HISD temporarily blocked from using new teacher evaluation system

This all came up this week.

Houston ISD will not be allowed to implement its new teacher evaluation system until mid-September at the earliest after a judge temporarily blocked the policy Thursday morning.

A Harris County judge issued a temporary restraining order preventing the new evaluation system from taking effect at least until after an injunction hearing scheduled for Sept. 11, said Chris Tritico, a lawyer for the Houston Federation of Teachers. The Harris County District Clerk’s online portal shows that a temporary restraining order was issued, but no document had been posted as of early Thursday afternoon.

The HFT, which is HISD’s largest employee union, filed a lawsuit Wednesday alleging district leaders violated state laws earlier this month when they approved the new evaluation system. State law requires districts to consult with a districtwide decision-making committee and campus-level committees in developing new evaluation metrics.

In a legal filing Thursday, lawyers for HISD argued that administrators posted a public notice on the district’s website soliciting input on the new evaluation policies. A document detailing the new policy was publicly available online, lawyers for the district said.

“HFT’s representations to the court are rather remarkable in light of Superintendent Miles’ express requesting for feedback from the (Shared Decision-Making Committee), and in light of HISD’s public dissemination of the new teacher evaluation system — all 87 pages,” HISD’s lawyers wrote.

HFT President Jackie Anderson said the actions do not amount to proper engagement or input.

“Teachers were on vacation and the (feedback committee) does not even function during the summer,” Anderson said.

See here for a story from Wednesday when the lawsuit was filed. The Chron adds some details.

The union said that Miles’ evaluation was put together privately, without input from schools’ Shared Decision Making Committees (SDMCs), and that teachers were being judged based on criteria that hadn’t been made clear to them. District attorneys argued that an online survey posted after the evaluation system was developed satisfied the requirement for collaboration, and said the evaluation was available for teachers to read online all summer.

Judge Fredericka Phillips ruled that the union’s claims had enough merit to go to a temporary injunction hearing on Sept. 11, where attorneys will be required to submit more substantial evidence than the oral arguments presented Thursday. If the temporary injunction is granted, the lawsuit will move to trial and the district will be barred from implementing its evaluation system until a final decision is made.

“First of all, I’m happy that we got the TRO. Teachers are still saying every day, ‘What is going on?’ They don’t know. We want to be evaluated, we want our skills to be evident in the work we do every day but we need to know what the expectations are, and up until today we still don’t know,” said union president Jackie Anderson.

The district will be required to use the state’s standard evaluation, the Texas Teacher Evaluation and Support System (T-TESS), until a ruling is made.

HISD officials did not immediately return a request for comment Thursday, but Miles said in response to the lawsuit that the survey his administration posted online showed significant community support for his evaluation system, and demonstrated community input. A majority of respondents said they agreed with the general conditions of the evaluation, according to a presentation Miles made to the Board of Managers on Aug. 10, when the evaluation was approved by the board in closed session.

Union attorneys argued that developing the appraisals privately, and then soliciting opinions after the fact, did not satisfy the state’s requirement that evaluations be created “by the district- and campus-level committees.”

“When you develop your own (evaluations), you have to develop it in conjunction with the SDMC committees, not as they said today: ‘We put it on the webpage and the SDMCs can send us an email, I guess, and tell us what they think. That is not in compliance with the law,” said union attorney Chris Tritico.

I don’t know nearly enough to offer an assessment of who’s right on the merits. I don’t think it does HISD any harm to wait a week and a half and have it out in court to see if there’s good reason to believe they played fast and loose or if the teachers are being pedantic. I do know that Mike Miles and company get no benefit of the doubt from me. If the judge ultimately decides they followed the law or came close enough, fine, so be it. If not, well, you reap what you sow. You want to crack the whip on everyone else, you better hold yourself to a high standard too.

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