It's a Bad Idea

RECEIVED Tue., Jan. 31, 2012

Dear Editor,
    In all the controversy over Austin ISD’s recent decision to outsource two East Austin schools to a charter company based in Brownsville, too little discussion has been focused on a possible alternative or middle road the board could have taken. Although I do not live in the neighborhood affected, I teach students from Allan and Govalle in the Eastside vertical alignment.
    I work at O. Henry Middle School, where we love our East Austin students, and we do a good job educating them. Like charter schools, we have the advantage of self-selection, siphoning off many of the best students from the most committed families through our district’s diversity choice program.
    After doing research on KIPP and other high-performing charter schools, O. Henry adopted, schoolwide, the book Teach Like a Champion by Doug Lemov, which highlights 49 proven best practices from high-performing charter schools. In our second year of practicing these commonsense, effective teaching strategies, our school has improved and helped more students to succeed than ever before, particularly our Eastside students. The important point is that we, AISD administrators, teachers and staff, are doing it, not a franchise.
    IDEA schools teach counter to the "whole child" philosophy of AISD, focusing instead on direct instruction and test prep. They do not provide band, choir, the arts, or sports, the very activities that often motivate students and keep them excited about school. Unlike middle-class students, whose parents can provide private music lessons or club sports for their children, the students on the Eastside depend on their schools to provide these opportunities, which, in turn, create a school identity and culture.
    Rather than outsourcing our responsibility to better serve East Austin, the district could have chosen to recruit high-quality teachers already in the district and train current teachers in effective strategies, such as those outlined in Teach Like a Champion.
    Furthermore, Allan and Eastside Memorial are rated "acceptable," as is O. Henry. Turning Allan and Eastside over to a charter company makes as little sense as turning O. Henry over to one. Then again, the West Austin parents would not allow it. In supporting educational opportunities for all of our students, including those on the Eastside, our school district should invest in its own talent and expertise to create new programs and schools (just look at the success of the Ann Richards School) rather than outsourcing our schools to an operation in the Rio Grande Valley.
Sara Stevenson
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