Rise and Fall of Texas STEM Education: Part Two

College Readiness and Course-Taking since House Bill 5 of 2013

by Dr. Michael Marder, Executive Director of UTeach and Professor in the Department of Physics, University of Texas at Austin

House Bill 5 of 2013 was the most important education bill in Texas of the last decade. It greatly reduced high-stakes testing in Texas high schools and changed high school graduation requirements to accommodate students who intend to bypass a four-year college degree and go directly into the workforce, with or without formal post-secondary training.

The first class whose whole high school career was set by HB5 is the class of 2018. They have not yet graduated. However, many provisions of the bill kicked in as soon as the fall of 2013. We know the courses that students have been taking as they go through high school, and we know how they have done on tests along the way, so the picture of how Texas education looks after HB5 is coming into focus.

Proponents of HB5 argued at the time that the state’s new workforce-centric diplomas were not better or worse than the previous ones — just different. Here are results so far, focusing on STEM — some of which are good, but most of which are bad, neutral, or mixed.

  • Good. High school graduation rates have continued to increase, slowly and steadily, and remain among the best in the nation, overall and by subgroup.
  • Bad. There is a rapid and alarming drop in post-secondary opportunities for Texas students overall. The drop affects all groups, but is particularly severe for students in schools of concentrated poverty, and for Black and Hispanic students.
  • Neutral. Though Algebra II became optional, the rate at which students take that course has not dropped much, because the alternatives for it are less attractive. Physics and Chemistry also become optional, and the rate at which students take them has not dropped much, either.
  • Mixed. The percentage of students taking Computer Science, Statistics, and Robotics is growing exponentially. However, for Computer Science and Statistics, these gains are overwhelmingly concentrated in schools of low poverty.

Thus, while continuing to drive up the percentage of students who obtain a high school diploma, Texas is allowing the value of the diploma to degrade. The freedom HB5 gave students to pursue their interests is almost exclusively benefiting students in low-poverty schools. Students face decreased post-secondary opportunities overall, and the decrease is most severe for Black, Hispanic, and low-income students.

For the full report, see the white paper on the UTeach website.