Higher Graduation Rates: Why Austin ISD must become more efficient on its facilities

At the Monday Austin ISD Board of Trustees work session, the chair of the Trustee-created 72-member Facilities Task Force, Janet Mitchell of The Mitchell Group Consulting, discussed the primary reason why Austin ISD school district should focus on increasing efficiency in the Austin ISD facilities master plan.  Ms. Mitchell discussed that between $25 and $30 million could potentially be moved from supporting demonstrably under-enrolled schools to funding key efforts to improve student outcomes in Austin ISD’s strategic plan.

Austin ISD’s strategic plan, adopted unanimously by Trustees in December 2009, defines the tremendous possibility if the strategic plan targets are met in 2015: 90% high school graduation rate, 77% direct to college enrollment rate, 70% college/career readiness rates, all students demonstrating math, reading and writing on grade level.

The Facilities Task Force examined six primary factors in coming up with potential consolidation:

  • Educational enhancement
  • Efficient utilization
  • Cost savings
  • Facility condition
  • Future growth
  • Community impact

As an example, Austin ISD has not made much, if any, improvement in its high school graduation rate for nearly 7 years, according to the state’s Academic Excellence Indicator System.  Hispanic and African American high school graduation rates are less than 70%.  Savings from more efficient use of facilities – and other budget prioritization – can finally make some improvement.

The Facilities Task Force will hold two public hearings this week: January 12 at the Delco Center at 6pm and January 13 at the Burger Center in Southwest Austin.  The Facilities Task Force will return to the Board on February 14 with preliminary recommendations for their feedback.  The school board should receive the plan by the end of March.

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CenTex College Application Submission Rates Up YTD

Forty-two percent of the Central Texas Graduating Class of 2011 has submitted an application to a Texas University or Blinn Community College for the 2011-2012 school year through December 17th, based upon aggregated data provided by the Texas Higher Education Coordinating Board.

The Central Texas Class of 2011 submission rate to Texas universities and Blinn Community College is:

  • Up about 1-5 percentage points compared to the Class of 2010 over a similar time period.
  • Up about 8-11 percentage points compared to the Class of 2009 over a similar time period.

Top 5 Submitter Rates for electronic ApplyTexas for 2011-2012 School Year

1. Crockett…94%
2. Manor New Tech…71%
3. Westwood…63%
4. LASA…62%
5. Westlake…61%

Through December 17th, the Central Texas public high schools with the biggest improvement in ApplyTexas-university submission rate: Manor New Tech (up 31 pctg pts) and Manor HS (up 23 pctg pts), Crockett (17 pctg pts), Akins (up 17 pctg pts) and Connally (up 11 pctg pts).  Down the most year over year are Hutto (-29 pctg pts) and Stony Point (-28 pctg pts).  The rest are within +/- 10 pctg pts of last year’s college application submission rate, however high or low that rate may have been.

Top 5 Submit electronic ApplyTexas for 2010-2011 School Year (46% Central Texas submission rate overall for Austin Community College)

1. San Marcos…81%
2. Hendrickson…77%
3. Hutto…70%
4. Lanier…66%
5. Lehman…65%

Since Class of 2011 is the first full academic year that Austin Community College has fully participated in the electronic ApplyTexas program as part of its ACC College Connections, these submission rates are not comparable with Class of 2010 rates.

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Chamber Asks Congress to Protect Federal Financial Aid

In an effort to advance regional talent development and direct-to-college enrollment, the Austin Chamber sent a letter of support asking U.S. Congressional delegates to reauthorize the American Opportunity Tax Credit (AOTC or ‘Doggett Tax Credit’) and fully fund the Pell Grant. According to the Texas Higher Education Coordinating Board, 53 percent of the 1.4 million Texas students enrolled in higher education receive need-based aid.

As 75 percent of new and replacement Central Texas jobs are projected to require an associate’s, bachelor’s or master’s degree over the next 9 years, the AOTC and Pell Grant will play a crucial role in reducing financial stress on students. Combined with proposed state legislative reductions in financial aid and higher education funding, failure to reauthorize the $2,500 AOTC and keep the maximum Pell Grant award at $5,550 at the federal level will stifle regional and state talent development initiatives by making higher education less affordable.

The Chamber’s support of a reauthorized AOTC and fully funded Pell Grant will help ensure Texas working families have access to the education and training they need to keep Austin and our state economically prosperous and globally competitive.

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Shanghai, International Comparisons, Lessons for Texas

Drew Scheberle, Chamber Sr. Vice President, recently returned from China as part of an educational exchange with People’s Republic of China, organized through Texas A&M University at College Station.

Last week, 15 year old Shanghai students scored far ahead of 64 other countries’ 15 year olds in math, science and reading in the latest PISA assessment (Program for International School Assessment).  Shanghai’s population is nearly 20 million; Texas’ population is 24 million.

Tuesday, I returned from 11 days in Beijing and Wuhan, visited a few schools, talked in English to Chinese principals, teachers, students and province education officials.  So this is by no means definitive.  But Austin and Texas needs to understand:   Our talent base competes with China…and the rest of the world.  We need to prioritize achievement in Texas education.

For those Texas students who graduate high school with a commensurate education to those in Shanghai and graduate from university in STEM fields, high wage job opportunities should still be there in the short-term.  But I witnessed huge operations for 3M, Abbott, Intel, AMD, Microsoft…the who’s who of American technology companies.  Will Austin, with its relatively small population, be able to maintain its middle class wages if its bottom 75% are not much, much smarter?

There is no sugar-coating it: significant numbers of our competitors in China and the industrialized world are competing well or even out-hustling us.

I believe there are several reasons those Shanghai test-takers out-performed the rest of the world.

Ø  Chinese Students Work Harder.  Like all others in the industrialized world, Chinese students from elementary to high school spend more time per day and more time per year learning and studying.  In the competitive schools I visited, students began class at 7:30, took 2 hours for lunch, returned to class until 5pm or 5:30pm, then studied after dinner.  Compound that over 12 years.  Texas legislators and school district leaders should not be considering reducing education time to address potential state revenue allocations.

Ø  Competition and the Desire to Eat. Enrollment in Chinese higher education is limited to a small percentage (but huge number) of high school graduates. Student performance on the gaokao examination system is the primary way to gain college access.  This creates tremendous stress on students.  But Chinese poverty is still very significant.  You want to eat, you study.  Large numbers of Chinese do that…even when the possibility of a white collar job after graduation is not assured.  (http://roomfordebate.blogs.nytimes.com/2010/03/07/educated-and-fearing-the-future-in-china/)

At dinner last Friday with several Tsinghua University professors in Beijing (ranked #3 in China), Dr. Matthew Ferchen echoed a comment made by many in China and the USA: Chinese education is too focused on rote learning.  That comment has been used to dismiss Shanghai academic performance, despite the fact that PISA is not a multiple choice test; it is primarily a short- and long-answer test.  I believe it is true, the Chinese government believes it is true.  Six years ago, the Chinese central government began to reduce class sizes and roll out a plan across its tens of thousands of schools to instill more creativity into the classroom.

With classes of 60 students (seen an intro college class lately), anything beyond lecture is very hard to make interactive. But I did witness a high school class at Wuhan Experimental School, where all 55 students participated in the lesson on Chinese idioms.  Students led the lesson, students competed to answer the questions, each student was called upon.

So what are the implications for Austin and for Texas?

  • Texas math standards should be immediately revisited by Texas State Board of Education.
  • New accountability must be organized primarily around college/career readiness.
  • Pace of improvement must accelerate in new accountability system.
  • School district budgets must prioritize college readiness/enrollment when cutting budgets.

Finally, I recall a conversation from several years ago with a Harvard University PhD graduate, a true intellect, a warm family man and a guy who likes to play hoops every day for lunch.  We were talking about the time required to be globally competitive.  He asked, “what if we don’t want to work that hard?”  I responded “what is our option?”

I think these are two of the most important questions of the 21st century.

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The Numbers on Hubei Province Education

Drew Scheberle, Chamber Sr. Vice President, is currently one of 14 delegates to China as part of an educational exchange with People’s Republic of China, organized through Texas A&M University at College Station. And no, China won’t keep him…
Wuhan, Hubei Province – Mr. Wenjiang Tian, Deputy Chief of Wuhan Education Bureau provided a briefing on Hubei Province education. Wuhan, Hubei Province, with a population of 8.5 million, sits a far but equidistant crossroads from major Chinese mega-mega cities Beijing, Shanghai, Guangzhou. Hubei sits mid-way on the Yangtze River, near the Three Gorges Dam. It is rapidly industrialized, the smog is heavy. Major industries: mining, manufacturing Citroen automobile manufacturing, Coca Cola production for the Asian market and agriculture. Their business sector is heavily focused on technical escalation through expansion of vocational high school enrollment.
Huangshi, Hubei Province, is a iron/steel manufacturing town of 2.5 million, about the size of Dallas. Mr. Jinghua Chen, Deputy Chief of the Huangshi Education Bureau, passionately discussed the need to improve teacher and student quality, through a clear curriculum, pre and post-comprehensive assessments. They created magnet middle and high schools and high school internationally-focused programs to strengthen the preparation of their higher-performing students. They also have 20 extracurricular activities, to diversify student preparation, with lavish student dance productions and environmental clean-up clubs.
Hubei Province has 61 million people; approaching twice the size of Texas’ population. It is the 16th largest Chinese province. From a literacy standpoint, Hubei Province has 99% of its students complete the 9 year compulsory education (which includes pre-k and kindergarten) and 99% of those who enter junior middle school. Three and a half million students are enrolled in 9-year compulsory (average class size 17:1), 3.5 million enrolled in middle schools. One million students are enrolled in vocational high school, which is twice the rate of Texas career & technical education course enrollment. Hubei Province has the largest college-going population with 1.1 million students, about one-quarter the Texas population/college enrollment ratio.

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