System institutions to help Texas schools reach state education standards

Maria Mendez

To help increase student success in Texas, UT-Austin and four other UT System universities will collaborate with schools flagged as “Improvement Required” by the Texas Education Agency for the next three years. 

While students in Texas pre-K-12 schools are increasingly meeting the state’s education standards, 358 campuses still require improvements, according to the TEA’s 2017 accountability report. The work with pre-K-12 schools will be funded with an annual $100,000 per institution from the UT System’s Board of Regents, according to Nichole Prescott, UT System assistant vice chancellor for academic affairs.

Prescott, who oversees the System’s kindergarten to college programs, said the goal of these partnerships is for colleges of education in the UT System to develop long-term solutions with these struggling schools.

“The colleges of education are not going in just to fix the schools. It’s a true collaboration,” Prescott said. “They’re working with the schools to create solutions.”

While colleges of education at UT-San Antonio, UT-Dallas, UT-Tyler and UT-Rio Grande Valley partner up with one or more improvement required schools in their area, the UT-Austin College of Education will act as a “knowledge management hub” and researchers will provide technical assistance with data and compile lessons on best practices, Prescott said.

Through these few but close collaborations, Prescott said education colleges in the UT System will be able to help identify specific obstacles for student success in each school’s curriculum and provide training to the teachers at each school.

“The reason we’re only working with (a few) schools is because it is a big commitment,” Prescott said. “It’s a lot of time and resources. So rather than providing a light touch with a lot of different schools, we’re really committing to turning around a struggling school.”

UT-Austin’s College of Education will then amplify this work by making research insights available for school turnaround efforts across the state. Prescott said understanding student success data is key but can often be difficult for school administrators to maneuver.

“Our faculty can really go in and disentangle some of the data pieces and work with the administration to … draw solutions from that data,” Prescott said.

Prescott said students and teachers at the schools will benefit from the partnerships, but UT System researchers and student teachers will also gain insight from the work.

“This is a win-win situation for everyone involved,” Prescott said. “These experiences … are going to spark academic research as well as provide great experiences for student teachers.”

Prescott said the collaborations are in response to a call to action from Mike Morath, Texas commissioner of education, for more universities to help struggling schools in Texas. Currently, the University of North Texas and Texas A&M University-Kingsville are the only other universities to have enacted school turnaround collaborations under this call to action, Prescott said.

“Through this work, I look forward to expanding these best practices to other colleges of education and (scaling) this initiative across our state,” Morath said in a press release.

These partnerships are also a part of Chancellor William McRaven’s Texas Prospect Initiative, which seeks to better align pre-K-12 education with college readiness.

“All students in Texas should have access to quality teachers and schools, and all schools should have access to the resources they need to effectively serve students,” McRaven said in a press release.