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Wednesday, June 03, 2015

How Houston Is Re-Imagining College Success by Terry B. Grier

Photo:Terry Grier
When I became its superintendent six years ago, the Houston Independent School District proudly brandished this slogan: "College-Bound Culture." according to Terry B. Grier, superintendent of the Houston Independent School District.

Photo: Education Week

In reality, though, the culture I encountered was preparing pitifully few of its students for college—which, sadly, isn't uncommon in large urban school systems. Too many still rely on "counselors" and old-school methodology that approaches the college-application process as a junior- and senior-year activity for high-performing students—one that mainly involves filling out applications, reporting grades and test scores, writing essays, and seeking recommendation letters.

Six years later, the district has created a culture that lives up to its slogan, fully preparing students, in more profound ways, for higher education and training—and, ultimately, for well-paying, high-demand professions. How we did it is a story that may help other districts seeking to raise the horizons of all their students. Here are some highlights.

We stopped thinking about mere college counseling and started thinking about how to facilitate, throughout our students' schooling, their eventual college access and success. Before, opportunities for academic rigor in the district, such as Advanced Placement classes and International Baccalaureate programs, were limited to just a few of our schools. A relative handful of our students were taking PSAT and SAT exams, and many of those were performing at levels that wouldn't get a second look from college-admissions officers.

We exemplified some of the worst qualities of a large urban school district that set the bar too low for many of its students—qualities that include:
  • Nurturing certain students as college material, while stereotyping others as bound most likely for low-paying, dead-end jobs;  
  • Widening achievement and performance gaps; and  
  • Considering socioeconomic and multicultural diversity as liabilities rather than assets.
In short, we burdened our lowest-income students with the lowest imaginable expectations for their success. The first steps in our new direction would be to raise expectations, deepen rigor, and broaden access to college-admissions tools. The strategy soon produced results.

Source: Education Week

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