Since mid-March this year, when the Texas Education Agency (TEA) announced it would be taking over the Houston Independent School District, the state agency has demurred when asked about the district’s future, saying decisions will be made by a 9-member board of managers to be selected from the local community by TEA Commissioner Mike Morath.
But interviews with and contemporaneous notes from participants in TEA’s April 22-23 board of managers applicants training, as well as an audio recording of the sessions obtained by the Texas Observer, reveal the state plans to limit the board’s role to enforcing high-stakes testing in schools and rubber-stamping financial and operational decisions made by the new superintendent, also to be selected by Morath.
In what seemed like a 16-hour indoctrination session, TEA’s “Lone Star Governance” program trainers had the 230 applicants who attended repeat self-flagellating mantras about their lack of integrity and lack of concern for student success to get them ready for what they called the “Lone Star Governance mindset.”
Lindsey Pollock, a former Houston ISD elementary school principal of 13 years and a current professor teaching in Sarasota University’s educational leadership graduate program, who participated in the training sessions, told the Observer: “I spent two days being demeaned by a presenter who had purposeful intentions to mislead and misrepresent the reasons we were all there. … They were only looking for people who were going to be agreeable.”
During the sessions, TEA trainers also told applicants that the board’s sole focus was to set the “student outcome” goals and the “goals and values of the community.” But when Pollock, the ex-principal, said community members value other measures of learning apart from the state’s standardized test, called STAAR, TEA’s training facilitator Ashley Paz backtracked and said student outcome goals have to start with standardized test scores.
Another participant raised concerns that other subjects would be overlooked with the state’s emphasis on standardized testing, to which Paz replied, “You don’t think reading and math are important?”
When participant Pamela Boveland, a retired director of research and technology at the Harris County Juvenile Probation Department, asked Crabill, one of the trainers, if students in vulnerable communities would be provided with more resources to succeed, [A.J.] Crabill seemed to dismiss her question by citing his own upbringing: “As a child who … was in foster care and aged out, I have absolutely no sympathy for the idea that I could not be taught.”
Crabill also suggested that teachers are only as good as their students’ standardized test scores: “We might choose to increase teacher retention if we feel like that’s going to help us improve student outcomes. But if we do that and those outcomes don’t improve, we need to figure something else out. The only reason the whole system exists is to improve student outcomes.”
As a parent with a child in the school district, [Anne] Sung, the ex-board member, expressed concern that if the new board’s primary focus is standardized test scores, it would disempower the board to address the community’s diverse concerns.
“If they’re being told that the only thing that matters is STAAR scores, then you can’t weigh in when the community is concerned about other matters. I want my child to learn. But I also want my child to be happy at school,” Sung said. “It seems like we’ll be too busy staring at student outcomes or test scores to wonder why can’t we teach our kids about the real history of America, or why we are not allowed to vote for our own leaders here, or run our own elections? All of those things are connected.”
Hold that thought for a minute while we read this from Campos:
Brad Wray is a teacher and a District Advisory Committee Member with HISD. I have known Brad for years now. He sent this out this morning:
Yesterday, DAC representatives were invited to a Q&A with TEA Commissioner Mike Morath regarding the takeover of HISD. Below are answers to some of the questions that were asked. These are not direct quotes from Commissioner Morath, but I tried to capture the main point of what he was saying.
- If the District has brought our district grade up to a B+ (Wheatley HS is up to a C), then why are you all here?
- Answer: The law (HB 1842) says Morath shall either close a school or appoint a board of managers. Improved scores are irrelevant.
- What is the process for choosing a superintendent?
- Answer: Morath makes the decision. He can’t confirm or deny that it will be Mike Miles. (Houston Chronicle: Who is Mike Miles?)
- Any planned changes to pay scale? Will teachers get a pay increase due to inflation?
- Answer: Doesn’t expect any this coming year. Believes that teachers should make six figures. How resources are used is up to the Board of Managers.
- Will anyone who has been in the district be consulted with decisions you all are going to make? (You all are not from this area, so how will you be able to make the right decisions for a district of children and staff you know nothing about.)
- Answer: The Board will be made up of people who live in the district. Morath will strive to have a geographically representative Board of Managers. Existing “gerrymandered” district boundaries will not necessarily be adhered to.
- Do you plan to close schools?
- Answer: I have not closed any schools. It’s up to the Board.
- How will you address inequities?
- Answer: This is up to the Board.
- How will you alleviate uneasiness that we have about the takeover?
- Answer: Communicating what is happening. This won’t be any more extreme than what happens when a superintendent change happens.
- Will retention stipends be affected?
- Answer: I don’t foresee this changing, but this is up to the Board.
- Can you assure us that our schools will not be turned into charter schools?
- Answer: I could have chartered schools after year 5 but I have not. It’s up to the Board how schools are managed.
- How do you plan to manage the budget deficit?
- Answer: How resources are used is up to the Board.
“It’s not the people in this room that are the problems, it’s the district leadership.”
Thanks for the info, Brad.
Yeah, none of this is alleviating my concern that the TEA will be completely unaccountable and the Board won’t be in much of a position to fight back, if they were so inclined. It’s going to be a long two-to-however-many years.