Shared from the 5/4/2019 Houston Chronicle eEdition

Takeover by state would only make HISD worse

The threat of takeover by the Texas Education Agency has brought more instability to Houston ISD. As public attention focuses on missteps by the school board, we need to remember the facts.

Under our current board of trustees, which finally reflects the diversity of our students and of Houston, the number of “improvement required” schools has decreased to 27 in 2017, down from 58 in 2015 — all while under the pressure of a budget wrecked by state “recapture,” as well as the possible TEA takeover.

Today the TEA threatens to take over all of HISD based on the performance of only 1.4 percent of district schools. Four schools, to be precise: Kashmere High, Wheatley High, Patrick Henry Middle and Highland Heights Elementary.

More instability isn’t a solution. HISD should support and retain teachers better, expand investment in its Community Schools program, continue improving opportunities for students with disabilities, stabilize school leadership and stop the unrelenting focus on high-stakes tests.

Last year HISD began the Community Schools program, which offers wraparound services at schools. This essential program addresses students’ health by offering counseling and wellness services and connecting schools to organizations that provide direct social services.

Even with its problems, HISD has a better recent track record for meeting needs of students with disabilities than the TEA. After inadequately serving special education students for years, the state indicated that it will not develop a meaningful plan until June 2020.

HISD has made strides recruiting strong teachers to high-need schools, but must do a better job supporting and retaining teachers. At schools under threat of takeover, teachers and students face a culture fixated on STAAR, stifling test prep, belittling interactions and demoralizing micromanagement.

HISD must work harder to create school cultures that promote teacher retention. In communities with concentrated poverty, HISD must also do a better job providing the same opportunities for stability in school leadership that more affluent communities take for granted.

If the TEA took over, an appointed board of managers would roll back progress including Community Schools, protections for children and restorative justice practices. A takeover would jeopardize due-process rights for students, parents and teachers. An appointed board of managers would likely use STAAR scores to evaluate teachers again, though standardized test scores have a less-than-10 percent correlation to teacher quality.

Nonetheless, in communities with concentrated poverty, students and schools in HISD and around the country continue to receive inadequate support. Kashmere has had seven principals in the last 10 years. Teacher turnover is between 50 percent and 80 percent at schools in some communities of color, meaning that substitute teachers fill some classroom positions all year long.

HISD is not the villain. Rather, it is the stranglehold high-stakes testing has on our schools and communities. Inequality is the real problem. But instead, we fixate on results of a single test on a single day.

The TEA’s preferred solution to “failing schools” has been to hand them over to privately managed charter operators. Districts that have pursued that path, including Waco ISD, have already experienced buyer’s remorse.

A state takeover would lead to irreversible and discriminatory chartering of schools in black and brown communities, reducing equity and access for the most disenfranchised students. The charter model is simply incompatible with a public school system committed to serving all students. So-called charter successes are misleading, because charters serve a very different population from public schools. The state considers 37 percent of KIPP Sunnyside students “at risk,” compared to 92 percent of Worthing High School students just two miles away. In Houston’s Northside, KIPP Generations is 29 percent at-risk, while neighboring Sam Houston High School is 88 percent.

Were the state to take over HISD based on ongoing “investigations,” the TEA would be the pot calling the kettle black. Last fall, state auditors gave the TEA a grade of F because it failed to follow its own rules for hiring and managing vendors.

Appointed managers would replace our elected trustees with no accountability to voters. As we say in a petition signed by elected officials and many Houston organizations, the state has no business taking our vote and voice away. Our whole democracy is up for grabs.

Gov. Abbott, we have a right to elect our school board.

Sridharan is a co-founder of Community Voices for Public Education. Mallet-Fontenot is an HISD teacher. Dueñas is an HISD parent.

The TEA threatens to take over HISD based on performance of 1.4 percent of schools.

See this article in the e-Edition Here