Prominent Houston political and faith leaders on Monday denounced Houston ISD Superintendent Mike Miles’ plan to convert some libraries into discipline centers, adding to the growing chorus of critics opposing the change.
Members of Congress, Houston City Council and high-profile religious institutions joined Mayor Sylvester Turner — already on record opposing the move — in describing the state-appointed superintendent’s plan as an attack on lower-income communities of color.
Teachers at dozens of campuses Miles has targeted for overhaul will send misbehaving students to the library — fashioned into what he has dubbed “Team Centers” — to learn virtually. Meanwhile, Miles is eliminating librarians and media specialists from 28 “New Education System,” or NES, campuses undergoing the most dramatic changes.
The strategy has drawn national media attention in recent days and infuriated much of the city’s Democratic political leadership. U.S. Rep. Al Green, D-Houston, said Monday at a City Hall press conference that the elimination of librarians is a move toward the “resegregation of society.”
“I drank from the colored water fountain,” Green said. “I know what it’s like to have to sit in the balcony of the movie, in the back of the bus. I don’t want to go back to that. … (Mayor Turner) is taking the necessary steps to deal with this incremental step that is going to take us backwards. We’ve got to stop it here.”
Miles, appointed to the position in June by Texas Education Commissioner Mike Morath as part of sweeping state sanctions against the district, remains committed to his plan. Miles has said the strategy will create better learning conditions for students and allow the district to redirect more resources to classroom instruction.
In a statement released minutes before Monday’s gathering of civic leaders, Miles said he “cannot and will not govern the state’s largest school district by press conference or press release.”
“The time for politics is over, and we will not be distracted by intentional misinformation,” Miles said.
While civic leaders can speak out against Miles’ proposals, they have no legal authority to force him to change course. Only members of HISD’s state-appointed school board — who Morath can replace at any time — have that power. All nine board members did not respond Monday to a request for comment about the library strategy.
U.S. Rep. Sheila Jackson Lee, D-Houston, said Monday that Miles’ plan reminds her of being forced to sit in the back of a segregated train as a child. In reference to Miles’ comments Monday, the long-tenured member of Congress and current mayoral candidate said she has “never received a statement like that from any superintendent of any school district.”
While librarians will be cut from some campuses, books will remain on the shelves and available for checkout on an honor system, Miles told the Houston Chronicle. But that doesn’t ease the worries of Houston City Councilmember Karla Cisneros, who called the move “an attack on communities of color.”
“Librarians are teachers, and they are some of the very best teachers,” Cisneros said. “If this is a way to cut on expenses, it is incredibly short-sighted. And it is a blow to students who are already living with the inequities that come with poverty or being a person of color.”
See here and here for some background. I had speculated before that Mike Miles might have blown off Mayor Turner on the grounds that Turner will be out of office in a few months. Given that Rep. Sheila Jackson Lee is also critical of his announced policy, this controversy may well extend beyond that point anyway. I wonder if Sen. John Whitmire will address this.
It is certainly true that the Mayor and City Council have no authority over HISD and can’t affect its policies. But they can make noise and influence public opinion. Of course, how much public opinion matters is debatable, since the public has no mechanism for replacing any of the people who currently have the power to influence this. I will say again, if Mike Miles wants anything that he does here to outlast him, he might consider a bit of public relations in his approach. So far I see little evidence of that happening.
Finally, speaking of evidence, my friend Denise, who is an actual HISD librarian, left this comment on my earlier post, citing numerous studies that do show a link between school libraries staffed with certified librarians and a positive effect on test scores. If Miles’ justification for this kind of cost cutting is that it doesn’t further the goal of improving student outcomes, then what data does he have in his corner? The Press has more.