The Port Arthur News
PORT ARTHUR —
While researching ways to reform secondary education in the State of Texas, Rep. Joe Deshotel learned that another area warranted equal, if not more, attention.
“One of the reasons we have such a high failure rate is that kids aren’t reading or comprehending on their grade level,” Deshotel said. “I said, ‘Well, it seems like we need to go to the very beginning, and maybe we can prevent this gap from ever happening.’”
Deshotel said he plans to focus on early childhood education in the 84th legislative session, set to begin in 2015. On Thursday, he met with early childhood administrators, teachers and parents from both Port Arthur and Beaumont schools during a forum held at the PAISD administration building.
“The empirical evidence is rather clear that early childhood education does make a difference,” Deshotel said. “But I’m not an educator, and there’s no better place to go than to those who do this on a daily basis.”
In order to lay a solid educational foundation for all students, Deshotel said, the state has to address the academic disparity between students from lower-income families and students from an upper middle-class background. Because underprivileged students have access to fewer resources during the summer, they tend to regress, and can fall as many as two to three years behind their more affluent counterparts.
PAISD and BISD officials heard from members of the Texas Elementary Principals and Supervisors Association, including Nick Cantu, manager of Ridgemont Early Childhood Center in Fort Bend ISD.
Ninety percent of the center’s students come from families living below the poverty level, and 94 percent receive free or reduced lunch, Cantu said. He said that the first step to bridging the achievement gap is to involve parents — particularly lower-income parents.
“You have to change the parents’ mindset,” Cantu said. “You have to show them how to help their kids, or they won’t do it.”
Many teachers and administrators took advantage of the access to their state representative. Janice Trahan, a pre-kindergarten teacher at Wheatley Early Childhood, emphasized the importance of having qualified aides to assist both teacher and students in the classroom.
“Aides are working just as hard as I am,” she said.
Deshotel said that having two teachers per one classroom of 21 students was optimal, and that he hoped to seek funding to help aides with scholarships and grants to further their education.
Several teachers expressed the need for all-day pre-kindergarten classes, rather than half day. Deshotel asked the audience if they would prefer all-day classes with uncertified teachers, or half-day classes with certified teachers. Anita Frank, principal at Fletcher Elementary in Beaumont, said that both were necessary.
“Pre-K education is not baby-sitting,” Frank said. “We need pre-K for everyone. I don’t like either/or.”
Deshotel agreed that full-day pre-kindergarten education is ideal. However, he said that it wasn’t feasible for the upcoming legislative session, as it would cost more than $1 billion.
But Deshotel has already appointed a committee in Austin, and he is ready to tackle the issues of early childhood education.
“If we can keep the achievement gap from ever gaining ground, it will cost less and be less of a drain on our community,” he said.