Educate Texas: 10 Years, 135 New Schools, Lots of Lessons

Ten years ago, a quick series of conversations created support for a Texas network of early college high schools (ECHS) and networks of high performing charter schools.  Shortly thereafter, a conversation with Gov. Perry spurred a STEM network. Several foundations– including GatesDell, and Meadows–provided support and the Texas High School Project, now Educate Texas, was born.

Local nonprofit executive and Austin school board member John Fitzpatrick was recruited to run the initiative with Communities Foundation of Texas serving as host.  The initial goal of the Texas High School Project was to develop 15 ECHS and 35 STEM schools and to improve dozens of existing schools.

Today there are 135 new high schools serving 63,000 student–more than 70% minority and low income. Results have been impressive with high achievement, graduation, and college attendance rates. The secret sauce is a culture of rigor, teacher effectiveness, and collaborative partnerships.

In addition to new schools, the initial goal was to improve about 80 high schools and–as was the case nationally–that proved to be more difficult and transient than new school development.

Educate Texas is one of the best examples of public/private collaboration in public education–in the same league as New Visions for Public Education in NYC but across a much broader and more complicated context. It boasts the best state STEM and ECHS networks in the country. It exceeded initial goals and continues strive for expanded impact.

Ten years ago Texas charter networks were just getting started. Today:

  • KIPP has 15,500 students in Houston, San Antonio, and Austin;
  • Harmony has 40 campuses serving 25,000 students (23 are T-STEM);
  • Uplift serves almost 10,000 scholars on 13 campuses in Dallas-Fort Worth;
  • IDEA serves more than 15,000 students in 30 schools throughout the Rio Grande Valley, Austin and San Antonio.

The biggest difference ten years in is a focus on postsecondary access and success.  In 2004, the finish line was high school graduation.  Fitzpatrick said that in the last three years, in Texas as well as nationwide, there has probably been more focus on college completion than in the last 100 years.

Three years ago, Fitzpatrick was able recruit Dallas native George Tang, a talented COO with a background in predictive analytics (see New Talent & Big Data Will Boost Learning).

George gave a great opening speech this morning summarizing the challenge of dramatically increasing the percentage of adults with meaningful postsecondary credentials.

Up next.  Standards-based reform and anywhere anytime learning are both 20 years old–my state adopted standards in 1994, the year Wikipedia launched and www became a common phrase.  Until recently, the two had little to do with each other.  Cheaper devices, better apps, more broadband, expanding access to online learning, and new school models are begin to change that.  Early mash ups give me confidence that the new tools/new schools space hold enormous potential to boost achievement and completion rates in this country and internationally.

Of recent innovations, adaptive learning holds the biggest promise for improved learning productivity. (See The Future of Learning: Personalized, Adaptive, and Competency-Based.)  This will soon lead to comprehensive profiles, recommendations engines, and customized playlists.

The most challenging development is competency-based learning.  Asking students to show what they know before progressing challenges everything we know about education.  (See 10 Design Choices of Competency-Based Schools and CompetencyWorks)

The most scalable recent development is flex high schools–online schools that leverage onsite support and application.  (See 10 Reasons Every District Should Open a Flex School.)

The most interesting innovation may be interest-based learning. High engagement schools have always tried to personalize learning and leverage student interests, but the explosion of informal learning sites (from Khan Academy to Udemy) suggests new ways to organize learning experiences in ways that build on interests but still add up to a standards-based qualification.  (See What If Kids Co-Created Customized Learning Pathways?.)

These developments leave me thinking about three things:

  • How to spur more next-gen model and platform partnerships?
  • How to provide effective student guidance in an unbundled world?
  • How to better prepare teachers for next-gen environments?

As Educate Texas contemplates its second decade, it has the potential to serve as a statewide platform for innovation working at the intersection of new tools and new schools for an even bigger impact.


Tom Vander Ark

Tom Vander Ark is the CEO of Getting Smart. He has written or co-authored more than 50 books and papers including Getting Smart, Smart Cities, Smart Parents, Better Together, The Power of Place and Difference Making. He served as a public school superintendent and the first Executive Director of Education for the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation.

Discover the latest in learning innovations

Sign up for our weekly newsletter.


Leave a Comment

Your email address will not be published. All fields are required.