Superintendent Mike Miles, appointed in June by the Texas Education Agency to lead Houston ISD, will eliminate librarians and media specialists from the 28 campuses under his New Education System and an additional 57 aligned schools that opted into a version of the whole-scale systemic reform plan that aims to lift student achievement and improve the quality of instruction.
Miles said the former library spaces at most NES and NES-aligned campuses will instead be converted into “Teams centers” — formerly called Zoom rooms — where students who misbehave in the classroom will be sent to watch the lesson virtually and others can work alone or in groups for differentiated instruction.
The book collections will remain on the shelves at the schools with no librarians, according to the district, with students able to take them home through an honor system or access them during before and after school hours.
The new policy marks a big departure from the priorities outlined by the previous HISD administration led by former superintendent Millard House II, who aimed to put a librarian or media specialist at every campus in the district under his five-year strategic plan and invested millions of dollars in pandemic relief funding to purchase new library books.
“There was this great surge of improvement and excitement about the libraries, so it was so discouraging to take that step backwards,” said Anne Furse, a library advocate and co-founder of a group called Friends of HISD Libraries.
Miles said the staffing model for NES and NES-aligned schools does not include a librarian because the district must prioritize resources to meet specific outcomes, including closing the achievement gap, raising student proficiency and preparing kids for their future. His administration is raising teacher salaries and providing incentive bonuses to teachers and administrators at the campuses targeted for reform.
“Right now, we are going to try to raise achievement, we’re going to try to have high-quality instruction, so the focus is on those teachers who can do that,” he said. “If you have to prioritize resources, then you want to get a teacher who can deliver the science of reading versus a librarian.”
Miles questioned whether the House administration’s plan to expand librarians to more campuses was tied to any specific outcome, noting that schools should be judged by their results rather than their “inputs.”
“Any big initiative needs to come with metrics for success,” he said. “We’re not doing things that are just popular. We’re not doing things that we’ve always done, we’re not doing things that are just fun, we’re not doing things that are just nice to have or good, unless we can measure its success.”
At the most basic of levels, I can see where Miles is coming from on this. Libraries and librarians cost money, his NES program costs a lot of money, and you can only fire a bunch of central office staffers once. Disruptive kids need a place to go, so the now-repurposed libraries can serve for that. And if there isn’t a bunch of data showing a correlation between libraries and test scores, we know what will be prioritized. I get it.
But come on. Why can’t the libraries just serve the function of being a good place for the kids? One that can at least complement the laudable effort to improve reading scores by, you know, providing books for the kids to read. Not everything has to be laser-focused on the bottom line. Quality of life matters, too.
And you can use Miles’ logic to eliminate all kinds of other things that make school more than just test preparation. Music, art, theater, gym, recess, lunch – what empirical evidence do we have that those things improve outcomes? What data are we even using to evaluate the libraries?
I keep coming back to this point, but even if what Miles is doing has the effect of maximizing student gains in the short to medium term, if people don’t like the things he did to make that happen, they’re not going to support continuing to do them when he and the Board of Managers are out of here. He and the Board need to build trust and get the buy-in from the community. Moves like this don’t help that. I’m beginning to think Mike Miles did not learn this lesson from his experience as DISD Superintendent. Which, I have to say, does not add to my confidence in him as a leader.