YES Prep is a charter school network of sixteen schools in Houston. Founded by a TFA alum and staffed by many TFA teachers, it has been hailed as a TFA success story. Fueled by being the school to invent the invented ‘100% college acceptance rate’*, they received $1 million from Oprah in 2010.
In Wendy Kopp’s book ‘A Chance To Make History,’ she wrote (page 41)
When its fifty campus begins graduating seniors in 2014, YES Prep will be sending roughly the same number of low-income students to college as all of HISD’s other thirty-four high schools combined, unless HISD improves its outcomes (which, as I’ll describe later, it is working hard to do). In fact, Chris (Barbic) told me that if the YES network can maintain the quality and progress it has demonstrated so far, it will operate thirteen schools and produce nine hundred college graduates each year by 2020 — double the number of low-income college graduates currently generated by all of HISD each year.
Considering that they currently graduate something like 500 seniors a year and that HISD graduates 10,000, these numbers are pretty outrageous.
Elisa Villanueva Beard is the current CEO of Teach For America. Her husband, Jeremy Beard, is the ‘Head of Schools’ for YES Prep. I first became aware of Jeremy at the TFA 20 year alumni summit in 2011 when he brought the house down with a speech. I actually tracked him down to tell him what a great job he did afterwards. At that time he was working for Houston Independent School District running a program called Apollo 20, eventually a failed program to use charter methods to improve public schools. The next time I encountered him was last February at the 25 year alumni summit in 2016. This time he was moderating an extremely one sided panel discussion called “What Should We Do When The Whole School Fails?”
There is a new rating system in Texas using A-F scores in four categories. They recently released a ‘test run’ showing what all schools in Texas have under the new system. Out of about 9000 schools only 73 of them, or one tenth of one percent of them, got Fs in all four categories. Any reformer worth his or her mettle would be crying for these 73 schools to be shut down, their teachers fired, and to be turned over to a high performing charter network like YES prep. But the ironic thing is that one of those 73 schools is one of the sixteen YES prep schools.
If you can’t scale up 16 schools without having one that is in the bottom one tenth of a percent, something’s wrong.
Reformers would say that the difference between this failing YES prep school and the other ones that are not failing is that the teachers at Yes prep Southside don’t have high expectations, don’t care about the kids, and really need to find new jobs. So why doesn’t YES prep, which has fewer restrictions on what demands they make of their teachers, just transfer some of their better teachers to Southside and some of their deadweight at Southside either out of the classroom altogether or into some of their other schools?
The CEO of YES, Mark DiBella, wrote a response to the release of the new ratings on the YES website. In it he wrote:
In this early assessment, YES Prep Public Schools well outperformed the state average in Closing the Achievement Gap and College Readiness with As in both of those categories. By comparison, most schools across the state earned Cs or lower for Closing the Achievement Gap (67%) and for College Readiness (66%). At the same time, we recognize YES Prep Public Schools’ C rating for Academic Achievement and D rating for Progress, though in line with the state averages, highlight important areas for improvement.
But when you follow the link he refers to, it clearly says that for student progress, arguably the most important measure of all,
12 percent got As, 21 percent got Bs, 34 percent got Cs and 33 percent got Ds and Fs in student progress.
So it would not be accurate to say that a D in student progress is ‘in line with state averages’ since it clearly puts them in the bottom third. Also, as reformers are always about giving parents as much information as possible about these accountability scores so they can make the most informed ‘choice,’ why no mention of the clunker YES Prep ‘quadruple F’ Southside school?
A few years ago, Elisa Villanueva Beard made an impassioned speech with the repeated refrain ‘Won’t Back Down’ reminiscent of the anti-teacher movie by the same name. In it, she implies that low performing schools are the result of nay-sayers who have low expectations for kids. I’m not sure if Villanueva Beard knows that her husband is the head of one of lowest rated schools in all of Texas. If she learns it from this blog post, it’s going to make for some awkward dinner conversation.
Now I understand why Jeremy Beard moderated that panel ‘What Should We Do When The Whole School Fails?’ He was soliciting ideas for how to fix one of his own.