Members of the Senate Education Committee questioning various witnesses during the first interim hearing held Monday, October 25, in the Senate Chamber. Pictured from left to right are Senators David Sibley of Waco, Committee Chair Teel Bivins of Amarillo, and Jane Nelson of Flower Mound.
SENATE EDUCATION COMMITTEE'S FIRST MEETING
AUSTIN - The Senate Education Committee held its first interim hearing today, October 25, 1999, in the Senate Chamber. The committee heard testimony related to its first charge from a number of invited witnesses. The charge asks the members to "study the involvement of higher education in the state's public K-12 schools related to: (1) preparing students for college, and (2) creating greater access to college. The committee is also asked to identify successful practices and the necessary legislative role (if any) in expanding or enhancing such partnerships." The committee is chaired by Senator Teel Bivins of Amarillo, and its members include Senators David Cain of Dallas, Jane Nelson of Flower Mound, Steve Ogden of Bryan, Bill Ratliff of Mount Pleasant, David Sibley of Waco, Royce West of Dallas, and Judith Zaffirini of Laredo.
The first witnesses to testify were Dr. Janis Guerrero and Ed Fuller from the University of Texas (UT) at Austin, who gave an overview of the necessity and benefits of partnerships between K-12 grade levels, and colleges and universities. More programs and funding are needed to improve communication between the two education systems. The lack of which is shown in the inconsistency of requirements for high school graduation and college admission. Better communication would improve the curriculum of high school's advanced courses, preparing students for higher education. Most of those who provided testimony today mentioned the gap in college enrollment and completion figures between white students, and minorities and economically disadvantaged students. The witnesses suggested the need for additional outreach programs to assist counselors and financial aid officials to make sure those under-privileged students receive information about the financial assistance available. Another issue discussed was how to improve teachers preparation, both in pedagogy and subject matters. Texas requires its teachers fewer hours of pedagogy than most states. Another problem schools face is a shortage of teachers. Only 50% of college students who graduate with a teaching degree actually teach in the classroom. Educators say this is due in part to a lack of mentoring and low salaries. Witnesses doubt that the last legislative session's $3,000 increase will significantly help to solve the huge problem of teacher shortages. Another concern is the overcrowding of classes and schools in Texas, due to the increment of the population. Recent --and old--studies show that students in smaller classes and smaller schools have a higher level of achievement. Dr. Fuller put the ideal size as 600-900 students per school, with 1,000 students as an ideal maximum.
The second panel provided testimony about how to better prepare students for higher education. This panel was formed by Evelyn Hiatt from the Texas Education Agency(TEA), Dr. Jerome Frieberg from the University of Houston, Dr. Larry Hovey from Texas Tech University, and Dr. Wanda Nelson and Dr. Karon Sturdivant Mathews from Texas A&M University. All these witnesses are involved in grant and scholarship programs provided to students, and outreach programs to increase enrollment in colleges. Dr. Frieberg, founder, director, and professor of the Consistency Management & Cooperative Discipline program, focused on the issue of self discipline and responsibility of students in schools, starting at the early levels. He says the program saves teachers 3.8 weeks a year; since they do not have to spend so much time trying to get students to pay attention, teachers can better concentrate on academic requirements, improving the overall students' achievement. The 41 schools around the state that have adopted the program --mostly inner-city schools--have lowered discipline referrals. The program also works with parents, training them on how to help their kids to succeed at school. Besides some Texas schools, the program is available in other states, and a few European countries.
Dr. Hovey focused on the input a child receives from family and peers in relation to higher education. Children who grow up with the expectation that they will attend college, usually do. His outreach program tries to create those expectations in students that do not normally receive it, beginning with the 6th grade. The program invites students, parents and counselors to visit the university and get familiarized with it, and develops strategies for the retention of minorities.
The third panel dealt with creating greater access to a higher education. The panel was composed of Bud Frankenberger from UT-Pan American, and Dr. Jim Vick from UT Austin. Frankenberger talked about the program they offer in schools around the Rio Grande Valley. These programs promote college credit classes in high school, and by doing so, reduce the time spent and cost of higher education. He says the success of this program proves that students from underprivileged families can reach levels of achievement as high as those originating from privileged families, with access and support. Dr. Vick is also involved in a program that targets the underprivileged, concentrating in schools with low-income and minority students. The program is trying to compensate the effects of the Hopwood decision that eliminates the consideration of race in students' access to a university. Currently, the top 10% graduating high school seniors have automatic access to college. Thanks in part to the program Frankenberger represents, this year's enrollment at UT has a higher percentage of minorities than the year previous to Hopwood, although the overall number of minority students at the university has dropped.
The fourth panel focused on how to connect students with science and technology. Dr. Ken Dickson, director of the Elm Fork Education Center of the University of North Texas, proudly described this state-of-the-art, environmentally designed building, that provides students of all levels with hands-on science activities. The purpose of the center is to get kids excited about science and technology. Teacher training is also provided, to extend the experience to the classrooms. Dr. Bill Segura, from Texas State Technical College System, mentioned the importance of high school's advanced courses in sciences, technology, and math.
The fifth panel offered testimony about systemic initiatives, presented by Dr. Diana Natalicio, President of the University of Texas at El Paso; and Dr. Bill Reaves from Texas A&M University System. Similar to other witnesses, they stressed the importance of collaborative partnerships between schools, colleges, and universities. They spoke about the inconsistency between graduation and admission requirements, the need to raise the overall achievement level of students, and the need to close the access and achievement gap.
The Senate Education Committee will announce future meeting locations and times. The group will present its findings in the form of a report to be presented to the 77th Legislature which will convene in January 2001.