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Apollo 20 Students Making Academic Progress

2011 October 7
by HISD Communications

Houston has a long history of being a leader in school reform and innovation, and the country is once again watching the work that the Houston Independent School District is doing to boost student achievement. Yesterday, Harvard University Economist Dr. Roland Fryer, our partner in the Apollo 20 school turnaround program, presented a report that shows students in these historically low performing Houston secondary schools made extraordinary progress in math in the first year of the program. The gains are unlike anything either of us had ever seen. In fact, Dr. Fryer said, they are “strikingly similar” to those seen in some of the nation’s most well known charter schools, including Harlem Children’s Zone and KIPP.

HISD launched Apollo in the fall of 2010 based on the belief that, through true innovation and bold action, we can forever change the direction of these schools for each and every student. We implemented key tenets of successful charter schools including great teachers and principals, more time in the classroom, intensive daily tutoring, and a no-excuses culture. After the first year of the three-year program, Dr Fryer found:

  • The math skills acquired by the average Apollo 20 student represent an estimated 3½ months of additional schooling.
  • Sixth-grade students, who received daily math tutoring, gained the equivalent of six additional months of schooling. Gains achieved by ninth-grade students ranged between nearly five months of additional learning to more than nine months of additional learning.
  • Reading performance improved slightly, producing results equal to or just less than a month of additional instruction.

Apollo is providing hope for the children of Houston’s historically underperforming schools, and it is giving HISD and the rest of the nation a model to raise academic achievement. Through HISD’s magnet program, the Effective Teacher Initiative, our new districtwide literacy initiative, expanded Advanced Placement course offerings, and the Apollo 20 program, HISD is working to serve all students from the highest performing to the lowest performing.

I want to recognize the hard work of the Apollo principals, teachers, staff, and students. I also want to thank James Calaway, chairman of the HISD Foundation, as well as the Houston business community for supporting Apollo. More than $14 million in private money has been contributed to the school turnaround program in just over a year. We were proud to have Larry Kellner, Chairman of the Greater Houston Partnership and former Continental Airlines CEO, with us yesterday. Larry said, “The students’ performance after just one year in the program shows that the Apollo 20 benefactors are getting their money’s worth.”

Finally, I want to extend my heartfelt thanks to our reform-minded Board of Education. This is a Board that cares deeply about all children. It has demonstrated true leadership, and I am confident that others around the country will follow in the brave footsteps of the HISD Board of Education.

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