“Innovative” Charter Partnerships Are A Disaster For Students.

Ogden, Storm, Texans Can Academy, and Democracy Prep demonstrate the emptiness of district promises.



As Texas Education Agency leaders and politicians, including the virulently anti-immigrant Dan Patrick, joined SAISD leaders for a photo-op, the silence around the results of SAISD’s most "daring", "innovative", and "ambitious" partnerships was deafening. In stark contrast to the fawning accounts from this time last year, it’s been hard to find any meaningful analysis of the overwhelming failures of district partnership plans at four important and controversial campuses.




Democracy Prep at Stewart - the school which escaped “improvement required” status last year with a “B” rating (82) - collapsed under the management of Democracy Prep (the charter chain with a “record of turning around failing schools” according to talking head after talking head trotted out by district leadership). A 23 point drop in one year is a truly remarkable feat, even for a campus at which the entire teaching staff and leadership left to be replaced primarily by a TFA team of contract-less new teachers.


SAISD’s teachers, students, parents, guardians, and community members are the heroes of this story. But in the narrative of "change", "turnaround" and "innovation", they’re reduced to a background role in support of district leaders who have never worked in classrooms.

Stewart Elementary escaped IR as a neighborhood public school. In its first year as a charter-operated shell of its former self, its underqualified staff avoided an “F” - the lowest score possible on the state accountability ratings - by two points.


Where, one must wonder, are the writers of the highly-politicized and uncritical accounts from a year ago - the accounts that assured us that district leaders knew what they were doing, and that the union (and local community, and whoever disagreed with them) was standing in the way of a great transformation?


Where are the Express News board editorials commenting on the collapse of this - last year successful, this year once-more failing - school?




Are the “journalists” who so uncritically parroted the claims of district leaders in the face of community opposition ashamed of their work? Are they repentant? Or do they simply not care - safe in the knowledge that problems like the collapse of a newly successful school do not and will never affect them?



Are the “journalists” who so uncritically parroted the claims of district leaders in the face of community opposition ashamed of their work? Are they repentant? Or do they simply not care - safe in the knowledge that problems like the collapse of a newly successful school do not and will never affect them?

And what about Storm and Ogden?



The Relay lab schools - the innovative, autonomous partnerships that, based on their dehumanizing and humiliating discipline practices, promised to turn around two struggling campuses.



Both schools received “F” grades this year - the lowest possible - abject failures even by their own terms.


A 47 score at Storm - a full 23 points below the threshold for meeting state standards, 55 at Ogden, even as SAISD leaders poured extra resources into both campuses, even as the charter company and its ‘graduate school’ program showcased its “innovative” approach to educating urban youth of color - rigid, militaristic discipline practices, and chronic disrespect towards staff.




Relay’s approach has failed miserably to turn around the two schools under its charge. The only thing worse than dehumanizing discipline practices is dehumanizing practices that don’t even work. At both Storm and Ogden, the damage inflicted on youth has served no greater purpose. Scores are woeful - some of the worst in the district - and show no sign of improving.


Innovation was always a ruse. Across the district, comprehensive campuses competed with, and often overtook boutique choice schools.



“Innovation” didn’t win-out. Across the board, the “daring”, “innovative” choices (that district leaders were warned not to make) failed by any meaningful measure of success.


The silence about such failures across local media is deafening. “Innovation”’s greatest champions are silent about what “innovation” has actually done, or worse, are celebrating the overall success of SAISD’s meteoric rise without mentioning that the campus partnerships that they publicly championed constitute among the district’s worst failures. Indeed, from media headlines, you could be forgiven for believing that the district’s improvement to a “B” district (however problematic, and nonsensical such a narrative might be) was driven by the “innovators” downtown and the difficult, unpopular choices they made - brave reformers that they are - in the face of union opposition.



The contrast between the 74 Million's corporate propaganda and the reality at Storm and Ogden could hardly be starker.

That this improvement was driven by the enormous, uncredited work of SAISD educators, students, and communities themselves, goes all-but unmentioned in the great-man (Pedro and his board of superheroes - none of them teachers) narrative of success.



Texans Can another failure

And finally, Texans Can Academy, brought in to work with overage students at Highlands High School, also received the worst possible rating - and “F” - from the state. Another enormous failure for the story of “innovation” in SAISD.


Certainly, other SAISD schools failed to perform this year - including traditional neighborhood public schools. But among the success stories - as across the state - there were precious few "innovative" partnerships.


Instead, neighborhood schools prioritizing quality teaching and learning, family and community engagement, and service to the entire community, in which teachers with strong contract protections worked with students from the local community, transformed SAISD through their hard work, sweat, and their stubbornness to accept their label as failures.


SAISD’s teachers, students, parents, guardians, and community members are the heroes of this story.


But in the narrative of "change", "turnaround" and "innovation", they’re reduced to a background role in support of district leaders who have never worked in classrooms.


Our communities, students, and schools are more than photo-ops for the powerful. And we should expect more from those who claim to serve us.


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