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Raymund Paredes Understood Why High Standards Matter to Texas Students

The former UCLA English professor, who retired last month after 15 years as Texas’ higher education leader, understood that the path to college starts back in kindergarten or earlier.

Article by William McKenzie September 9, 2019 //   5 minute read

What you need to know about Raymund Paredes, the retiring Texas Higher Education Commissioner, is that the El Paso native held high the calling of attending college during an era when more and more people have started to wonder whether college is all it is cracked up to be.

His was never an easy task, especially with some of the resistance to college being tied up with states raising academic standards to keep pace with economies around the world that reward workers who master technologies and value knowledge, particularly in math and science. At the same time, the rising cost of college has placed a burden on many American students and their families.

Tirelessly, though, Paredes upheld post-secondary education, whether earning a degree from a community college or a traditional four-year university. Or from both. As he told the Dallas Morning News in an exit interview:

“When you transfer from a community college to university, we need to make sure the chances are extremely high that you are prepared to do rigorous university work. And that’s not always the case, now.”

The former UCLA English professor, who retired last month after 15 years as Texas’ higher education leader, knows that the path to college starts back in kindergarten or earlier. He advocated for state academic standards that connected from kindergarten thru 12th grade, recognizing that the hipbone needs to be connected to the leg-bone for classrooms to get students ready for higher education.

He made this point clear in an interview for the Bush Institute’s blog four years ago. As he looked back on his own days as a professor, he recalled that:

“I am not so far removed from the classroom that I can’t still recall my university students who couldn’t write very well, who had weak critical thinking skills. They had not been held to high level of expectations.”

Paredes often could be found in public debates pushing for rigorous classroom standards in the K-12 years. He took that message to state education leaders as well as state legislators. During contentious legislative quarrels, he calmly but doggedly pressed legislators to not weaken degree plans for high school students.

And he understood that annual independent exams are fundamental to knowing whether students are on track in their core subjects. They also are key to getting students the supports to get them on track — and keep them progressing. “We need evidence. We need evaluations at least once a year. We need to know where students are in their academic progress,” he told the Bush Institute four years ago.

Paredes wasn’t just focused on Texas getting more students into college. He also wanted them to get out of college. That emphasis is crucial in our state. As Texas 2036 noted in a recent blog post:

"By the Texas bicentennial in 2036, Texas will need more than 7 million new jobs to keep up with our population growth. And more than three-quarters of new U.S. jobs will soon require a two-year degree, four-year degree or nationally recognized credential or certificate. But right now, more than half of Texans between 25 and 34 have not completed any form of postsecondary education.”

Paredes championed the 60x30 initiative to meet that challenge. The Texas Higher Education Coordinating Board launched the effort in 2015, the goal of which is to get 60 percent of young Texans between the ages of 25-34 to earn some type of postsecondary credential by 2030.

On his way out, Paredes has continued to play the role of prophet. In that same Morning News interview, he once more challenged the assumption that too big an emphasis is being placed on college. Said the one-time fifth-grade teacher:

I get very concerned with some of these people who make the claim that we’re sending too many people to college. They don’t look at the data; that’s simply a ludicrous claim given the actual state of education in Texas.”

 One of the most concerning bits of data is that as few as 20 percent of students in some high schools are ready for college. So, it is hard indeed to persuasively argue that too many Texas students are being prepped for college. Raymund Paredes’ voice reminded the state of that fact — and why it is in Texas’ interest to have high academic standards and to make sure students are meeting them.