By Cary Wright
Chief Public Affairs Officer, Good Reason Houston
Explaining the crisis
Even before the impacts of the global pandemic, our city faced an educational equity crisis of emergency proportions. If left unaddressed, the consequences will be extraordinary for future generations of Houstonians. Specifically, massive economic inequality along lines of race is bound to persist and widen over time.
Our recent learning loss report shows that students of color and economically disadvantaged students will fall even further behind their peers because of the disruptions in the delivery of public education due to the pandemic. Not only is this unacceptable, but it stands to substantially affect the future of Houston – a community where more than half of the population now identifies as a person of color.
Looking at the data
We know that when we improve schools, graduation rates, and postsecondary attainment, we positively impact some of society’s most pressing challenges. A look at the data tells the story.
Today, more than half of Houston students walk into a struggling school. Only about three quarters of our students of color graduate high school. Not even 20% earn a college degree. There are stark differences in outcomes for students attending low-performing schools: 70% are reading below grade level, their average ACT score is below the national average, and they are two times less likely to be college-ready.
It will take serious and committed partnership between schools, business leaders, and nonprofits to bring about real change. In order to increase the number of students learning in A and B schools, which will improve educational outcomes, we must accelerate district transformation and cultivate a supportive ecosystem that continually fuels our schools with the talent and community support needed to ensure every child has access to a high-quality school.
Leveraging our expertise
Good Reason Houston exists to galvanize the community around bold solutions in education. Most often the problems we’re working to address are persistent issues holding our school systems back from their best. We anchor our work with area public school districts because we believe they are the lever for change. This is due to the scale of population served, their access to public funding, and the reach of their infrastructure.
To sustain long-term change, districts need strong systems and infrastructure, so we support superintendents and their leadership teams in developing and implementing a strategic plan and aligning resources to that plan. We also support districts in improving their low-performing schools and creating new, high-performing ones. These efforts include successful turnaround models like Accelerating Campus Excellence (ACE), replicating great schools, and incubating innovative leaders for new school models. All along the way, we’re helping districts implement talent and design-driven school improvement strategies such as leadership development, curriculum selection and adoption, and instructional practice improvement. Our Connecting the Dots Report explains the impact of our work in these areas. For example, the ACE program was launched in Worsham and Goodman Elementary Schools in Aldine last year and their math and reading outcomes for students nearly tripled or more compared to the elementary district total.
Building a coalition
With so many organizations across the nation right now voicing their commitment to rooting out inequities in society, one place we can start is improving educational equity in our own city. In fact, we demand it. Houstonians are coming together around a Blueprint for Change to demand bold courageous leadership, ensure parents are part of all decision-making processes, create and sustain more great schools, expand quality early learning, invest in the most important education resource which is a highly effective classroom teacher, focus curriculum and instruction on giving all the students the skills they need to be successful, demand that schools must be safe welcoming environments, and affirm the heritage and identity as well as meet the unique needs of every child.
Every Houston child deserves to attend an exceptional public school that prepares them to live, work, and thrive in the Houston of tomorrow. And, every neighborhood in Houston will be stronger if high quality public schools create a foundation for strong healthy communities.
By championing these pillars, we know we can impact hundreds of thousands of Houston’s students. There’s no doubt we’ve got our work cut out for us. But it’s time to put words to action. There are 514,000 students in Houston, and their futures are on the line.
About Good Reason Houston
Good Reason Houston is a nonprofit that champions a bold, community-wide vision to accelerate progress within districts and promote courageous decision-making to change the trajectory of school performance. The organization is on a mission to increase the number of students learning in great schools so that every child, in every neighborhood, excels in a world-class public school and thrives in the Houston of tomorrow. To learn more, visit goodreasonhouston.org