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Educating a Diverse Texas Work Force

John Stevens, Texas Business and Education Coalition

Our organization works to influence the direction of state education policy to create the type of school system needed to educate Texans to be able to function effectively in the real world. If we are to have a viable economy, we need to develop the diversity in our state. The future of Texas will depend more on the education of a diverse work force than on any other factor.

It is not just a question of business needing a diverse work force. In Texas, the population is becoming increasingly diverse. If the economy is to thrive, people from these diverse elements must be prepared to participate and contribute.

In order to make mathematics meaningful to students, teachers must establish relevancy in at least two ways. Up front, to get their attention, establish connections with students' past experiences. Then, to establish usefulness, show applications used by others in the real world. Both must be done so as to connect with students in ways that are meaningful to them. This means different things to different groups in different places.

But even the best mathematics courses will help little if students don't enroll. The Texas Business and Education Coalition (TEBC) supports a program called "Texas Scholars" that motivates students to complete a rigorous 24-credit academic course of study in high school, which formed the basis for the state's recommended high school program. This initiative increases student enrollments in science and mathematics courses and pressures the system to restructure itself to satisfy that demand. It also forces re-examination of mathematics education at the elementary and middle school levels. Unfortunately, many high school mathematics treachers do not welcome the program because it forces them to figure out how to teach their subject to other-than-the-best students.

Accountability for results is a major part of our reform effort. The Texas public school accountability system evaluates districts in terms of how well all student groups achieve. The Texas Supreme court, in upholding the legislature's response to the school funding equity question, stated that future equity rulings will likely be based on student results as well as on availability of resources. In the future, equity will be part of accountability. Equity, as defined by the courts, means results for all student groups.

One source of evidence for equity and achievement is the Texas Assessment of Academic Standards (TAAS) exams. Preliminary indicators are not good. Research by the University's Educational Productivity Council shows that students who fail a TAAS exam have an 80% likelihood of failing the next, and students who fail two consecutive exams had a 95% chance of failing the third. These data show that the educational system does not help students break out of low achievement patterns. This systemic behavior has important implications for equity.

Many Americans businesses are currently expanding internationally. They need to be able to send employees of all ethnic backgrounds with multi-lingual capabilities to these developing work sites. There is real opportunity for students who, because of their backgrounds, can best fill this need. Although studies show that there is little correlation between a student's school record and the student's first job, there is a clear connection between education and opportunities for life. That's why we urge all students to complete a rigorous academic program while in high school.

John Stevens is Executive Director of the Texas Business and Education Coalition.

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Last Update: 07/06/96