After year one, HISD says the Apollo schools are seeing statistically significant gains in middle and high school math scores. Their increases are on par with top charter schools around the country.
For the last year, HISD has worked to turn around 20 of the districts lowest performing schools, campuses which for years HISD admits produced unacceptable results. Faced with the threat of severe state sanctions, HISD pioneered the Apollo 20 program, and researchers say they're seeing change.
Researchers who've looked at the math scores say middle and high schoolers in the Apollo program have already realized an additional three months of learning compared to students who didn't take part.
"Apollo was born of the idea that through innovation and bold action we can forever change the plight of schools for each and every student who attends those schools," said HISD Superintendent Dr. Terry Grier.
The Apollo 20 program is a three year, $61 million experiment designed to raise test scores, spending over $2,000 a student to change the way they learn.
HISD has increased instructional time, adding five days to the school year and five hours a week for the campuses. They've changed school leadership and staff, added intensive small-group tutoring and, they say, established of a culture of high expectations for all students.
Some of the students say it's working.
"I think it's very positive; very positive changes because before we didn't have a lot of sense of where we were going, what direction we were going to go," said Cindy Cortez, a Sharpstown High School student.
It's not all kudos though. HISD admits it has not seen similar gains in reading scores. As board members put it, that's a tougher nut to crack. But the superintendent insists he is committed to seeing the schools and the students they serve prosper.
"That's what this is all about -- giving the kids of Houston in historically underperforming schools hope and chance to succeed," Dr. Grier said.
In some of the Apollo 20 schools they are putting more emphasis on reading with younger students receiving additional time in reading classes, just like they do in the Apollo 20 elementary schools. Dowling Middle School is now spending some of its tutorial budget on reading tutors in an effort to address the literacy problem there.