February 24, 2014

Scary Texas education numbers should bring change

Only 19 percent of Texas eighth-graders graduate from high school and get another degree or certification.

The recently released Houston Endowment study tracking Texas eighth-graders to see if they went on to complete some kind of post-secondary education shows that we have a serious problem.

It answers the very important question: Are students completing their education? Unfortunately the answer for the vast majority is: No.

The numbers are disturbing to say the least. The study followed eighth-graders for 11 years, giving them six years after high school to complete some kind of higher education.

Only 19 percent of those who were eighth-graders in 2001 went on to complete any kind of post-secondary education.

The numbers are far worse for children born in poverty. The disparity between those children and students who come from higher-income families grew over the time frame of the study.

Thirty-two percent of children not born in poverty attained a post-secondary degree or certificate, but only 8.5 percent of children born in poverty achieved that same level of education.

Education is the key to breaking the cycle of poverty, but with these numbers there is not much chance of that happening.

Roughly 65 percent of our students in Texas are born into poverty, and as we know, poverty knows no race or ethnicity.

Maybe it’s time we look at focusing on better educating children in poverty rather than focusing only on race and ethnicity.

You cannot talk about kids completing some form of higher education without first completing high school. Around 73 percent of ninth-graders actually graduate in four years.

Working on our high school completion rate should go hand-in-hand with working on our post-secondary completion rate.

There are some in the education establishment who will say that the only answer is money. They will tell you that their funding was cut in 2011, and they haven’t recovered.

Remember, the kids in this study were already out of high school by that time. Also remember that during the period of this study, the amount we spent on public education did nothing but go up dramatically.

If these are the results from that kind of spending, then it is clear that money is not the only answer.

People can argue all day long about what kind of measurement we should use to hold our schools accountable. I think this one does a good job, because there is very little wiggle room.

You are either successful at getting students a high school diploma and post-secondary training, or you are not.

If our children are going to be successful in life, the education community is going to have to step up and do better. The Legislature, school boards and administrators must hold the system accountable.

More than 90 percent of our children are capable of learning, graduating high school and graduating some kind of higher education program. We must do a better job of making sure they do.

Bill Hammond is president and CEO of the Texas Association of Business. bhammond@txbiz.org

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