Civic leader Pete Geren sees education in Fort Worth as being in a crisis — one that is hiding in plain sight and not being addressed.
One in three students across the city’s 12 school districts and 14 charter networks met grade level on the state standardized tests, according to a new report from the Fort Worth Education Partnership, a nonprofit committed to high quality public education in the city.
Geren and Brent Beasley, the partnership’s president and CEO, on Sept. 19 presented the report analyzing results from the State of Texas Assessments of Academic Readiness, or STAAR, to the Fort Worth City Council.
Geren, the president and CEO of the Sid W. Richardson Foundation, didn’t mince words to council members.
“It’s not an exaggeration that this is a grave matter. This is a matter that has enormous consequences for our city and our kids,” Geren said.
Beasley compared the results to a student standing at the bottom of a hill. Before the COVID-19 pandemic, schools across Fort Worth were trying to get their students to the top with better performance.
“Then COVID came along and the year after, when we assessed our kids, it was like they fell to the bottom of the hill — into a hole,” Beasley said, referring to 2021 STAAR results.
In 2022, students effectively bounced back to where they were before the pandemic — but they were still at the bottom of the hill, Beasley said.
“They’re right where we left them last year,” he said.
Geren and Beasley focused on the reading scores. Across the city, 56% of students cannot read on grade level. Geren told council members to think of a school bus filled with 50 students — 28 of them cannot read on grade level.
“Most of our kids who attend public schools within the city limits in Fort Worth cannot read at grade level. Not a few, not some — most,” Geren said.
District 3 Council member Michael Crain pointed out that if a student cannot read, they will not be able to read a manual or even use computer applications to land a career.
“This is our future workforce,” Crain said.
District 6 Council member Jared Williams suggested the city should present the Fort Worth Education Partnership’s report to the neighborhood quality and revitalization committee to find ways to lift schools and their surrounding communities.
“The data that you present doesn’t feel good — and it shouldn’t feel good,” Williams said.
Geren called on council members to challenge people who question the validity of the STAAR results. Results from other tests that schools use, such as the Northwest Evaluation Association’s Measures of Academic Progress, and even the U.S. Department of Education’s National Assessment of Educational Progress point to a similar conclusion as the state’s exam: Fort Worth students are not performing well, he said.
“These numbers are Marine Corps solid,” said Geren, who previously served as U.S. secretary of the Army.
Mayor Mattie Parker encouraged council members to visit schools in their districts to see the differences between high- and low-performing campuses. They also need to ask school board members how the city can better support their schools, Parker said.
“School board rooms have devolved into topics that don’t matter. These are the things that matter,” Parker said, pointing to the report.
The ultimate solution lies with parents, Geren said. They often think their students are performing well because of their report cards, but those grades don’t always tell the full story, he said. Schools also make it hard to determine if students are performing on grade level, he added.
“The only way to have sustainable change is to have parents know,” Geren said. “Until parents get involved, we’re going to be nibbling around the edges.”
Disclosure: The Sid W. Richardson Foundation has been a financial supporter of the Fort Worth Report. At the Fort Worth Report, news decisions are made independently of our board members and financial supporters. Read more about our editorial independence policy here.