Needs improvement

Texas ranks among the least educated states, according to a new study

According to a report, Texas residents are among the least educated. It's up to the current Texas legislative session to implement a funding policy to improve state education. Pexels

When it comes to a population's education, Texans fall in the back of the pack compared to the rest of the country. A recent WalletHub report found that the state was the 12th least educated in America.

The study factored in a total of 20 metrics surrounding educational attainment, quality of schools, and achievement gaps between minorities and genders.

Texas ranked No. 39 overall, however the state managed to rank No. 19 regarding the quality of education. In fact, the state was right in the middle of the pack at No. 26 in the ranking of average university quality. The Lone Star State's downfall might have been coming in at No. 43 in the educational attainment rank.

The top five most educated states according to WalletHub were Massachusetts, Maryland, Vermont, Connecticut, and Colorado, respectively. Earning the titles of least educated states were Mississippi, West Virginia, Louisiana, Arkansas, and Alabama, in that order.

When WalletHub compared the states' annual median household income rankings to the overall education ranking, the results seemed to be pretty proportional for the states. However, Texas was a bit of an outlier with a better ranking of No. 21 on the income report compared to its No. 39 spot in education.

Last fall, WalletHub found that the state's teaching environment wasn't anything to write home about either. That study factored in teacher salaries, classroom size, and per-student funding from the state, among other aspects.

The 86th Texas Legislature started earlier this month, and at the top of the agenda for the governor is school finance, according to the Texas Tribune, but legislators will be demanding results for whatever funding plan is put in place. As of Friday, however, the Tribune reports that there haven't been very many bills addressing education — and none had outcomes-based incentives.

Last legislative session, a bill established the Texas Commission on Public School finance, according to the Texas Education Agency. The commission recommended a total of $800 million be spent on incentives for improving reading levels and keeping students on track for graduation.

Only time will tell whether legislators take into account the commission's results in the current legislative session, which is expected to conclude on May 27.

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Building Houston

 
 

This UH engineer is hoping to make his mark on cancer detection. Photo via UH.edu

Early stage cancer is hard to detect, mostly because traditional diagnostic imaging cannot detect tumors smaller than a certain size. One Houston innovator is looking to change that.

Wei-Chuan Shih, professor of electrical and computer engineering at the University of Houston's Cullen College of Engineering, recently published his findings in IEEE Sensors journal. According to a news release from UH, the cells around cancer tumors are small — ~30-150nm in diameter — and complex, and the precise detection of these exosome-carried biomarkers with molecular specificity has been elusive, until now.

"This work demonstrates, for the first time, that the strong synergy of arrayed radiative coupling and substrate undercut can enable high-performance biosensing in the visible light spectrum where high-quality, low-cost silicon detectors are readily available for point-of-care application," says Shih in the release. "The result is a remarkable sensitivity improvement, with a refractive index sensitivity increase from 207 nm/RIU to 578 nm/RIU."

Wei-Chuan Shih is a professor of electrical and computer engineering at the University of Houston's Cullen College of Engineering. Photo via UH.edu

What Shih has done is essentially restored the electric field around nanodisks, providing accessibility to an otherwise buried enhanced electric field. Nanodisks are antibody-functionalized artificial nanostructures which help capture exosomes with molecular specificity.

"We report radiatively coupled arrayed gold nanodisks on invisible substrate (AGNIS) as a label-free (no need for fluorescent labels), cost-effective, and high-performance platform for molecularly specific exosome biosensing. The AGNIS substrate has been fabricated by wafer-scale nanosphere lithography without the need for costly lithography," says Shih in the release.

This process speeds up screening of the surface proteins of exosomes for diagnostics and biomarker discovery. Current exosome profiling — which relies primarily on DNA sequencing technology, fluorescent techniques such as flow cytometry, or enzyme-linked immunosorbent assay (ELISA) — is labor-intensive and costly. Shih's goal is to amplify the signal by developing the label-free technique, lowering the cost and making diagnosis easier and equitable.

"By decorating the gold nanodisks surface with different antibodies (e.g., CD9, CD63, and CD81), label-free exosome profiling has shown increased expression of all three surface proteins in cancer-derived exosomes," said Shih. "The sensitivity for detecting exosomes is within 112-600 (exosomes/μL), which would be sufficient in many clinical applications."

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