Applying Charter School Practices to Turnaround District Schools: Apollo 20 in Houston

Houston Independent School District
Apollo 20 Schools

2009 - 2013


If implemented with fidelity, can the five tenets of high-performing charters, identified through EdLabs' previous research, bring about dramatic improvement in student achievement in traditional public schools in the Houston Independent School District?


In 2010, the Houston Independent School District (HISD) launched an ambitious school turnaround initiative in four high schools and five middle schools, using the five tenets of successful charter schools to guide their turnaround strategy. Eleven elementary schools were added in the 2011-2012 school year.

As part of this effort, new principals were brought into all the “Apollo 20” schools and the school day and year were extended for middle and high schools. Students performing below grade level benefitted from an extra intervention course in math or reading, and tutoring programs were introduced for fourth-, sixth-, and ninth-grade students during the school day. In addition, a culture of high expectations and the practice of using data to drive instruction were instilled at every grade level.


This project is ongoing, but preliminary results from Year 1 show that dramatic gains in student achievement can be attained when charter school practices are implemented in traditional public schools. These results are as dramatic as—if not more so than —the gains achieved by some of the nation’s most successful charter operators.


Watch a video on the Apollo 20 Program!

The gains achieved by high-performing charters and ambitious, innovative public school districts should be celebrated. However, as researchers, we are still asking questions. Would we achieve similar results in different cities, such as Denver? Also, we know that there is a relationship between test scores and better life outcomes, but is it a causal relationship? In other words, does higher achievement lead to improved life outcomes for students?