Mayors from Dallas, Fort Worth and Arlington met with education leaders from across the state Tuesday at the George W. Bush Presidential Center to discuss ways to improve schools and reach students who are falling through academic gaps.
The foundation for the discussion was student data outlined in the State of Our Cities Report by the George W. Bush Institute.
The report looks at education, demographic and city measures from urban districts in 114 cities across the United States.
“To make change, you have to first be intellectually honest with yourself,” Dallas Mayor Mike Rawlings told education leaders from Arlington, Austin, Dallas, Fort Worth, Houston, Irving and San Antonio.
Fort Worth Mayor Betsy Price said the need to focus on education is a statewide issue. Many problems reflected in the data — for example absenteeism among students and teachers — are concerns for all major Texas cities. Price also talked about how the city of Fort Worth and Fort Worth school district have joined forces to tackle childhood illiteracy.
Price said education should be important to all mayors who hope to keep their cities moving forward by offering educational opportunities for all students, and thus build a strong future workforce.
Education affects cities “on economic development, on crime, on quality of life,” Price said. “We have to step up the partnership with our school districts and business community.”
Marcelo Cavazos, superintendent of Arlington schools, said the report offers both “gaps and celebrations.” The question for leaders is where do they take their work moving forward. Cavazos said communities can’t afford to ignore the issues and gaps raised in the data.
“If communities don’t come together, then the perpetual poverty that we face in Arlington — but also in the state of Texas — becomes even more difficult to break,” Cavazos said. “Our economic future in Texas is at risk.”
The report, which is available at bushcenter.org/stateofourcities/ was the culmination of about two years of work that was spurred when Rawlings said city leaders need better access to data that indicates how students perform academically and what barriers to learning exist in their cities.
The interactive data allow people to compare cities and look at snapshots of the urban districts in a user-friendly manner, explained Holly Kuzmich, executive director for the center. It includes information pulled from federal, state and local resources, and the state will be updated in the future. The data reflect the latest available information, which in many cases is the 2013-2014 school year.
Price said the data are extremely “useable” and will help parents and business leaders also understand how to make a better impact on learning.
Price and Fort Worth schools Superintendent Kent Scribner are poised to unveil their new partnership that will put the focus on helping more children read on grade level. The partnership will be outlined on Monday at a news conference at Oakhurst Elementary in Fort Worth.
In Fort Worth schools, student and demographic data reveal a daunting challenge. Only 30 percent of Fort Worth’s third-graders are reading at grade level, Scribner said. Earlier this year, the superintendent explained that while 80 percent of Fort Worth’s 4-year-olds attend preschool, 50 percent of them are not kindergarten-ready.
Scribner and Price said they plan to announce a new reading initiative designed to bring together leaders from city, business, education and social services communities to help more children read.
“For me, it is a call for action,” Scribner said of the data presented Tuesday.
This report includes material from Star-Telegram archives.