Other Voices

Find a role to play in Fort Worth’s quality education initiative

Kindergarten students listen to their teacher read a story at Western Hills Primary School in Fort Worth. Several years ago, the district began offering universal pre-kindergarten.
Kindergarten students listen to their teacher read a story at Western Hills Primary School in Fort Worth. Several years ago, the district began offering universal pre-kindergarten. Star-Telegram archives

“What you earn depends on what you have learned.” This has never been as true as it is today.

Having a well-educated workforce is vital for our continued success in the global marketplace.

The importance of investing in education was recently driven home by Harvard Ph.D. and Rice University sociologist Stephen Klineberg, a leading authority on demographic patterns shaping the greater urban areas of Texas.

In presentations to the Fort Worth City Council and local philanthropists hosted by the North Texas Community Foundation, Klineberg observed that Fort Worth looks like the future: diverse, growing and faced with the challenges of raising the next generation.

Today, with fewer blue-collar jobs available to support middle-class lives, our success depends on educating our children and attracting bright newcomers.

“The source of wealth going forward will have less to do with natural resources and more to do with human resources, with knowledge and skills,” Klineberg said. “And the resource of the knowledge economy is housed between the ears of the best and the brightest people of America."

Fort Worth has experienced unprecedented growth and development over the past 25 years. As our population doubled, economic growth has kept pace and our demographics reflect a rich blend of Anglo, Hispanic, black and Asian races and ethnicities.

Our city’s ethnic transformation can be our greatest asset, giving local businesses a competitive edge in a fast-globalizing world.

But if too many of our residents grow up unprepared to succeed in the new economy, it is difficult to envision a prosperous future.

The Texas Higher Education Coordinating Board projects that by 2030, 60 percent of jobs will require post-secondary certification or bachelor’s degree, yet just 27 percent of Fort Worth residents are college graduates.

Only 30 percent of Fort Worth school district students are reading on level by third grade, and the numbers drop to 18 percent for black children and 29 percent for Latinos.

Today 70 percent of Fort Worth’s children under the age of 5 are children of color.

If we intend to capitalize fully on the advantages of having a young, multicultural and multilingual workforce, we must bridge the education and income gaps in our community.

Over the last three years, the Community Foundation has invested $1.1 million in early learning strategies because they drive success in school and life, promote long-term economic growth and reduce social costs.

But money alone won’t get the job done. We need good information and strong relationships to put our investments to work.

The Early Learning Alliance, a collaboration of 50-plus local organizations, is strengthening the programs and systems that serve our youngest children.

The recently-launched Fort Worth literacy partnership — championed by the city, Fort Worth school Superintendent Kent Scribner and BNSF Railway chair Matt Rose and supported by Fort Worth’s philanthropic community — has set Fort Worth’s sights on ensuring 100 percent of our third graders are reading at grade level by 2025.

The initiative will identify “bright spots” where educators and students are achieving strong outcomes and share strategies with schools that are struggling.

And the work doesn’t end when the school bell rings.

Fort Worth SPARC is supporting children’s development during out-of-school time.

The Chamber of Commerce is doing its part by bringing together local employers, Tarrant County College and Workforce Solutions to design career pathways for high school students to acquire the skills necessary to pursue well-paying jobs.

What kind of future will we build together? What roles can you play? Tutor? Coach? Mentor? Donor? To explore opportunities, mark your calendar for Raising of Fort Worth, a community gathering focused on improving child well being, on Nov. 1 at Lena Pope.

Betsy Price is mayor of Fort Worth. Nancy E. Jones is president and CEO of the North Texas Community Foundation.