Approximately half of all students in Texas’ state universities and colleges need remedial classes. Meanwhile, 30-percent of entry-level job applicants do not meet eighth-grade skill levels on a competency test administered by Texas Instruments, according to a company vice president.
Particularly in math and the sciences, Texas’ school children are lagging behind.
At first glance, results from the state achievement test, the TAKS, paint a positive picture, as scores have steadily increased across grade levels and subjects since the test was implemented.
But the TAKS may not be the best measure of student achievement. While 81% of Texas fourth-graders exhibited proficiency on the Math TAKS this year, only 40% exhibited proficiency on the National Assessment of Educational Progress. This discrepancy between the Texas and national tests is one of the largest in the nation.
And the problem is not just one of quality, but also of quantity.
“In Texas, more students graduate with a degree in Parks and Recreation than with one in Engineering,” said one Texas businessman at an education forum in October. He and his fellow panelists were concerned – “panicked” might be a better description – about the dwindling supply of quality engineers coming out of Texas’ colleges and universities.
On the same panel, it was noted that Fort Worth-based Lockheed Martin alone needs to hire 90,000 engineers in the next five years – more than Texas will even produce in that time.
A recent report by the Fordham Institute points to one cause of this inadequacy – our science curriculum. The Institute gives the Texas science standards the third worst score in the country. One reviewer surmised, “the writers of the physical science sections know very little of the subject beyond the fourth-grade level.” The Texas Education Agency responded by saying that the report included suggested lesson plans that are not created or mandated by the state, but Fordham replied that Texas would have at best received a “D” without the additional materials.
If the curriculum is inadequate, we can hardly be surprised by lackluster student performance.
Texas is home to several Fortune 500 companies, many of which produce goods and services requiring a labor force skilled in the fields of math, science, engineering, and technology.
But if companies cannot fill their labor needs with Texas graduates, our state will quickly lose its appeal as a premier place to do business.
Fortunately, many Texans are working to create renewed interest among students in math and science, thus increasing the quantity and quality of graduates in related fields.
Townview Magnet School, in the Dallas Independent School District, was recently recognized by Newsweek as one of the top-ten public schools in the country. At Townview, students are able to explore their interests in math and science, and often go on to earn degrees in those fields.
But we cannot count on individual schools like Townview to bear the burden on their own. Texas must better align its high school curriculum with higher education and workforce requirements in mind, thus ensuring students are better prepared for both college and a career.
By improving the quality of math and science instruction in Texas, we will guarantee a brighter future for Texas children and the continued prosperity of the Lone Star State.
Jamie Story is an education policy analyst at the Texas Public Policy Foundation, a non-profit research institute based in Austin.