Then Barbic admitted what skeptics of charter schools have preached for years — “achieving results in neighborhood schools is harder than in a choice environment.”
Barbic, as founder of the highly acclaimed YES Prep charter school network in Houston, was used to starting schools from scratch, enrolling students whose parents chose to send them there instead of to their zoned school. Charter schools in Texas are supposed to be open-enrollment, meaning they can’t set admission criteria, but some people argue that charters benefit simply from enrolling children with more motivated parents.
Tennessee presented a different challenge for Barbic. There, he was charged with launching a special school district that included the state’s lowest-performing schools. A key part of Barbic’s mission was to recruit charter networks to step in and improve the schools. However, he ran into some trouble as most charter operators have a start-from-scratch model, rather than taking over existing schools. Even YES Prep withdrew from the experiment.
“As a charter school founder,” Barbic wrote in his resignation letter, “I did my fair share of chest pounding over great results. I’ve learned that getting these same results in a zoned neighborhood school environment is much harder.”
Houston ISD Superintendent Terry Grier picked up on Barbic’s comments and tweeted, “Chris Barbic — courage to tell truth!”
The Houston advocacy group Community Voices for Public Education also weighed in, taking Barbic’s statement as an admission that his success was “due more to smoke and mirrors.”
In fact, Barbic’s resignation letter does not go that far. He stands by his philosophy that good teachers and principals can make a significant difference in improving student achievement, despite the challenges of poverty.
“The ‘poverty trumps education’ argument sells our educators, and more importantly, our kids way too short,” Barbic wrote. “And it is perhaps one of the most dangerous propositions that exists in our country today.”
Read the whole thing, and be sure to read Barbic’s letter of resignation. Barbic is still very much an advocate for the charter model, but his words about the challenges of replicating the kind of success that some charters have had should be heeded. Tennessee’s Achievement School District experiment is one of only a couple like it around the country, but it’s an idea that has attracted attention, including here in Texas. There was a bill by Sen. Larry Taylor, chair of the Senate Education Committee, to establish Achievement School Districts, also called “Opportunity School Districts” here, in Texas, but it didn’t get anywhere. A “parent trigger” bill that would have allowed “parents of students at underperforming public schools to demand fixes from the state commissioner of education including hiring new staff, contracting with a charter school operator to take over management or closing the school altogether” did clear the Senate but did not get a vote in the House. I feel confident that Dan Patrick isn’t going to give up on either of these ideas in 2017, and Greg Abbott is a fan as well. Barbic himself defended the ASD concept in response to a Lisa Falkenberg column that was critical of an Abbott plan for some form of ASDs in Texas. I trust Barbic’s more recent words will come up when this idea inevitably comes up again in two years.