In Brownsville, TX, 'old-fashioned style' yields major gains for low-income students
- Texas' Brownsville Independent School District enrolled over 46,000 students in the 2017-2018 school year, with 96% being considered economically disadvantaged, compared to a 59% state average. Yet students in the district are outperforming their peers across the state on a number of outcomes metrics.
- The district boasts a 91.7% on-time or early high school graduation rate compared to an 89.7% state average, despite 65.9% being considered at-risk for dropping out.
- Nearly one-third of students (32.6%) are enrolled in English learner programs, and 33.4% of students in the mostly-Hispanic district are considered to have limited English proficiency.
At 83% of the 55,000 schools tracked in the GreatSchools and Education Cities' collaborative Education Equality Index, students from low-income families performed below the national average. But the data shows promise in places like California and Texas, where low-income students are scoring high on achievement assessments. Six of the 10 most-improved schools for serving such students were located in California, and eight of the top 10 large cities scoring high on achievement for students from low-income families were in Texas.
Brownsville ISD Superintendent Esepranza Zendejas said, "It’s that old-fashioned style where schools are the center of attention. We have that small-town feeling, where our six traditional high schools are powerhouses of activities.”
“Our middle schools do a great job of keeping that tradition where schools do a lot of engagement. We spend a lot of time and energy and money on major extracurricular activities such as sports and the fine arts,” she said.
Joseph Caballero, principal of Brownsville's Garden Park Elementary School, said the district also emphasizes high standards and focused on English instruction for students to help close gaps. Caballero credits Zendejas for pushing many of the changes, and he said it is important for schools looking to Brownsville as a model to understand the need for strong administrative management.
“I can tell you [when] the upper-level administration focuses on instruction and directs those resources to the proper schools, the results are going to be phenomenal,” he said.
Caballero also touted an investment in the tech platforms available for students during the summer that lessen learning regression, as well as arts programs and a new STEM program for 3rd through 5th graders.