Editor’s note: This piece originally appeared in TribTalk, a publication of the Texas Tribune.
Ever since the Great Recession, Texas has been touted for its prosperity despite economic downturns nationwide, and even in the face of challenges such as persistently low oil prices we remain an economic powerhouse. However, the “Texas Miracle” may be under a threat far graver than a faltering energy sector.
One of every 10 children born in the United States is born in Texas. The number of impoverished public school students in Texas has increased by 615,000 over the past 10 years. This means there are now over 3 million kids attending public school who are economically disadvantaged — 59 percent of the student population.
Most students who are growing up in poverty are attending low-performing schools, and consequently, only 10 percent of them graduate from high school ready for college. Many children growing up in poverty don’t have access to the critical resources that their wealthier peers do, such as a quality early education, culturally relevant and engaging books, high-quality and well-supported instructors, or enriching summer experiences. This results in a growing student population leaving high school without skills for post-secondary education or a career.
This disparity will have a dire impact on our state’s future given that these children are the future workforce of Texas. If we care about the strength of our families and communities and the prosperity of our state, we must do more to ensure these students have access to a quality education.
The good news is there are schools that are defying the odds. Every year, Children At Risk identifies schools across rural, suburban, and urban school districts that are high performing despite high levels of student poverty. This year, 522 schools throughout Texas achieved “A” or “B” grades in our rankings despite having more than 75 percent of students in low income households. By virtue of their performance in the face of daunting odds, these schools constitute their own “Texas Miracle.”
There is much we can learn from what is working in these “miracle” schools. From our research and through visits to these high-performing/high-poverty schools, we have figured out what components have the biggest impact on performance: access to a high-quality early education, strong school leadership, well-prepared teachers who receive strong support, increased time on task, targeted interventions that provide students with the coaching and feedback they need to improve their skills, and the creation of a culture of high expectations.
At the policy level, there is far more that can be done to expand these practices. The legislature can focus on evidence-based practices and restore funding for the High-Quality Pre-K grant to $118 million per year, fix the school finance system so students have equitable access to the resources they need to reach their full potential, and improve the quality of our state childcare system where our youngest learners begin their education trajectory.
Historically , the best public policy for moving children from low income homes into a higher economic class had been a policy of quality public schools. Without good schools, we leave ourselves open to the creation of an undeveloped workforce. Our children, our future, and our workforce depends upon Texas leaders understanding the stakes ahead.