Texas schools are better than you think (but still have a long way to go)For a while I've been wanting to do a post on this McKinsey report titled "The Economic Impact of the Achievement Gap in America's Schools" (main report, supporting charts).
First, the (very) bad news:
But within the report is small silver lining for Texas:
This report examines the dimensions of four distinct gaps in education: (1) between the United States and other nations, (2) between black and Latino students and white students, (3) between students of different income levels, and (4) between similar students schooled in different systems or regions.
The report finds that the underutilization of human potential as reflected in the achievement gap is extremely costly. Existing gaps impose the economic equivalent of a permanent national recession—one substantially larger than the deep recession the country is currently experiencing. For individuals, avoidable shortfalls in academic achievement impose heavy and often tragic consequences via lower earnings, poor health, and higher rates of incarceration.
...differences in public policies, systemwide strategies, school site leadership, teaching practice, and perhaps other systemic investments can fundamentally influence student achievement. California and Texas, for example, are two large states with similar demographics. Yet as shown in Exhibit 7, Texas students are, on average, one to two years of learning ahead of California students of the same age, even though Texas has less income per capita and spends less per pupil than California. (details on p.58/57 chart here)So much for the argument that more money is the answer to improving public schools.
...the best-performing state for low-income blacks (Texas). (#2 for low-income whites behind MA, based on 4th-grade math)
Some other nuggets from the slide pack of supporting charts:
- Houston is near the top of metros for math performance of low-income black fourth-graders, and well above the national average (p.57 of pdf, labeled p.56).
- On the downside, HISD is five points behind the Texas state average (p.65/64).
- Texas is the #2 state for black graduation rates behind AZ. 68% is still way too low, but it is only 8% behind whites, one of the smallest gaps among states. Surprisingly, some of the largest gaps are found in most progressive/liberal/blue states. (p.66/65)
- "California has the most students of any state and has a relatively high income level but low achievement level. Texas is the second most populous state with a medium income level and relatively high achievement levels." (p.114/113)
- Schools and districts have a lot to learn from each other, especially from the best ones: "Across Texas districts, test passing can vary by 25 percentage points. Within Texas districts, school achievement levels can vary by 20-30 percentile." (these are adjusted for demographic differences) (p.55/54)
- Stronger private charter schools providing public school competition? (KIPP, YES)
- Weaker teachers' unions make it easier to implement reforms and remove bad teachers?
- Texas culture/work ethic?
- A weaker welfare/safety net incentivizes student performance and parental support?
- Being a right-to-work/weak-union state might also incentivize student performance and parental support: education is the path to a better job rather than dropping out and getting a comfortably-paid blue-collar union job. Unskilled labor does not pay well in Texas, and that's a pretty strong incentive to learn skills.
For more on this, and how far Houston and Texas still have to go, I highly recommend checking out and supporting local Houston nonprofit 'Children at Risk'.