Can Texas lesson help Oregon graduation rates?

Sen Doug Whitsett

by Sen. Doug Whitsett

When it comes to education, every kid counts.

This week, Klamath Community College President Dr. Roberto Gutierrez led a group of 15 state, regional and southern Oregon educators to McAllen, Texas. The purpose of the trip was to learn how that community corrected its dismal high school dropout and graduation rates.

I was fortunate to be asked to travel with the educators to learn how the combined Pharr, San Juan and Alamo Independent School Districts (PSJAISD) were able to so dramatically and rapidly improve their long-standing education and social problems.

The district is located in the Rio Grande River Valley, only 12 miles from the Mexican border. In 2007, its annual high school dropout rate exceeded 19 percent. Only 62 percent of its high school seniors were graduating. A very high percentage of those graduates were not prepared for college courses. Their performance was ranked dead last among all of the school districts in Texas.

Approximately 99 percent of the district’s 32,000 K-12 students are Hispanic. Of them, 42 percent are English Language Learners. More than 70 percent live in poverty.

The trade in illegal drugs in the area was enormous. Gang activity, crime and violence were rampant. Discipline in the schools was virtually non-existent.

We were told that the schools were nearly as dangerous as the streets. Most teachers were demoralized by a largely dysfunctional school administration that simply was not prepared to address the myriad community problems.

In short, the entire school and community culture encouraged student failure.

This was the situation facing Dr. Daniel King when he took the job as superintendent of the school district in 2008. He was hired for the job primarily because he had already successfully addressed similar problems as the superintendent of the nearby, but much smaller, Hidalgo School District.

Dr. King’s vision and courageous management helped to correct the PSJAISD problems in only three short years.

The district’s high school graduation rate reached 86 percent by 2011. Last year, 92 percent of its high school seniors graduated on time. Dr. King told us they are expecting about 94 percent to graduate this year.

The district’s high school dropout rate also plummeted to three percent in 2011. Better still, it has since remained at three percent or less.

Our three-day whirlwind trip to Texas was designed to find out how Dr. King was able to accomplish this phenomenal change in such a short period of time. We wanted to understand how we might replicate that change in Southern Oregon and beyond. What we learned was that his results are even better than they look on paper.

Dr. King recognized that kids generally do not leave school because they are stupid or because they have significant learning disabilities. He understood that most kids drop out of school, or fail to graduate on time, because the education system has failed them, not because they have failed the system.

Many students fall behind because they have missed too many school days. Chronic truancy is the single largest cause of student failure.

Others get off-track for personal, family or legal reasons. Often, intervention by school staff is the only lifeline these students have, even though the problems are not directly related to schools.

Too many of the kids are just so bored from the lack of challenge that they simply quit trying. Others earn enough credits to graduate during the first three years of high school, take most of the senior year off and end up getting into trouble.

A pervasive lack of school discipline leads many students into a sort of in-school, mini-anarchist culture. These kids are almost all destined to drop out or fail to graduate. That same culture causes fear and resentment in other students that results in them leaving school as well.

Dr. King realized that improving outcomes would require changing the school culture in a variety of ways. Students want and must have discipline. They want to be continually challenged to the limits of their abilities. They must be expected to succeed and closely mentored as soon as they drift off-course.

His three-phase solution was both simple and effective.

First, Dr. King joined his staff in personally contacting every kid they could find that had dropped out of school or failed to graduate during the past five years. They tracked these kids relentlessly. They encouraged all of the kids they could find to return to school to enroll in college courses. Of course, that entailed simultaneously finishing their high school coursework and graduating.

He then required his staff and teachers to work individually with each one of these returning students to determine why each one failed to complete their high school curriculum. They were instructed to create individual plans for each student to get back on track. Dr. King did not hire many counselors. He wanted his teachers and administrative staff to make the original student contact, create the plans and follow through to ensure the expected outcomes.

Finally, he “dual enrolled” all of these students in both high school and college courses. This action created both the needed challenge and the incentive to succeed.

Nearly 1,400 of these former dropouts have graduated high school. More than 1,000 are progressing in college courses. Nearly 300 have already graduated college or earned a vocational certificate.

Dr. King is also using dual enrollment and individual education plans to encourage struggling students before they fall behind and drop out. He insists that his staff believes that every kid counts, every time.

It is hard to argue with consistent success.

Graduation rates have risen from 62 percent to the mid-90s.

More than half of the district’s seniors have already earned a full year of college credit before they graduate. Dr. King’s programs are not restricted to “the best” students. Nearly two-thirds of the district’s seniors have earned three or more college credits.

This year, the district is on track to confer two-year college degrees or certificates to about 80 high school seniors before they graduate from high school. Its junior class is on track to earn about 120 college degrees.

The entire education culture has changed dramatically in this school district. It is no longer “cool” to be disruptive and unproductive. The student body is policing its own students through positive peer pressure, and this approach is working beyond expectations.

The schools that we visited are safe, clean and orderly. The students take great pride in their education achievement, as well their discipline and civility. The entire institution is focused on starting college courses early, working hard, graduating from college and completing students’ transitions from poverty to productive middle-class citizens.

The current costs of Dr. King’s successful programs are actually less than the district was spending on the failed system that was in place before he arrived on the scene. The long-term dollar savings from the acceleration of the education progress will be substantial, from elementary schools through university and post graduate studies. The future benefits to students and their families are virtually incalculable.

I cannot identify a single area in Oregon where the social, economic and cultural problems even start to approach the magnitude of the difficulties found in the Rio Grande Valley. Because of that, Dr. King’s programs would work just as well in Klamath County or anywhere in Oregon. We should follow his example and leadership with some of the same fortitude he has displayed in achieving his mission, and never lose sight of the fact that when it comes to education, every kid counts.

Senator Doug Whitsett is the Republican state senator representing Senate District 28 – Klamath Falls

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  • Moe

    None of this will EVER happen in Oregon, as the union does not want students to succeed or to earn college credit while in high school.
    If kids graduate from high school with college credit, then they pay less when they get to college, and we can’t have that. Plus, those “professors” who teach the entry level courses will be put out of work, as fewer and fewer new enrollees will need them. That will never stand! These morons who have never done anything in the real world MUST have the fodder for their follies.
    Trust me…you won’t see this anytime soon in Oregon.
    Plus, how do you relentlessly track kids and encourage them when the union contract says the school “day” ends at 3:00 pm??? These union thugs go home and count their money…they don’t help students…not past their contracted time…believe it!!!
    Sorry, but Oregon is an education wasteland and it will NEVER get better as the union, who is in charge, does not want it to get better.

    • Eric Blair

      This is probably one of the more poorly argued posts I’ve seen on OC… and that is saying a lot. No facts to back up the opening assertions, and of course those assertions can’t be backed up, because they are silly on the face of it.

      The vast majority of teachers do care about their students and their success. Of course, my mind could be changed if you could present anything other than anecdotal evidence.

      By the way, if more kids start attending college, then professors and colleges aren’t going to lose any money, now are they?

      • Jonathan

        Eric, right — it would just kill them at UO or OSU if the Oregon students actually came in well-prepared — all the professors would just hate it.

        • Eric Blair

          And, they would hate it at any of the colleges and universities if more people were interested in continuing their education.

      • raven6

        Oregon ed. people aqueous to junk United Nations UNESCO education standards, and then take the money and run with Common Core, which is bluntly mental messaging.
        If the vast majority of teachers cared, they would gain a couple of metal objects and demanded a true Constitutional and ethical as well as moral curriculum.

        It is all about the money. No one strikes over destroying the kids future, only some asinine union drivel.

        The United States left UNESCO in 1985, it was so tainted by Soc./Communist hate the western culture. Well, we slid back in in 2004, with no changes, even after a Soviet, who defected, who was involved in the material applications spoke openly about the material.

        Oregon has both, Common Core, and UNESCO, coupled into “Education for Sustainable Development”
        which can be read as UN Global Governance by junk
        Eric, I have more if you actually do not realize this state
        really does not care about our children— only about the money and the power.
        Eric, there is little difference between committers and omitters.

        Just like Clinton, Kitzhaber’s morals and ethics determine the action of those below him. And we all know what is below Kits.

        • Eric Blair

          More? You haven’t shown me anything yet, except some partisan talking points.

          Am I incorrect in guessing, that when you talk about moral curriculum that you actually are speaking about a curriculum that is driven by a particular, and conservative, Christian view?

          Are you aware that quite a few teachers do not like Common Core?

          I seriously doubt that the personal issues and failures of either Bill Clinton or Johh Kitzhaber actually have any influence on the actions of teachers.

          • raven6

            Not really. When Clinton debased the “Office” of President by his actions it is noted and morality slips, as the young see not the “Office” but the man. In Oregon, we have the same. Pretending something does not exist, is nothing more than omission.
            Unesco and Common Core are not talking points, and and as I said, your omission is equal to the commission.
            You ignored the points, that it is about the money, not the children. If it was different, the issue would solve itself. Become educated in the horrible programs.

          • Eric Blair

            I claimed that most teachers care about their students and their success. Allow me to add: I don’t believe that money is the most important factor motivating them.

            Your description of them being tainted with socialist/communist hatred of the West certainly sounds like a conservative sound bite.

            Ditto your comments re Common Core. There is plenty of room to argue in favor or against – I for one am not big on testing. However, claiming that it is promoted by “junk science” is just another way of skirting the argument without actually addressing the particulars. Once again, a conservative sound bite.

            I think, again overall, the State does care about children. We can argue particulars, but you simply have shown no evidence to the contrary. You can argue that it is wrong to assume that spending more money is a solution – although I would argue that people who argue for better funding are not just talking abut money, but what can be done with it.

            To my mind, simply saying that it’s about the money and that they don’t care about the children is simply a way of ignoring the argument; of damning your opponents in a way that allows you to stop listening to them.

            I really didn’t see any slip in morality during the Clinton years… at least on the part of the average person. I seriously doubt you can find very many people at all who said, “WOAH! Look at what Clinton did, now I can go out and be immoral!” Anyone who did, was going to do it anyway and was looking for an excuse. Social norms, including morality, and the changes they go through, are quite beyond the ability of any single politician to influence – either by design or example. The only thing that you could argue was that Clinton illustrated new norms – but he certainly didn’t create them.

            So, what about that teaching of morality? What do you mean by that?

          • raven6

            Eric— Consider this a beginning for your coming education. No ill intended.

            While serving as the head of policy at the Department of Education during the first administration of Ronald Reagan, Charlotte Iserbyt discovered a long term strategic plan by the tax exempt foundations to transform America from a nation of rugged individualists and problem solvers to a country of servile, brainwashed minions. ~ Full Length Documentary

            “Fitche laid it down that education should aim at destroying free will, so that, after pupils have left school, they shall be incapable, throughout the rest of their lives, of thinking or acting otherwise than as their schoolmasters would have wished.

            . .” – Bertrand Russell, The Impact of Science on Society [1953]

            “Education in a scientific society may, I think, be best conceived after the analogy of the education provided by the Jesuits. The Jesuits provided one sort of education for the boys who were to become ordinary men of the world, and another for those who were to become members of the Society of Jesus. In like manner, the scientific rulers will provide one kind of education for ordinary men and women, and another for those who are to become holders of scientific power. Ordinary men and women will be expected to be docile, industrious, punctual, thoughtless, and contented. Of these qualities probably contentment will be considered the most important. In order to produce it, all the researches of psycho-analysis, behaviourism, and biochemistry will be brought into play.” – Bertrand Russell [part 3, XIV, Education in a Scientific Society p.251]

            “…The task before UNESCO… is to help the emergence of a single world culture with its own philosophy and background of ideas and with its own broad purpose. This is opportune, since this the first time in history that the scaffolding and the mechanisms for world unification have become available and also the first time that man has had the means… of laying a world-wide foundation for the minimum physical welfare of the entire human species. And it is necessary, for at the moment, two opposing philosophies of life confront each other from the West and from the East….You may categorize the two philosophies as two super-nationalisms, or as individualism versus collectivism; or as the American versus the Russian way of life, or as capitalism versus communism, or as Christianity versus Marxism.” – Julian Huxley, First Director-General of UNESCO, in “UNESCO: Its purpose and Its Philosophy” [pg 62]

            In a way I pity you Eric, clearly you are unable to see past your education. In any case, keep well.

          • Eric Blair

            Comments such as, “… from a nation of rugged individualists and problem solvers to a country of servile, brainwashed minions”, is exactly what I’m talking about. Conservative, well, far-right, sound bites.

            Russell and Huxley, nice. And of course, they set down a master plan that has not been deviated from for the last 50+ years. You are aware, aren’t you, that Huxley only served 2 years as the director of UNESCO before being forced out.

            No need to pity me raven… I pity you. It must be terrible living in fear of huge conspiracies attempting to make you a slave. LOL.. as for educating me, I really prefer to have my teachers to be a little more open minded, and a little less prone to conspiracy theories.

            Happy holidays my friend.

          • raven6

            Eric—Yes Russell and Huxley. Their words are not talking points. As well, you should be well aware that it is not how long someone is in position, but what he implements while
            in office.

            And you must know why he was forced out of office.

            Much information is available to you when you get past labeling members who post. Technique used when one is intent on deviating from factual information to obscure
            what one dislikes. A conspiracy theory was never discussed, as much material is available
            to expose the program. Educating instead of attacking with no facts would be more appropriate.

          • Eric Blair

            And what did they implement Raven? You are cherry-picking your data. You focus on two that seem to make your case, while ignoring all the other people involved in Education. Secondly, as you well know, while we can appreciate some of the ideas from major thinkers, we can, and frequently do, reject some of their other ideas. We manage to do that with Thomas Jefferson.

            Well, my apologies, but I will continue to label your thinking as a conspiracy theory. What you posit is a vast educational conspiracy to enslave people. A large number of teachers are apparently in on it, and are working toward a goal that, well, simply isn’t supported by any facts you have presented. You don’t connect the dots in any sustained or compelling fashion.

            And, as for polite discussion, you, yourself, may want to rethink lines about “educating” people. That is a conceit. You assume that I don’t have a grasp of the facts already, and also that if I did, I would see things your way. Opening lines like that (despite the attempt to walk it back with “no ill intended”) are not conducive to a discussion. Very condescending, and not based upon any facts you have on hand. Physician, heal thyself.

          • raven6

            To anyone following the posts between Eric and I, something for you to review in contemplating Eric’s dis-information.

            The two main social sciences taught in the public schools are government and economics. Neither is taught from the position of the freedom philosophy of limited civil government. The reigning outlook is that of the welfare state.

            This outlook has dominated public education from the beginning of public schools in Massachusetts in 1840s. John Taylor Gatto, the Teacher of the Year three times in New York City and once in New York State, quit teaching for the city. He has become an advocate for home schooling. In his great book, The Underground history of American Education, he wrote this.

            The religious purpose of modern schooling was announced clearly by the legendary University of Wisconsin sociologist Edward A. Ross in 1901 in his famous book, Social Control. Your librarian should be able to locate a copy for you without much trouble. In it Ed Ross wrote these words for his prominent following: “Plans are underway to replace community, family, and church with propaganda, education, and mass media…. the State shakes loose from Church, reaches out to School…. People are only little plastic lumps of human dough.” Social Control revolutionized the discipline of sociology and had powerful effects on the other human sciences: in social science it guided the direction of political science, economics, and psychology; in biology it influenced genetics, eugenics, and psychobiology.


            These people believe in social science for the sake of social control. They teach social science to 6-year-olds.

          • Eric Blair

            “These people believe in social science for the sake of social control. They teach social science to 6-year-olds.”

            Speaking of dis-information…. you speak of evidence, yet you present no evidence at all that “these people” – I can only assume you mean public school teachers today – actually believe this. At the end of all your “facts”, you make a conclusion that has none.

            The book you cited is not available at any of the public libraries in Oregon, and is only available at 5 university libraries in Oregon. You can get it through Interlibrary Loan, but that can take several weeks.

      • Moe

        Here is your “evidence”. Oregon students’ performance on SAT and ACT.
        The teachers must truly care to prepare them so well.

        • Eric Blair

          Oregon is right at the national average for the ACT — 21.5 for Oregon, the US average is 21.

          For the SAT — Reading/Math/Writing, the national averages are 501/516/492. The Oregon are 523/524/499.

          In both cases Oregon scores above the national average (this was as of 2010). Your evidence doesn’t demonstrate that teachers don’t care, because there are other reasons why SAT scores may be lower (I don’t know, I didn’t check) than in past years.

          Try again.

  • guest

    Don’t be mess’n with Texas! Instead, butt kick (or kink) what’s left of US such’ns Michael MOErons en blanch dominion David Blairinski – both in Dutch dire estates, doom inhale the abnormal smelling of bottoms of BHO’s intestines jackass such fornicate.

  • Eric Blair

    If people are interested, here is a more detailed article about the changes instituted by Daniel King.

    Launching Early College District Wide

  • Jack Lord God

    It sounds like this Dr. King has a great approach. What I especially like about it was that this was a leadership and change of technique oriented approach rather than the same old tired throw money at it method usually used.

    By any metric we spend more than or equal to the most expensive public school systems on the planet on a per pupil basis. It is nice to see that there are people out there like Dr. King who understand this isn’t a money problem.

    • Eric Blair

      Yet, it does take money. As he mentioned, having the funds available makes the project go further, faster. He was dedicated to making the changes, but the grants and other monies they took in helped a great deal as well. If the belief that more money doesn’t necessarily address the issue, and is too simplistic (I happen to conditionally agree with that), the belief that schools can do with less money is equally simplistic.

      You’ll also notice, King doesn’t bash teachers, or unions. Unlike Michelle Rhee, he has a good understanding that you need to get teachers excited and on board with any new changes. In fact, one of the first things he did was sit down with teachers, listen their concerns, and get back to them within 30 days.

      • Jack Lord God

        >Yet, it does take money.

        Nobody said education was free. Your comment is a non sequitur.

        > the belief that schools can do with less money is equally simplistic

        And yet liberals make this argument with the constant refrain of a dull uninvited boyfriend of a distant niece at Thanksgiving when it comes to healthcare.

        >You’ll also notice, King doesn’t bash teachers, or unions.

        You will also notice I didn’t either. Again, non sequitur argument.

        > In fact, one of the first things he did was sit down with teachers,
        listen their concerns, and get back to them within 30 days.

        Nothing new here, and addressed in my point regarding leadership and technique. Again, non sequitur argument.

        You really need to coordinate your responses better. Reiterating things mentioned in the article, or touched on in my post, as if you are presenting something new, is really fairly dull and contributes nothing. Par for the course with most of your comments though.

        If you feel you must comment, why not actually contribute something? If you felt a different approach than King, was warranted, state it. If you feel my appreciation for Kings approach was erroneous, state why. Don’t simply yammer on with things nobody said, or restate that which is given and present it as anything particularly novel. It isn’t. Thanks.

        • Eric Blair

          LOL.. you’re just too precious. Accuse me of some non-sequiturs, which they were (mildly), and then commit your own when talking about health care (at least I stayed on topic). My God, can you get any more hypocritical?? More of your classic, do as I say, not as I do.

          I did go beyond your original comments, and expanded to arguments I’ve seen frequently posted on OC (including from you). Next time I’ll be more careful to note when I’m addressing your arguments, and when I’m ranging further afield. My apologies.

          “You really need to coordinate your responses better.

          No, I actually don’t. I’m better at coordinating than you are, and if you’re not going to hold yourself to that standard, I see no reason hold myself to a higher standard than you don’t expect for yourself. Truly, I didn’t engage in any personal attacks, and yet you felt the necessity of going there. Why is that Jack? Are you truly that unhappy when people disagree with you, or add additional information? What do you think that says about you? Trust me, nothing good.

          “If you feel you must comment, why not actually contribute something?”

          I certainly contributed more that you did, and I was at least, initially, polite in tone. You just can’t keep it together, can you? You have a very unrealistically high opinion of your own posts.

          LOL.. I’ll keep posting as I do. Given your hypocrisy, rampant hyperbole, and bombast why would I take you seriously now? It’s actually kinda fun to read your little rage-posts when I disagree with you. I really hope for the sake of the people around you that you reserve your channeling your angry inner child for Oregon Catalyst. Please don’t change, some days it’s the only laugh I get.

          Thanks back at you! And Happy Holidays!

          • guest

            EB, are you really on the proffering staff fiat PSU?
            Stiff so, see ya later agitator.
            Merry Christmas, oops, you’re a left wing ‘seculator’ taint thou?

          • Eric Blair

            And Happy Holidays to you! I bought Strunk and White’s, the Elements of Style, for you. How do I get you your present?

          • guest

            Send it to the vacationing POTUS in Hawaii on another fabulous 17 day junket yet again
            There, place it in BO’S golf cart next to the cigar holder and the Executive Privilege tin cup accepting donations for pardons.

          • Eric Blair

            No, I really think it is best if you took the present in the spirit it was offered!.

            Happy Holidays.

          • guest

            Mr. Blair, you’re part of the academic staff at Portland State University, yes or no?

          • Eric Blair

            I’m flattered that you would think so, but no, I’m not at PSU in any capacity. Nor at any other institute for Higher Education

          • guest

            Thank OMG, butt ya’ll swill appears swimm’n with a soul lot of schlep boogers in a carnal league of CONdescenig, whip whip, ourtlaw Jowe Swales.

          • Eric Blair

            The sooner I can get the Elements of Style into your hands, the better. You’re regressing.

          • guest

            Offer declined. Better for you to use it to level the Dem tableau field tilted too far left in your fervor, EB.

  • Jonathan

    As somebody once said, if it seems too good to be true, it probably isn’t.

  • Bob Clark

    The concept of working with each student and family to steer a course of educational development for each student is appealing. I looked into the Corbet School District charter school approach, and there is this attention to individual student. What’s intriguing is teachers at Corbet are said to also serve the counselor and administrative roles, eliminating some of the layers typical in other public school systems. For the extra duties, teachers are paid relatively higher salaries.

  • CBSE 12th Result 2014 Declared

    Trust me…you won’t see this anytime soon in Oregon.
    Plus, how do you relentlessly track kids and encourage them when the union contract says the school “day” ends at 3:00 pm??? These union thugs go home and count their money…they don’t help students…not past their contracted time…believe it!!! WWE Royal Rumble 2015 Live Stream

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