by Craig Jerald, the Education Trust (published by the Business Roundtable)
On the campaign trail, Governor George W. Bush touted the "Texas education miracle"--in which the Lone Star State's poor and minority children made huge gains in test scores--as evidence that academic standards and accountability could generate significant improvement in student achievement. Now that Mr. Bush is in the White House, supporters and critics alike have taken a closer look at the Texas record.
Published last month by The Business Roundtable, this latest report describes what's known about the effects over the past decade of Texas efforts to raise academic standards, measure student performance, and increase accountability via consequences for results. Author Craig D. Jerald, senior policy analyst at The Education Trust, explains that, among the 50 states, Texas has made one of the most concerted and long-running attempts to raise student achievement. The Texas strategy is successful, Jerald argues, because it is balanced, blending an unusually strong measure of both optimism--setting high standards for all students--and pragmatism, i.e. setting reachable goals that are raised incrementally. Critics often claim that Texas's tough policies have led to higher dropout rates, a narrowed curriculum, and inordinate focus on "low-level" skills measured by the state assessment exam. Jerald finds little evidence to support these claims. Rather, he says, high school graduation rates have actually gone up, there has been no discernable negative impact on the curriculum, and Texas students have proven their ability to master higher-order skills by boosting their scores on NAEP, a more rigorous exam that is administered to a representative sampling of students nationwide.
For all its accomplishments, however, Texas is not yet out of the water. The report concludes that, while real results have been achieved, the state has a long way to go to ensure that none of its children are left behind. To learn more about Texas's lengthy experiment in standards-based reform, check out the report online at www.brtable.org.