In efforts to avoid strict state sanctions, Houston ISD, San Antonio ISD and Waco ISD are all school districts that have recently either considered or adopted plans to consolidate several of their consistently failing public schools into charter school partnerships.
In April, Houston ISD decided not to move forward with consolidating 10 failing schools into a charter partnership after critical backlash from the community. Just this week, a lawsuit brought on by a union representing San Antonio teachers against the district’s latest charter plan was dismissed by a district judge.
Why are these plans causing so much controversy, and what does it say about school districts and the state’s approach to overhauling failing schools?
Huriya Jabbar is an assistant professor in the University of Texas’ Department of Educational Leadership and Policy. Most of her research focuses on the social and political dimensions of market-based reforms and privatization in education. She says charter schools aren’t new in Texas, but now there are new state policies that incentivize districts to hand over schools to charter operators.
“Charter schools have obviously operated in Texas for a long time,” she says, “but more and more districts seem to be considering these partnerships with charter operators.”
Jabbar says one reason charter schools are controversial is that studies evaluating their performance have found mixed results.
“On the whole, charter schools do not perform any better or worse than traditional public schools in many studies, including in Texas and then across other parts of the country,” she says. “But there’s a lot of variation in that charter sector. So there are some charter schools that are better performing and some that are not. And so we need to consider the specific charter operators and their history and track record with turnaround models.”
Jabbar says there’s evidence that charter schools are more segregated than traditional public schools and that they serve fewer students with disabilities. Still, she says that there’s a middle ground that could be effective.
“In Tennessee and in other states, there have been studies of different types of turnaround models, including charter school models as well as those that just provide charter-like autonomies to those schools with additional supports and funding,” she says. “And actually those models have been found to be more effective in some of these recent studies than charter school operating models.”
Jabbar says many successful turnaround models also require additional resources and more involvement from the local school district – and that the tension over these potential models isn’t likely to dissipate.
“The issue of school choice and charter schools is definitely going to be an issue in future legislative sessions,” she says. “It’s not an issue that is going away anytime soon.”
Written by Jen Rice.