Houston ISD is in limbo as the Texas Education Agency weighs how to proceed with a possible takeover of the state’s largest school system allowed under a recent Texas Supreme Court ruling.
The court lifted an injunction on Jan. 13 that had halted Education Commissioner Mike Morath’s 2019 move to take over the HISD school board, after allegations of trustee misconduct and repeated failing accountability ratings at Phillis Wheatley High School.
The state agency is now tight-lipped about the possible next steps, saying only that the “TEA continues to review the Supreme Court’s decision in order to determine next steps that best support the students, teachers, parents, and school community of the Houston Independent School District.”
While the state Supreme Court kicked the decision back to the lower courts, the Texas Education Agency could take action independent of the court. Experts say a few possibilities could play out: the TEA could appoint a conservator, replace the elected board with a board of managers, or allow the district to remain autonomous.
Even when well-intended, takeover efforts cause a great deal of chaos for parents, students and teachers, said Cathy Mincberg, president and CEO for the Center for the Reform of School Systems, a Houston-based nonprofit that provides consulting services for school boards.
“My impression when you look at takeovers across the country, they have not yielded the results that people wanted,” Mincberg said. “They swoop in trying to make a huge change in the system, and sometimes that’s just not possible.”
Mincberg, who has worked with school districts during takeovers, describes them as resulting in “highly confusing times.”
Attorney Christopher L. Tritico has represented three Houston-area districts — North Forest, Beaumont and La Marque — through their takeovers and due process hearings, which he described as “not a winning proposition.”
HISD will have a right to due process hearings, per state code, a move Tritico anticipates it will take. However, that hearing will be held by the TEA and overseen by a hearing officer the commissioner selects, making it difficult for school districts to get a ruling in their favor, he said.
Action may come soon, Tritico said.
“The time they are trying to buy is over,” he said. “I expect to move forward fairly soon now. There is nothing really standing in the way of (the TEA) moving forward in what the commissioner wants to do.”
In Houston ISD’s case, some legal and education experts raised the question of whether its still appropriate for the state to attempt a takeover. They say the issues that triggered a takeover — Wheatley’s failing accountability grades and board dysfunction — are now dated after the case has been deliberated in the courts for the last four years.
Since the initial announcement of a takeover, and the following lawsuits, Wheatley has increased its accountability grades to a passing score, and most of the board has been replaced.
Mincberg, president and CEO for The Center for the Reform of School Systems, said the threat of takeover gave the issues the public attention they deserved, and resulted in the board members being voted out.
“To me the Houston (ISD) problem got fixed,” Mincberg said. “The board members who were doing things that the TEA had trouble with were turned out and the district has become a lot more stable.”
See here for the background. As you know, I am of the same mind as Cathy Mincberg. I’m not even sure what the TEA would try to accomplish with a takeover. It seems very unlikely that they would be able to achieve any measurable improvement that wouldn’t have happened anyway. That’s assuming that the takeover would be about tangible results and not political aims. It’s hard to say at this point, and won’t be any clearer until the TEA says or does something. Until then, we wait.