Walsh: School Choice Is Not a Zero-Sum Game — How a Texas Superintendent Championed District-Charter Partnerships to Help All Kids Succeed


June 26, 2019

What is the future of public education? That question is igniting debates on the campaign trail, on picket lines and in communities across our country. People are asking about everything from equitable funding and school choice to the quality of education and how to design public school systems that work for every child. What role should traditional districts and public charter schools play? Is it possible for both to not only coexist but collaborate? I, for one, am an optimist, because I know that the groups so often at odds in these district-charter debates can work together in ways that benefit all kids. In Houston, we’re proving it can be done.

Spring Branch Independent School District, which serves 35,000 students on the city’s west side, launched a partnership with KIPP Texas Public Schools-Houston and YES Prep Public Schools in 2012 to meet students’ diverse needs. Scott Muri, who has served as superintendent since 2015, calls it a system of “collective greatness.” Muri, who is stepping down to lead the Ector County Independent School District in West Texas, has a long list of accomplishments, but his greatest contribution may be championing these unconventional partnerships that are creating new and better opportunities for kids.

In Spring Branch, the charter programs are co-located at three district-owned campuses: KIPP Courage at Landrum Middle School, YES Prep Northbrook Middle at Northbrook Middle School and YES Prep Northbrook High at Northbrook High. Overall, the co-located schools serve nearly 4,500 students: 98 percent are non-white, 92 percent are economically disadvantaged and 43 percent are English learners. Thirty-five percent of the children attend the charter programs.

In each building, the principals meet regularly, and teachers and staff have opportunities to engage in professional development, learn from one another and share ideas.

Academically, performance on multiple measures has improved over time. For the cohort of eighth-graders who attended district schools for all of middle school, college readiness levels on the state exam have increased at Landrum Middle and KIPP Courage by 27 percentage points in reading and 17 points in math;  at Northbrook Middle and YES Prep Northbrook Middle, the increases in performance were 23 points in reading and 33 points in math. (To read more)

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