Fort Worth pushes effort with reading program as Texas works to sustain ‘miracle’

Mayor Betsy Price at North Texas Commission Oct. 15, 2018

READ Fort Worth

Texas 2036

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Education was a key focus of the North Texas Commission Legislative Summit on Oct. 15, and Fort Worth got a chance to tout the city’s efforts on that front.

Mayor Betsy Price and BNSF Chairman Matt Rose, who has led a push for reading in Fort Worth with the READ Fort Worth program, both highlighted the city’s efforts to tackle education issues.

Introducing Price, Rose said the mayor has taken the lead on “something that a lot of mayors don’t do, and that’s on our educational issues within Fort Worth ISD.”

“We call it Read Fort Worth, and she has put a lot of chips on the table to do this, and I have been inspired by her work in this area.

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“The goal is very straightforward, to have all of our [third grade] kids reading on the third-grade level by year 2025, 100 percent,” he said.

Third grade is key, Price noted.

“Third grade is the benchmark for whether kids will succeed or not,” she said. “The startling facts are they are four times more likely to drop out of high school if they don’t read at third grade. In every big city in Texas, the statistic is only three out of every 10 of our children read at third grade level when they leave [that grade]. It’s even a starker disparity for our minority kids.”

The impact of students not reading at third grade level impacts everyone, Price said, including work force development and economic development for the city.

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While READ Fort Worth has been focused on third grade reading levels, Price said the group has also begun to focus on quality child care.

“Children need to be exposed to quality child care at an early age to be ready to learn as third graders, to be ready to learn as kindergartners,” she said. “Matt has really become our champion of early [quality child care].”

Price said that only after two years, the school district has seen some results.

“I’m proud to say that in two years [the program] has moved our percentage of 30 percent of our third graders [reading at grade level], to 37 percent of our third graders. That’s a big jump in just two years,” she said.

Price said the business community has become involved in the push by READ Fort Worth.

“Beginning with what Matt has done, he has become the champion, and he has motivated the business community to get off the sidelines and get engaged. The time where we can all sit by and let schools do it is long gone,” she said. “This becomes a community-wide, a business-wide effort.”

Price noted that it isn’t just money that is helping raise the education standards in the area.

“We can move the needle, we will move the needle in Fort Worth even further, and as a community, we can, and we must move the needle,” she said.

After Price spoke to the group, she introduced Tom Luce, founding and managing partner of the Hughes and Luce law firm, longtime education leader and current head of Texas 2036, an organization focused on strategic planning through the Texas bicentennial and beyond.

Luce, too, focused on education and its relationship to the Texas miracle.

“We hear a lot of talk about the Texas miracle and our economic growth,” he said. “Well folks, it’s not a miracle. It takes a lot of hard work and it’s tough.”

For the first time since the middle 1980s, he noted, Texas has just now reached the median family household income of the people in the rest of the country.

“That’s now. We’ve just gotten to the median, so is that where we want to stop? I don’t think so,” he said.

“How did we have this economic growth?” Luce asked.

It boiled down to some fundamentals, he said.

“Everybody in this room knows a large, employable workforce is the key to economic growth,” he said.

Texas had an economic miracle because people moved here to be part of the workforce, he said.

“That workforce that moved here, I hate to say it folks, was better-educated than our native workforce. That’s how we grew,” he said.

Luce also noted that the state had sufficient infrastructure to handle that population growth. He said the last time Texas developed a long-term strategic plan was in 1982 but has not done that since.

“In 1982, we adopted a long-term strategic plan, and we had a 20-year plan for water, we had a 20-year plan for highways, and because of that, we had enough roads and we had enough water to handle that growth,” he said. “Where is our plan today? More importantly, where is the political will to sustain and enforce that 20-year plan?

“You don’t have a plan, then you don’t know what direction you’re headed, you won’t know if you’re headed in the right direction,” he said.

Luce said public education is much like roads and infrastructure. Things can’t be changed in just a few years.

“You don’t change the education system in two years or 40 years, or 60 years, or eight years,” he said. “You don’t build roads that way and you don’t build reservoirs that way, and you don’t build an economy in two-year cycles.”

Focusing on education, Luce said that from 1983 to 2011, over 20 years, “this state led an academic achievement for African-Americans, Hispanics in reading, in math, and generally an academic achievement increase for the entire country because we had a plan.”

In 2011 and 2012, the state reduced public education funding by $5 million, he said.

“We’ve reduced assessment, we reduced accountability, we reduced requirements,” he said. “We took our foot off the accelerator and guess what? Academic achievement is now declining. What’s the consequence of that?”

Luce said he was all for celebrating the Texas miracle, but that leaders should not over-indulge in the partying.

“To remain No.1, you have to ignore that and ignore the rat poison of all the success and all the accolades, and say, ‘Where are we? Are we improving our aim today?’ The answer is no. We are not improving our aim today,” he said.

“That’s what people in this room, I know understand, is that we must take the bull by the horns and say, ‘This is the destiny that we want to create, and we understand that that requires a consensus.’”