HISD reveals its “District of Innovation” plans

I’m more skeptical than I was before, mostly because of how things have gone so far in HISD.

Houston ISD released a draft plan Monday evening to potentially exempt itself from 10 state laws, including teacher certification requirements, class size limits and rules about the length of the school year.

If the plan is approved, HISD would be able to begin the school year as early as the first Monday in August and extend the academic calendar up to 185 days. The district also would be able to hire uncertified teachers without seeking a waiver from the state, raise the number of elementary students allowed per teacher and develop its own teacher evaluation system.

The changes are allowed under “District of Innovation” status, which HISD began seeking in September. The vast majority of Texas school districts have received the designation, with most allowing themselves to extend the school year and avoid teacher certification laws, according to the Texas Education Agency. About half of Texas districts chose to opt out of the state’s class size limits.

New Superintendent Mike Miles previously acknowledged the changes likely will result in teachers working a longer year. Most HISD teachers currently work 187 days per school year, with 15 days devoted to preparing for the start of classes and mid-year training.

Under a longer academic calendar, HISD will offer a “competitive compensation package for instructional staff,” the document released Monday states. What that dollar figure may look like — and how it could impact HISD’s bottom line — remains unclear. The district did not immediately respond to a request for comment.


Bradley Wray is a physical education teacher at Deady Middle School and a member of the District Advisory Committee. He worries the changes outlined in Tuesday’s plan could drive away teachers, who already are leaving HISD in higher-than-usual numbers, he said.

“A lot of (school staff) rely on those days to work second jobs during the summer. I value those days to spend time with my family,” Wray said. “The extra days, I think, is going to drive away a lot of teachers, which we already see happening. This will be the final nail for some teachers.”

As a parent, Wray also said he was concerned with exemptions allowing uncertified teachers in the classroom and waiving the requirement that the district notify families whose children are taught by an unlicensed teacher.

Each year, dozens of HISD classrooms are led by uncredentialed educators, even without the explicit allowance to do so in a District of Innovation plan. This year, the district applied for a state waiver on certification requirements. Research does not show a clear link between holding a certification and teacher effectiveness.


The full list of exemptions from state law outlined in the Tuesday draft document include:

  • Starting the school year earlier and allowing it to extend to as many as 185 days
  • Allowing HISD to develop a teacher evaluation system separate from the state’s system
  • Allowing HISD to train teachers in regional or district wide events, rather than campus-by-campus trainings
  • Waiving the requirement that all teachers be certified to teach their grade and subject
  • Waiving the requirement that families be notified if their child’s instructor does not hold a certification
  • Scrapping the rule that each campus must have a designated staff member devoted to student discipline
  • Allow principals the ability not withhold grades for students in good academic standing who miss over 10 percent of school days
  • Changing the maximum students per classroom in pre-kindergarten through fourth grade from 22 to 20 in pre-k, 25 in kindergarten and first grades and 28 in second through fourth grades
  • Raising the number of excused absences students may have for college visits
  • Lifting mandatory punishments for vaping

The public will have a chance to weigh in on the District of Innovation plan during a Nov. 14 meeting. The HISD board is scheduled to vote and possibly grant final approval Dec. 14.

See here and here for the background. Some of these ideas are unquestionably good. I support lifting mandatory punishments for vaping, raising the number of excused absences students may have for college visits, not requiring a designated staff member devoted to student discipline, and letting principals not withhold grades for students in good academic standing who miss over 10 percent of school days. In principle, I support districts being able to train teachers in regional or district wide events rather than campus by campus, I’m just not in a very trusting mood for HISD these days. The rest I’m much more skeptical of, and yes that is heavily influenced by what I have seen from Mike Miles so far.

Not that any of this matters, since the Board of Managers will give Mike Miles what he wants. Given that my concerns are more practical than conceptual, maybe this will turn out better than I fear. Again, some of these ideas are perfectly fine. It’s the big ones I’m most worried about, and I’m worried about them because I lack faith in the Miles process. Which, given that the goal here is to improve student outcomes (and thus be able to usher his ass out of here) once again puts me in the position of fervently hoping I’m wrong. I hate being in that position. The Chron and the Press have more.

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