Public Education is Not Your Father’s Buick Anymore

FBISD Trustee and TASB President Jim Rice

Public Education is not “your father’s Buick anymore.” If you recall the marketing slogan, you are showing your age just as I am by referencing it. The tagline does serve as a great illustration of how public education has changed over the last twenty years. Gone is the public education system and standards many of us grew up with, and in its place, a much more complex machine.

Full disclosure - I have been serving on the Fort Bend ISD school board for almost 11 years and am currently serving as the President of the Texas Association of School Boards. These experiences have given me a perspective on public education in Texas as well as the nation that I could not have otherwise obtained.

One of the biggest changes to public education is simply the number and diversity of the students entering our schools. We all know the population of Texas is growing. Following the recent 2020 censusour population is close to 29.36 million.

Texas is slated to add 3 congressional seats – more than any other state, while California is losing a congressional seat for the first time ever.

The Texas Education Agency(TEA) reports that during “… the 2009-10 school year, 4,847,844 students were enrolled in Texas public schools.

By 2019-20, enrollment had risen to 5,493,940 students. Over the 10-year period, total enrollment increased by 646,096 students, or by 13.3 percent.” This does not count private schools. We are closer to 5.6 million students statewide. This representsapproximately 10% of all the students attending school in the U. S.

Furthermore, the TEA reports “The percentage of students identified as economically disadvantaged in 2019-20 (60.2%) was higher than the percentage identified in 2009-10 (58.9%). Between 2009-10 and 2019-20, the percentage increase in the number of students identified as economically disadvantaged was greater than the percentage increase in the student population overall.”

Thus, the number of economically disadvantaged kids is growing while the number of total students is also growing. Economically disadvantaged kids can learn, but the negative effects of poverty are hindering many of our students from succeeding in school.

Additionally, we have a very diverse population which can and does create cultural barriers to student awareness of college and career opportunities. Statewide the demographic breakdown percentages of total enrollment in Texas public schools in 2019-20 are Hispanic (52.8%), followed by White (27.0%), African American (12.6%), Asian (4.6%), and multiracial (2.5%) students. This diversity is one major factor in the need for outreach programs.

Fort Bend ISD has instituted several programs to reach out to students and help create a pathway to success. Some of these include:

AVID - We have AVID programs at every secondary campus. Through the AVID course, they learn about post-secondary opportunities, visit campuses, and are challenged to take PreAP and AP courses with embedded supports to prepare them.

Upward Bound - This program serves high school students from low-income families and/high school students who may be first generation college students. Through this program students visit college campuses, receive tutoring, mentoring, counseling, work-study programs, etc.

Dual Credit Courses and OnRAMPS - Through our community college partnerships Fort Bend ISD offers dual credit courses at every high school and through CTE programming that allow our students to earn both high school and college credit.

Early College High School (ECHS) and Pathways in Technology Early College High School (P-TECH) - All three of these programs are four-year programs specifically targeted for under-represented students to earn their high school diploma along with an associate degree by the time they graduate from high school.

CTE Programs and Reese Center - Fort Bend ISD offers a few CTE pathways with courses offered beginning in middle school and at each of our high schools.

Standards and expectations of student achievement must evolve to be in line with the global job market students will enter post-graduation, a market that largely requires workers to have had some type of higher education. In fact, the Texas Higher Education Coordinating Board, which oversees colleges and universities, has recognized this, and in 2015 created their 60x30 Plan which is the goal of 60 percent of the 25- to 34-year old Texas population earning a certificate or degree by 2030 – now just nine years away. Engaging in and supporting outreach programs such as those offered by Fort Bend ISD, help to break down barriers to enrolling in higher education and help to achieve this very goal.

Texas ranks around 44th nationwide in the amount of money we spend on public education. If we do not reverse this trend, if we do not seek to understand what our kids need and how to better serve them, if we do not get all students reading on grade level by the 3rd grade, we will end up with a reduced number of taxpayers paying a disproportionate share of taxes to take care of a growing number of people who have become unable to find good jobs and contribute their fair share to the tax base.

Public Education has changed dramatically since the time many of us were in high school.

As responsible citizens it behooves us to educate ourselves on the issues and challenges facing our state and nation in this regard.

As the eight largest school district in Texas, Fort Bend ISD is the most diverse school district in the state. It is the school system of choice by parents of almost 78,000 students and is a 2017 HEB School Board of the Year and 2018 HEB Large School District of the Year award winner.

Jim Rice was elected to serve on the Fort Bend ISD Board of Trustees in May 2010. These comments are his alone and he is not speaking on behalf of the Board.

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Congressman Pete Olson[email protected]
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