Reason to be optimistic about public schools

By Ann Stern and Nancy Kinder

This opinion piece by Ann Stern and Nancy Kinder was originally published by The Houston Chronicle.

There are 900,000 children who call Harris County home — children with dreams of becoming teachers, scientists, entrepreneurs, and leaders — but the reality is, we are not providing all our children with the education they need to achieve their dreams.

Half a million of our children attend school in Houston’s urban core — districts centrally located in Harris County where more than 70 percent of the students are economically disadvantaged. More than half of them are not receiving the type of education that will propel them to futures filled with opportunity.

In August our schools will receive letter grades from the Texas Education Agency. Assuming no significant changes, more than 300,000 students across Houston’s urban core will be learning in schools rated C, D or F. We are facing an educational crisis, one that disproportionately affects our black, Latino, and low-income students.

Houston, this cannot be the legacy we leave.

This is why, together, Houston Endowment and Kinder Foundation helped launch Good Reason Houston to champion a bold, optimistic vision for our region — that every child, in every neighborhood, excels in a world-class public school and thrives in the Houston of tomorrow.

Today we are asking Houston parents, educators, leaders and community members to come together and join us to fulfill this vision.

Since its launch in 2017, Good Reason Houston has been on a mission to increase the number of students achieving in great public schools, both traditional and charter. The organization brings best practices, financial resources, and staff time and expertise to local school systems to support strategies that will improve existing schools and create high-performing ones.

Good Reason Houston has set an ambitious goal: to increase the number of students learning in A and B schools by 60,000 by the end of the 2025-26 school year. While this is just astart, 60,000 represents a 30 percent increase over the number of students learning in A and B schools today. Phase I of this plan will see an increase of 10,000 more students in high-performing schools by the end of the 2020-21 school year.

As with any worthy effort, this plan costs money; an investment of $61 million from public and private sources is required, with $34 million from philanthropic investments. Our foundations have taken the first step by providing catalyst funding of $20 million for Phase I — this in addition to the funding we provided to launch Good Reason Houston.

We did so because we believe this is not only a critical investment in 300,000 children, but also a necessary investment in our city’s future.

As all investors do, we did our homework. We researched how other cities address educational inequities, and we saw that to accomplish region-wide transformation, the vision and plan must be bigger than any one school and any one district.

Other cities, including Washington, D.C., Dallas, and Indianapolis have organizations that keep the larger community laser-focused on a clear goal to accelerate student outcomes. We knew that’s what was missing in Houston.

For the first phase, Good Reason Houston has partnered with Houston-area districts that primarily serve economically disadvantaged students — students who often attend our most persistently failing schools.

Some of this work is already happening and being celebrated. For example, in the 2019-20 school year, Good Reason Houston will continue to support Aldine ISD’s implementation of the Accelerating Campus Excellence (ACE) program at Goodman and Worsham Elementary Schools.

In Dallas and Fort Worth ISDs, the ACE model resulted in 17 out of 18 Improvement Required campuses leaving that state list within one year, and 66 percent of the ACE schools are currently rated A or B by the Texas Education Agency. We look forward to watching Aldine have similar success.

Good Reason Houston will continue to expand its footprint in the months and years ahead, partnering with more area school districts to implement innovative solutions. These solutions include strategic professional development for educators, replicating some of our region’s high-performing schools, and creating new school models within districts.

Our legislators showed a tremendous commitment to students across Texas with the passing of HB 3, and it is now our time to build on that commitment. This plan requires the entire Houston community to set aside differences of opinion and ideology and come together around a bold vision to achieve better outcomes for all our region’s students.

We challenge everyone in the Houston community to join us in ensuring that all our students have the opportunity to attend a great school — the kind of school that gives each child, regardless of background or ZIP code, the opportunity to seize their dreams.

Good Reason Houston has earned our confidence for the initial work they have done already in bringing together our city’s best talent and resources to prove what’s possible. We are energized to be a part of this. If the rest of the community joins us, we all have good reason to be optimistic about what lies ahead.

Stern is president and CEO of Houston Endowment, and Kinder is president and CEO of Kinder Foundation. Both serve on the board of Good Reason Houston.