High School Redesign in Austin, Texas: K-12/Post-Secondary Systems and Alignment

High School Redesign in Austin, Texas: K-12/Post-Secondary Systems and Alignment
High School Redesign in Austin, Texas: K-12/Post-Secondary Systems and Alignment


The American Youth Policy Forum (AYPF) and the National Conference of State Legislatures (NCSL) facilitated a series of field trips around the country to help state policy leaders learn more about high school redesign. This project, funded by the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, supported the Honor States Grant Program, an initiative of the National Governors Association (NGA) Center for Best Practices, by providing hands-on professional development to state teams comprised of governors’ staffs, members of state education boards and commissions, state legislators, and senior legislators, and senior state officials working in K-16 education.

The seventh trip in this series was to Austin, Texas, and was designed to bring state legislators together to visit redesigned high schools and engage in policy discussions with state and district leaders working to improve high school graduation and college-readiness rates throughout the state. State legislators from Delaware, Louisiana, Kentucky, Massachusetts, Minnesota, and Mississippi participated on this trip.


The purpose of this trip was to expose state legislators to policies, legislation, and practices in Texas that support high school redesign, provide time to learn about the context of the reform, and encourage peer-to-peer learning and networking among participants. Specifically, the trip was designed to enable participants to learn about the following:

  • Texas’s rigorous curriculum requirements as a default curriculum for all students and the role of the post-secondary system in setting high school graduation standards.
  • House Bill 1, Texas’s comprehensive high school reform legislation.

The trip enabled participants to see programs intended to increase the number of students graduating with a high school diploma ready for college and careers. It also provided a forum to meet with state policy and education leaders, researchers, and state legislators who are working at the forefront of these issues in Texas. Meetings with policy leaders provided time to delve deeper into the strategies and policies used to support high school redesign in Indiana.


Texas has a record of making the improvement of student outcomes a priority. It was the first state to adopt a college-ready curriculum as its default curriculum for all students. Texas also was among the first states to revise its state assessments to more accurately reflect the knowledge and skills students should have as they progress through high school and graduate. The state moved its exit level assessment from 10th grade to 11th grade in order to more fully assess student achievement in the high school grades.

During the 78th Texas Legislative Session in 2003, the legislature required individualized graduation plans for all at-risk middle and high school students. In 2005, the state introduced a voluntary end of course exam in Algebra I, which could be taken by students online for free. The state also provides support for student access to Advanced Placement, dual enrollment, and PSAT/SAT preparation courses.

In 2005, Governor Rick Perry passed an executive order that provided for the creation of a system of college-readiness indicators, including the reporting of education remediation rates among college students and the creation of an electronic academic records system to facilitate the transfer of high school transcripts between school districts and between districts and institutions of higher education. In a separate executive order, the Governor directed the Texas Education Agency (TEA) to create a $10 million teacher incentive program to reward teachers who have the most impact on student achievement through objective, quantifiable measures. Texas also has a comprehensive longitudinal data system with unique student identifiers in place, making high school outcomes and improvement more measurable and ultimately more effective. Currently, the state uses a 4-year graduation rate calculation that based on the calculations recommended by the National Governors Association.

Finally, the TEA has also devoted substantial resources toward communication with the public by disseminating NCLB and AYP data. Information pertaining to campus, district, and state outcomes is readily accessible on the education agency’s web site. This data includes listings of schools in need of improvement as well as AYP information for every campus and district, analysis of the number of Title I districts and campuses that did not make AYP, an overview of appeals results, and a broad look at state results.

In 2005, the 79th Texas Legislature passed House Bill 1 (HB 1), a major piece of legislation. HB 1 is designed primarily to address public-school finance, property-tax relief, public-school accountability, and related matters. A number of sections in HB 1 address issues related to high school success and college-readiness goals for the state of Texas. Primarily, HB 1 supports the state’s goals of closing achievement gaps by ensuring the following:

  • Enhanced college-readiness/workforce readiness in Texas
  • Increased student success in secondary school systems
  • Increased college-going culture in all schools
  • Increased higher education enrollments and student success
  • Decreased developmental education numbers and costs
  • Creation of an educated/trained workforce to grow and sustain economic competitiveness

The Texas Education Agency (TEA) has developed several programs in response to the HB 1 legislation to meet the goals of the legislation above. Many of these programs are intended to improve high school graduation and college- and work-readiness rates throughout the state, including:

High School Allotment: Provides $275 per high school student in additional funding to districts to prepare students to go on to higher education, encourage students to take challenging course work, increase the rigor of academic courses, align secondary and postsecondary curriculum, and support promising high school reform initiatives in grades 6 through 12.

Texas High School Project (THSP): The THSP is a $261 million public-private initiative committed to ensuring that all Texas students leave high school prepared for college and career success in the 21st century economy. The project invests in students by providing funds and technical assistance to school districts to increase student achievement in high schools, build new schools, and create innovative partnerships between high schools and higher education institutions. THSP focuses on the most challenged school districts in the state, with an emphasis on urban areas and districts along the Texas-Mexico border.

Texas Science, Technology, Engineering, and Math Initiative (T-STEM): The Texas High School Project has launched the T-STEM Initiative with $80 million in public/private funding to pilot innovative ways to increase the number of students who enter math, science, and engineering career fields.

Vertical Teams and Curriculum Development: Vertical teams composed of public school and higher education faculty are working to: 1) recommend college-readiness standards and expectations; 2) evaluate the effectiveness of the TEKS in preparing students for college; 3) recommend strategies for aligning curricula; and 4) develop instructional strategies for professional development and online support materials.

Overview of High School Redesign in Texas: K-12 / Post-secondary Systems and Alignment

Dr. Shirley Neeley, Texas Commissioner of Education; Dr. Raymund Paredes, Texas Commissioner of Higher Education; Robert Scott, Chief Deputy Commissioner of Education, Texas Department of Education

The trip began with a meeting with three high-level Texas education leaders. They provided insightful information about the strong commitment Texas has in making improvements in student outcomes a priority and emphasizing a “college-going culture” among students beginning in third grade.

Dr. Shirley Neeley, Texas Commissioner of Education, opened the session with historical information about the state’s strategy to create a college-going culture beginning in third grade. Dr. Shirley Neeley and Dr. Raymund Paredes have been collaborating since 1994 in high school reform and ensure that the agencies are coordinating to create a seamless P-16 agenda. Texas was a pioneer with its comprehensive high school reform agenda as seen in HB 1.  This created vertical teams of content experts in several content areas including English, math, social studies, and science. Vertical teams meet with as an expert group to align P-16 standards to the curriculum. College preparatory curricula, the default curriculum in Texas, are comprised of four years of English, math, science, and social studies (referred to as “4 by 4”). There is an assessment system in place which has exit level tests requiring students to pass all four tests in the 11th grade. Texas is introducing end of course exams to better indicate and target student progress in college preparatory classes. Local level councils are encouraged in every community on P-16 levels. At present, Dr. Neeley and Dr. Paredes are working to ensure Early College High Schools and T-STEM Academies are two initiatives presently being created around the state to create pathways to post-secondary education.

Dr. Raymund Paredes, Commissioner of Higher Education, remarked about the raising the level of expectations of children and helping all children learn despite their background. At present only 31% of college graduates can read at a highly proficient level.  Students need to be taught differently from effective teachers who express a culture of success. The Commission of Higher Education is working to: 1) improve the quality of teacher preparation and performance; 2) open the level of dialogue among superintendents and principals and higher education teacher preparation programs; 3) expand communication among vertical teams in P-16 to support students entering post-secondary education; and 4) review and measure learning outcomes at all levels, including higher education and demonstrate significant value-added for post-secondary options.

Robert Scott, Chief Deputy Commissioner of Education, closed the panel with a discussion on policy and analysis emphasizing the need to establish a system that has children at the center. The High School Transformation project started from a $60 million allocation from the Texas Legislature, the state, Dell, and the Gates Foundation.  This project created different pathways to ensure that the needs of children are met and children stay in school. The project emphasizes the importance of relevance and relationship, especially for high school aged youth. At present, funding has reached nearly $300 million and resources will continue to grow. Resources allocated from HB1 provide $275 per student to pay for interventions, reduce the dropout rate, graduation coaches, Saturday school, PSAT preparation, and to increase college readiness and enrollment. Funds can also be used at middle school grades (gr. 7-8). Districts have discretion to determine how money is allocated, where, and how districts can spend the money. T-STEM academies will soon become a pilot center of excellence and then reach the rest of the state with similar practices.  In 2003, every at-risk student needed to have an individualized education plan to assist in passing the TAKS and other standardized tests developed to provide specialized help. Texas is in a position to raise standards and personnel are beginning to push back on this idea. The cost to redo tests, assessments, textbooks, and teacher training will increase costs if more rigorous standards are implemented. Pathways must be designed to ensure that all children have viable options to succeed and alternative standards must be devised to recognize the special talents of young people, like the performing arts and CTE programs.

Increase College-and Work-Readiness in Austin

Drew Scheberle, Senior Vice President, Greater Austin Chamber of Commerce; Bob Digneo, AT&T; Kathrin Brewer, Austin Partners in Education; Mary Hensley (invited), College Connection at Austin Community College; Jacob Fraire, Texas Guaranteed Student Loan; Lois Osbourne, Project Advance; Chris King, Ray Marshall Center; Steve Jackobs, Executive Director, Capital IDEA; Darrell Perce, SNAP Management

Snapshot of Austin Independent School District:



2006 Graduates


Percent Non-White


Percent Economically Disadvantaged


Percent English Language Learners






06-07 Tax Rate


05-06 Operations Budget w/o state recapture


05-06 Operations Budget with state recapture


This session allowed audience members to hear firsthand about the goals to increase the number of students going to college in Austin, Texas by “20,010 by 2010.”

During this session, members of the panel discussed the programs and agencies working diligently in collaboration with the Austin Independent School District to assist students going into post-secondary education.  Strong collaboration is evident and the programs have had success in the overall number of students successfully completing college preparatory classes, applying to college, and feeling supported along the way.

Mr. Bob Digneo, an employees of AT&T, stated that more than 80% of the workforce in the Austin area has some level of college education. The projected job growth plan is an increase of 4%, which will require more college graduates.  The Chamber of Commerce has a committee on matriculation to encourage more college enrollment.

Ms. Mary Hensley, Austin Community College, discussed the College Connection Program at Connection at Austin Community College. The presentation showcased a PowerPoint presentation covering the Texas Higher Education Coordinating Board’s Strategic Plan to the close achievement gap.  Main points included:

  • If serious initiatives are not undertaken to close the achievement gap and more Texans do not receive a college degree by 2030, the State could lose up to $40 billion in annual household income.
  • There is a goal to increase student enrollment in higher education by 630,000 by 2015.
  • The Austin Community College District (ACCD) expects 15,000 more students by 2015.

Ms. Henley also offered more information about Austin Community College (ACC). ACC provides admission and pre-enrollment services to seniors on their campuses. The expectation is, “College is in everyone’s future.” Among the Austin School District, 18% of students are enrolled in Texas 2 year colleges. The College Connection Program offers a multitude of services to graduating seniors including one-on-one assistance throughout the duration of the application process. ACC never discards applications and will provide a permanent college home to students.  Upon entry, students are separated into cohorts and tracked by semester of entry.  ACC districts will collect longitudinal data on retention, completion, and success.  Since the enactment of the College Connection Program, there have been immediate positive effects on fall enrollments.  In fact, there was a 37.6% increase in fall enrollments the first year and a 59% increase over year years, respectively.  More than 55% of the College Connection enrollees are minorities and a higher percentage of this population is entering ACC as compared to the general ACC District student population.  Due to the increase in enrollment and the model program provided by ACC, the Texas Higher Education Coordinating Board is sponsoring a statewide expansion using the ACC model. ACC is in the process of attracting external funding from state and national sources. Existing resources include: 1) personnel, recruitment, and existing budget; 2) cross training and redeployment of recruitment personnel; and 3) providing services on high school campuses during non-peak times at college campus. The approximate cost per student is $35 for direct services which covers staff salaries, travel, and supplies.  Additional costs include support for college departments, additional personnel needed over time to support all activities, and testing materials. College Connection has received several recognitions including The Washington Post and The Seattle Times.  For more information about College Connection, refer to www.austincc.edu/isd.

Ms. Kathrin Brewer, Austin Partners in Education, spoke of the Adopt-a-School model where initiatives incorporate college readiness and asking the community to come into classes to co-teach in an effort to better prepare students for college. There are two primary programs utilized to provide adult volunteers to support students, AISD and AVID.  “AISD” provides adults as volunteers where the focus is on academic preparation and AVID provides adult mentors to lead study groups twice a week in classrooms.  There as a $100,000 grant issued to pay for college preparatory exams (SAT/ACT), transportation expenses, and children receive a $200 bonus if they take pass the tests.  Due to these new initiatives in place, Austin Partners in Education expect to have 7.5% more students meeting the “TSI” requirements.

Ms. Luanne Preston, College Connection, Austin Community College, shares that Austin Community College (ACC) has a goal of 100% participation among high school graduates in post-secondary education. Austin Community College serves 46 high schools and 22 school districts.  Over the past four years, ACC has increased the numbers of minority students who have attended.  A majority of funding comes from existing sources available to ACC and external sources. The state would like to take ACC statewide.

Mr. Jacob Fraire, Texas Guaranteed Student Loan, shared that the Austin Matriculation Task Force will help students complete the FAFSA before they leave school in May.  The Texas Guaranteed Student Loan organization will organize Financial Aid Saturdays where 200 individuals get trained in how to complete the FAFSA.

Lois Osbourne, Project Advance, shared how this project is in 12 Austin high schools and presently in its 5th year at the Austin Independent School District (AISD). Facilitators are placed on campus to check in with every senior to make sure applications for college have been completed. They work with the top 10% of students who are automatically admitted into the project and ensure they have applied to SFA.  Staff also visits all of the middle schools to work with 7th and 8th graders.  Community volunteers work closely with students, coordinate meetings, and help students make deadlines for college applications. Austin has a 5% higher percentage of economically disadvantaged students compared to Texas as a whole, however, AISD has seen a 7.5% increase in this population of students taking the SAT or ACT exams. Participants of the Project Advance program have shown success as indicated by the 3.6% increase in students going to college since the introduction of the program.

Christ King, Ray Marshall Center, LBJ School, UT Austin, shared that students complete exit surveys in order to obtain data on student outcomes. The data taken from the 8 school districts in central Texas are then matched to student data (i.e. preparation from school programs, parents’ education levels) and then students are followed into their post-secondary options or the workplace. The goal of this process is to help more students go to college and succeed. Information obtained from the surveys and data college is utilized for continuous improvement and how to help schools improve curriculum and instruction.

Steve Jackobs, Executive Director, Capital IDEA, depicted that the program focuses on adults who need a second chance. Capital IDEA covers the cost of tuition for adults going back to school, childcare, and books. Professional counselors are available to assist adults with any obstacles experienced during the completing their education. The program costs $6000 per year/per person and works adults on average for 4 years.  Most adults will enter the program with a 7th grade reading level. In order to support adults in obtaining an Associates Degree will take several years. Annually, Capital IDEA will work with approximately 600 people and graduates about 100.  Future plans include serving 5000 adults over the next 10 years. Capital IDEA is predominantly funded by local sources and the rest of support comes from federal and state agencies, as well as some employers. The program is going to develop an alumni association, which is hoped to raise funds and visibility. The city of Austin is strongly committed to workforce development and provides local money to support these efforts.

Site Visit to Lyndon Baines Johnson High School

Lyndon Baines Johnson High School is a Liberal Arts and Science Academy. As a magnet school, it has a mission to provide LBJ graduates the ability to pursue all desired post secondary experiences. There are many programs offered at LBJ High School featuring:

  • Freshman Smaller Learning Communities (SLC): Students are offered assistance transitioning from junior high school to high school. Teachers and students are “teamed” and recognition assemblies are held regularly.
  • Advanced Placement (AP) Courses: There are AP classes offered in English, History, Government, Economics, Latin, Psychology, Art, Science, Math, Statistics, and Foreign languages. A $37,000 grant was awarded from Applied Materials to increase AP college Dual Credit enrollment.
  • College Partnerships: In 2006, through a partnership with the University of Texas and LBJ concurrently, where credit is offered to students enrolled in chemistry classes. Dual credit is also offered with Austin Community College.
  • Fire Fighters Academy: In 2006, LBJ partnered with the City of Austin Fire Department where courses are offered to prepare students to become fire fighters. Members of the Austin Fire Department are now housed on campus.
  • Advancement Via Individual Determination (AVID): AVID Seniors have a high graduation rate, enhanced performance on the SAT/ACT, and most are accepted into four year colleges.
  • Computers for Learning: Starting the fall of 2006, computers and online access will be provided to all incoming freshmen who desire this feature.  The computer and access are guaranteed for four years.

Forging Public-Private Partnerships to Improve Graduation and College-readiness Rates

John Fitzpatrick, Texas High School Project and Communities, Foundation of Texas; Christi Martin, Senior Program Officer, Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation; Zeynup Young, Michael and Susan Dell Foundation

John Fitzpatrick, Texas High School Project and Communities, Foundation of Texas, urged that philanthropic dollars were utilized for innovative and creativity purposed.  Public funding should be used to expand and sustain these philanthropic efforts.  (Use information from slides at this point)

Discussion on Fostering Multiple Pathways to Student Success and Site Visit to Gonzalo Garza Independence High School

Dr. Glenn Nolly, Superintendent of High Schools, AISD Dr. Paul Cruz, Director of Multiple Pathways, AISD Vicki Baldwin, Principal, Garza Independent High School

Garza Independent High School opened in January 1998 as a public school of choice.  Garza Independent High School fosters “a community of empowered learners in an atmosphere of mutual respect and trust where each individual is challenged to learn, grow, and be successful now in the future.” Any student holding 10 or more credits and completed two full years of high school with a desire to obtain a high school diploma is eligible to enroll. Students may apply at anytime, whether they are presently enrolled in school or have attended school for a period of time. Garza is a fully accredited high school.  Students completing all local and state requirements, including the TAAS/TAKS, will be eligible to graduate with a high school diploma. One unique component to Garza features a self-paced environment to ensure students succeed in high school. 80% of students apply for a 2-year community college or associates degree and 16% attend 4-year colleges. In 2006, 32% of graduating seniors are projected to attend 4-year universities. Garza Independent High School recently received several recognitions from The Austin Chronicle, World Congress Informational Technology (WCIT), and Austin Independent School District School Board.  Some of the challenges Garza faces include not being recognized for its value in Austin Independent School District.

Garza High School, Vicki Baldwin, stated that Garza uses the multiple pathways approach, with a large emphasis on youth development. Throughout the visit, there was a lot of student interaction. Ms. Baldwin added that Garza is “not a real school because we don’t have football or cheerleaders,” however, there Garza does have a strong academic alternative. Enrolled students come from all over Austin and choose to attend Garza as an urban school of choice. Presently, there are 300 students of diverse economic backgrounds. The school is based on relationships, respect, and strong academics. 196 students graduated last year. Garza features:

  • Dual enrollment opportunities with Austin Community College;
  • There is open enrollment which features an open exit policy in a year round structure;
  • Programs are student-centered and performance-based;
  • AP classes which are open to all students;
  • Seniors are required to complete a portfolio presentation at graduation;
  • Dropout Hunters: These are teachers and administrators who go into the community in August to try to bring kids back into school by September; and
  • Graduate in Residence Status – when a student finishes all the graduation requirements, they are put in GIR. They can always come back to use the library, contact their counselors, work on a resume. This is a way for the school to stay in touch with students and provide them ongoing support as they either go to college or work


Betsy Brand

American Youth Policy Forum

Iris Bond Gill

Senior Program Associate
American Youth Policy Forum

Representative Rob Eissler

Chair, Public Education Committee

John Fitzpatrick

Executive Director
Texas High School Project

Communities Foundation of Texas

Jacob Fraire

Assistant Vice President, TG
Education Alliances and Partnerships

Michael Hartney

Policy Analyst
Hall of the States

Christopher King

University of Texas at Austin

Ray Marshall Center for the Study of Human Resources

Christi Martin

Senior Program Officer
Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation

Representative Geanie Morrison

Chair, Higher Education

Dr. Shirley Neeley

Texas Commissioner of Education
Texas Education Agency

Dr. Raymund Paredes

Texas Higher Education Coordinating Board

Senator Florence Shapiro

Chair, Education Committee

Robert Strange

Senior Research Analyst

Drew Scheberle

Senior Vice President
Greater Austin Chamber of Commerce

Education and Workforce Development

Charles Toulmin

Senior Policy Analyst
Hall of the States

Vicki Baldwin

Garza High School

Representative Donald Blakey

Member, Education Committee

Senator Sharon Weston Broome

Vice-Chair, Education Committee

Senator Scott P. Brown

Member, Education Committee

Representative Hollis Downs

Member, Education Committee

Representative Derrick Graham

Member, Education Subcommittee

Representative Mindy Greiling

Chair, K-12 Finance Division Committee

Representative Scott Hochberg

Member, Public Education

Representative Avon R. Honey

Vice-Chair, Education Committee

Representative Joni Jenkins

Member, Health and Welfare Committee

Harrison Keller

Director of Research
Office of the Speaker of the House

Representative Sherra Lane

Juvenile Justice Committee

Representative Carol McFarlane

Member, K-12 Finance Division Committee

Senator Yvonne B. Miller

Member, Rehabilitation and Social Services Committee

Representative David Myers

Member, Education Committee

Representative Dora Olivo

Member, Public Education

Representative Alice Hanlon Peisch

Member, Joint Committee on Higher Education

Representative Frank Rasche

Chair, Education Committee

Senator Karen Spilka

Member, Education Committee

Representative Marsha Swails

Member, K-12
Finance Division Committee

Senator Jack Westwood

Member, Education Committee
Capitol Annex

Senator Ken Winters

Chair, Education Committee


The American Youth Policy Forum (AYPF), a nonprofit, nonpartisan professional development organization based in Washington, DC, provides learning opportunities for policy leaders, practitioners, and researchers working on youth and education issues at the national, state, and local levels. AYPF events and publications are made possible by contributions from philanthropic foundations. For a complete list, click here.