By Mario Loyola, City Journal
While President George W. Bush left office with an uncertain education legacy—his signature initiative, No Child Left Behind, has had mixed results—Governor Bush of Texas achieved genuine success as an education reformer, and the state’s schools still bear the mark of his influence. Promising to revamp the Texas education code, Bush ran for governor in 1994 on three education initiatives: charter schools, accountability, and vouchers. The first two produced significant legislative reforms, which proved contentious but successful, with solid evidence of improved outcomes. Embracing a model that pushed choice down to the local level and accountability and transparency up to the state level, the Bush reforms provided a foundation for future efforts.
Texas education reform remains incomplete, however. According to a 2005 report of the Dallas Federal Reserve Bank, the state faces long-term demographic trends that raise questions about the future competitiveness of its labor force. Chief among these is the large in-migration of a poor and largely uneducated population fleeing high-tax, high-regulation states like California. (Texas draws more legal and illegal immigrants from other states than from across the border.) Despite improvements in its public school graduation rates, Texas remains beset by one of the highest proportions of adults without a high school education of any state in the country. As the twenty-first-century economy increases demand for a diverse array of workforce skills, these demographic trends present a significant obstacle to the state’s economic future.
To meet these challenges, Texas should pursue a new round of reforms, including a voucher-based school-choice program, major investments in online and adaptive-learning platforms, curriculum offerings capable of meeting the needs of nontraditional students in a diversified, twenty-first-century workforce, and a repeal of its counterproductive and arguably segregationist bilingual-education mandate. What Bush set in motion in Texas had profound effects, largely positive. But Texas schools need a follow-up.