Perelman is one of 137 teachers who left Houston ISD during the first month of school this year, all but five of them of their own volition, according to public records obtained by the Houston Chronicle. That’s twice as many teachers who resigned or retired from the district than during the same time frame last year, when 68 teachers left, only two involuntarily.
Staff turnover overall jumped from 441 employees during the first five weeks of school last year to 535 this year, a difference primarily made up by teachers, records show. The number of principals who left during that time rose from seven last year to 11 this year, and assistant principals from three to seven.
“All across our community – at NES, NES-A, and non-NES campuses alike – members of Team HISD are demonstrating their commitment to our students,” HISD said in a statement. “If some people choose to leave the district and go in another direction, we respect their decision to find opportunities that work for them.”
More than half of teachers who left HISD between Aug. 28, the first day of school, and Oct. 1 worked in one of the 85 schools in or aligned with Miles’ New Education System, where Miles has focused his boldest attempts at “wholesale systemic reform.” Teachers have been asked to stick to standardized lesson plans and a rigid instructional model that leaves little room to deviate from the curriculum, offering timed lessons and daily quizzes that are meant to gauge student performance and keep them on track.
Critics have blasted the plans as a “one-size-fits-all” model that leaves struggling students behind and removes agency from teachers.
Miles attempted to make up for the increased demands on teachers by offering higher salaries and $10,000 stipends at the 28 original, reconstituted NES schools in the Wheatley, North Forest and Kashmere feeder patterns, which appear to have gone some way in assuaging the stress of the transition. Only 14 teachers resigned from NES schools during the first month, records show, the same amount of teachers as left those schools last year.
Records from NES-aligned schools such as Benavidez, which operate identically to NES schools but offer only stipends, not higher salaries, tell a different story. Sixty teachers left those 57 schools last month, compared to 20 during the same period last year.
Toni Templeton, a research scientist at the University of Houston Education Research Center, said that more time, as well as information around certifications, experience and student enrollment, would be needed to fully understand the consequences of the early turnover, but that teacher mobility is concerning because it’s tied to declines in student performance.
Research also shows that teacher retention is strongly tied to school culture, she said.
“Part of what they’re doing is a complete cultural shift… so anytime you see this cultural shift, I think its going to take some time for things to work themselves out,” Templeton said. “It seems like what you’re seeing now, and what you’re hearing, is that teachers aren’t happy with the changes being made and going to a culture that better fits what they believe and think about teaching.”
I will once again acknowledge that we are still very early in the year, and we have very little actual data about how students are performing so far. A lot of stories, not so many numbers. We have two very different views of the underlying reality, one from Mike Miles and one from his many critics. I will also acknowledge that maybe we’re not hearing much from the people who think everything is going great. We sure are hearing from those who don’t think that.
I’ve written before about my concern that parents who don’t like the Mike Miles schools will vote with their feet, and we’ll see if a drop in enrollment fueled by that as a result. It’s too early to say whether something like that may happen, but we also clearly need to worry about the teachers doing the same. What do we do if this kind of turnover continues? Mike Miles has a vision, but if not enough teachers buy into it, where does that leave us? You may note that the higher-paid teachers at the official NES schools aren’t leaving at higher rates than before, so maybe that’s the answer: pay the teachers enough and we’ll be able to draw in and retain enough of them. And hey, paying teachers more, that’s great. But if we have to pay every teacher like we pay the teachers at NES schools (which, again, as a matter of principle, is fine), then we’re back to the same questions we’ve raised before about the financial viability of the Mike Miles plan. Is the Lege going to help out here? It’s not looking good for that right now. So what’s the plan?
And finally, to come back to the question of the data and what it will say about HISD’s progress, what happens if we find that the NES schools do improve, but other schools see declines? I want to be careful in how I say this because I won’t want to set up a situation where the NES schools are being pitted against the other schools, but ideally we’d like all schools to do better, or at least not do worse. What happens if that’s not what we get? Normally, an elected Board of Trustees would hold the Superintendent responsible for subpar performance. That ain’t happening here. So again I say, what does happen then?