Texas Schools to Receive State Grants to Improve Science, Math Teaching

Published June 1, 2007

On March 9, the Texas Science, Technology, Engineering, and Math Initiative (T-STEM) awarded $2.3 million in state-funded Acceleration Grants to 56 public and charter high schools, creating the T-STEM Best Practices Network.

Network schools will learn and implement more effective teaching strategies, then share them with other campuses statewide, said Texas Education Agency (TEA) spokeswoman Debbie Ratcliff.

Only schools showing academic need are eligible for the grants, Ratcliff said–those where 50 percent or less of ninth graders passed the math section, or 50 percent or less of 10th graders passed the science section of the Texas Assessment of Knowledge and Skills (TAKS) test administered in April 2006.

Those low-performing schools will receive a one-time grant of $125 per student, with a maximum of $50,000 per campus, to be used to better evaluate student test data. Each school will then create an education plan specific to each student’s individual strengths and weaknesses.

“Poor math and science performance were two of the most common reasons a school was rated ‘academically unacceptable’ in 2006 in the state accountability system,” said Ratcliff.

Improving Individual Performance

The TAKS is given each spring to all high school juniors statewide. In 2006, 94 percent passed the social studies portion, and 88 percent passed the English language arts test. However, only 77 percent of the students passed the mathematics portion, and 75 percent passed the science test.

The Acceleration Grants will make high school science and math a priority, Ratcliff said.

The Texas High School Project–a $261 million public-private initiative committed to increasing graduation and college enrollment rates in each town statewide–developed the T-STEM Initiative in partnership with the TEA, the governor’s office, and the Dell, Gates, and Wallace Foundations. Launched in December 2005, the initiative now has five regional centers for teacher training and 17 academies for students.

T-STEM Regional Centers provide and develop instructional materials, offer professional development, and create best practices to be disseminated to teachers and administrators statewide.

The Texas Tech University (TTU) T-STEM Center’s design team has been researching current science, technology, engineering, and math curricula by visiting “successful and not so successful” districts, said spokesman Robert Waller.

TTU will hold its first professional development workshop August 6-10.

“This will be educators’ first look at the engineering design process that our center is using as a model for designing STEM curriculum and teaching STEM concepts,” said Waller.

Recognizing Success

T-STEM Academy designation is given to a school receiving a rating of Exemplary or Recognized under the 2005 state accountability rating system, provided its student body is more than 39 percent economically disadvantaged.

The program administrators hope to alter the curricula of 35 existing schools across Texas by 2009, each with a maximum of 100 students per grade, giving them a personalized learning environment with high expectations for each student.

Connie Sadowski ([email protected]) directs the Education Options Resource Center at the Austin CEO Foundation.