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It really is all or nothing for HISD

I hope we’re ready for this.

Barring a change to the sanctions law, litigation or a change of heart by the board of trustees — none of which are expected — HISD will learn in August whether the district will face state penalties for the four schools’ 2018-19 academic performance. HISD leaders could have staved off sanctions for two years by agreeing to temporarily surrender control of campuses in danger of triggering sanctions.

As HISD leaders pledged to march onward with current efforts to improve academic success at long-struggling campuses, some Houston-area civic leaders envisioned a future in which a state-appointed governing board took control of Texas’ largest school district. Under a state law authored by Dutton in 2015, the Texas Education Agency must close failing schools or replace the school board in any district with a single campus receiving five straight “improvement required” ratings. The four HISD campuses in danger of triggering sanctions this school year are Highland Heights Elementary School, Henry Middle School, and Kashmere and Wheatley high schools.

Some local officials, including Mayor Sylvester Turner, have expressed dismay at the idea of the state’s Republican-leaning government taking control of HISD, where all nine elected school board members are Democrats. School board members also have argued HISD does not need state takeover, pointing to successful efforts to reduce the number of “improvement required” schools and navigate significant budget cuts.

“While we have had bad board relations, we have managed to handle the two largest pieces of governance in a way that have not been detrimental to the district, but instead have had a positive impact,” HISD Board President Rhonda Skillern-Jones said. “We’ve invested a lot of money in turning these schools around, a lot of resources, a lot of time. To allow those people to do the jobs they’re entrusted with is the best course of action.”

[State Rep. Harold] Dutton, however, said he is convinced HISD trustees — who have drawn intense criticism for failing to improve performance at low-rated schools and engaging in public displays of acrimony — no longer deserve the responsibility of governing Texas’ largest school district.

“I don’t have any evidence that (the state) would do better, but I do know that if we keep doing what we’ve been doing, we’ll keep getting the same results,” Dutton said. “And for me, it’s unacceptable to do that.”

One of the Houston area’s longer-serving elected Republicans, Harris County Treasurer and two-time mayoral candidate Orlando Sanchez, also called Friday for state intervention in HISD. Sanchez implored state legislators and the Texas Education Agency to take responsibility for HISD, urging them to replace the district’s school board and devote more resources to low-performing campuses.

“I just can’t watch this slow-motion train wreck continue, so I’m going to speak out as a Republican and encourage my friends in Austin to give some serious attention to this matter,” Sanchez said. “We can’t wait, and that’s all we’ve done over the past several years.”

See here for the background. I feel confident saying two things. One is that if these four schools do not meet the state standards, there will be basically no one in Austin advocating on behalf of the HISD Board of Trustees. The odds that anyone in a position to influence the outcome will be persuaded by the argument HISD doesn’t need to be taken over is basically zero. To be clear, I do think Trustee Skillern-Jones’ position has merit. HISD did get significant improvement from a lot of schools, under adverse conditions. The risk that blowing up their governance structure will do more harm than good is significant. I just don’t expect the TEA or anyone that can make the TEA change its mind will buy it. And two, for all the complaints about the people that were on the board of the proposed city partnership, the people who the TEA are likely to name to take on the HISD Board’s responsibilities are almost certainly going to be seen as even worse. The difference is that the TEA will not be susceptible to the same community and activist pressure that the HISD Board was. And nobody is going to like that.

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7 Comments

  1. Manny Barrera says:

    Point; Schools do not live up to the testing.

    Parents are allowed to take students out of that school to place children in better schools.

    Many parents do take out what are normally higher performing students.

    Schools are left with lower performing students.

    It is a vicious cycle that the state has created, and HISD has itself to blame, but this problem did not start with the present school board.

    Of Topic: it works the same for sports especially, Lamar takes the best football players, Bellaire takes the best baseball players.

    Some of those schools used to be thr best schools for minorities to attend, thank God for segregating schools, take the best students and minority teachers and give you the worse white teachers.

    It is a wonderful world.

  2. Greg Shaw says:

    There is “talk” of a Bill in the upcoming State Legislative Session to change the elected Board’s composition to 5 District members and 4 At-Large Members.
    Does anyone think this will happen and would it help if it did?

  3. Ross says:

    Moving the better students back to the IR schools wouldn’t do anything except mask the issues with educating the lower performing students. The schools might not be IR any longer, but the individual outcomes wouldn’t be changed much. That’s one problem with using school performance as the criteria. The better performing students would also likely suffer from being around students who don’t really want to be in school, and whose parents either don’t know how important education is, or don’t care. Some of the IR schools should be closed, or consolidated, but that’s politically impossible right now.

    Dutton is an idiot if he thought that a district with 200+ schools should be subject to takeover because a few campuses have long term issues passing a culturally biased test that doesn’t really measure anything of importance.

    HISD needs some at large trustees to offset the propensity for single district trustees to make decisions based only on what they think their district needs, or to pander to their district in order to get reelected.

  4. Manny Barrera says:

    Ross it all depends how the classrooms are structured, it worked very well before. Some times things work better before we keep wanting to change things. Used to be a long time ago students were tested and placed appropriately. If they started improving they were moved to the higher level, not grade level, but learning level.

    You are absolutely right when you state that it very difficult to teach a class when you have numerous levels of capability.

    In essence that is what magnet programs do, they pick students that are performing at close to the same level, thus the testing to get into many programs.

  5. Mark Kerrissey says:

    Mr. Dutton should read the Hippocratic Oath. “First do no harm.” He is experimenting.

  6. Bill Daniels says:

    Ross,

    “….a culturally biased test that doesn’t really measure anything of importance.”

    Ever heard of “the soft bigotry of low expectations?” That’s what you are exhibiting. The test is “culturally biased” because the test isn’t written in Ebonics or Spanglish? Because maths be hard, yo? C’mon, Ross. The ‘cultural’ reason those schools don’t perform is threefold: poverty, parents who don’t value education, and parents who themselves are not educated (and thus can’t help their kids with their schoolwork), the bulk of those parents qualifying for all three descriptors.

    This is a lot like Islamic terrorism. If we can’t SAY what the problem is, how can we do anything about it?

  7. Ross says:

    Bill, by culturally biased, I mean skewed towards upper middle class white culture. Many of the history and reading questions I’ve seen describe situations and use language that many inner city kids have never experienced, and have no frame of reference for. That makes it nearly impossible for the students to formulate answers to the questions. In addition, much of the test material is written 2 grade levels above the tested grade.

    I am not exhibiting low expectations, other than not being surprised by your bullshit references to Spanglish and Ebonics. For the amount of money the State pays Pearson for the STAAR, I don’t think it’s unreasonable to expect tests that are appropriate to grade level and are culturally neutral.

    I agree that many parents of kids in low performing schools have no idea on how to help their kid’s do well in school, but we shouldn’t make it worse by creating tests that the kids can’t pass, even if they can read and do math.