Turning a struggling school into a good one requires systemic, long-term commitment from every educator, parent and community member. It does not happen overnight. It needs the support of the entire community, and mostly, it needs time. Texas schools have used outside partners for years; the key is choosing the right one.
Nearly a decade ago, partnership models in Texas added a path with proven, high-quality operators, most notably, the SKY Partnership in Spring Branch ISD. A few years later, Grand Prairie ISD and Uplift Education collaborated on a partnership program. Back then, there was no specific mechanism for districts to seek out high-quality turnaround partners or innovative programs to dramatically increase the quality of education for students.
These Texas partnerships have a history of excellence. Their coordination and collaboration have provided for greater academic successes and gains for public school students, including showing 6% to 7% improvement in just a one-year span for third grade reading and math STAAR test results in 2018-19. A state law was created in response to the success of these trailblazing partnerships between district and charter leaders. To selectively focus on the first year of school grades, without also providing the bigger picture of partnerships with a longer track record, does a disservice to the educators who took these courageous steps in embracing this innovative model.
These partnerships did not become a success overnight because this work is hard. We recognize that turnaround work is tough and are grateful for accountability that keeps the work focused on students as the school leaders overcome challenges to increase achievement. Turnaround requires a culture change and a huge learning curve for districts and partners.
Texas is revolutionizing turnarounds, which require districts to choose partners who are willing to embrace these unique opportunities. We commend the districts and partners who did outstanding work to raise student achievement in only one year’s time. That is phenomenal, and we should learn from them. For other schools, it may take more time. We remain hopeful that we will see student scores next year that reflect great learning. It will take continued diligence, strong leadership and a focus on proven strategies to help students succeed.
Community support is also necessary for successful partnerships. Courageous and innovative trustees, board members and educators from districts across Texas are embracing cooperation, sharing best practices and coordinating professional development for the teachers who help struggling populations of students.
According to “Bridging the District-Charter Divide to Help More Students Succeed,” a study from the Center on Reinventing Education (CRPE) at the University of Washington, “for leaders genuinely committed to meeting children’s educational needs across a city, the question isn’t whether to cooperate, but how.” CRPE has studied district-charter partnerships for nearly a decade, and agrees this can be difficult and politically divisive work — but also concludes that it is necessary work.
In the coming years, we will have many more partnerships and more innovation occurring in public schools across Texas. Last year, Texas saw approximately 12 partnerships, two with public charter entities and 10 with nonprofits, according to the Texas Education Agency. This year district-charter partnerships have increased to over 70 schools, in hopes of seeing innovative or turnaround strategies grow in their communities. Districts are creating locally designed solutions to complex issues. Statewide, we see 32 partners in 16 districts. Of the 70-plus schools, 40 have innovative programs located at existing campuses, 21 are new campuses and 16 are turnarounds. Of the 32 partners, three work with universities, five with public charter entities, and the remaining 24 with nonprofits. We hope to see even more cooperation as districts are encouraged to work with proven partners to increase student achievement and expand options for families. These collaborations will serve to help students and to share what works across the state of Texas.
The school district and charter school members of the Texas District Charter Alliance are focused on student needs first and on how to raise student achievement with proven strategies that create a path to success for these kids. We encourage even more school districts and charter schools to come together and share what works in order to put students’ interests before all else.
Bibi Yasmin Katsev is the executive director of the Texas District Charter Alliance, an organization dedicated to district charter partnerships and collaborative work focusing on improving student outcomes across Texas.