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Published in Print: May 18, 2005, as Public-Private Effort Helps Texas High Schools

Public-Private Effort Helps Texas High Schools

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A new phase is getting under way in an ambitious project to help Texas students succeed in high school and graduate ready for college and the workforce.

The Texas High School Project is an initiative, endorsed in November 2003 by Gov. Rick Perry and leaders of the legislature, to coordinate more than $60 million in state-managed grants for high school improvement with similar investments by several large philanthropies.

A charity serving as the manager for much of the private money, the Dallas-based Communities Foundation of Texas, will make its first high school awards, totaling $21.5 million, late this month or in June, according to John Fitzpatrick, a Communities Foundation of Texas official who serves as the executive director of the private side of the high school project.

The major private funders are the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, the Wallace Foundation, and the Michael & Susan Dell Foundation.

The new grants are intended to establish about 75 new and redesigned high schools in high-need areas, such as poor communities along the state’s border with Mexico as well as in Texas’ large urban centers.

“We’re coming together like that old cartoon—‘Superfriends’—trying to improve high schools in the state of Texas,” Mr. Fitzpatrick said of the foundations’ collaboration with the state government. “Sometimes, they’re putting their money together, doing follow-up investments; sometimes we’re doing separate things.”

Making Schools Smaller

State officials expect the partnership to produce benefits.

“There’s a synergy in public-private partnership,” said Barbara Knaggs, a project manager at the Texas Education Agency who manages the high school grant programs. “We can leverage that for more change than we ever could in our high schools if it was just a public initiative.”

Of the $21.5 million in grants due to be announced this spring, $8.7 million will be used to redesign five large, comprehensive high schools that have low student achievement into smallerlearning communities.

Mr. Fitzpatrick said “a big chunk” of that money would pay for “a nationally recognized technical-service provider, with experience in breaking up large high schools into smaller units.”

The partnership’s selection team is looking favorably on districts that plan to use their redesigned high schools as models for districtwide changes, Mr. Fitzpatrick added.

Other grants, totaling $6.1 million, will be used to set up eight charter schools for underserved students. Competing for that money, Mr. Fitzgerald said, are several well-known school management companies. He declined to name them because of ongoing negotiations.

The third set of grants, adding up to $6.6 million, will go to higher education systems to establish 11 schools on or near college campuses. Those “early-college high schools” would allow students to earn two years of college credit or an associate degree while they are earning their high school diplomas.

Questions Remain

But it remains to be seen whether the public-private partnership will make a difference in Texas high schools, according to an education researcher with experience analyzing Texas schools and their efforts to improve teaching.

“Finding time [for teachers] is the first step, but what are they going to do with the time to change the way they teach, to take advantage of these new structures?” asked Eric Hirsch, the vice president of policy and partnership at the Southeast Center for Teaching Quality in Chapel Hill, N.C.

Vol. 24, Issue 37, Page 5

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