Carter in the classroom

Pandemic Worsens Texas' Low Education Performance

Beyond the Mask is a series looking at how to help schools dig out of the pandemic slump.

NBCUniversal, Inc.

Texas does a lot of things well, including creating jobs, the economy and low taxes.

North Texas is one the fastest growing metropolitan areas in the country, with people pouring in for good jobs and quality of life -- but not necessarily when it comes to making sure their children are promised a quality education.

While the state ranks at the top of many surveys regarding affordability and the best places to live, when it comes to educating children and how well they do in school, Texas' scores aren't much to brag about. In a recent U.S. News and World Report survey, Texas ranked 34th in education.

Add obstacles to education caused by the pandemic have frustrated Dallas ISD educators, who have strong feelings about helping students move forward.

"I think before moving forward, it's important to take a step back and look backward," Judge Barefoot Sanders Law Magnet math teacher Yonathan Tadesse said.

"I've been on several commissions about reinventing education," Dallas ISD Superintendent Michael Hinojosa said. "I would always leave those groups frustrated one group was from 2006 to 2008 and nothing really happened."

How can a state so focused on its wins, not tackle one of the most primary things to ensure its future?

NBC 5 went to the man in charge of education for Texas, former Dallas ISD trustee, Texas Education Commissioner Mike Morath.

"We still have only 18% of our kids when we graduated that are performing at a level ready to pass freshman-level college classes, according to the SAT," he said.

Less than two-thirds of students in Texas can pass a freshman-level class.

"Believe it or not that number is better than it's ever been," Morath said. "When I speak to people of a certain age and they say, 'Why can't it be like it was back when I was a kid.' And we conveniently forget that the adult literacy rate in this country say in the '60s and '70s was much lower than what it is today"

Texas has a long history of low scores that was slowly getting better.

"We haven't been improving the system fast enough for our kids, and this has been the real challenge," he said.

Morath said that the slow climb, over the past 30 years has slid back down thanks to the pandemic. He said it slid back down to where it was 10 years ago.

Part of his plan is to listen to the teachers and they say we have a lot of work to do outside the classroom.

"Even before covid we had a mental health epidemic," Tadesse said.

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