Naked City

School Shopping

In the ongoing battle to improve Austin's low-performing schools, the Austin Independent School District is considering something new: getting some outside help. Representatives from Edison Schools Inc. met with AISD Superintendent Pat Forgione, members of his staff, and the AISD Board of Trustees on Jan. 24 to present a proposal that would allow them to manage as many as 15 of AISD's low-performing schools (see "Can Edison Pass the AISD Test?," Jan. 25).

In September, Eastside Social Action Coalition Director Sterling Lands -- who has criticized AISD's poor performance in providing quality education for minority and low-income students -- contacted Edison, and the ESAC collaborated with the private, for-profit management company on its proposal.

Forgione and members of his staff asked Edison representatives how they would handle transportation costs for students who don't want to attend the Edison school in their neighborhood, how AISD could cancel the contract if things didn't go well, and many other questions. Edison reps tried to assure them that accountability measures would be established, but said specific details about their proposal would have to wait until actual contract negotiations.

Meanwhile, on Jan. 30, Forgione, staff and trustees heard a contract proposal from the KIPP Network of Schools (the Knowledge Is Power Program), which plans to open a charter school in East Austin for "at-risk" middle schoolers. The company seeks assistance from AISD to manage bus transportation and other operational costs. KIPP runs several charter schools across the country, most notably in Houston and New York City.

Where Edison's ability to elevate the academic achievement of low-performing schools has been a source of contentious argument, the KIPP program, said Education Austin President Louis Malfaro, has proven exactly what public education advocates have been saying for years: More money brings more resources. KIPP schools don't profess to own a magical model that makes schools run better, as Edison's literature claims. Instead, Malfaro says, the KIPP program intensifies existing academics by lengthening the school day, week, and year, including half-days on Saturday and a required month of summer school. "They've shown that throwing more money at a problem really does solve things. But [at the same time], the problem with that is, cha-ching, it costs money," Malfaro said. "My question for KIPP is, what about the parents that want all of that? Can we take this program to scale?"

AISD will hold two public forums so that citizens can weigh in on the two pending proposals: Wednesday, Feb. 6, 7-9pm at Reagan High School, and Wednesday, Feb. 13, 7-9pm at Travis High. Forgione said he hopes to have recommendations to the board on each proposal no later than March 8, the beginning of spring break.

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