September 7, 2016 Updated: September 7, 2016 6:02pm
Northbrook Middle School in Spring Branch ISD shares space with the YES Prep charter network. Both entities are part of a new coalition, the District Charter Alliance. Photo by Karen Warren
There's a raging debate in Texas and our country pitting traditional public schools against public charter schools. Here's a novel thought: What if we approached it from the standpoint of doing both rather than choosing between them?
Houston needs high-quality academic choices for every child. These come in the form of quality public school districts (ISDs) and public charter schools. A Texas Tribune study shows that six years after high school, fewer than 20 percent of Harris County's class of 2007 completed any form of higher education - including technical certificate, associate's degree or bachelor's degree. This number drops to 10 percent for low-income students, 11 percent for Hispanic students, and 12 percent of African-American students.
This is unacceptable morally and unsustainable economically. If 9 out of every 10 low-income students never go beyond high school, how will the cycle of poverty ever end?
And yet, we read and hear continued discourse focused on what type of school our children attend instead of a conversation about the quality of the education inside.
We believe the best answer is when ISD and charter school leaders choose to put students' interests first and work together.
Already, more than a dozen superintendents have joined in a new coalition, the District Charter Alliance, recognizing our shared goal of excellence for future generations of Houstonians.
The Alliance seeks to grow a broad, pro-public-school-student coalition across our city and state. We pledge to make decisions in our schools and within the public policy arena based on what is best for children, including strong support for teachers in our classrooms. And we welcome the involvement of our business community to provide additional support and feedback, ensuring we are preparing our children for success in life well after their years in K-12 schools.
We already have the proof points of positive collaboration and competition right here in Houston and across the state. Aldine ISD and YES Prep are co-located on an Aldine campus. In Spring Branch ISD, KIPP Houston and YES Prep have a similar partnership with the district. Spring Branch ISD has taken advantage of the District of Innovation, made possible through a new state law to improve outcomes for students by leveraging existing charter school flexibilities. San Antonio ISD has begun offering its underused or empty school buildings to neighboring public charter schools - rent-free - and district leaders have re-envisioned their college counseling department based on lessons from charter schools. Grand Prairie ISD has a close partnership with Uplift Education, a public charter school.
Houston has the infrastructure, community support, economic strength and school-success stories needed to create world-class public schools for all. The District Charter Alliance is calling on our peers in the business, philanthropic, faith-based and school communities to join us in holding each other accountable and ensuring we collectively make student-centered decisions that greatly increase the number of quality seats in schools across our city.
Bickering over school labels is outdated, unproductive and not what our children and their families need from us.
Muri is superintendent of the Spring Branch Independent School District. Feinberg is co-founder and CEO of KIPP schools. Scott McClelland, HEB Houston president and chairman of the Greater Houston Partnership K-12 Committee, also contributed to this commentary.