Earlier this year, U.S. Education Secretary Arne Duncan and members of his staff visited Lee High School to learn more about the campus’ turnaround efforts.
Who: U.S. Education Secretary Arne Duncan, HISD Board of Education President Anna Eastman, Superintendent Terry Grier, and Lee High School students, parents, teachers, tutors, and administration
What: Secretary Duncan is visiting Lee High School to learn about HISD’s innovative Apollo 20 school turnaround program. HISD partnered with Harvard EdLabs to launch Apollo 20 at Lee and eight other secondary schools during the 2010-2011 school year. The program, which now includes 11 elementary schools, employs research-based best practices inspired by America’s top charter schools. By emphasizing effective teaching and campus leadership, high-dosage tutoring, data-driven instruction, extended learning time, and a no-excuses culture, Apollo 20 schools are providing a roadmap for other urban school districts in need of a reliable turnaround model for persistently struggling schools. The project is funded in large part by $16.8 million from private donations. More information about Apollo 20 is available here.
Contributions benefitting HISD’s innovative effort to transform 20 struggling schools total $16.8 million
The most ambitious private fund raising effort in HISD history has successfully concluded with the recent $1 million donation from the Houston Livestock Show and Rodeo to the district’s Apollo 20 school turnaround program. This donation brings the total amount given to Apollo 20 by the rodeo to $2 million.
Students from Walnut Bend Elementary School earned honors at the Odyssey of the Mind World Finals in Ames, Iowa. Walnut Bend, an Apollo 20 campus, competed against 800 teams along with seven other HISD schools: Bellaire High School, Pin Oak Middle School, and Horn, Poe, River Oaks, Roberts, and West University Elementary Schools. The student-driven problem-solving competition emphasizes teamwork and creativity.From the Walnut Bend blog: Pictured is coach Michelle Dahlquist apprising the fourth-grade team of how they did on their long-term problem.
Along the way, the team chronicled the adventure on the Walnut Bend Odyssey of the Mind team blog.
Walnut Bend Principal Susan Shenker watched a live video stream of the awards ceremony on Saturday, May 26. “I am so very proud of our amazing, hard-working students and their incomparable coach, Michele Dahlquist,” Shenker said. “Competitions such as this are a reminder that real learning is about creating and problem-solving and that these types of experiences should be available to all learners.”
Walnut Bend earned third-place honors in the “You Make the Call” category, in which students were required to “design and build a structure made of only balsa wood and glue that will support as much weight as possible.” The school also ranked fourth in the “Ooh-Motional Vehicles” category, which required students to “design, build, and drive a vehicle that will travel a course where it will encounter three different situations. The vehicle will display a different human emotion for each encounter and one will cause it to travel in reverse.”
Some of America’s most innovative education leaders gathered at the Houston Independent School District’s headquarters on March 19 for the second meeting of the League of Innovative Schools.
Designed to give educators a chance to dramatically increase student achievement through the wise use of technology, the league was launched by President Barack Obama in 2011 in tandem with Digital Promise, a new national education center created by the Congress and the U.S. Department of Education.
Superintendents from across the country attended the Houston meeting, where they—along with dozens of respected researchers and entrepreneurs—adopted the league’s membership charter, took part in break-out sessions on various topics, and toured one of five Apollo 20 campuses to see how HISD is using technology to drive instruction.
“Mr. McNairy, one of our history teachers, can get instant assessments and download data to his grade book immediately using the Classroom Performance System,” explained Fondren Middle School Principal Charles Foust, “while Ms. Perry can be anywhere in the classroom and her writing will appear on the SMART Board up front.”
In an article in Education Week, “Accelerating Education: Houston Schools Take a Page from Best Charters,” writer Christina Samuels takes a look at HISD’s Apollo 20 program, which incorporates the best practices from successful charters into low-performing schools:
Searching for innovations from charter schools was a natural fit for Houston: Two of the best-regarded charter networks, the Knowledge Is Power Program, or KIPP, and YES (Youth Engaged in Service) Prep, were founded in the city. And, because Texas is a right-to-work state, the district has more latitude than districts in some other parts of the country in shifting teachers’ workloads and instituting such controversial changes as performance pay.
A year into the three-year effort, the roughly 7,000 students in the Apollo middle and high schools have posted measurably higher results in mathematics on the Texas Assessment of Knowledge and Skills, or TAKS, compared with their previous performance. In reading, the picture is more modest: A drop in scores at the middle school level was balanced by a slight increase in high schools. (Eleven elementary schools were added to Apollo 20 in the 2011-12 school year, and their test results are not yet available.)
But the program’s supporters say the tenets of the Apollo 20 program can be a starting point for improving other schools in the district and nationwide.
“These results prove the first proof point that charter school practices can be used systematically in previously failing traditional public schools to significantly increase student achievement in ways similar to the most successful charter schools,” wrote Mr. Fryer, who is the faculty director of Harvard’s Education Innovation Laboratory, in a January 2012 progress report on Apollo 20.