Texas Legislature Considers New Bill Aimed at Better Preparing Students for Working Life, College

Texas educators, lawmakers, and parents are mulling over a soon to be implemented bill from the Texas State Legislature that would see sweeping reforms of the state’s educational rules. The bill, simply titled House Bill 5, will change regulations and programs offered across the Lone Star State in hopes of making Texas youth more prepared for work or college following their high school education.

HB5 Lays out Numerous New Programs

As outlined by the Texas Education Agency (TEA), HB5 is currently in the midst of a months long process of hearing public discourse and receiving a plan from the Texas Commissioner of Education on the implementation of HB5’s new programs for the 2014 to 2015 academic year. The School Board of Education, along with the Commissioner, reserves the right to cut out or otherwise amend programs included in the bill.

In a nutshell, HB5 works to rehab the number and types of credits each student needs to receive his or her diploma and be suitably “prepared” for professional life or college, “without remediation.” The so-called Foundation High School Program requires students to accrue four credits in English-language arts, three in mathematics, three in science, and three in social studies, with other minor credit requirements for electives and other non-major areas of study. In addition, students can seek out “endorsements” that translate to credits by working with area businesses and educational institutions in a sort of internship arrangement. Advanced versions of the Foundation HS Program, known as the Distinguished Level of Achievement and Performance Acknowledgement, will also be awarded when students go above and beyond the basic requirements for a degree.

HB5 is Noticeably Lax on STEM Requirements

While no one doubts that Texas needs to reform its educational system to make its students more competitive in the current economic landscape, critics of HB5 worry that the bill doesn’t go nearly far enough in ensuring proficiency in science, technology, engineering, and mathematics, the so-called STEM fields. Overall, the United States ranks only 52nd in quality of STEM education provided, a number the World Economic Forum says is set to plummet over the next few years. Many parts of Texas show some of the worst preparedness for students when it comes to STEM classes in the country. For Irving, the highest ranked institution, MacArthur High School, only ranks 303rd in the state; Irving ISD’s Barbara Caldwell Career Preparatory Center comes in at 1,422nd, only 10 places off the bottom of the list.

In a recent study from Georgetown University, it was revealed that of the top five college majors that offer the best return on investment, four are considered to be part of the STEM group — engineering, computers and mathematics, health, and physical sciences all topped the list. That being the case, it shouldn’t be any wonder why Texas parents are less than impressed by the state’s rule changes, changes that put English-language arts requirements above math and sciences. In a world where professional success and income are tied directly to STEM education, the Texas State Legislature seems willing to go through the motions of reform; unfortunately, those reforms aren’t entirely in-line with reality.