HISD and Its Pluses and Minuses in Apollo 20 Schools

For two business days now, Houston ISD staff crunched numbers at Hair Balls' request and finally came up with a more finely tuned status report on the transfers out of and into the Apollo 20 schools so far this year. We published an earlier accounting using the exact figures supplied to us by HISD, but HISD Superintendent Terry Grier said the numbers we reported were misleading.

There's lots of transfers every year in a free-choice district like Houston, Grier said -- a fact we actually acknowledged in the first report -- and really, he said, it was business as usual.

So we asked another question or two. We asked HISD to tell us exactly how many of the kids had opted into or out of the new tougher programs at the nine pilot schools in Apollo 20. This computation would exclude the usual already planned-for transfers (even if you go to another school for all four years, you are still listed as a transfer each year from your home zoned school).

The new calculations also ruled out seniors who graduated and excluded entry level students (sixth-graders in middle school and ninth in high school).

As researcher Matt Kanning noted: "A discernable difference would exist with the inclusion of these grade levels." But as HISD spokesman Norm Uhl noted, this would include students who were in a particular school feeder pattern but who never intended to go to a certain school and would therefore distort the data.

Anyhow, after all this work, based on enrollments in the second Friday in September of each year, Kanning came up with (drum roll please):

This year there have been 481 "new" transfers out of the nine schools with longer days and longer school years and 39 "new" transfers in to those schools.

This compares with 568 transfers out by the same time in 2009-10 and 79 transfers in. So better on the transfers out, but not so good on attracting kids to these schools.

Our earlier item said that more than 4,000 kids have transferred out of Apollo 20 schools. That was a true and direct answer given to us by the Houston ISD in response to a Texas Public Information Act request. As it turns out, we didn't add in the actual number for the middle schools so the total is more than 6,600.

But according to HISD there is absolutely nothing to worry about, because the overall numbers were pretty much a wash.

The 6,612 who transferred out this year are actually five fewer students than the 6,617 who last year opted out of the nine Apollo schools.

The closer look provided today, shows, of course, not quite a wash in the sign-ups for the new more rigorous programs. There's still more out and fewer in, albeit in the hundreds, not thousands.

So it's still not quite what the school district would like it to be, particularly for some new programs that are supposed to do a better job for kids -- and may well do so, if the kids and their parents ever take the chance and try them.

And we're glad we could help in asking the right question so the district could get closer to knowing for itself its own ins and outs.

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