When teachers and administrators from San Diego's Jefferson Elementary School wanted to get help in improving their schools, they traveled 700 miles to the east to El Paso, Texas. What they saw was an encouragement. The Texas schools were in a high-poverty area with a mostly minority population similar to their school district. The difference was that the nearly 100 percent of the students passed tests on reading, writing, and math.
As a recent article in U.S. News and World Report documents, the California educators have good reason to learn what has been successful in Texas schools. A Rand study released last week comparing student achievement found that when it comes to educating students from similar family backgrounds, Texas ranks first among the 44 states studied while California ranks at the bottom. On fourth-grade math tests given in 1996, black kids in Texas ranked first while black students in California placed last.
Comparing two states is a tricky business because student populations vary so much. But Texas and California are the nation's two largest public school systems and have approximately the same demographic profile. In both states, for example, nearly half the students are Hispanic or black, and many speak English as a second language.
So why have Texas schools done so well? The Rand study attributes much of the success to high spending on small classes and on preschool. But others point to Texas testing, specifically the Texas Assessment of Academic Skills or TAAS.
Critics of the TAAS test argue that too much time is spent in classes "teaching to the test." And even if that is true, it still points to the fact that students are tested on basic, essential skills that help a student through school. The lesson is simple: teach kids the basics, and they will do better in school.
I'm Kerby Anderson of Probe Ministries, and that's my opinion.