Wednesday, November 17, 2010

HISD as an education "lighthouse for the world"

I was lucky enough to attend a GHP education luncheon (summary story) last week featuring Dr. Terry Grier, head of HISD, and Dr. Roland Fryer, a Harvard economist who focuses much of his research on closing the black/brown-white gap in education.  They had some exciting things to say about educational progress in Houston.

Dr. Fryer's personal story was very inspiring by itself, rising from a poor childhood in Dallas to the youngest African American to ever earn tenure at Harvard.  He is passionate about equalizing the racial gap in K-12 education, which data shows is completely life changing for those that are able to close the gap.

First, he identified what does not work in improving education for the worst off:
  • More money
  • Masters degrees for teachers
  • Smaller classes
Then he identified the five "explaining variables"/critical factors from successful charter schools after deep data analysis:
  1. More time on task for students (longer school days and years)
  2. Obsession with good principals and teachers (including firing bad ones)
  3. Using data to drive instruction with rapid feedback loops to help kids with problem areas (his example assessed every 3 weeks)
  4. Intense tutoring (1-on-1 and 1-on-2)
  5. High expectations and a "no excuses" culture
Since he and his team have identified these success factors, they've been shopping them to every public school district in the nation, including many of the highest profile reformers in places like NYC and DC.  But all of them have declined, declaring it "too hard".  All except one: HISD, which has integrated the five success factors into their high profile Apollo 20 program.

Dr. Grier spoke about HISD and the Apollo 20 program.  Some of his key points:
  • HISD wants to cooperate and partner with charters like KIPP and YES as well as private schools
  • He wants HISD to be the best school district in the nation - period, no qualifiers (not the best "urban school district")
  • He supports parental choice in education
  • HISD takes the largest placement of Teach for America teachers in the nation
  • Charters and private schools are only helping 7% of kids in HISD - a real and broad impact requires reforming public schools
  • The Apollo 20 program in its first year will be helping more kids than YES and KIPP combined
Dr. Fryer is working in close partnership with Dr. Grier and HISD, and they both hope that the Apollo 20 program will help make Houston a public education "lighthouse to the world" - to show that it is possible to translate successful charter school practices to public schools and get results.  They deserve your support (and I'm especially talking to you, teachers and parents).  Good luck and Godspeed.



At 6:31 PM, November 17, 2010, Anonymous Anonymous said...

That's great news the HISD is taking the lead in adopting reforms that actually get results.

The bottom line for improving education is that you need to bust up the teachers' unions and take a more business-like approach to management. The Gates Foundation has found this out (after wasting a lot of money). If you didn't catch it, see the BusinessWeek cover story from last July

Some excerpts:

"Starting in 2000, the Gates Foundation spent hundreds of millions of dollars on its first big project, trying to revitalize U.S. high schools by making them smaller, only to discover that student body size has little effect on achievement.

It has since shifted its considerable weight behind an emerging consensus—shared by U.S. Education Secretary and Gates ally Arne Duncan—that quality of teaching affects student performance and that increasing achievement is as simple as removing bad teachers, identifying good ones, and rewarding them with more money. On this theory, Gates is investing $290 million over seven years..."

(bold added by me)
"In the past, says University of Michigan historian Maris A. Vinovskis, benefactors 'were not as prescriptive about how they wanted their money spent.' Now a new generation of philanthropic billionaires, including Gates, homebuilding and insurance entrepreneur Eli Broad, members of the Walton family that founded Wal-Mart Stores (WMT), and former hedge fund manager Julian Robertson, want public education run more like a business. Charter schools, independent of local school districts and typically free of unionized teachers, are one of their favorite causes. 'We don't know anything about how to teach or reading curriculum or any of that,' Broad said last year at a public event in Manhattan. 'But what we do know about is management and governance.'"

At 8:52 PM, November 17, 2010, Blogger Alon Levy said...

You'd expect that if money didn't matter and busting teachers' union did, the South would have much better school districts on the whole than the North.

At 8:39 AM, November 18, 2010, Anonymous Martin said...

Exactly Alon.

And I would point out that many of the reforms that are described cost money. Getting (and even more important, retaining) the best and brightest to teach requires high salaries (i.e. more money). Longer school days and school years require more funding. Tutoring and 1-on-1 sessions require more funding. Using studies and data requires new computers and software, at the very least, to analyze the data and studies which guessed it...more funding.

Just throwing money at the problem certainly isn't the answer. Reforms are needed to address the specific problems with the system but, in the end, those reforms cost money.

At 10:42 PM, November 18, 2010, Blogger Tory Gattis said...

On the other hand, KIPP, YES, and other charter schools have done amazing things within the existing funding amounts per child. They have set a high bar when it comes to achievement per $.

At 12:39 AM, November 19, 2010, Blogger Alon Levy said...

When you control for the fact that the students who choose to enroll in charter schools are those who are more motivated to begin with or have more motivated parents, the difference in achievement between charter schools and regular public schools vanishes.

This in itself doesn't make charter schools bad. I've never read or heard of a study that says they hurt. It's possible that those schools specifically do have an advantage, and I don't see much wrong in testing this. A predominance of charter schools could also be a good control on an incompetent or fundamentalist school board.

At 8:11 AM, November 19, 2010, Blogger Tory Gattis said...

Actually, my understanding is that more recent studies tracking students that do get into successful charters vs. those that lose the lottery and go to their public school (so similar motivation and families) show that the kids in charters do achieve much more.

At 10:10 AM, November 19, 2010, Anonymous Martin said...

Of course they do better in charters. The schools are better because everyone in a charter school is motivated and wants to learn and succeed. You throw a motivated kid into a school with a bunch of other kids who don't care, have no motivation or worse, and surprise, surprise, they are going to become less motivated and, likely less successful at school.

I think what we really need to think about in this country is whether we should continue to have a comprehensive public educational system. Finland, for example, has a two-tiered system after a certain age. The more successful students generally go to a secondary school (high school) that prepares them for university. The less successful students go to vocational training. Germany has a four-tiered secondary education system (Gymnasium, etc.).

Ultimately, I think that is what we are seeing with charter schools. The most driven, motivated and successful students are going to charter schools and succeeding because they are surrounded by other driven, motivated and successful students. I, frankly, don't have a problem with secondary public education being selective in the United States. What I do have a problem with is that driven, motivated, successful kids are being left behind simply because they weren't lucky enough to win a lottery to get into a charter school. That is wrong.

At 11:54 PM, November 19, 2010, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Obviously Northern school districts do better. They generally have better non-monetary inputs to their system.

At 7:55 PM, November 20, 2010, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Sorry to be off topic, ... and also a little gauche, but is there any chance you were thinking of writing a piece about this?
The part about access to the HOVs and free tolls is something that you've written about before.

At 9:26 PM, November 20, 2010, Blogger Tory Gattis said...

Even on topics I'm interested in (like HOV lanes), if I don't feel I have much of value to add above and beyond the news story, I usually don't write about it or comment on it. I'm glad we're putting electric vehicle infrastructure in place, and I guess I'm ok with free HOV access for a limited time, but, based on cities that did the same thing for Prius', the lanes will fill up quick and they'll eventually have to take away the privilege.


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