• Laurie Posner, M.P.A. • IDRA Newsletter • March 2016 •
On a bright and mild February morning in the Texas state capital, researchers, K-12 educators, policymakers, family and community leaders, higher education faculty, and students gathered with IDRA at the University of Texas at Austin to discuss the future of post-secondary education in Texas and the status of high school curricula under House Bill (HB) 5. At the core of the discussion were several key questions: What does Texas need to do to prepare all students for post-secondary success? Will changes in Texas graduation plan requirements under HB5 impact college and career readiness for high school students? If so, how?
IDRA’s Ready Texas: Stakeholder Convening, made possible through a grant from Greater Texas Foundation and carried out in partnership with the UTeach Program at University of Texas at Austin, afforded an opportunity to hear about and discuss these questions in person with diverse, cross-sector stakeholders.
Education Stakeholders: Will Students be College-Ready?
Through Ready Texas, we learned that education stakeholders share a number of questions about the future of college and career readiness in Texas under House Bill 5. In relation to new high school endorsements and curriculum changes, stakeholders are concerned about student supports (such as counseling and advising), school district capacity (to offer a full range of rigorous pathways, including STEM paths, equitably), college and career readiness (whether Texas students and student subgroups will graduate college-ready, without remediation); and data and monitoring (whether adequate systems are in place to assess progress and impact and correct course if needed) (Bahena, 2016).
Stakeholders seek to know whether counselors, families and students have the information they need to navigate new requirements and opportunities; whether or not curriculum tracking is occurring; and what we can learn from challenges and best practices.
Stakeholders emphasize that they want to know whether Texas graduates will have the preparation they need for the college and career dreams to which they aspire. As one Ready Texas stakeholder emphasized, “We need to assure that all endorsement pathways are offered with a level of rigor that will still keep all kids on track for post-secondary education.”
A Different Policy Trajectory
House Bill (HB) 5, passed in 2013, marked one of the most substantial changes in Texas’ approach to high school graduation plans in more than a decade. Since 1997-98, when lawmakers adopted the Recommended High School Program and Distinguished Achievement Plan as core graduation pathways, the state had been moving toward more rigorous high school curricula. In 2007-08, this culminated in Texas’ adoption of the “4×4” plan (requiring four credits each in science, social studies, English language arts and math), the plan that most aligned high school course-taking to college readiness, without remediation.
In 2011-12, most high school students were enrolled in Texas “4×4.” And, based on multiple measures, the approach was netting positive results. More students were meeting college-ready standards in 2011 than they had in 2006. High school students overall, and minority and low-income subgroups of students, were more likely to meet career readiness standards in mathematics in 2013 than they had been in 2005 (Marder, 2015).
This also lined up with research that shows a clear link between the access, rigor, and intensity of high school coursework and success in college (Robledo Montecel & Goodman, 2010; Adelman, 2006). The association is particularly evident in STEM preparation. The E3 Alliance has found that “43 percent of 2009 ninth graders with Algebra II as their highest level of math were college and career ready compared to 70 percent for pre-calculus, 88 percent for AP statistics, 92 percent and 95 percent for Calculus AB and BC, respectively” (Wiseman, et al., 2015). But in 2013, the Texas Legislative passed HB5, removing the “4×4” requirements and setting up multiple pathways (or “endorsements”).
Given the importance of curriculum quality in college access and success, Ready Texas Stakeholders seek to know: “How is student participation in the different endorsements dependent on [student characteristics] and the school that they attend? And how has success and moving toward college and career readiness changed in general as HB5 provisions have come into effect?” (Marder, 2016).
What is at Stake?
Stakeholders also are concerned that state graduation plan changes might deepen educational disparities at a time when the value of a post-secondary education has multiplied. “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” according to the Pew Research Center (2014).
And as the nature of work changes, stakeholders are concerned that to the extent Texas students are underprepared, communities and states miss out on new ideas, know-how, and innovation. “Higher education improves the lives of Texans [to] find cures for life-threatening diseases, develop technologies, enrich us through the arts and new ideas [and to] inspire, educate, and equip our students to be their best” (THECB, 2015).
As Pharr-San Juan-Alamo ISD graduate, Thomas Ray García, recently put it, “Experiencing college… is crucial to growth and development” (IDRA, 2015).
What Research is Already Underway?
Through Ready Texas, IDRA conducted a scan of research already underway on HB5. For example, commissioned by the Texas Education Agency, AIR is conducting the state’s HB5 evaluation and has already published findings on early implementation (Mellor, et al., 2015). The E3 Alliance is carrying out statewide research on math course-taking and post-secondary outcomes (Wiseman, et al., 2015). The Texas Grantmakers Advocacy Consortium is conducting qualitative research. The Ray Marshall Center is studying counseling capacity. The Charles A. Dana Center aims to examine alternative math pathways and student outcomes. The Rio Grande Valley Equal Voice Network is examining the role of families and school-home information. And the Austin Chamber of Commerce is studying course navigation and supports. Combined with stakeholder questions, this information is critical to shaping further research that builds on what is already known (Bahena, 2016; IDRA 2016).
Preliminary HB5 evaluation findings suggest that most Texas school districts are patterning new endorsement offerings on capacity that was in place prior to HB5 (Mellor, et al., 2015). As HB5 was passed without new funding allocation for districts, this raises an important question for equity research: Does pre-existing inter- and intra-district inequity impact course offerings and course-taking patterns under HB5? Is tracking an issue?
One Ready Texas stakeholder stated: “While more pathways are available, including more vocational and CTE courses, there is still a concern regarding tracking of particular students to certain routes. Some schools may be limited in the number of pathways and certifications they can offer because of insufficient faculty and staff to teach such courses [or] funds and facilities.”
As another example, while the Equal Voice Network’s Community Survey (1,600 families in 30 cities) finds that parents overwhelmingly report not having enough information about HB5 to help their children navigate new pathways, TEA’s evaluation finds that most school districts report sharing information directly with families. What accounts for the mismatch?
The Call for Comprehensive Research
Ready Texas stakeholders emphasize that if we are to prepare students for the future, further research is needed to understand what graduation plan changes under HB5 imply for students, communities and the state. Stakeholders seek to understand the implications of HB5 implementation for the state as a whole, for school districts, and for various student subgroups.
“We expect all our children to be prepared”
Stakeholders also want to assure that families of all backgrounds have a place at the table and can help their children fulfill their aspirations. Ready Texas roundtable leader, Dr. Jesse McNeil said, “Parents care about their children… so we need two-way communication.”
ARISE South Texas president and family leader, Lourdes Flores underscored this point at a recent South Texas convening about HB5 (Bojorquez & Montemayor, 2014): “We expect all our children to be prepared for college. We have not struggled this hard for our children to have less than that.”
Adelman, C. The Toolbox Revisited: Paths to Degree Completion from High School Through College (Washington, D.C.: U.S. Department of Education, 2006).
Bahena, S. (February 2016). Stakeholder Survey Findings and Scan, presentation for Ready Texas: Stakeholder Convening.
Bojorquez, H. & A.M. Montemayor. “Mesa Comunitaria Educativa – Community Collaboration for Education Advocacy,” IDRA Newsletter (San Antonio, Texas: Intercultural Development Research Association, March 2014).
IDRA. Ready Texas: Stakeholder Proceedings Report (San Antonio, Texas: Intercultural Development Research Association, 2016).
IDRA. “College Students Describe What a School’s College-Going Culture Really Means,” IDRA Newsletter (San Antonio, Texas: Intercultural Development Research Association, November-December 2015).
Marder, M. STEM Pathways, Trends, and Preparation for the Future of Texas, presentation for Ready Texas: Stakeholder Convening (February 2016).
Mellor, L., & G. Stoker, K. Reese. House Bill 5 Evaluation – Executive Summary (Austin, Texas: Texas Education Agency, submitted by American Institutes for Research, revised December 2015, October 2015).
Pew Research Center. The Rising Cost of Not Going to College (Washington, D.C.: The Rising Cost of Not Going to College, February 11, 2014).
Posner, L. Texas Graduation Plan Changes, presentation for Ready Texas: Stakeholder Convening (February 2016).
Robledo Montecel, M., & C.L. Goodman. Courage to Connect: A Quality Schools Action Framework (San Antonio, Texas: Intercultural Development Research Association, 2010).
Seifert, M. Findings from the Family/Community Survey on HB5 Implementation in South Texas, presentation for Ready Texas: Stakeholder Convening (February 2016).
Texas Higher Education Coordinating Board. 60x30TX (Austin, Texas: Texas Higher Education Coordinating Board, July 23, 2015).
Wiseman, A. Bailie, C., Gourgey, H. Pathways of Promise: Promoting HB5 Success – Student Outcomes in Career and Technical Education Pathways in Central Texas (Austin, Texas: E3 Alliance, 2015).
Laurie Posner, M.P.A., is an IDRA senior education associate. Comments and questions may be directed to her via email at firstname.lastname@example.org.
IDRA is grateful to the Greater Texas Foundation for the grant to carry out the Ready Texas: Stakeholder Convening project, to our partners at University of Texas UTeach Program, and to the stakeholder participants and survey respondents who took the time to provide their input.
[©2016, IDRA. This article originally appeared in the March 2016 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.]