• by Laurie Posner, MPA • IDRA Newsletter • March 2014 •Laurie Posner

The Texas State Board of Education, which oversees the public education system, approved final graduation requirements under House Bill 5 in January. The new plan sets out a 22-credit foundation portion and four credits in one of five endorsements in: (1) STEM, (2) business and industry, (3) public services, (4) arts and humanities, and (5) multidisciplinary studies. This plan takes effect for students beginning ninth grade in the fall of 2014. They will select one of the five endorsements, though school districts are only  required to offer the multidisciplinary studies endorsement.

Importantly, completion of this new graduation plan does not automatically qualify students for Texas’ Top 10 Percent public college admission or the Texas Grant unless they earn a “distinguished level of achievement.” Also, the state board has removed the Algebra II requirement and now only calls for Algebra II in two circumstances: for students seeking the STEM endorsement and the “distinguished achievement” designation.

In addition, as IDRA noted in testimony to the board, while the new plan appears to promote district-level flexibility, the authorizing legislation makes no provisions for addressing intra- and inter-district inequity nor does it assure that the endorsements provide the preparation students need for college or an emerging, globally-competitive workplace (IDRA, 2013). As it stands, the Texas public education system maintains a more than $1,098 gap in per pupil funding between its wealthiest and poorest 100 districts. Without addressing structural inequities, flexibility is, by definition, more flexible for those school districts with more resources for faculty, curricula and facilities.

Research by the Center on Education and the Workforce and Georgetown University shows that, while we as a nation have been moving toward expanded college access in recent years, we continue to create “two post-secondary pathways: one for White students and another for Hispanic students and African American students.” In Separate and Unequal, Carnevale & Strohl (2013) note: “The post-secondary system mimics the racial inequality it inherits from the K-12 education system, then magnifies and projects that inequality into the labor market and society at large. In theory, the education system is colorblind; but, in fact, it is racially polarized and exacerbates the intergenerational reproduction of White racial privilege.”

Texas Higher Education Commissioner Dr. Raymund Paredes pointed out: “There is no assurance that the [Texas] foundation curriculum will provide all students a solid academic foundation… We expect a decline in college readiness” (McKenzie, 2013).

Dr. Paredes’ concerns are shared by civil rights, education and business leaders across the state and stem from the fact that only one in four graduating Texas students today is considered college-ready, and that Texas scores 38th in SAT math. And while 45 states, the District of Columbia, four territories, and the Department of Defense Education Activity are increasing mathematics rigor, Texas has opted to go in the opposite direction.

While Texas policy responds to the concern by a few that its curriculum had “forced” too many children into a college-ready path, mounting research shows that children without college preparation pay a serious price. And the college-advantage is growing. Pew Research finds: “On virtually every measure of economic well-being and career attainment – from personal earnings to job satisfaction to the share employed full time – young college graduates are outperforming their peers with less education. And when today’s young adults are compared with previous generations, the disparity in economic outcomes between college graduates and those with a high school diploma or less formal schooling has never been greater in the modern era.” (2014)

Many educators, families and business leaders across Texas want all children to have an equal shot at a good education that prepares them for the full range of college and career options. And a growing number of people are calling for just that.

For example, in January, the Austin Independent School District, with the support of the 2,900-member Austin Chamber of Commerce and the Texas Association of Business (TAB), announced that it would establish the “distinguished diploma as the default” for every high school student. As AISD Trustee Robert Schneider stated: “The thing about the distinguished plan is that [for] every kid, we automatically know that they’re doing everything that they need to do to get into college, and it’s not that way with some of the other options” (Weldon, 2013).

The Texas Latino Education Coalition has called for “distinguished as default” for all students. TLEC includes IDRA, the Mexican American Legal Defense and Educational Fund (MALDEF), Texas League of United Latin American Citizens (LULAC), the National Council of La Raza (NCLR), Mexican American School Board Members Association (MASBA), Texas Association of Mexican American Chambers of Commerce (TAMACC), Texas Hispanics Organized for Political Education (HOPE), Texas Association for Bilingual Education (TABE), Texas Association for Chicanos in Higher Education (TACHE), the Cesar E. Chavez Legacy and Educational Fund, and the Hector P. García G.I. Forum.

Mesa Educativa Comunitaria, a coalition of education, community, family and civil rights leaders in Texas Rio Grande Valley, including RGV Equal Voice and IDRA’s grassroots PTA Comunitario network, and representing some of the lowest-income communities in Texas, has called for “distinguished as default” for all children in the Rio Grande Valley (see story on Page 1).

Many proponents of the exclusion of college-readiness requirements, such as Algebra II, in Texas graduation plans have argued that they are encouraging student engagement. But experience does not bear this out.

As Texas A&M President Rey Keck, pointed out in testimony to Texas State Board of Education, students are not becoming more disengaged by taking more challenging mathematics, “Kids all over the world are learning Algebra II…you just need a better structure to learn it.”

In the Rio Grande Valley, Pharr-San Juan-Alamo ISD graduates 95 percent of its students on the Texas “4×4” plan through a whole cloth commitment to “All students [becoming] college ready, college connected, and complet[ing] college.” With this approach, the district has since 2007 doubled the number of graduates and halved its dropout rate. As IDRA – which works in partnership with the district on STEM, dropout prevention and college-readiness strategies – reports in College Bound and Determined, PSJA ISD “firmly rejects the idea that some students do not have the capacity to pursue college.” (Bojorquez, 2014) (See related story.)

And IDRA’s Coca-Cola Valued Youth Program, which keeps 98 percent of participants in school by valuing youth and fostering youth leadership, shows that students are not disengaged by new challenges that accompany greater hope and risk. They are disengaged, we find, when adults give up on them. And we and our partners across the state, with a vision of educational excellence for all children, never will.


Bojorquez, H. College Bound and Determined (San Antonio, Texas: Intercultural Development Research Association, 2014).

Carnevale, A.P., & J. Strohl. Separate and Unequal – How Higher Education Reinforces the Intergenerational Reproduction of White Racial Privilege (Washington, D.C.: Georgetown Public Policy Institute, Center on Education and the Workforce, July 2013).

IDRA. Tracking, Endorsements and Differentiated Diplomas – When “Different” Really is Less – A Post Session Update (San Antonio, Texas: Intercultural Development Research Association, October 2013).

McKenzie, B. “Why Texas legislators are about to make a big mistake,” Dallas Morning News (March 21, 2013).

Pew Research Center. “The Rising Cost of Not Going to College,” Social & Demographic Trends (Washington, D.C.: Pew Research Center, February 11, 2014).

Weldon, K. “Austin ISD approves ‘Distinguished’ graduation path as district default plan,” Community Impact Newspaper (December 17, 2013).

Laurie Posner, MPA is a senior education associate in IDRA Field Services. Comments and questions may be directed to her via email at feedback@idra.org.

[©2014, IDRA. This article originally appeared in the March 2014 IDRA Newsletter by the Intercultural Development Research Association. Permission to reproduce this article is granted provided the article is reprinted in its entirety and proper credit is given to IDRA and the author.]