Texas Scholars: Investing in the Future

Article excerpt

The Texas Scholars Program, a joint business/education venture, has succeeded in making a more rigorous high school curriculum attractive to students who would not ordinarily choose such a path.

The Texas Scholars program has demonstrated its value over the last nine years as a low-cost, high-impact program that motivates the "forgotten majority' - middle- and lower-ranked high school students - to complete a rigorous academic curriculum that prepares them for the labor market or for postsecondary education. The program serves as a model for those seeking an immediate step that educators and their communities can take together to improve their schools.

The Texas Scholars Program was started in 1989 by Joe Randolph, a Longview, Texas, school board member and manager of the Training Department for the Texas Eastman Division of the Eastman Chemical Company. The Texas Eastman Division occupies a 5,800-acre site outside Longview and employs nearly 3,000 people. In his previous position as personnel director of the company, Randolph had been challenged to locate high school graduates who were qualified for Eastman's craft-type jobs.

A communitywide Business/Education Summit in Longview in 1989 changed all that. Randolph and Mary Alice Schmitz, principal of Longview's Forest Park Middle School, were named co-chairs of the curriculum committee of the Greater Longview Organization of Business and Education.

The two subsequently led an effort to develop a pilot program, the Texas Scholars, which was implemented for Longview high school students during the 1990-91 school year. From the start, the program stressed the importance of good communication skills as well as the benefits of taking academically challenging math and science courses. Adopted in 1992 by the Texas Business and Education Coalition, the Texas Scholars Program was unanimously endorsed that same year by the state board of education.

During most of 1993, Randolph pushed tirelessly to use the Texas Scholars' curriculum as a springboard to a new statewide curriculum for all Texas high-schoolers. In November 1993, the "Recommended High School Program" was passed by the state board of education, and the Texas Scholars Program became the prime vehicle statewide for students to complete that curriculum.

The 24-credit curriculum includes four years of English, algebra I and II, geometry, precalculus or trigonometry/elementary analysis, world history, world geography, U.S. history, and government/economics. Students must take three science courses from a list of seven, ranging from physical science to physics II. The program also includes course requirements in foreign language, fine arts, health, physical education, computer science, and speech - along with tech-prep or college-prep electives.

Though intended for all students, the Texas Scholars Program targets especially those youngsters who rank in the lower half of their high school classes. Many of these youngsters are minorities, and most of them previously had little hope of receiving any kind of academic recognition. Though they do not need a C average for admission to the program, participants are required to earn a grade of C or better in each course after admission.

Students are welcome to enter the program at any time during their high school careers. Realistically, though, students entering later than the start of the junior year would be hard pressed to complete the program. The best time to commit to the Texas Scholars Program is during the spring semester of eighth grade, when students are signing up for their freshman courses.

Students who enter the program are encouraged, but not required, to sign contracts. Approximately one-third of the 149 Texas school districts that have adopted the program ask both students and their parents to sign an "I Promise Document" declaring that students will enroll in the specified core courses, will earn grades of 70% or better (an increasing number of schools have adopted 75% as the minimum), and will stay with the program. …