More NES schools coming

Not a surprise, in fact entirely expected, but I do have a question.

As many as 40 schools will be added to Houston ISD Superintendent Mike Miles’ New Education System in the 2024-25 school year, the district announced Tuesday, bringing the state-appointed leader’s controversial reform program to nearly half the district and raising concerns among some school communities.

Miles’ announcement coincided with HISD’s release of campus accountability ratings, which have been delayed in court by at least 100 school districts that claim the Texas Education Agency’s new formula would unduly harm scores. The TEA, in response to the litigation, released its methodology and STAAR data directly to districts, allowing them to calculate their own ratings.

Rather than bring entire feeder patterns into the New Education System, as Miles did with the first set, the district used the state’s would-be accountability ratings to determine the batch set of NES schools. Twenty F-rated schools that weren’t already among the 85 NES and NES-aligned campuses in HISD will be folded into the system next year, along with six low D-rated schools.

Another 24 high D-rated schools, 14 of which will ultimately be accepted, have been given a choice to opt into the program. The 57 NES-aligned schools that volunteered for the reforms last summer will be fully enveloped into the system, as HISD will eliminate the “NES-aligned” distinction and bring the maximum number of NES schools to 125 campuses ahead of the 2024-25 school year.

Miles said that the district focused on D- and F-rated campuses, rather than entire feeder patterns, because one of the criteria for returning HISD to local control is that no school receive a failing grade two consecutive years.

“We need to get out of state intervention and we need to do it as soon as anyone could possibly do it. If we have F-rated campuses, we need to provide them with a different sort of education and different sort of supports so that they have a chance of getting out of intervention,” Miles said. “I feel pretty good that the NES program is going to get more schools growth and they will get out of D or F status, maybe not in one year but certainly in two years.”

The district’s 2023 accountability scores, based on the TEA’s updated methodology, saw many schools’ grades plummet. Out of 268 schools evaluated, 35 were A-rated, 58 received Bs and 52 received Cs. There were 65 D-rated schools, and 58 F-rated schools.


At Anderson, where the school rating fell from an A in 2022 to an F in 2023, several parents who spoke with the Houston Chronicle said they weren’t familiar with the New Education System or what it entailed. Most said they were happy with the education their kids were receiving but wouldn’t reject any changes out of hand.

“I’ve been satisfied with the school so far, my son is learning enough,” said Anderson parent Kely Dalmes. “But a little extra doesn’t hurt.”

Some parents at other soon-to-be NES schools were more skeptical. Adam Chaney, the father of a second-grader at Stevens Elementary in northwest Houston, said his school community has been bracing for the transition ever since their former principal, Erin Trent, was removed from the campus days before the start of the school year. Chaney questioned how the school could have fallen from a B to an F in the span of just a year, and was particularly frustrated with what he felt was the removal of parents’ agency in the process.

“We didn’t choose this; our elected board was swept away, and Miles was appointed by the state. These decisions are being made without parental input and they’re significantly shifting the culture of HISD,” Chaney said.

Chaney said he’s already noticed an uptick of teachers and families leaving Stevens and worries the trend will continue with the school’s introduction to the New Education System. He said he’s worried about certain aspects of the model — the removal of his school’s librarian and the daily quizzes among them — but that he plans to at least give it a chance next year.

“I believe you can only impact a system you’re engaged in, and somebody has to fight for these parents and teachers and kids,” Chaney said. “But my kid has to come first, and if my kid starts to struggle emotionally or academically, the next year might be a different story.”

I don’t have any problem with Miles’ strategy here. Given the requirement of no F-rated schools for two years in a row, it makes sense to focus on those schools and the ones closest to the edge. Whether NES gets us there or not is a different question, but if one believes that it is the way then this is how it should be deployed.

I also agree with quoted parent Adam Chaney that it’s weird how schools could go all the way from an A or a B to an F in a single year. One assumes that the students haven’t all gotten significantly worse and that the teachers haven’t all forgotten how to teach. I haven’t checked to see how many other schools suffered a similar fate, but unless these two are the outliers, the fact that this was even possible would make me question both the old rating system and the new one. To reach for a slightly odd comparison, the baseball stat sites like Fangraphs and Baseball Reference that have a formula for calculating wins above replacement (WAR) make changes to their formula pretty regularly, to account for new and improved available data and other factors. When they then apply the new formula to the players, it never has the effect of turning a Hall of Famer into a palooka. All of the changes end up within a fairly narrow band, which I say helps reflect and reinforce the underlying reality of the players’ performance. As with the school ratings system here, to do anything else would make you wonder if they’d been doing it all wrong before, or if it had been fine and now they screwed it up.

I could be wrong, I suppose. I’m not an expert in those matters. If there’s a reason why this could happen – other than the students and/or teachers suddenly becoming a lot less proficient at what they do – I’m open to hearing it. Until then, suspicion strikes me as the right course of action.

Speaking of tests and scores, we also heard this:

The announcement marks a major update in the rollout of Miles’ plans for Texas’ largest school district. When Miles was installed by Texas Education Commissioner Mike Morath last June amid sanctions against HISD, he promised to overhaul 150 schools by 2030. Despite vocal opposition from some families and staff, he already has unfurled plans to expand the program to as many as 125.

It also comes a day after the HISD community received its first concrete datapoint on student learning at overhauled schools — numbers that appear to endorse the promise of Miles’ program.

Third- through eighth-graders at NES schools learned roughly 25 percent faster in reading and 50 percent faster in math than their peers at non-NES schools, according to results from a standardized test students took last week that HISD provided to the Landing. Miles said he was pleased with the scores, particularly for historically underserved students.

“For Black and Hispanic kids, if they were in an NES school, they did much better than a Black kid in a non-NES school and better than a Hispanic kid in a non-NES school,” Miles said. “That shows that the supports are there for academic achievement.”

What standardized test? What exactly are the scores? What does “learned faster” mean? I’m happy to hear about student improvements, but you’ve gotta tell me more than that.

The Press does have a bit more, but I’ve still got questions:

Encouraged by what he said were significant gains in the scores of students at NES schools on the Northwest Evaluation Association’s Measures of Academic Progress tests last week, Miles clearly feels this will help make his case to parents and educators that his system of more structured classes with a centralized, set curriculum is the way to go to raise test scores and better prepare students for careers and college.

“Preliminary results show that the kids did well on NWA in English and math,” He said this did not surprise him but, “The degree to which they did well did surprise me. They really knocked it out of the park.” This also means that the teachers did well. “The NES schools and the NESA schools did significantly better than the non-NES schools” in terms of growth, he said.

At the same time, he said: “One set of data does not make a trend. So we’ve got a whole bunch of work to do. This is a good set of data but we’ve only been in this transformation for four and a half months. We got a long way to go.”

Maybe I’ve forgotten some of the acronyms from my kids’ elementary and middle school experiences, but the MAP test is not one I recognize. If this is a real result, then great! That’s exactly what you want to see. The size of the improvement (25 percent? FIFTY percent??), the lack of any other detail (like, was everyone taking these tests, or just some kids), and my general distrust of Mike Miles all leave me feeling like I’m not ready to celebrate anything just yet. (The Chron story didn’t mention this at all.) So yes, one set of data isn’t a trend, we agree on that. Tell me more, and we’ll go from there.

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