Texas Turnaround Becomes a Model for Success

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Secretary Duncan has said that we cannot rest until all schools are schools we would be proud to send our own children.  Unfortunately, for too many schools across our country, this imperative is not yet a reality.

However, in schools like Lee High School in Houston, TX, things are beginning to change dramatically.  As you will see in this video about the improvement story at Lee, too many parents were “scared” to send their children to school.  Too many students said things like, “I never thought I would actually go to college.”

Now, as one of over 1400 schools implementing a school turnaround model as part of ED’s revamped School Improvement Grant (SIG) program, Lee has used almost $6 million over the past three years to extend learning time for students, build a supportive college-going culture, and continuously improve instruction with a focus on enhanced achievement for all students.

In Houston’s unique Apollo 20 school turnaround model, schools also provide high-intensity, targeted support in key subjects from highly-trained and committed tutors.  The same is true of 19 other previously low-performing schools across the city that have partnered with Professor Roland Fryer and a team of researchers from Harvard University to implement and rigorously evaluate a series of specific turnaround interventions.

As I walked through the halls of Lee High with the Secretary during a visit this past February, it was hard to believe that only three years ago, students and parents had voiced serious concerns about the school’s safety and low expectations.  In the same classrooms where fights had once been regular occurrences, teachers and staff were collaborating to help students improve academically, and students were committed to reaching their dreams of college and beyond.

The results at Lee are beginning to speak for themselves: daily attendance has reached the school’s goal of 95% on average and the dropout rate has fallen by more than half (from 14% to 6%).

What is promising is that Lee is not alone. Across the country, many SIG recipients are beginning to see encouraging progress and we are beginning to notice some common threads among schools that are turning around:

  1. A strong, dynamic principal with a clearly articulated vision for a school that is designed for success;
  2. A talented staff who shares the vision and has a commitment to collaborate on the critical and complex work associated with improving instruction for all students;
  3. Ongoing use of reliable data to make informed decisions about instructional improvement and student support;
  4. Community and family engagement strategies that treat these important stakeholders as accelerators of achievement rather than as barriers.

In order to sustain these positive changes, schools and districts are partnering with local community organizations, non-profits, and businesses to continue the momentum and critical resources necessary for sustained improvement.  In Houston, for example, local philanthropic leaders have provided $17 million to support the Apollo 20 school turnaround efforts.

Because of the incredibly inspiring work of leaders, teachers, parents, and students at schools like Lee High, more parents like Jessica Broadnax can say, “A child just definitely cannot fail in this place, they just can’t!”  What we offer to our children tells them what it is we value.  When we provide support for students and we offer them hope for a brighter future, we tell them that we value them and the opportunities that lie ahead.

Deb Delisle is the assistant secretary for elementary and secondary education at the U.S. Department of Education.


  1. I was a Texas teacher for 20+ years. In that time test scores may have improved but I cannot say that I saw any real improvements in education. Music was cut. Art was cut. Recess was cut. Librarians were cut. Teaching was whittled down to a script. I finally voted with my feet and not only left the state, I left the country. I will not return to the US until my children are educated and have their IB Diplomas in hand.

  2. This brought real tears to my eyes!

    All students should have this option of such a great school

    Keep up the great work!

  3. Congratulations to everyone: the Principal and entire community, teachers…….WOW! Great job. We are so proud of you. We can learn from your example and hope to share some of our success stories at our high schools in the Harlandale ISD. Most importantly we will continue to learn about your experience and your programs. Mil gracias porque les importa tanto de todos los estudiantes!!

  4. I am sorry but there are a multitude of problems witht this story. For instance, Ms. Davis was given a script to read. The teachers were told exactly what they could and could not say.Most teachers are now TFA and are eager to be on the bandwagon. The scores increased because they removed ESL students to other schools. AP scores went down by half,Check how many teachers leave every year and what they say after they are gone. This entire vide is a one side piece of propoganda. This is the sad truth of Apollo schools. I challenge you to find 35 Lee teachers that left who can tell you the behind scene dishonesty and cruelty that took place. Don’t you think it is strange that there is no concession. It looks like Apollo is the magic pill. However, there is a documentary hidden at Lee that tells the true story and there are rumbles of a class action law suit . Seems like whoever took this quiant and contrived video doesn’t realize there are literally over 50 teachers that would be willing to call a newsmeeting and tell the real truth. Shame on you for hearing one side of a turn around story. Maybe you ought to look at the turnaround the 5 years before Apollo. With millions of dollars of less money, scores the year before Apollo were dramarically higer. I wish there were people in education that would honest. This sad story is about fame, honor, and prestige. It is about greed and corruptness. I challenge anyone in the United States to hear the “other teachers stories and you will feel the fool for believing this video.

      • It is a disgrace, but one must understand, millions and billions of corporate dollars are at stake. Making a fortune on the backs of the poor is easily masqueraded as a good deed. They will hurt anyone who speaks the truth, no matter how eloquently the message is purveyed. And, please, keep in mind, these are people with truly over inflated egos; they can’t deal with reality. Some of them actually believe the public is too stupid to fact check their claims. People are checking them now, and snickering about the overblown claims.

      • The “three best students” accusation is false. I know that for a fact because I’m a Freshman at Lee HS. Before I came all I heard was bad things I hated it when I got here at first but after a while I stated to love the school, and for the person up there who said Coach Davis was given a script to read you are an idiot, keep your comments to yourself Coach Davis is one of the best teachers at the school she was just trying to get her point across she’s bringing her daughter to Lee HS next year so how does that make your accusation look.

        And Steph that is the report from this year and it is only ONE NEGATIVE THING GOING against us rather then all the good things that are actually going on. This school is amazing and the teachers do really care, every teacher you saw on there truly makes an impact, the only thing I HIGHLY disagree with is Apollo 20.

        Even myself as a Freshman I look down at it has stolen everyone’s pride from Lee HS everyone HATES coming to Lee because there aren’t any SOCIAL benefits to Apollo we were all basically mini testing mouses to see if it worked but Apollo didn’t change the scores it changed the school culture. All I can say is don’t judge a book by its cover you have not visited Lee and you have not had a whole year at Lee like I have and viewed both standpoints of the situation therefore you cannot judge was is going on.
        This is a great video, finally something positive about MY SCHOOL something to be proud of.
        And Sharon ESL students were not moved to other schools I don’t know if you’ve looked at our
        AEIS forms for the past years but ever since 2009 our ESL rate has stayed at 35% get your facts straight, that little mistake just sabotaged your whole opinion

        But seriously Apollo is nothing to us it’s a program that just came into MY SCHOOL and took the credit for all the hard work teachers put in.
        And I’m only a Freshman Class of 2016, American Power:)

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