Early each March, educators, policymakers, and students from across the country gather in Austin to discuss the future of education. SXSW EDU is a yearly conference featuring panels and solo talks on the biggest issues facing teachers and school leaders today. The best of these presentations not only laid out challenges but outlined solutions and presented a path forward. Here are some of the key takeaways from this year’s event:
High-impact tutoring is key to recovering from the impact of the pandemic.
“NAEP Results Are Dismal—So Where Do We Go from Here?” That was the title for a panel discussion between the leaders of three major urban school districts, including Dallas ISD’s Stephanie Elizalde, bluntly summarizing a chief concern for conference participants: the impact of the pandemic on student outcomes. (“NAEP” is a nationally administered reading and math assessment, commonly referred to as the “Nation’s Report Card.”)
Thankfully, the discussion was not entirely “dismal.” Instead, the three superintendents laid out the approaches each was taking to accelerate student learning. Metro Nashville Supt. Adrienne Battle pointed to the early success of Accelerating Scholars, her district’s high-impact tutoring program.
This echoed the perspective of Tennessee Department of Education Chief Academic Officer Lisa Coons, who appeared in an earlier panel about “Unlocking the Power of High-Impact Tutoring.” Coons discussed how her state is strategically investing in a corps of tutors held to high standards and maintaining low student ratios.
High-quality instructional materials accelerate learning – and support teachers.
On the same “Tutoring” panel, Coons explained that high-impact tutoring is reinforced by high-quality instructional materials, which “provide a roadmap for teachers and tutors to set clear expectations for all students.”
Dallas Supt. Elizalde later spoke on the NAEP panel about the benefit of providing educators with that “roadmap”: “We want to ensure teachers have the highest quality materials. Teachers can go and find quality materials, but they don’t have time for that. We need to do a better job of providing the curricular materials they need.”
Texas community colleges are strengthening our teacher pipeline.
After reminding attendees that teachers are the number one in-school factor on student success, Alexandria Schools Supt. Melanie Kay-Wyatt said in the NAEP panel that the teacher pipeline is the “thing that keeps [her] up at night.”
But just down the hall, Dallas College Associate Dean of Educator Certification Shareefah Mason was discussing how her institution is leading the way on providing accessible educator pathways that will strengthen and diversify our future education workforce. These include an apprenticeship program for high school students, an adaptive residency for working professionals, and a Bachelor’s of Education degree offered for under $10,000.
North Central Texas College Chancellor G. Brent Wallace shared a related story in a panel on “Innovation in Rural Education.” He described his institution’s Red River Promise, a collaboration with nearby local school districts to provide a tuition-free pathway to an associate degree. The opportunity was so powerful for one welding student that he vowed to come back and teach his trade at NCTC – a phenomenon Dr. Wallace referred to as “the circle of life.”
Public education can be an engine of economic mobility.
On the same “Rural” panel, Rio Hondo ISD Superintendent Raul Treviño discussed how, in close partnership with nearby Texas Southernmost College and Texas State Technical College-Harlingen, his school district now offers “10 Level I Certifications and 13 industry-based credentials in areas that interest our students including law enforcement, medicine, and trades,” thanks in part to his work with the Texas Impact Network’s Rural CCMR Accelerator.
Meanwhile, Austin ISD Executive Director Creslond Fannin outlined on a different panel how her district was providing “A Fast-Track Associate Degree” through its close ties to Austin Community College and the Austin business community. Whether in an urban or rural environment, it’s clear that collaboration between institutions and industries is creating innovative opportunities for students in Texas to earn postsecondary credentials.
This is especially important as our state moves into a future in which more and more living wage jobs require some type of certificate or degree. By continuing and expanding upon these programs, Texas school districts and community colleges can prepare students for the future and spur economic growth. As Dallas Supt. Elizalde put it: "Public schools are about economic mobility and the stability of our entire community."