Collaboration will help education in Austin


News that the Austin school district is exploring ways to collaborate with charter schools should be most welcome in a community facing challenges in funding its educational product and ensuring its effectiveness.

The Austin District-Charter Collaboration Compact, unveiled on Tuesday, is a bold attempt to crack a longstanding culture of competitiveness between charter and public schools.

The collaboration snared $100,000 from the Gates Foundation to help launch the effort.

The initiative comes at a crucial time. The Texas Legislature failed to fund enrollment growth in the state budget, putting financial pressure on school districts to make up the funding gaps. Districts have reduced staff and services.

In this climate, education is best served by educators who collaborate rather than compete.

The Austin compact is the second in Texas to receive Gates Foundation support. That money will be used for planning and will make the compact eligible to apply for another $7 million from the Gates Foundation to use in future projects.

Specifics are still being worked out, but district and charter school representatives say all avenues of cooperation are being explored — including teacher training, transportation and food service management.

The compact includes the Austin school district, KIPP Austin Public Schools, NYOS Charter School and Responsive Education Solutions.

Financial and academic stability are requirements for participation in the compact, said Evelyn Nazro, a spokeswoman for the alliance.

Austin school district and charter school officials hailed the agreement as a bold departure from past practice and tradition. They added that to be effective in the future, approaches to educating students will have to change to keep pace with the rapid social and technological changes society is experiencing.

Changing cultures is easier said than done, but it has to happen.

Educating young people to meet the demands of the current and future work force is crucial to sustain the vibrancy of the Central Texas economy.

Neither public nor charter school educators have all the answers, but collaboration might lead them to a few.

Getting educators to agree on concepts is difficult, but that doesn’t mean they can’t share experiences, information and data in the search for making education as effective as possible.

“The key is that everyone — charters and district traditional schools alike — are making this explicit commitment to the high achievement of their kids, no matter where they sit, regardless of how the schools are governed,” Vicki Phillips, director of education for the College Ready in the United States Program for the Gates Foundation, told the American-Statesman’s Melissa Taboada in an article published on Tuesday. “But most importantly, they are willing to share concrete practice in really explicit ways.”

No one should expect magic or overnight results, but the collaboration merits support.

The Austin school district has already taken steps toward collaboration, including the highly controversial contract signed with IDEA Public Schools, a South Texas charter school operator, to run a program for students in kindergarten through second grades and sixth grade at Allan Elementary School in East Austin.

Responsive Education Solutions, a Dallas-based operation that runs charter schools throughout the state, will run a dropout recovery program in Austin’s Lanier and Travis high schools.

“At the end of the day, I really want to see more kids graduate,” said Meria Carstarphen, Austin school district superintendent.

It’s a goal we should all share.