Wednesday, October 19, 2011

Texas: Creating an incubator for best practices

Unique legislation was enacted this session in Texas. S.B. 1557 creates the Texas High Performance Schools Consortium, intended to inform state leaders about approaches to improve student learning "through the development of innovative, next-generation learning standards and assessment and accountability systems." The consortium will be made up of no more than 20 "participants" who have applied and been selected by the commissioner of education based on their plan to improve instruction and learning. A participant may be either a charter school that has been awarded an exemplary distinction designation, or a district, or one or more campuses within a district.

The legislation identifies principles "for a next generation of higher performing public schools"--these include engaging students through digital learning, focusing on "high-priority standards", use of multiple assessments to keep various stakeholders informed on an ongoing basis on how well learning is occurring and what is being done to improve learning, and reliance on local control. The authors of the legislation don't want the wheel to be reinvented 20 times over through this project--consortium leaders are to gather periodically to, among other purposes, "build cross-district and cross-school support systems and training, and share best practices tools and processes." (Hopefully this knowledge exchange will be done on an ongoing basis via e-mail, a consortium Web presence, threaded discussions, etc.)

Applications must be submitted by June 2012, and participants must be selected by July 2012 (quick turnaround!). The consortium will begin operations by the start of the 2012-13 school year. I will look forward to seeing what innovative approaches the consortium participants implement, and to what degree these might be scaled up to district-wide and statewide implementation, both in and outside Texas. And what policy barriers, if any, might successful participants identify that states should address to ultimately enhance student performance?

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