Houston / Bellaire, TX (PRWEB) January 24, 2006
In a January 19, 2006, keynote address to Bellaire/SW Houston Rotary, Houston Independent School District (HISD) Western Region Superintendent Scott Van Beck identified inadequate "social capital" as one of the biggest hurdles facing urban schools. Recalling his own educational experiences in a small Midwestern town, Van Beck said there is no substitute for the positive impact that frequent adult contact exerts on students. He encouraged business and professionals to volunteer as tutors in their neighborhood schools.
Van Beck ascended to his Western Region post in April 2005, as part of an HISD reorganization that replaced 13 district offices with five new regional offices staffed by regional superintendents and 19 executive principals. The regional offices oversee improvements in academic achievement at their assigned schools. Prior to his appointment, he served as principal of Houston's Westside High School.
Van Beck told southwest Houston Rotarians that public education must figure out how to compete with the increasing number of available educational alternatives -- home schooling, private schools, web-based programs -- if the traditional American public school system is to survive. "Kids today don't have enough adults in their lives," he said. Community groups can help provide social capital that will improve neighborhood schools by volunteering their time and talent. "When I look out my window on Chimney Rock, I don't see big corporations; I see Gulfton; I see mom and pop businesses," Van Beck observed.
In response to questions from the audience regarding long-term effects of 'teaching to test', Van Beck explained that HISD's curriculum-approach focuses on preparing all students for college because the community expects a high percentage of high school graduates to pursue further education. "When I was growing up in a small town, it was OK if maybe 20% of the graduating class went on to college, but that's just not true any more," Van Beck said.
Because objective test scores play a big role in college admissions, and, ultimately, in landing a good job in the workplace, 'teaching to test' seems required of today's public schools. While acknowledging the ongoing controversy over 'fairness' of test-score measures, Van Beck explained that, almost without exception, media 'report cards' rank school-quality by overall test scores and that the scores greatly influence taxpayer perceptions of how well or poorly their public schools are performing. Quality of extracurricular activities or, for example, extended day programs, are important to parents in choosing the right school but do not have much effect on media rankings. Vocational and non-academic programs could in some cases have to take a back seat in order to produce a competitive American workforce in a highly-skilled global marketplace.
As to teacher shortages, he observed that HISD's newly instituted Alternative Certification Program, which offers degreed professionals a way to obtain state certification through an abbreviated teacher training course, is a rational response but that the impact won't be known for awhile. Another HISD program addressing teacher shortage is "Teach For America," which recruits outstanding college seniors and graduates to teach in low-come urban or rural schools.
Van Beck discussed school 'feeder patterns' and commented on challenges faced by particular schools in his new Western Region, which includes 41 elementary schools, 14 middle schools, seven High Schools (Bellaire, Challenge Early College, Lee, Newcomer Charter, Sharpstown, Westbury, and Westside), and three early childhood education centers.
The Rotary Club of Bellaire Southwest Houston meets at 12:00 Noon on Thursdays at Braeburn Country Club, 8100 Bissonnet, Houston, TX 77074 and is one of 31,000 Rotary clubs in more than 165 countries that provide humanitarian services and promote goodwill around the globe. Information regarding Bellaire Southwest Rotary membership, projects, and volunteer services may be found at http://www.bellairesw.org. Information regarding the Rotary International organization is available online at http://www.rotary.org.
For additional information, contact: F. Nan Wagoner, 713-668-5680; firstname.lastname@example.org; Wagoner Burgert LLP Law Offices, The 5202 Spruce Law Bldg, Bellaire, TX 77401
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