On the third floor of Lee High School, ninth graders meet with their math tutors. They work one-on-one or in pairs.
On Friday, U.S. Secretary of Education Arne Duncan learned about the tutoring from Houston Superintendent Terry Grier.
“We added an hour to the school day here. So every ninth grader is tutored 70 minutes a day in math.”
It’s part of a special program called Apollo 20. The mission is to turn around Houston’s lowest performing schools.
The U.S. Department of Education actually helped launch the program as Grier explains.
“That project was funded in part through 28 million dollars in grants that we received from the federal government under Arne’s leadership. Lee High School has received six million dollars in federal grants over the last three years.”
A tutor and a ninth grader at Lee High School.
It’s called the school improvement grant. HISD also raised about $17 million dollars in private donations.
Duncan says he was impressed with Lee High School.
“A lot of this is pretty common sense, you know more time, great teacher, high expectations, good culture, good sense of discipline, you know teachers who are working the long hours, great leadership.”
Duncan says Houston’s program could have an impact on national education policy.
But he didn’t want to single out a specific piece.
“My goal is not to take a piece but to look at the entire model and see if those lessons can be replicated.”
In Washington, D.C., researchers at the Center on Education Policy have looked at federal school improvement grants across the country.
The center’s executive director Maria Ferguson says it’s too early to judge their success.
“The Department’s initial study shows that like in two-thirds of the schools, students made gains in math and reading, but then in another third, student achievement declines. So it’s really, really hard to get a sense of whether these specific grants have made an impact.”
Superintendent Grier says the grant is making an impact — like the higher graduation rates at Lee High School. Now Grier has to figure out how to continue the Apollo 20 program since the three-year grant ends this year.
From the KUHF Education Desk, I’m Laura Isensee.
The panel discussion at Lee High School with educators, students and officials.