standards," Texas Higher Education Coordinating Board / Education Policy Improvement Center, 2009

[4] "A New Measure of Educational Success in Texas - Tracking the Success of 8th Graders into and through College," National Center for Higher Education Management Systems, February 2012

Media contact: Jennifer Harris, (512) 773-7168 or jharris@jwhcommunications.com

Texans Deserve Great Schools is a Field of Interest Fund at the Greater Houston Community Foundation, a 501 (c)(3) non-profit organization and Houston's premier philanthropic advisory organization. Texans Deserve Great Schools exists to educate the public about options and the best practices available to improve public education in Texas.  Learn more about Texans Deserve Great Schools at www.texansdeservegreatschools.org .

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