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Houston expert: Rethinking priorities at educational institutions

With a new year around the corner, students and parents will soon see school rankings released. But there's so much more to consider than what this data shows. Houston education expert shares his own innovative method. Photo via Getty Images

As a new year approaches, it is common to see various school rankings begin to appear in different studies and within various media outlets. Whether they're ranking colleges, high schools or even pre-k schools, these lists have long impacted the decisions families and students make.

That said, most school rankings are one-dimensional, therefore making them unreliable. The most common factor these classifications take into consideration is the rigor of academics and how they correlate to test scores and admissions. However, students are more than solely an academic statistic – they are artists, athletes and creative thinkers.

It is important, at any level, when considering a school to take into account nine key factors, not just one.

Navigating the selection process

There is a systemic issue with associating the quality of an educational experience to a school's name. Many rankings fuel this fire. Parents are often influenced to make decisions off of frivolous premises that deceive them into thinking one school is of better caliber than another. However, in reality, they are doing their child a disservice by not taking into consideration the many other factors that play into school selection.

Location

Distance to home or workplace is still a top factor in deciding which school to target. Although important to consider, many families tend to focus more on other factors aside from convenience alone.

Cost

The average private high school tuition in the Greater Houston area is $25,083 with annual increases on average of 4-6%. Tuition and financial aid play key factors when making the final decision and choosing which schools to add to a list. Final consideration for this is the cost vs benefit analysis.

Legacy

Studies suggest a "legacy" — you, a spouse or older child who previously attending a potential school — is one of the most popular reasons why schools get added to a target list. Although this is a legitimate approach, it is important to be cautious of not imposing a "legacy" onto a student.

Academics

The quality of education can be measured in rigor of classes, expertise of teachers, use of technology and class size. It is important to take into consideration if Honors, AP, and Dual Credit are offered, the percentage of teachers who have advanced degrees, the accessibility to laptops and smart learning devices, and smaller teacher to student ratios.

Athletics

If a student has an affinity for a sport and is genuinely considering playing the sport at a higher level, then it is important to find a balance between a school that has a strong program for that sport and the other factors on the list.

Social

There are three main social components at play in school choice: if students' friends are considering a school, or parents' own social circles influencing the decision, and the non-academic activities offered at a school. It is important to consider the clubs, organizations, leadership and volunteer opportunities offered as these help contribute to college applications down the road.

K-12 school v. 9-12 school

Some students must consider the adaptation curve for starting a high school in which other students had been attending since kindergarten. Due to this, families may consider 9-12 schools as the better option for their students since everyone starts from scratch.

Single-Gender v. Co-Educational

Deciding on the gender composition of a high school depends on a student's personality, confidence, personal preferences, and family values. Students can find success in both types of offerings, but girls especially may thrive in a single gender environment due to the empowering and confidence building structure of most all-girls schools.

College Preparedness

This should be the ultimate reason to go through a well-informed process for school selection. A school should prepare a student for standardized tests, college applications, and scholarship opportunities, and is the clearest cost to benefit factor to consider.

A new way to determine a student's path

In order to decide the best fit for a student it is time to discontinue the age-old practice of selecting an education based on rankings and subjective labels. It is time to usher in a new innovative approach that takes a look at the personality, values, interests, skills, and goals of a student and the various elements that make them unique.

At Firat Education, we run qualitative and quantitative assessments on students which are scenario-based and are used to identify what drives them, what gets them to the next level, and what excites them. This information then allows us to use a weighted scoring system that, dependent on each student, helps quantify the factors that matter most such as college preparedness, academics, athletics, and social.

Additionally, we look at their changing habits whether it be consistency in their values, their interests, and academic strengths. From here, we put it all together to formulate personalized scores that help prioritize the best fit for that individual student.

Utilizing this developed and dynamic approach to choosing a school is the first step in revolutionizing the way we approach schooling and spearheading a new age of innovation in education.

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Ibrahim Firat, is the chief educational consultant and co-founder of Houston-based Firat Education.

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Building Houston

 
 

This week's roundup of Houston innovators includes Sarah Essama of Teach for America Houston, Scott Schneider of HTX Labs, and Drs. Maria Elena Bottazzi and Peter Hotez. Photos courtesy

Editor's note: In this week's roundup of Houston innovators to know, I'm introducing you to four local innovators across industries — from health tech to software — recently making headlines in Houston innovation.

Sarah Essama, director of social innovation at Teach For America Houston

Sarah Essama of Teach For America Houston shares how she innovated a new way for students themselves to learn how to innovate. Photo courtesy of Sarah Essama

As director of social innovation at Teach For America Houston, it's Sarah Essama's job to come up with new ways for the organization to support both students and teachers. But, as she explains on the Houston Innovators Podcast this week, Essama realized a huge lesson modern students needed was to learn this innovation process themselves.

This line of thinking turned into Essama founding The Dream Lab, powered by Teach for America Houston.

"The Dream Lab is a set of immersive design spaces where young people leverage their imagination and creativity to innovate and solve problems within their community," she explains.

Last month, the new concept rolled out to high school students in partnership with DivInc Houston, a nonprofit focused on social and economic equity in entrepreneurship, and 21 ninth graders spent the day at the Ion for a mini-innovation accelerator and design showcase. Click here to read more.

Scott Schneider, CEO and founder of HTX Labs

Scott Schneider of HTX Labs has something to celebrate. Photo via htxlabs.com

A Houston-based virtual reality training provider has closed its first round of funding. HTX Labs announced last month that it has received a $3.2 million investment from Cypress Growth Capital.

“We have been looking to secure outside capital to accelerate the growth of our EMPACT platform and customer base but we hadn’t found the right partner who provided an investment vehicle that matched our needs,“ says HTX Labs CEO Scott Schneider in the release. “We found everything we were looking for in Cypress Growth Capital. They have a non-dilutive funding model that aligns with our capital expectations and have the level of experience that really makes this smart money.

The fresh funding will go toward growing and scaling the company's operations — both within the current Department of Defense and expansion opportunities into key commercial markets, like heavy industry, manufacturing, and higher education. Additionally, the funding will support increased customer adoption. Click here to read more.

​Drs. Maria Elena Bottazzi and Peter Hotez 

Two Houston health care innovators got the green light to distribute their low-cost COVID-19 vaccine in Indonesia. Photo courtesy of TMC

After months of development and testing, the Houston-born COVID-19 vaccine has gotten the go-ahead to be produced and distributed in Indonesia.

IndoVac was created by the Texas Children’s Hospital Center for Vaccine Development and Baylor College of Medicine. Drs. Peter Hotez and Maria Elena Bottazzi lead the vaccine project. Bio Farma is licensing IndoVac from BCM Ventures, the commercial group at the Baylor College of Medicine.

“Access to vaccines in the developing world is critical to the eradication of this virus,” Hotez, co-director of the Texas Children’s Hospital Center for Vaccine Development and dean of the National School of Tropical Medicine at Baylor College of Medicine, says in a news release. Click here to read more.

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