“Innovation” and “choice” are words that get thrown around a lot in the context of education. Some want you to believe innovation arises only in taxpayer-subsidized alternatives to our public schools, and choice must include options lacking in both transparency and accountability. Neither is true. Public schools represent the broadest platform available for spreading education innovation. Public schools are also accountable for meeting academic standards and transparent in accounting for taxpayer dollars.
Raise Your Hand Texas has consistently supported innovation within our public schools as a means to both improve student performance and apply best practices at scale so the benefits are broadly and equitably distributed to all 5.2 million Texas students. Many students in Texas already have access to multiple options for education in their communities through district open-enrollment and magnet programs, and charter schools.
But the existence of options alone isn’t enough to ensure quality or innovative practices. Raise Your Hand Texas’ research, advocacy, and programs support a number of tools to advance innovation for all of our students with transparency and accountability:
- School Turnaround: HB 1842, adopted by the legislature during the 2015 session, is perhaps the most aggressive intervention in the country for turning around persistently low-performing public schools. Campuses with five consecutive years of poor performance are closed or their school board replaced. Raise Your Hand Texas, working in conjunction with the University of Virginia, is offering training to help districts design turnaround plans for schools currently rated as low-performing.
- Increased Autonomy: Districts of Innovation and In-District Charter programs, created by the legislature over the last two legislative sessions, provide traditional public schools and districts access to the same freedoms and autonomies as charters to innovate and meet the needs of their students. In 2015, Raise Your Hand Texas issued a report on school autonomy prepared by researchers at Columbia University, and the organization facilitated sessions with national experts for administrators and school leaders to learn about how to implement autonomy in their districts.
- Charter School Quality: The passage of SB 2 in 2013 was a watershed moment for enhancing charter school quality in Texas and providing choice within public schools, while maintaining transparency and accountability. The National Association of Charter School Authorizers ranked Texas 2nd in the nation among state authorizers, and cited our “first-in-the-nation” differentiated renewal policy based on financial and academic performance as well as our default closure provision for schools with three consecutive years of poor performance.
- Blended Learning: Raise Your Hand Texas recently launched the Raising Blended LearnersSM initiative, a $5 million blended learning demonstration initiative, including $2.5 million in grants to promote the effective integration of technology in Texas schools and improve academic performance.
In addition to these initiatives, Raise Your Hand Texas has made substantial investments to prepare the talent needed to lead change at scale in our Texas public schools. That is why we have invested more than $15 million to develop stronger principals, teachers, and campus and district teams, and to lead change in districts and on campuses across our state.
Our research team commissions high-quality, third-party research, and continually studies innovative practices within Texas, in other states, and in high-performing countries around the globe, to identify policies and practices that will enable Texas students to compete nationally and globally.
While Texas students have made gains against the backdrop of unprecedented growth and demographic change, our schools must achieve, and the economic climate demands, exponential growth in academic performance. Raise Your Hand Texas continues to work to advance innovation in public education and to promote the availability of high-quality choices within our public schools that provide the transparency and accountability parents, students, and taxpayers deserve.