I have three things to say about this. Well, three things that aren’t just straight-up WTF?
Juniors and seniors at Houston ISD’s DeBakey High School for Health Professions walked into their AP Physics classes at the beginning of the school year and asked one question: “Where’s our teacher?”
About 150 students at the top-ranked high school signed up for the advanced science courses, many with the hope of earning college credit, but found themselves without a qualified teacher. Given the complex nature of the material, substitute teachers brought in were unable to do much more than supervise the classroom.
The teens spent the first seven weeks of the year trying to teach themselves sophisticated concepts, including electric circuitry and thermodynamics. In some cases, seniors in AP Physics II were pulled out of classes to teach juniors in AP Physics I. Students were told by administration that their hands were tied — a hiring freeze at Houston ISD had left them unable to fill the vacancy, they were told, which was created when a teacher went on leave to start the year.
“It’s just aggravating,” said senior Zain Kundi. “It’s money on the line, because these classes in college are thousands of dollars and if you get it out of the way now, you can save quite a bit of money. And if our grades start falling, colleges will see that early in the admissions process and be like ‘what the heck…’ Especially now with college applications, we have so much on our plates already.”
Kundi says the AP Physics position was left vacant because the school’s administration tried to saddle a standard physics teacher with the role just before the start of the school year, causing the teacher to use accumulated leave days in protest. The senior made it clear he does not blame the teacher for the vacancy, arguing that the situation was the result of a systemic failure. Now, student GPAs, AP scores and college prospects may be affected as a result, he says.
DeBakey Principal Jesus Herrera did not respond to multiple requests for comment. A district spokesman said last week that schools “have been asked to limit outside hiring” until staffing audits are complete in the 85 schools in or aligned with Miles’ New Education System, where enrollment was less than forecast to start the year.
“This will give existing HISD teachers whose positions are eliminated in NES and NES-A campuses the first opportunity to apply for other positions available in non-NES schools. Exceptions can and have been made for specialized instructors like AP teachers,” the district said in a statement.
Miles said Thursday evening that the audit was near completion and that the pause would be lifted quickly.
“We had some excess teachers, and we’re moving some teachers around, and that should be completed soon,” Miles said last week. Teachers who move from an NES or NES-A campus will keep their $10,000 stipends, but in the case of the former, will not retain the higher salaries they received for teaching in an NES school, he said.
The situation is not just affecting DeBakey. Though Miles said he started the year with zero teaching vacancies, uncommon in a district like HISD, teachers and administrators at other schools say that they had to get creative to fulfill responsibilities of teachers who have left the district since the school year started.
1. Mike Miles has said a lot of things since being foisted on HISD. He said he’d made a lot of cuts in the central office to save money, and yet actual data says he didn’t. He said that non-New Education System schools would continue to operate as they always have, at least for his first year, and yet many non-NES schools are now acting like NES schools. He said things about teacher pay for those at NES schools, and now he’s saying other things about teacher pay at NES schools. He said that HISD had no teacher vacancies and yet here we have high school students teaching themselves AP physics because they have no teacher and their school can’t fill the vacancy. There may be explanations for all of this. I’m sure there are complexities involved. But this is quite the track record of not doing what he said he was doing or was going to do. If we can’t believe him about this sort of thing, why should we believe him about anything else?
2. I firmly believe that a big part of the problem here is simply that Mike Miles has no oversight. The Board of Managers has largely rubberstamped him. For sure, I don’t see any of them in any of these stories expressing surprise or disappointment or anger about what is happening. No one on that Board is demanding answers. That doesn’t appear to be their role, and any of them can be removed if they get too stroppy anyway. All we have pushing back are the teachers, parents and students, some elected officials and candidates, the activists, the Internet cranks, and the Rice MOB. And Mike Miles dismisses them all as being ignorant and spreading misinformation.
3. I know this is the lowest form of commentary, but can you imagine what the reaction would have been if a story like this had come out a year or two ago? How much criticism would the HISD Board of Trustees have received for this obvious failure? And yet here we are.