Focus on Teachers

By Terry B. Grier

When it comes to improving our nation’s public schools, leaders are often tempted to look for quick fixes. A promising new curriculum or teacher training model or after-school program is always on the horizon. It’s comforting to think that the solution to all the challenges we face in public education could be so simple.

But it’s not that simple. Those challenges -- low graduation rates, low college-readiness rates, academic performance that lags behind much of the developed world -- weren’t created overnight. We can’t solve them overnight, either. Real school improvement requires a comprehensive plan focused on what matters most, and the willingness to stick with it over the long run. That’s the only way we can give our children and future generations the schools they deserve -- schools that can prepare them for success in college or a career.

I’ve learned this from personal experience. Since 2009, I’ve served as superintendent of the Houston Independent School District (HISD), one of the nation’s largest school systems. When I started, our high school graduation rate was 68 percent -- higher than many other urban districts, but still far too low.

Today, we still have a long way to go to give our students the schools they deserve, but we’ve made enormous progress. Our graduation rate has risen to 82 percent. The number of HISD students passing Advanced Placement exams has increased by almost 45 percent. And HISD won the prestigious 2013 Broad Prize for Urban Education in recognition of our improvement over the past several years.

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