Student readiness: Failure to act threatens Texans’ future prosperity
Texas 2036 and the George W. Bush Institute explore student career readiness and its impacts on Texas’ future prosperity in their report “The State of Readiness: Are Texas students prepared for life after high school?” Here is a preview of what the data says about how failure to act threatens the future of Texas’ prosperity.
Failure to act threatens Texans’ future prosperity
Texas is at a crossroads
Texas legislators have faced big challenges in education before and responded with strong, evidenced-based policies that help students like Texas’ 2019 school finance overhaul, known as House Bill 3 (86R).
In crafting HB 3, the Legislature reviewed data provided by assessments to understand and define the problem faced by the state – namely, that Texas’ academic performance on national and state assessments was in decline, and too few students were ready upon graduation for college or the workforce. Legislators then identified policy solutions: increased public education funding and an emphasis on proven, data-driven programs that focused on improving student outcomes.
For example, lawmakers in 2019 were able to accurately assess that Texas students were struggling to read by the end of third grade. With HB 3, the Legislature made structural improvements to reading instruction to address these issues, including providing targeted funding in the Early Education Allotment. The Early Education Allotment required all teachers to be trained on the Science of Teaching Reading; and raising pre-kindergarten standards. In 2022, Texas saw its best third-grade reading scores since 2015 as a result, with over half of Texas third graders reading on grade level, despite the learning losses from the pandemic.
Alarmingly, Texas lawmakers are being asked to do the opposite this session.
Instead of focusing on strategies to improve the readiness rates of young Texans, Texas lawmakers are being asked to roll back past progress and weaken how Texas measures readiness. Following this path would result in consequences for generations of Texans.
Without our state’s assessment and accountability system, Texas parents and policymakers would be in the dark about student readiness as they progress through school. Lacking actionable data about student progress instead, Texas’ $70 billion public education system would be guided by anecdotes and averages rather than facts and data, leaving state leaders unable to see lingering disparities and serve the interests of every Texas child.
Social and economic impacts
Lack of readiness has severe social and economic impacts, both on individuals and the state. Researchers have been able to link learning loss, as measured on NAEP, to state GDP and student lifetime earnings impacts, further demonstrating the real-world impacts of student readiness. In Texas, the impacts of COVID-19 on student readiness will mean students in Texas will see 4.9% lower lifetime earnings due to learning losses during the pandemic.
Right now, each cohort of Texas eighth-graders stands to lose $104 billion in future earnings due to a lack of readiness for their futures. Low-income students (60.7% of Texas’ student population) will bear $67 billion of that loss.
This will have a significant financial impact, lowering Texas’s GDP by more than 1.6% during the 21st century. The total impact on Texas’ economy would be the second-largest in the nation, amounting to nearly $940 billion.
Eighth-grade math scores are also linked to other important long-term social outcomes like higher high school graduation rates, higher college enrollment, lower rates of teen pregnancy, lower incarceration rates, and fewer violent crime arrests.
We are just beginning to understand the social and economic implications of the pandemic, but the preliminary research is clear: without intervention, the decline in student academic outcomes in earlier grades will have long-term social and economic consequences for students who experienced Covid shutdowns over and above current readiness concerns.
Texas is importing talent to meet workforce needs
Texas has one of the most powerful economies in the United States, but native Texans are often left out of this growth. A veritable jobs factory, Texas leads the nation in job creation. But this job growth is not being sustained by Texas talent. Instead, Texas is importing a significant portion of its talent from out-of-state.
This is the result of economic reality: employers have no choice but to fill open positions with qualified employees, and if Texans do not have the qualifications employers need, they will have to recruit from out of state.
Population data bears this out. For the past decade, Texas has had an annual net migration of 214,000. From 2020-2022, Texas saw an increase in migration to the state with the cumulative net migration reaching 639,314. And these individuals are better-educated than those born and raised in Texas, holding nearly twice as many bachelor’s degrees than Texas’s native workforce.
Texas businesses deserve the opportunity to hire qualified Texas employees.
Failing to address this readiness gap could result in an economic future in which native Texans, unable to compete for good jobs, are relegated to second-class status in what will likely be one of the strongest economies in the world.
Texas strongly benefits from those moving here from other states and countries, but young people growing up in our state must be prepared to compete and succeed. A strong future in Texas depends on getting this right.