Friday, August 26, 2011

What is the change deep in the heart of Texas?

THE VIEW FROM 30,000 FEET | David Ross

So why Texas?

When I joined BIE three years ago I reviewed our professional development contracts and noticed we had done, uhm, basically zero work in Texas through 2008. I wasn’t the only one to notice, as our board reminded me during a meeting on a bright, fall day. I made the mistake of showing them a U.S. map of our clients and they noticed a big, Texas-shaped hole.

Fast forward to the summer of 2011. Texas went from zero to 60 faster than a turbo-charged Mustang. By volume of work, Texas is No. 2 in our state rankings. We are coaching and facilitating in a dozen districts, among the Wylie, Frenship, Copperas Cove, Austin, Friendswood, Harlingen, etc. Our two favorites are Richardson and Grand Prairie, which has adopted PBL with a fervor that is breathtaking.

So why Texas? This is the state that helped give intellectual birth to No Child Left Behind. This is a state, one of seven, that turned a cold shoulder to the Common Core. This is the state that is changing its assessment regimen to include up to 45, count ‘em, days of annual testing when the STAAR system is fully implemented in 2015.

Now flip the coin. We are providing professional development to hundreds and hundreds of teachers and principals in Texas. The New Tech Network has one of its star schools, Manor HS, in Austin.  The Asia Society International Studies Schools network has one of its star schools, the International School of the Americas, in San Antonio. And the PBL work of Texas STEM (T-STEM) has been making headlines for years.  What’s up with that?

There is no one more qualified to riff on Texas than a Texan. So I called up a few, and here is what they told me.

Scott Floyd is an Area Director for the Texas Computer Education Association and a powerful advocate of technology-rich PBL. When asked about the movement in his state, Scott replied: “We are in a time where schools are striving for higher levels of critical thinking, deeper levels of understanding, and maximum levels of student engagement. Texas educators are embracing Project Based Learning as a natural solution for these challenges at all grade levels."

Similar ideas were shared by Christy Hanson, the Director of Secondary Education for Grand Prairie ISD: “PBL appeals to Texas educators as an avenue to create a highly engaging learning environment. In Texas, we're constantly seeking innovative teaching strategies that will increase rigor, while making the content relevant to our technologically savvy students. PBL seems to be the perfect way to engage students and teachers together in the learning process. Students are motivated, teacher are motivated, and administrators feel confident that high stakes standards are met at the necessary depth. It's a win win for everyone."

I received a call this week from Chris Bhatti, who is the Director of External Affairs/Clinical Faculty in the School of Education at Southern Methodist University. Chris is deeply interested in both state and national initiatives, among them PBL. “States and school districts across the nation are realizing that Project Based Learning (PBL) is what is needed to best prepare their students for the challenges of the Information Age,’ he said.  “In Texas, I believe PBL is becoming more popular because of its engaging manner that makes learning practical and relevant for students."

The message from Texas is clear so I really need to change the question that initiated this blog. I know the answer to “why Texas?” What I really want to know is “when California?”

David Ross

Director of Teacher Professional Development
& Dean of National Faculty


  1. We are excited about the work BIE is doing in Texas and cannot wait to further that work in our own school district. White Oak Independent School District has long been known for being the best in east Texas. Implementing PBL strategies we've learned from BIE as we move to a larger scale PBL approach will only serve to prove to our community that we are the best school for their children as they prepare for an ever challening world. As a parent, I know I am excited for my son. As an educator, I am excited to see the sit and get style move along its pendulum swing to the far end away from us.

  2. All schools are realizing that Project Based Learning (PBL) is what is needed to prepare the students for the new challenges. Now PBL is becoming more popular because of its engaging manner that makes learning practical and relevant for students.