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How Charter Schools Are Pushing Dallas ISD To Improve Public Education

Lara Solt for KERA News
Students walk into W.W. Samuel Early College High School in Dallas, May 2016.

When it comes to traditional public schools and charter schools, many take sides — but Todd Williams says both models have strengths.

He's president and CEO of The Commit Partnership, a Dallas-based nonprofit working to boost student outcomes in North Texas. He also helped establish Uplift Williams Preparatory, a Dallas charter school.

During the Texas Tribune Festival, which just wrapped up in Austin, Williams was part of an education panel moderated by KERA's Krys Boyd. Listen to or read highlights from the panel below.

On the issues facing Texas schools today

Part of it is a resource issue and part of it is that we’re not investing enough in the kids who need it the most, which are economically disadvantaged children, kids who are English Language Learners. We’re not investing early enough in terms of quality pre-K to make sure that every child can read. Today, only about four in 10 kids meet the state’s standard in third-grade reading. We need to pay our better teachers more and sooner, so that they stay in the profession and stay in the classroom versus feeling incentivized to leave schools or education, or go into administration in order to support their families.

How charter schools affect traditional public schools

I think one of the great things that we’ve seen in Dallas in response to charter schools is it’s caused the Dallas Independent School District to do a lot of different things — for academic reasons and enrollment reasons. They know if they grab a kid in pre-K, they’re less likely to go to a charter school. They know if they offer early college in a high school that a charter school can’t economically offer, they’re probably going to get that kid back in the traditional system. Those are great things for kids.

But I think also what you’ve seen Dallas ISD do is offer school choice. Dallas ISD has a goal of 35 different types of schools of choice [by 2020]. They’re not selective schools; there’s no application in terms of academics to get in. But they’re providing single-gender and STEM and leadership and income-controlled schools. I think competition in general can be helpful, if it is managed. But I’ve seen competition through charter proliferation cause a lot of issues in terms of under-resourced schools. And frankly, I’ve seen parents choose to self-segregate their own schools. That’s not a great thing for kids.  

On addressing overwhelming poverty within schools

You’re asking educators with one hand tied behind their back to not provide the whole child support that a child needs if they come from trauma households, if they come from single-parent households. Life was tough when I grew up, and income was not there often. But at the end of the day, I had great public schools. I was taught by great public school teachers. And so, back to how do we make sure teaching is noble profession that is well-paid, we have to figure out how to get our best and brightest college graduates to go into education and to stay in the classroom.

Interview responses have been lightly edited for clarity.