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For Texas Mayors And Superintendents, Bush Institute Education Data Is A Call To Action

Bill Zeeble
Fort Worth Mayor Betsy Price and Fort Worth Superintendent Kent Scribner (two on the right) joined other city and educational leaders at a morning roundtable held by the George W. Bush institute

On Tuesday morning, the Bush Institute hosted some Texas mayors and superintendents to talk about education -- and a new online tool that looks at education data from more than 100 cities. For North Texas officials, the data is a call to action.

City and education leaders from North Texas, San Antonio and Houston crowded a giant round table at the Bush Institute. They were here as the institute unveiled its online Profiles of Education Performance Around the Nation -  basically a bunch of data. For some, this might be deadly boring. Not for Fort Worth Mayor Betsy Price. For her, some statistics speak loudly.

“The community has been shocked when we said only three out of every 10 of our current students can read at third grade level. It’s very shocking,” Price said. “And so we have to use that data to drive this forward.”

What Fort Worth’s driving forward is a pre-kindergarten effort so all district kids read well by third grade.

“Because we know that children learn to read through third grade and from third grade on they read to learn,” Price said. “It doesn’t matter whether it’s math science, history, anything they’re taking if they can’t read they can’t learn.”

The new Bush Institute online tool looks at 114 schools across the country. The institute says schools need reliable data to understand student performance. Then they can improve outcomes.  

Arlington ISD Superintendent Marcelo Cavazos welcomed the statistics.

“The data is very important,” Cavazos said. “More important is what we do with the data. And so this is call to action, and just like data often does, it moves people to action.”

Credit Bill Zeeble / KERA News
Members of the Bush Presidential Center (left) sit near Dallas Mayor Mike Rawlings (3rd from left) and Dallas Superintendent Michael Hinojosa, at a discussion about new education data

Actions Cavazos is taking? Working with the Boys and Girls Clubs to help kids with after-school programs. Partnering with local colleges to admit the top 20 percent of high school graduates into the University of Texas, Arlington or The University of North Texas.

“Because our data showed us that top performing minority and poor students weren’t even applying to go to college at the rate of their counterparts,” Cavazos explained. “So these are top-performing minority and poor students that are simply not applying.”

Todd Williams, who runs the education organization Commit!, is an expert at applying statistics. Commit! worked with the Bush Institute to help North Texas school districts use the data. He’s encouraged mayors were at the roundtable.

“The thing that’s most affirming here is that mayors are getting engaged in this work big time, whereas they weren’t five years ago. Because their bully pulpit is incredibly important,” Williams said.

That’s because the mayors can appeal to businesses, Williams says. They, too, have a vital role to play in improving schools, he says.

Bill Zeeble has been a full-time reporter at KERA since 1992, covering everything from medicine to the Mavericks and education to environmental issues.