Caprice Young: Let's do what works for Texas schools

The Dallas Morning News
April 7, 2013

By Caprice Young

My grandmother used to say, “We need to do more of what works and less of what doesn’t.” Nothing could be truer for education.

Far too many Texas students have been trapped in academically unacceptable or failing schools for far too long. These students are on a path to long-term failure with tremendous societal implications if we fail to dramatically improve our schools.

For nearly two decades, I’ve worked to improve public education. I’ve immersed myself in education policy, run inner-city schools, started charter public schools and led online-learning efforts. Like my peers, I work to make public schools better out of a profound belief that every child deserves a high-quality public education and that our aspirations to greatly improve education are achievable.

The policy framework developed by Texans Deserve Great Schools captures the essence of my grandmother’s mantra by drawing from what works nationwide. We should embrace proven education technologies; make high-performing school options available to every Texas family; invest in the best teachers and teaching policies to improve student learning; and integrate an expedited fix for any failing Texas public school.

In Dallas and across the state, doing more of what works can mean many things.

Grand Prairie ISD’s “schools of choice” and “school within a school programs” are empowering students and parents, increasing attendance and creating opportunities for learning no matter a student’s interest, family income or ZIP code.

One hundred percent of 2012 graduates from Uplift, a public charter school, were accepted into a four-year college vs. the 66 percent overall acceptance rate for Dallas County. That’s a testament to Uplift’s innovative Road to College program.

I recall vividly my firsthand experiences as CEO of the Inner City Education Foundation Public Schools in Los Angeles. That network of 15 academically high-performing, nonprofit charter public schools served 4,500 students, predominantly minorities. Results at ICEF speak for themselves with a 97 percent graduation rate and 100 percent of graduates accepted to college.

By looking at what is working, we learn what is possible. We have a responsibility to stop doing what is not working.

Texas must remove its cap on public charter schools and in doing so, encourage our traditional district schools to improve as well. Competition drives improvement across all public schools.

Schools in Texas also can fail for far too long, up to six years, before the state intervenes meaningfully. The creation of an achievement school district, akin to models in Louisiana and Tennessee, can fix failing local schools faster by selecting new organizations to step in, renew the schools and then hold them accountable.

Management for schools in achievement school districts could come from neighboring school districts, experienced charter school operators or contract school management organizations.

This intervention tool has a tremendous track record. For example, New Orleans schools in the Louisiana Recovery District have increased graduation rates by 100 percent in four years.

Every Texas community deserves to have a great neighborhood school, and students in failing schools deserve to have a chance at a fresh start.

Home rule districts, another best practice we should embrace in Texas, would give traditional school districts the same freedoms that charter schools enjoy to innovate, excel and embrace the right combination of resources and structure to help every student succeed.

We should also award credit to all students who can pass an exam that proves their knowledge, regardless of how much “seat time” they have spent in the classroom.

When we focus on doing more of what works and stop doing what doesn’t, we start to see that we can actually deliver the great schools every Texas child deserves.

Dr. Caprice Young is vice president of education at the Laura and John Arnold Foundation. She is also a founding member of Texans Deserve Great Schools,