Texas Ed: Comments on Education from Texas

May 28, 2007

No change to the top ten percent rule

Filed under: college admissions, Florence Shapiro, Top Ten Percent Rule — texased @ 11:40 am


MySA.com: Metro | State

AUSTIN — In a surprise move, the Texas House shot down a bill Sunday night that would have limited automatic admissions at the University of Texas at Austin for students graduating in the top 10 percent of their class.

A cheer went up in the chamber with the final vote, 75-64, against adopting a compromise bill that would have let public universities cap admissions of high-ranking students at 50 percent.

Now maybe people can start thinking about what Texas can do to improve the quality of all it’s universities.

As for the brain drain argument, drain away. Maybe all of these people who leave the state will choose to live outside of Texas. Then as more graduates of Texas’ top universities look more like Texas as a whole, these graduates will lead the way to improve higher education opportunities for everyone, not just the children of wealthy parents in north Dallas and the Houston suburbs.


May 27, 2007

The best money can buy

Filed under: college admissions, Higher Education, Top Ten Percent Rule — texased @ 3:46 pm

Agreement reached on top 10 percent law | Postcards from the Lege

House and Senate negotiators have reached agreement on changes to a 10-year-old college-admission law.

Under Senate Bill 101, which still needs approval today from the full House and Senate, the University of Texas would no longer be required to accept all applicants who rank in the top 10 percent of their high school class. UT could limit such students to 60 percent of its freshmen from Texas. Such students made up 71 percent in fall 2006.

Agreement reached on top 10 percent law | Postcards from the Lege

UT President William Powers Jr. has spent considerable time testifying at legislative hearings and meeting with lawmakers this year in hopes of obtaining limits on the law. He’s argued that racial and ethnic diversity — a major purpose of the 1997 legislation — could be realized more effectively if UT has greater discretion in deciding whom to admit.

So now UT Austin will go out of it’s way to admit students like those below?

Elite Colleges Open New Door to Low-Income Youths – New York Times

Mr. Jack’s high grades and test scores — a respectable 1200 on the SAT — won him a full scholarship to the University of Florida. But the median score for his Amherst class was 1422, and he would have been excluded had the admissions office not considered his socioeconomic class, and the obstacles he had overcome.

“Tony Jack with his pure intelligence — had he been raised in Greenwich, he would have been a 1500 kid,” said Tom Parker, the dean of admission. “He would have been tutored by Kaplan or Princeton Review. He would have had The New Yorker magazine on the coffee table.”

Hardly likely. While Powers and the UT Alumni Association (I can’t believe they use my dues for this) were out bemoaning the lack of flexibility in selecting students under the top ten percent rule, Sen. Jane Nelson is promising her constituents that money will once again be a deciding factor in UT admissions.

Star-Telegram.com | 05/05/2007 | Senate approves limit on top 10% rule

Sen. Jane Nelson, R-Lewisville, said the rule hurts students with sterling credentials who graduate from Texas’ mega-high schools, where many students take Advanced Placement classes and boast high SAT scores. At the same time, students from smaller schools with less-competitive curricula make it into UT, said Nelson, adding that voting for the top 10 percent rule in 1996 was one of the worst votes she’s ever cast.

Whatever could I mean by that? After all, she’s talking about credentials, AP courses and high SATs. Such credentials, as Amherst seems to recognize, are more likely when the parents have the money to pay for the prep classes and to buy a house in well-to-do area. So while Powers talks about admitting students like Tony Jack, Nelson and Shapiro and friends make it clear this bill is really about making sure that those who can afford it, get to go to UT.

So much for improving our higher education system for everyone.

May 25, 2007

If they request it, you shall provide it

Filed under: Accountability, education priorities, Legislature — texased @ 9:27 pm

MySA.com: Politics

AUSTIN — After a bill to teach Bible classes to high school students easily gained approval from the Senate on Wednesday, lawmakers immediately disagreed on whether the measure would make the courses mandatory.

Legislative leaders were not sure whether school districts would be obligated to offer the religion studies course if 15 or more students sign up for it. Both “may” and “shall” show up in different sections of the House bill the Senate sent to the governor without changing.

So why limit it to Bible classes? Why shouldn’t schools be required to provide classes in the Chinese language if 15 students request it? What about Java programming, will the school also have to provide the computers?

Obviously, the original sponsor of the bill thought the school could just go out and hire a Sunday school teacher. Things are a little different if you have to go out and hire a teacher qualified to teach it as an academic subject.

And if a student requests a class which the school then provides, is the student obligated to take the class? What if a requesting student moves out of the district–what happens to the class? It looks like to me common sense prevailed in the Education Committee by changing the language from “shall” to “may.”

May 23, 2007

An argument for education reform?

Filed under: Accountability, TAKS — texased @ 6:47 pm

MySA.com: Metro | State

Lindsey Fernandez, a senior at Natalia High School, said she felt like an outsider when told she wouldn’t be allowed to graduate with the rest of her classmates because she failed the TAKS science portion.

“Graduation is a big part of my life,” said Fernandez, a self-described “A” and “B” student. “I have never gotten in trouble, I am not a bad person, and it’s just not fair.”

Though the state requires seniors to pass TAKS to graduate — they get five attempts — school districts decide whether they can participate in graduation ceremonies.

So do you think the parents were at the school demanding extra resources when she failed the TAKS the first time? After all, she has taken the test all five times, right?

If these people think it’s more important for a student to walk across the stage than actually pass the test (whether or not the test should be required or it’s actual value is a separate issue), how do you think these other “life events” are going to turn out?

MySA.com: Metro | State


“When you have children, you look forward to when they get baptized, graduate high school and get married,” said Lindsey Fernandez’s mother, Brenda Fernandez. “The graduation ceremony has got to be one of the biggest parts of the teenager’s life.”

They’re baptized but you don’t take them to church? They can get married even though they continue to see other people during the engagement and after the ceremony?

The fact the these parents seem to think that it’s the event rather than the actual work it represents that is important makes you wonder the value of the education they received.

May 19, 2007

And this is going to be a fair process because?

Filed under: Accountability, Education Finance, Higher Education, Rick Perry, Texas — texased @ 10:05 am

MySA.com: Metro | State

AUSTIN — A proposal touted by Gov. Rick Perry to boost university funding based on graduation rates is getting a new push from some leaders who worry he may veto a big swath of the higher education budget unless he gets some reforms he wants.

And people complain about how unfair NCLB is. Do you think UTSA’s graduation rates would come close to UT Austin’s if they received as much money from the state per student as UT Austin and could restrict admissions as does UT Austin? UTSA has to get approval from the UT System before changing it’s admissions policies. So is Perry going to punish UTSA for not graduating a higher percentage of students while the state also requires them to admit virtually all high school graduates regardless of qualifications?

I really think Perry doesn’t want to go there. Imagine the controversy it will generate when the inequitable funding of higher education is brought into the spotlight.

May 17, 2007

Spring football camps

Filed under: High School, sports — texased @ 9:20 pm

Spring high school football camps have started here in Texas. As far as I can tell, if you expect to play in the fall, you better be at the camps in the spring. They even “ask” promising eighth graders to join the spring camps so that they will have a head start on the fall.

So do you think that the advanced placement teachers have a spring camp for those planning on taking ap classes in the fall? I know band is pretty involved, do they have spring practices for the football marching season? How about the debate team?

My contact with high school athletics is only tangential in that I see it effecting everything else in the community that has to do with sports. Do high school athletics truly develop the athletic potential of students? No. What they do is generate businesses for various private athletic training programs. You want your daughter to make the volleyball team, better have her do some strength training at one of these private businesses. Your son wants to play baseball? Better get him some hitting lessons because everyone else who wants to make the team does.

High school athletics is in no way a level playing field with everyone having a shot at the team. How can it be when not only does it cost money to play on the team, it costs money to prepare to even have the chance to play on the team?

Nor is this about having “well rounded” student-athletes. How many 5a football players are involved in any other extracurricular activities? How does demanding total time commitment to one activity better prepare our students? Ultimately, high school athletics is about exclusivity and it’s affects reach far beyond the school walls.

May 12, 2007

Where are they going to go?

Filed under: college admissions, Education reform, Higher Education — texased @ 8:52 pm

This is a good idea.

MySA.com: Metro | State

Under UTSA’s proposal, guaranteed admission for top-ranked high school students would expand from the top 10 percent to the top 25 percent.

Below that threshold, students would have to score from 920-1020 on the SAT, up from the current range of 830-970; on the ACT, that range would rise from 17-20 to 19-21.Romo said higher standards are part of a strategy to slow enrollment and manage runaway growth, as well as raise graduation rates and push UTSA toward it goal of becoming a premier research university.

A draft of UTSA’s strategic plan calls for capping enrollment at 35,000 by 2016. Romo estimated that 400 students would be rejected under the new standards.

“You cannot be open admissions and say you have standards,” Romo said, adding that high schools must turn out better students because the university cannot afford remedial education.

“The message we send to high schools is that UTSA will take you, no matter what,” he said.

Of course, in some ways, this just shifts the issues of qualifications and enrollment to community colleges. And given the lack of predictability of transferring course work from community colleges to four year institutions, low graduation rates, and lower profiles, I can’t help but think it’s brushing the problem under the rug so the legislature doesn’t have to deal with it.

What problem? The problem that obviously a significant number of students graduate from Texas colleges believing that they are ready for college but the low graduation rate at many Texas universities suggest otherwise.

Then there is the problem of capping enrollments as a means to controlling growth. Even if our public school system never improves, the number of graduates capable of succeeding in college is going to grow simply from population growth. Where are these people supposed to go?

Our local school district has a bond issue on the ballot to build more more schools to accommodate the 4,000 plus students being added to the district each year. Where are the new universities being built?

This is basically why it’s so hard to get into the Ivy League schools. They probably have ten times the number of people applying than they had 30 years ago and all of them meet the minimum qualifications. However, they haven’t expanded to accommodate ten times the enrollment. Students are being turned away who would have been an automatic admission just 20 years ago.

UTSA will become more selective simply because it can’t keep growing, just like UT Austin and Texas A&M already have. So what happens next, the community colleges, our last door that opens the path to higher education to all, will start turning away students?

May 9, 2007

Scholarship opportunity

Filed under: education, San Antonio — texased @ 1:39 pm

So you aren’t stuck blogging.

MySA.com: KENS 5: Education

The local chapter of the Association of Hispanic Journalists is accepting applications for 2007 scholarships.

Scholarships up to $5,000 are available for San Antonio and Bexar County minority college students pursuing a career in the communications industry.

Applications are available at http://www.saahj.org or by calling (210) 250-3501.

The deadline to apply is May 26.

May 8, 2007

But $200 million would be too expensive

Filed under: Education Finance, education priorities — texased @ 9:07 pm

House OKs plan to suspend gas tax for summer | Chron.com – Houston Chronicle

The Texas House tentatively adopted a measure today that would suspend the state’s 20-cent gas tax through the summer months.

That would mean an immediate 20-cent drop in the price per gallon.

House OKs plan to suspend gas tax for summer | Chron.com – Houston Chronicle

While the state is sitting on a record surplus, state leaders have suggested saving that money in order to give property tax relief in two years. Perry has suggested using some of the nearly $8 billion expected to be left unspent to give Texas homeowners more property tax relief.

Martinez Fischer said the proposal could cost anywhere from $500,000 to $700 million.

But, he added, it only seemed fair to give Texans a break from soaring gas prices when airlines already are exempt from state fuel taxes.

And Senator Tommy Williams thinks it’s too expensive to fund college tuition breaks for top ten percent graduates because the cost could “balloon to $200 million by 2012”. Guess who sponsored the fuel tax cut in the senate? Tommy Williams.

So short term tax relief for a lot of people with no future benefit to the state is good. Long term investment of money to improve the state’s education levels and ultimately its economic performance is bad.

It’s sort of a vicious circle isn’t it? We elect idiots who reduce access to education with the result being electing more idiots. Or maybe it’s something else, Williams is just protecting the privileged status of well to do Texans by reducing the rest of the population’s access to the class through education.

Think about it. The fuel tax cut will go to those with the most cars who drive the most. So rich people driving SUVs all around town will be spared the hardship of higher summer gas prices while the less fortunate (or those interested in reducing pollution and traffic congestion) take the bus and get nothing. But I’m sure the economic benefits of this fuel tax reduction will ripple through the Texas economy for years to come–just not in a positive way.

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May 6, 2007

It’s more than I expected

Filed under: Education Finance, education priorities, Florence Shapiro — texased @ 3:13 pm

Without ever showing how the top ten percent rule was hurting the University of Texas at Austin, UT President Bill Powers managed to get a cap on the number of admissions.

Top 10-percenters may face UT admission limit | Chron.com – Houston Chronicle

After admitting half of its 2008 freshman class under the top 10 law, UT would then be required to admit another 10 percent of the top-ranking high school students using such criteria as college test scores, leadership traits and special talents.

That would leave 40 percent of the incoming class it could admit for whatever reason.

UT President Bill Powers, who directly negotiated with senators in closed-door meetings behind the chamber, helped forge a compromise allowing the cap to expire in eight years.

“We have to keep the onus on the back of universities. That’s why I wanted the sunset,” said Sen. Royce West, D-Dallas, whose allies to block the bill entirely had begun dwindling.

“It keeps the pressure on the University of Texas or any other institution to come back to the Legislature and show that they are doing what we want them to do as it relates to maintaining diversity,” he said.

The bill that emerged after more than two hours of debate would expire in 2015 and give top 10 students at least $1,500 a year in tuition breaks.

The idea to reward top 10 students with tuition breaks was hatched by Senate Finance Committee Chairman Steve Ogden, R-Bryan.

Under his amendment, top 10 students would no longer pay state-set tuition of $51 per semester hour, starting with the 2008 school year.

Even though $1,500 would probably only cover a third of tuition and fees at most public universities, Senator Williams makes it sound prohibitive:

Top 10-percenters may face UT admission limit | Chron.com – Houston Chronicle

Sen. Tommy Williams, R-The Woodlands, said the proposal sounded too expensive. The two-year cost would start at $25 million but balloon to $200 million by 2012.

But lets put this into perspective. Remember the sporting goods tax that wasn’t being used to fund the state parks? The parks were only getting $20 million of the over $100 million generated by the tax annually. Now I’m not suggesting we raid the sporting goods tax to fund colleges. I am suggesting that it probably isn’t that difficult to find the money if we had a little leadership.

And ultimately, $1,500 isn’t enough of a bribe to make these “undeserving” top ten percent go away. Why? Think of it this way. Would all those prospective UT Austin students from Collin county change their preference for UTSA for $1,500 a year? No. In fact, their parents are willing to spend a lot more than $1,500 to send their kids to out of state schools rather than have them go to some other school than UT Austin.

What is needed are some serious improvements in our other state schools to make them as attractive as UT Austin and Texas A&M. Given that UT Austin spends $11, 344 per student and UTSA spends $5,396, I think the state could redirect some of it’s efforts to non-“flagship” schools. Imagine what UTSA could do if it had twice the amount to spend on its students which would be just under $1,000,000. Whatever it would take to get a UT Austin wannabe to enroll in UTSA is what it’s really going to take to change the system.

There is plenty of evidence that the system needs help. Only 37% of the students attending public universities in Texas are at institutions that have a 50% or higher six year graduation rate according to College Results Online. Of the ten most populous states, only Georgia has a lower rate.

Table of Top Ten States in Population

2005 Undergraduates at Public Intitutions

But what do you expect? Some very well to do parents got the state to take care of their interests. They don’t have to worry about any tax increases, they actually save money since they don’t have to send their kids out of state. And just how diverse do you think the student population will be at UT-Austin in ten years? I know, I know, the poor people should take their $1,500, be grateful, and shut-up.

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