Opportunity for Quality: Changing the Educational Landscape in Texas
By: Nelson D. Greene, M. Ed. And Erica S. Lee, MPP (Candidate, County School Trustee)
In these tough economic times, the unemployment rate in the African American and Latino communities is almost twice the national average. While the economy is showing signs of improvement, we can all agree that low paying jobs requiring little or no formal training are a thing of the past. Our sons and daughters striving for the American Dream of a better way of life must be well trained and highly skilled. As recent data following Texas 8th graders reflects, too few 8th-graders go on to earn a degree or certificate within 10 years of completing 8th grade. With this as the backdrop, we believe that our children cannot wait another day for their educational opportunities to improve- their time is now. For educators and advocates who believe in quality, we must join together to ensure opportunity, excellence and a pathway to academic and career success back to all of our schools.
According to a survey conducted by the U.S. Department of Labor “educational attainment has a dramatic effect on unemployment and weekly earnings for workers 25 years and older”. These facts are highlighted by the 2009 unemployment numbers that show the unemployment rates were 14.6 percent for working-age individuals with less than a high school diploma, 9.7 percent for high school graduates with no college, 8.0 percent for those with some college or an associate degree and 4.6 percent for those with a bachelors degree or higher. These numbers take on even more significance when we tie them to student performance at the middle school level here in Texas.
Because of the complex high school drop-out formula used in Texas, it is difficult to get a truly accurate reading on how many of our young people are dropping out of school prior to their 9th grade year. We do however have some definitive numbers, courtesy of the Texas Education Agency, which gives us a window into how our 8th graders are performing academically. There were 147 middle schools in Texas with an Academically Unacceptable rating for the 2010-2011 school year. While some may argue that this number is relatively small compared to the total number of middle schools in the state, we would argue that having one is one too many. For students in schools rated as “unacceptable,” it is likely that they are not receiving the tools and enriching educational experiences they will need to achieve the American Dream. When we know where the problems are, it is nearly criminal to not do something to fix it.
In a majority minority state, like Texas, we cannot afford to allow an achievement gap between Black and Latino students and their White or Asian counterparts to continue to exist. While scores in reading among 8th grade Asians, Blacks, Latinos and Whites are relatively close (Asians– 97%, Blacks -85%, Latinos -86%, Whites-97%) the gap widens significantly in the areas of math and science. The Asian 8th graders passing rate in math is 96% and 95% in science, White students passing rating is 90% in math and 94% in science; however, Blacks scored 70% in math and 71% in science while Latinos scores are 80% in math and 78% in science. The numbers are even more disheartening when we look at the percentages of students passing all tests. Asians and Whites are passing rate on all test are 92% and 87% respectively; while Latinos (66%) and Blacks (51%) lag far behind. If this academic gap continues then it will only exacerbate the wealth gap and make it even harder for Blacks and Latinos to better themselves and their communities.
So what is the solution? Pointing fingers is never the answer therefore what we propose to do is invest our resources in those people and program that will address that can close the gap. We should support the Harris County Department of Education’s Adult Education programs that help students move back on track toward a GED and higher education. In addition, we should introduce enriching educational experiences, hands-on science, technology, engineering, and math (STEM) programs and other skills-based programs that connects students to the real world in a creative way. Many educators know all too well the benefits of introducing such high-level, engaging curriculums to children as early as their preschool years in conjunction with parent involvement and collaboration. By starting early and continuing offer educational opportunities to students who may have struggled in school, we can help our children reach their full potential.
Longtime educator, Nelson Greene, often talks about the impact such programs have had in son’s life. Dominique received nurturing and academic development from a small preschool program that introduced foreign language along with rigorous reading and math skills at the age of two. Building on this strong and early foundation, he avoided the many pitfalls that often befall our young black men. Dominique will graduate from Lamar High School in June with a 4.0 grade point average and will be attending Florida State University in the fall. According to Mr. Greene, most of his son’s preschool classmates will graduate from highly regarded high schools and will be going on to colleges and universities. These young men and women prove that success is not out of reach for our children.
We’ve presented the challenge and supporting data, but we also know that our children are more than a number- they are potential and possibility. Join us in our quest to help more children access quality educational opportunities so that they may become productive contributors to our community. By educating and equipping our youth with the knowledge and skills necessary to compete nationally and globally, our children will be able to continue their education beyond high school. Working together, we must all do our part at the earliest stages to light a fire and thirst for learning in our youth and continue to cultivate it until they reach their full potential. The first step you can take is to vote in the Texas Primary Election; Early Vote is from May 14-25th and Election Day is May 29th. Let’s move our community forward!