The State of Public Education in Texas

As part of our Texas Series, the Tower Center hosted a panel on the state of public education in Texas on February 11. Panelists included Dr. Peter Balyta, vice president of academic engagement and corporate citizenship for Texas Instruments and president of its Education Technology business, along with Dean Stephanie Knight, Dean of the Simmons School of Education & Human Development at SMU.

Dr. Balyta noted STEM skills, leveraging technology to solve problems, and teacher and curriculum development as the three top priorities in education today. STEM skills have become survival skills for today’s students, especially as technology becomes an integral part of all sectors and careers. We can give students a leg up in the workforce by driving them beyond simply being users and consumers of technology to a point where they can use technology as a tool for problem solving. Dr. Balyta also contends that, in order to deliver a quality education, there is a need for far more great teachers in the classroom, which can be accomplished by increasing and updating professional education for Texas teachers.

Dean Stephanie Knight built on the critical developments that Dr. Balyta hopes to see, adding that the collaboration of many different entities–including the community–is essential to achieving these goals, and that improvement of urban public education also needs to be a crucial focus. Unless urban public education is met head-on with the type of collaborative efforts emphasized by Dr. Knight, it will continue to be abandoned. Dallas ISD is a notable leader in these collaborative efforts, and will likely be a model for the rest of the nation within the next five years.

(L-R) Moderator Drexell Owusu interview panelists Dean Stephanie Knight and Dr. Peter Balyta

Both panelists saw a trend towards the growing relationship between businesses and education as businesses invest in different parts of the education process. Dr. Balyta explained that sustained investment in the training and retention of great STEM teachers from businesses such as Texas Instruments will inspire students to get passionate about the pursuit of STEM careers, all while earning up to 63 hours of college credit. High school is not the only place where STEM classes matter, however. According to Dr. Knight, success in middle school math and science is what determines whether students will pursue more advanced STEM classes and open up the doors to exciting careers in STEM, so we must be careful not to overlook the importance of foundational math and science courses.

Teaching is an incredibly complex job: the teacher has to understand the content in the curriculum, understand how students understand and learn that content, and then mediate between the two, coming up with practices for the classroom. Both panelists agreed that the quality of an education cannot exceed the quality of its educators, and that not only does Texas teacher and curriculum development have to drastically improve, but we also need to do more to celebrate, reward, and recognize the work that Texas teachers do in the classroom every day.