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Texas Higher Education commissioner warns about high school graduation changes

The Texas House and Senate are considering major changes to the high school degree plans that Texas students would have to complete. In fact, the House version of those changes, HB 5, is slated for a vote on the House floor Monday. I interviewed Texas Higher Education Commissioner Raymund Paredes this morning about his views of these changes, which you can read more about at this link. Here is our email exchange:
Texas universities are affected whenever legislators change high school degree plans. What, then, is your view of what the House and Senate are attempting to do with their proposed changes for high school diplomas?
The proposed foundation program in both House and Senate bills is less rigorous than the current Recommended High School Program. Consequently, we expect a decline in college readiness.
In what ways do you think the changes will make it less rigorous?
The foundation curriculum reduces the required math from three years to two years and allows a third year of science to be an applied course or a less rigorous course than a dedicated physics course. In addition, the foundation curriculum allows local school districts to replace academic courses with applied technical courses so that there is no assurance that the foundation curriculum will provide all students a solid academic foundation.
The way I look at this debate, it is being driven in part by folks who say the state is putting too much emphasis on getting kids ready for college. We instead should be put a new emphasis on technical education. What is your response to their critique?
Texas is 48th in SAT Reading and Writing scores, 38th in Math scores and 33rd in ACT scores. ACT data show only 25% of Texas high school graduates are college ready across the board. Among the ten largest states we are 8th in college participation. That doesn’t sound like too much emphasis on getting kids ready for college.
The fact of the matter is that we need a balance between college readiness and career readiness. We have a shortage in many career and technical education fields, but also shortages in fields that require a bachelor’s degree or higher.
We should begin by providing every child a solid academic foundation and then build further academic preparation or career and technical education on top of that. National data show that we will have equivalent shortages among workers who have either CTE or baccalaureate education.
The House bill being considered on Monday would limit end-of-course exams for high school students to five: English II (reading and writing), Algebra I, Biology, and U.S. History. What is your take on that proposal, which means only one test beyond ninth grade?
I am not an expert on the number of tests that are appropriate. I defer to my colleague, Texas Education Commissioner Michael Williams, on this issue. But if we are talking about getting students college-ready, we need to test closer to the end of high school to make sure students are indeed ready for higher education.
If these bills pass, which appear likely, what do you see as being the effect on Texas?
We will have fewer students college-ready. We will need more developmental or remedial education in our colleges and universities. And there will be a decline in the percentage of low income students and students of color who are college-ready and likely to attend college. We will be less competitive economically with other states and globally, particularly in high-tech and STEM areas.