Other Voices

Let’s fix leaks in Tarrant County’s school pipeline

Students in Early Childhood Matters at Riverside Community Center in Fort Worth.
Students in Early Childhood Matters at Riverside Community Center in Fort Worth. Star-Telegram

No father is ever thrilled to see a C- on a report card. And as an attorney and former City Council member, I was never impressed by mediocre grade-point averages from job applicants.

So imagine my concern when I saw that Tarrant County received a C- on the new Texas Education Scorecard from the Center for Public Policy Priorities. The scorecard measures how well students move through the education system toward college and a career.

Starting with early child education, the scorecard highlights “leaks” in the education pipeline that harm student success as they move through higher education and into the workforce.

Tarrant County earned C’s in the areas of transition to high school, high school success, transition to college and college success.

C means that Tarrant County is average, right in the middle of the 254 Texas counties. We should not aspire to mediocrity.

And by “we” I don’t mean only the school system, whose teachers and leaders have done heroic work with the insufficient resources they are given.

The places where people fall out of the education pipeline present a challenge that all of us must address.

The United Way of Tarrant County’s efforts to prepare preschoolers to succeed in kindergarten and helping elementary children improve their reading is a great example of partners outside of the traditional education system helping our students succeed.

Lena Pope’s Early Childhood Learning Center is another example of strong early childhood support in our county.

But we need systemic change with strong support from state leaders.

Texas’ future economic competitiveness depends on a skilled, talented workforce.

Yet only 34 percent of Texas adults complete their degrees, compared to almost 40 percent nationally. Texas’ competitiveness is severely hampered with an ill-prepared workforce.

Tarrant is ahead of other Texas counties in some key areas. More of our students meet third-grade reading standards early in the pipeline.

We also have more students participating in advanced placement classes in high school and completing the FAFSA college financial aid application to receive federal grants and loans.

We are behind the state average in several areas.

Nearly 30 percent of children eligible for public pre-school programs are not enrolled in one of these programs in Tarrant County.

Tarrant County lags behind other counties in the number of students able to take classes for college credit while still in high school. This so-called “dual enrollment” option substantially enhances the quality of high school education and can lower student debt by saving time in college.

Finally, there are approximately 186,000 adults over 25 in Tarrant County without a high school diploma.

Last year, we were only able to provide 1,537 of them an opportunity to take the GED test. Adults who want to boost their skills and move up in the workforce need more support.

All of us need to fix the leaks in our education pipeline so that our workers are more skilled and prepared for competition coming in the rest of the 21st Century.

David Chappell of Fort Worth is chairman of the board of directors of the Center for Public Policy Priorities.