Texas high school students would be able to customize their paths to graduation, with more room for career and technical courses, under a much-anticipated plan unveiled Thursday by state Sen. Dan Patrick (R-Houston).
Elaborating on reform plans he announced in December, Patrick detailed at a Capitol press conference how he would reorganize Texas’ high school graduation tracks to embrace career preparation. Patrick, chair of the Senate Education Committee, said he’d file his plan as Senate Bill 3 by Friday.
There’s broad enthusiasm among lawmakers and state leaders for reorganizing Texas’ graduation plans to emphasize career and technical education, not only college readiness. That’s part of an even bigger shakeup likely this session that would also reach the state’s testing regimen and its system for rating public schools. Texas Workforce Commissioner Tom Pauken has been outspoken lately about the need for reform, and the Texas Association of Business unveiled its own reform plan last month. At a Senate Education Committee meeting last week Sen. Royce West (D-Dallas) worried about falling graduation rates for minority students, and said the system needs to change.
Rep. Joe Deshotel, a Beaumont Democrat, joined Patrick at today’s press conference and said he plans to file a similar bill in the House. Right now, he said, students don’t have enough say in their own education.
“They have to go one path and that path is to college, and many of them aren’t going to college or don’t want to go to college,” Deshotel said. “Once they fail that first STAAR test they get frustrated and begin dropping out. … I think it’s very important that there are some choices and it’s equally as important that those choices have the same rigor and same academic challenges.”
Patrick was flanked by leaders of the business coalition Jobs for Texas, which includes almost 20 trade organizations representing more than 250,000 companies in fields like oil and gas, transportation and electrical contracting.
Texas Chemical Council President Hector Rivero, a member of the coalition, said Texas’ demand for skilled workers is growing. “Business is an important consumer of our public education system,” he said. “We need to make some changes that are important to our industries.”
Patrick’s bill will outline three endorsements that students can choose between for their diplomas: business and industry; “academic achievement” in either STEM (science, technology, engineering and math) or arts and humanities; or “distinguished.” The plan would also create an 8th grade career exploration course where, according to a press release from Patrick’s office, “students can examine the different graduation plans and begin working on the graduation plan.”
Some advocates, particularly for minority students, have raised concerns that a plan like Patrick’s would, in effect, create separate pipelines for college-bound students in rigorous courses and career-bound students with lower expectations.
“Just the opposite, because when you get your degree with your career and business endorsement you’ll be able to go to any college you want in the state,” Patrick said. “I believe this is going to create a pathway for more minority students to go on to college, but also assure that every student—Anglo, Latino, African American—every student is going to have career and business skills. If they make a decision that they’re not going to go to college, then they’re equipped to live the American dream.”
It’s a point Education Commissioner Michael Williams made Tuesday, in his speech for school administrators—that Texas can promote career readiness without falling into a system that shuts students out of college. “This is not a debate about career or college,” Williams said. “This ought to be a debate about both.”