What’s wrong with Texas youth today?

As a High School Geography Teacher, that was the question I started each class with the very first day of school. The immediate level of disgust, the eye rolling and the moans were almost always the same. Students were somewhat excited about the start of a new year and their teacher is about to pour a bucket of cold water all over them just to ruin their day. I never waited for an answer to that question, I answered it for them:

The problem with Texas Youth today is that you are Texas Youth today and it’s your turn to be judged unworthy.

Using this introduction, I would then proceed to tell students that there has never been a generation of young people that were ever deemed worthy of adult praise. We (adults) always see the necessity of pointing out all of our children’s faults and reminding them of all the great things we did when we were their age (as we remember it).
Now we have legislators and business leaders joining the band wagon of all the reasons the State of Texas is doomed to fail because of an uneducated, unmotivated and undisciplined work force that is being turned out of our Texas Public Schools. Just like in the 50’s, 60”s, 70’s and so on, the adult population always laments over the doomed status of the state/nation when these guys take over and run the place!
Let me put in my two cents on this conversation with the following points of interest:
• Today’s students are the most educated and assessed students in the history of this state. In fact, they are much smarter and have been held to a much higher standard of achievement that any of us ever dreamed of. That is true in number of courses required to graduate high school, the level of instruction required within those academic areas and in the advanced courses required to receive a diploma with distinctions.
• The students of today are work force ready. Anyone who continues to bemoan the lack of skills in our students does not give credit to the fact that our state wide gross domestic productivity has increased at a level much greater than that of the nation with our students in the workplace.
• Through great effort on the part of educators and some in the legislature, we can target the interest of our students and the skills required of our local job market to provided an education is rigorous, relevant and beneficial to the local economy as well as giving students the foundation they need to be even more college and career ready when they leave high school.
Our students are, as a whole, amazing! They are more generous with their time than any before. They are not ashamed to proclaim and live their faith and they are at the start of one of the greatest cultural shifts this country has ever seen. The cultural shift that technology, social media and global connectivity will bring to each of their lives is just now starting to give us a glimpse of things to come. As educators, we have to consider and create an education system that will equip them for that world. We have to provide a learning environment filled with this century practices and look to new ideas for the delivery of instruction that is focused on the learner, not the educator. It’s not that change is on the way, change is here and we need to embrace the needs of our students with an understanding that the Industrial Education Model is not best for today’s learner. What are some considerations as we create the new vision for Texas Public Schools?

• Those that would have you believe our schools are failing because of the results and low expectations of STAAR/EOC do not tell you that this assessment system is irrelevant in the evaluation of the total performance of a school district. STAAR/EOC is not recognized by any college of university as an indicator of success for post-secondary education. The assessments are aligned with a curriculum that is much greater in scope and volume than can ever be assessed on a single test in the 4-hour time limit.
• Educators have been “labeled” as anti-test supporters and nothing could be further from the truth. We believe assessments should be used as a diagnostic tool to enhance student’s strengths and reveal areas of concern with regard to the learning standards.
• We do not believe a test given in 4 hours on one day per subject matter can be used to determine the effectiveness of a teacher, a campus and/or an entire district.
• Campus and District Accountability Rating Systems based on the one time test process are no more than “Real Estate Ratings” used to promote one school district over another when there are no common factors in the comparison.
• The current accountability system is seen as a deterrent to the process of education to the vast majority of school districts. So much so that well over 800 Texas Public School Districts officially adopted a resolution stating their opposition.
• The current Industrial Model of instruction is not going to meet the need of today’s learners and it will not create an environment of success going forward.
• Poverty is the true enemy of education. A new vision for education must account for the needs of all students. We hear from certain distracters that “throwing money” at schools is not the answer. None of us in the profession are asking for a toss. We are articulating an expectation of equity that allows the children, schools and districts with high poverty rates to level the playing field and fight the problem at it’s source.

It is not enough to just point out what is not working. There has to be an alternative, a better plan to work towards in becoming an education system that focuses on this century learning styles and needs. There are several groups working on “what’s next” for Texas Public Schools. The “New Vision” is out there and there are school districts deeply committed to the work of making this century learning a reality. Search the web for the following and you will see communities and district leaders that are making a difference in this process. Look for Texas High Performing Schools Consortium and Creating a New Vision for Public Education on the web. White Oak ISD is a proud member of the Texas High Performance Schools Consortium and the New Visioning Cohort for Region 7. A Google search of “Mission: School Transformation” will provide you with a wealth of information about what we are working towards and what we are promoting as an alternative to the current instructional and assessment model.
To finish where I started, there is not a problem with Texas Youth today! Their future is bright and the possibilities/opportunities for them to experience success are on the rise. It is an exciting time to be in the business of educating students in the Texas Public School System. It will not be easy to change a culture that has been in place for more than a century, but it will happen. There is no doubt that the Texas Public School System is going to change. I hope that those of you reading this will look at the work of the Consortium and the Visioning Institute and join in the effort to transform our schools into models for best practices of learning for the 21st century.

To learn more about the New Vision for Public Schools and Mission see: School Transformation