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Texas Education Reforms are Key in Promoting the Middle Skills

Sweeping education reforms passed by the Texas Legislature in 2013 will be a great help to business leaders in Houston as they embark on an unprecedented push to promote “middle skills” jobs.  Those are well-paying jobs that, as the Construction Citizen team has been telling you, require more than a high school diploma but less than a degree from a four-year college or university.  It’s estimated that a whopping 40 percent of jobs in the greater Houston area fit that definition.

A huge piece of that education reform package, known as House Bill 5, was the creation of multiple pathways for students to earn their high school diploma.  Among the options students and parents can now choose from is a career in the blue collar trades like construction.

Under this new system of achieving a high school diploma, there are several different “endorsements,” including STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics), Business and Industry, Arts and Humanities, Public Services, and Multi-Disciplinary.  It can be a lot for families to try to navigate.  That’s why the Houston Independent School District has set up a website called Plan Your Path to help parents understand the choices.

Not long after the reforms became law, Pasadena Independent School District Superintendent Kirk Lewis gave a speech in which he said the district he leads was already investing in this kind of approach prior to passage of HB 5.  “If it doesn’t fit, they force it and try to make it work,” Lewis said of those who champion the policy of college-for-all.  “Pushing kids for being college-ready is not a bad thing,” Lewis said. “It becomes a bad thing, I think, when we begin to create policies and systems that ignore the options that kids need to experience.”

The Greater Houston Partnership (GHP), the largest business group in the area, recently announced the beginning of its push to advance the middle skills throughout Southeast Texas.  During what the GHP called its Upskill Houston Workforce Development Summit, another superintendent said that what the Legislature has done will force educators and business leaders to truly work together to put students on track to be successful – no matter what career fits their abilities and interests.

Alief Independent School District Superintendent H.D. Chambers stressed the impressive nature of how House Bill 5 is already changing the landscape when it comes to educational opportunities for students.  “If they're bored, they're not going to be engaged,” Chambers said of a curriculum that – in his view – has been forced on teachers and students for too long.  School has become a place to “figure out who’s smart and who’s not” rather than a place to inspire students to pursue their dreams and prepare them for working in the real world.  “That has to change,” Chambers said.

House Bill 5 is going to force “meaningful collaboration” between business leaders and educators, Chambers said.  He acknowledged that in the past, those who work in K-12 education have not been the best partners they could have been to business.  He said employers need to work hand-in-hand with educators to “allow us to teach the skills you need” rather than some of the skills being taught now.  “We need to focus on one or two areas and get a win,” Chambers said.

Meantime, the Construction Citizen team has been working diligently to be part of the solution by helping match potential employees with the training they need to enjoy a career as a Craft Professional.  In fact, we just launched a Careers Section offering easily accessible and searchable information for those interested in these middle class jobs.  Check out the section when you have a chance and let us know what you think, whether you’re an employer or someone interested in a career as a Craft Professional.


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