Mar 3rd 2017 | Posted in Education by Kristin Gordon

In 2003, a unique public-private partnership called The High School Project  (THSP) was created to remedy the continued problem of high school dropouts despite several initiatives that were implemented prior to 2003 to reduce the rates. During the 2002 gubernatorial election, Gov. Rick Perry proposed a plan to reduce the number of students who dropped out of school. During the 78th Legislative Session, Perry and his staff worked with lawmakers to support the High School Completion Initiative. The state allocated $65 million to fund high school reform efforts and dropout prevention programs. This focus garnered interest from private foundations looking to invest in potential solutions.

THSP was created to reduce the dropout rate, increase college and workforce readiness and close achievement gaps between populations of students. Due to a budget shortfall in 2003, Perry and the Texas Education Agency (TEA) were able to leverage funding from private investors and provide matching state dollars to support the reform efforts.   Private entities added an additional $65 million to the pot and so began programs through THSP, including 35 Texas Science, Technology, Engineering and Math Academies across the state.

In 2007 Legislature created the High school Completion and Success Initiative Council and in March 2008, the council put together a plan. Part of that plan was tasking TEA to submit a report to the Legislature every six months describing its progress on dropout prevention and minimum standards for graduation plans, establishing grants and programs to foster high school success and college and workforce readiness and aligning those grants and programs to the strategic plan.

Over the years THSP has encompassed initiatives, in addition to T-STEM, such as  High Schools That Work, High School Redesign and Restructuring, Early College High Schools, New Schools and Charter Schools and High School Redesign. An initiative of TEA, the Early College High School (ECHS) model was introduced in 2006 and the partnerships between colleges and high schools continues to grow each year.

ECHS allows students least likely to attend college on opportunity to earn a high school diploma and 60 college credit hours. Applications were due before Dec. 16, 2016 for school districts that want to serve as a designated ECHS campus for the 2017-2018 school year. Districts will be notified in the spring of 2017 whether they have been approved for designation.

Over 164 school campuses have been designated as an ECHS and have partnered with a college or university to receive dual credit. It is one of the fastest-growing education reforms in Texas, is run in public high schools and is funded by a combination of public and private dollars. Students in this blended curriculum of high school and college courses have the opportunity to earn an associate’s degree or up to 60 college credit hours during their four years in the program. Students do not pay tuition or spend money for textbooks.

There is such a demand to get into the program that schools like Glena Park Independent School District held a lottery last year to choose 250 students to receive dual credit with San Jacinto College. Students in the program have the opportunity to take classes that focus on an industry certification such as engineering graphic design, licensed vocational nursing, welding and diesel technology, emergency medical technician and medical assistant.  The district chose to align this educational opportunity with their career and technical education program.

In 2015, the Ector County Independent School District built Falcon Early College High School on the campus of The University of Texas of the Permian Basin. The school started with ninth-graders and would add a grade a year up to 400 students. The school’s focus is science, technology, engineering and math. If students pass the Texas Success Initiative college placement test for entering freshmen, they can take any college course. All Falcon High School students are considered to be part of the university and have access to all campus facilities.

This year, Grand Prairie Independent School District partnered with The University of Texas at Arlington (UTA) to launch the Education and Leadership Preparatory Program, which aims to begin training students from their junior year of high school to become teachers and to commit to work in Grand Prairie. The program this fall will have openings for 100 students who will qualify through their essays and interviews. The program will put a strong emphasis on bilingual and English as a second language (ESL) teachers. According to TEA, Texas had only one ESL or bilingual teacher for every 46 students struggling with English during the 2014-2015 school year.

A potential, new partnership was announced Feb. 10 between the Texas Workforce Commission (TWC) and school districts throughout the state. TWC is seeking education partners for a pilot program called the Foster Youth Dropout Recovery, to help increase the number of Texas foster youth who graduate from high school. TWC has $1.5 million in funding for the pilot program that will help 16-to-25-year-old foster youth earn a diploma or its equivalent. According to TEA, there are 23,000 students in foster care that attend Texas public schools. Find out more about the program here.


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