A response from Michael Williams
Thu June 26, 2014 2:10 pm

[Editor's note: The July issue of Texas Monthly features a long interview with outgoing governor Rick Perry, as well as a "Report Card" in which we graded the governor's record in eight areas of public policy. One of those was public education. The governor earned a D. Earlier today we received the following letter from Michael Williams, the Texas Commissioner of Education, arguing that Perry deserves more credit. We thought it would be good to give you his take, too, and we encourage commenters to weigh in too. As for me, I'll just say that from my perspective, the appropriate question isn't whether Texas's schools are better than California's, etc. The appropriate question is this: are our public schools good enough for the great state of Texas? --EG]

Over the past decade, Texas has raised academic standards to unprecedented levels, had more minority students taking the steps they need to prepare for college, and seen our graduation rate bloom to one of the highest in the nation.

As Commissioner of Education, I’ve seen firsthand the hard work of students and educators across our state – efforts that are now bearing considerable fruit and boding well for the future of Texas. Far from the dire landscape portrayed by Texas Monthly in its July 2014 issue, public education is flourishing under Governor Perry’s leadership, and the steps we’ve taken will enable a generation of young Texans to acquire the skills they will need in our evolving economy.

Your article overlooked the fact Texas has achieved the second highest graduation rate in the country at 86 percent, a figure that comes straight from the U.S. Department of Education using uniform data from all states to ensure a fair and accurate comparison. No matter how you measure it, though, the graduation rate for Texas students has steadily moved up during Governor Perry’s years in office.

Our high graduation rate only tells part of the impressive story about public education. Specific student populations have achieved more than ever, due to the increased rigor of scholastic programs and a culture of higher expectations. For example, the number of Texas graduates taking at least one Advanced Placement Program(AP) Exam has more than doubled during the past decade, according to the College Board’s 10th Annual AP Report to the Nation.

In addition, the number of low-income graduates taking at least one AP Exam has more than quadrupled, and the number of Hispanic/Latino graduates taking the AP exam has nearly tripled over the last 10 years. We’ve also achieved similar increases over the past decade among African-American and low-income students. Further, performance for African-American and Hispanic students on AP exams has increased by 36.4 percent and 32.8 percent, respectively, over the last five years.

Additionally, the National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP) scores cited in your analysis lack appropriate context. According to NAEP’s 2013 Nation’s Report Card, almost all 4th and 8th grade student groups in Texas – including White, Hispanic, African-American, Asian/Pacific Island, and English Language Learner (ELL) students – outperformed their national peers in mathematics. You cited the NAEP 4th grade reading scores, but failed to note that the scores for Texas African-American, White, Asian and ELL students were all higher than the national average.

Much of this improvement is owed to Governor Perry’s successful efforts to raise curriculum standards for all students and implement a new accountability system, both of which are national models.

The results are clear: Governor Perry’s commitment to educate every child in every classroom in our state has made our public education system stronger. In so doing, he has helped Texas lay a strong educational foundation that will enable both our students and our state as a whole to enjoy continued success in the years and decades to come. 

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