‘No excuses’ helps Houston public schools

Math scores rose significantly in the first year of Houston’s Apollo experiment, but reading scores did not. Emulating high-performing charter schools, the low-performing Apollo schools feature a longer school day and year, data analysis, “trying to hire the best teachers and principals and cultivating a ‘no excuses’ attitude,” reports the Houston Chronicle.

Students in sixth and ninth grades got daily tutoring in math from specially hired tutors, one of the program’s most expensive elements. Struggling upperclassmen took an extra computer-based class in reading or math.

(Harvard economist Roland) Fryer’s research found that the tutoring was extremely effective but that the double courses generally were not.

A “back-of-the-envelope calculation,” according to Fryer, showed that the Apollo program produced a 20 percent return on investment – which is higher than other educational reforms such as lowering class sizes and preschool.

Five of the nine schools improved enough to escape the “unacceptable” rating.

Fryer summarizes the first-year results in a National Bureau of Economic Research paper. The Houston results are “strikingly similar to reported impacts of attending the Harlem Children’s Zone and Knowledge is Power Program schools,” both no-excuses adherents, Fryer notes.

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  1. Former Houston ISD Teacher says:

    Too bad Grier’s disrespect is driving experienced teachers out of the professions in droves. When my husband got a new job in another part of Texas, I was thrilled. I could finally get away from his hatred of teachers. I am a much happier person. I was labeled as one of his supposed “highly effective teachers” but quitting teaching after over 15 years was one of the best decisions of my life. I turned down jobs here in our new location because my burnout and disgust with the whole industry seems to be permanent.

    I pity my friends still in that dysfunctional culture. It’s not about the kids at all. It’s about maintaining the illusion that kids are achieving.

  2. john thompson says:

    In fact, the study seems to just be an opportunity to present some positive spin out of context for a gullible press. It showed that “large” Math increases “can” happen. In the very expensive but more effective $2,500 per student tutoring program Fryer reported “large” increases. In most middle school Math increases were “marginally significant,” with a .064 effect. Pooling all middle school students also had an .064 and pooling all math gains had a .053 effect. Reading scores declined or increased marginally. Those increases only came from one of four projections that may or may not have reflected students’ and families’ choices to stay or walk away from the far more rigorous “No Excuses.” Apparently the low income kids were more likely to throw in the towell because the original students were 86% low income while the tested students were 61% low income.

    The “back of the envelope” claim to have produced 21/2 times to cost benefit in comparison to Heckman’s pre-school was silly. Obviously, one year of modest Math test score increases are not going to transform lives. Better counseling can persuade more kids to sign up for college but if they can’t read …

    The most bogus claim is in regard to scalablity of “No Excuses.” Why didn’t Fryer say clearly how many students started and how many stuck with it to spring testing? On page 71, he reports over 8,693 “observations.” At the semester, the district report 7,385 students, and this year, those schools had just over 6,156 enrollees.

  3. Cranberry says:

    Some schools have students who move house frequently.