Once again, too much news and too little time…
Brian Tucker started getting help for a speech impairment and learning disability in second grade at his Houston ISD elementary school.
Decades later, he still talks to the teachers who helped identify him for those vital services, and as a special education teacher in the district now, works to provide that same support to his own students.
But Tucker and other teachers say they are struggling to accommodate the wide-ranging, individual needs of special education students under a strict new instructional model introduced by Superintendent Mike Miles in the New Education System schools.
“The system is not very flexible and the model has to start incorporating our kids in special education,” Tucker said. “We’re still waiting on more directions on what’s the best way to provide the accommodations.”
Tucker, who is nearing retirement and has elderly parents to support, was attracted to the New Education System by better pay and a new challenge. He left his former campus and started his 21st year in education at Sugar Grove Academy, an NES middle school in Sharpstown, as a special education teacher serving seventh- and eighth-grade students in English Language Arts and reading.
His colleagues are “magnificent,” with everyone working well together and invested in the students, Tucker said. But the instructional model is too regimented, inflexible and fast-paced to properly support children with disabilities or other learning differences, he said. Kids who struggle with concentrating or processing information, for example, may not finish or fully understand a concept before the teacher moves on to the next slide in the lesson plan.
“I’m able to provide (accommodations) — I’m just not able to provide them with the fidelity that I would like,” he said. “I try my best, but it’s hard when it’s timed so fast and you’re trying to move between the kids.”
Tucker said he is no longer able to work with students in small groups or help children complete the Demonstration of Learning, a timed and graded assessment given to students every day in core classes to measure their understanding of a specific lesson.
Children with disabilities are protected by a federal law that guarantees them access to a free and appropriate public education in the least restrictive environment so they can access the general education system. Instructional and testing accommodations help level the playing field for special education students to access the same material as their peers in the classroom.
As is typical, the district disputes all of the things that are being said by its critics. I dunno, the teacher who was himself a special ed student at HISD seems pretty credible to me. I have a feeling that there will be a lawsuit over this, given the federal accommodation laws. Improving special ed, which again was a real problem of long standing at HISD, is one of Mike Miles’ mandates, and he says it’s a priority. I’d like to see more evidence of that.
While teaching English language learners has always been a formidable challenge in Houston ISD, some educators say the job has become increasingly difficult this year because they face enormous pressure to implement a standardized instructional model that leaves some emergent bilingual students frustrated and floundering in the classroom.
“We know they’re just learning the language, but in this system, everyone is supposed to be moving at the same pace,” said Brian Tucker, a teacher at Sugar Grove Academy, an NES middle school. “And that cookie cutter doesn’t work for everybody.”
One teacher at Las Americas Newcomer School, a small NES-aligned campus in southwest Houston, said district officials told teachers to remove alphabet posters from classroom, saying they were inappropriate for a middle school, and limit the use of dictionaries, which many non-native English speakers rely on to look up words during class.
Although Las Americas caters to recent immigrant and refugee students who have little to no English language proficiency, district officials expect the campus to implement a “one-size-fits-all” approach, the teacher said. For example, students are being challenged with grade-level work, such as writing a limerick or reading Walt Whitman passages, even while they are still acquiring rudimentary English.
“Many of them, it’s their first year being in school. They don’t know the language. I have a classroom with at times four different languages spoken. And we’re forced to do the same slides and the same work as a regular, general education school,” the teacher said.
I dunno, maybe one size doesn’t fit all? Because students are individual people with individual needs? Obviously, a certain amount of standardization is needed, but the whole point is to meet the students’ needs so they can do their best. There’s a lot more to this story – the dread new library policy makes an appearance along the way – and it actually ends on a somewhat hopeful note. But seeing these two stories more or less back to back really caught my attention.
Verizon Wireless is moving to cancel an internet connectivity program that provided devices and data plans to tens of thousands of Houston ISD students, the result of the district’s lack of commitment to continuing the partnership, company officials said Wednesday.
The change potentially deals a blow to efforts to combat the digital divide in Texas’ largest school district, where about 56,500 students and 2,500 teachers have benefited from the program. Many of the participating HISD schools serve large numbers of Black and Hispanic students in lower-income neighborhoods, particularly on the district’s north and east sides.
In a statement, Verizon Wireless officials said they have moved to terminate an agreement with HISD to give free technology to students in 36 schools. Verizon, through a nonprofit known as Digital Promise, has worked with HISD on the initiative since 2020.
“Verizon Innovative Learning has made several attempts to continue its partnership with Houston ISD, and would be delighted to continue the partnership upon their response and demonstrated commitment to the program,” Digital Promise spokesperson Jessica Schuler said in a statement.
HISD officials did not respond to a request for comment Wednesday. It is unclear whether HISD has alternate plans to provide computers and internet access to students.
This is why we can’t have nice things.