Mike Miles versus the principals

I don’t even know, man.

Houston ISD’s appointed Superintendent Mike Miles put about half of the district’s principals on notice Thursday evening after receiving results of their midyear proficiency screenings, informing them that they must undergo a second assessment this spring and achieve at a higher level to remain a principal in HISD next year, according to documents obtained by the Houston Chronicle.

The principals who received the message include both longtime veterans and principals appointed by Miles’ administration just this year, representing Houston’s highest- and lowest-performing schools. Miles said he would make the midyear results available to principals on Friday, and met with them in the morning to discuss next steps.

“Your results demonstrate that you are working to be a proficient instructional leader and need to continue making progress toward that goal,” Miles wrote to principals on Thursday evening. “I want to make sure you clearly understand the next steps in the process to evaluate your performance and determine your eligibility for a principal position next year.”

The Houston Chronicle obtained a copy of the email, which was addressed to 117 principals.

The Chronicle initially published the names of everyone listed as a recipient on the email. The news organization then received a tip that the district may have included someone erroneously, raising questions about the accuracy of the district’s distribution list. In its editorial discretion, the Chronicle took down the list of names.

The midyear proficiency screenings, which about half of the district’s principals passed on the first go-around, focused on “quality of instruction” and “student achievement.” The former was determined by an independent review team that conducted classroom observations of core subject teachers in February, while the latter was based on midyear NWEA and interim STAAR results.


Under Miles’ targeted distribution, 40% of principals will receive a Proficient I ranking, and 20% will score a higher rating of Proficient II. Just 8% of principals will be receive the district’s highest ratings of Exemplary I or II. Principals who score in any of those four categories may remain as school leader.

The lowest-scoring principals will be rated Progressing I and Progressing II. The 10% that score in the first category will automatically be removed from their position as a principal at HISD. The 22% percent who receive a score Progressing II will be able to stay in their role at the discretion of their feeder pattern’s executive director or that of their division superintendent.

Michael McDonough, former principal at Bellaire High School, said that just one model or framework cannot effectively evaluate all the principals at HISD, given the size and diversity of the district and its 274 schools. He also said the evaluation system sends a message to principals that they are interchangeable, and worried that forcing principals out will have trickle-down effects on teacher retention and community confidence in a school.

“When a new process is rolled out to a district this size, it would seem prudent to spend a year examining the data to be sure that what you’ve designed works,” McDonough said. “Instead they are rolling it out with an unwarranted level of confidence.”

The HISD documents that detail these systems are embedded in the story. I haven’t read them yet and I’m not really interested in the inner workings of this at this time. I’m more about the big picture, which I’ll get to in a minute. First, here are a couple of reactions I saw on Twitter that I think capture the vibe:

I think we can all agree that however you wanted to define Mike Miles’ mission upon being made lord and master of HISD, it wasn’t supposed to include the many schools at HISD that are already quite successful by any measure. Because there were apparently some issues with that initial list of schools, which is where Joy Sewing and Jen Radcliffe got those names, we can’t say for sure that the head honchos at Carnegie et al are actually on any kind of notice. But I for one sure believe that Mike Miles has higher priorities than those schools, and has much more potential to harm them than improve them, and I suspect I’m not alone in that assessment.

That said, even well-rated schools can have significant populations of struggling students. I was told some years ago that Bellaire High School (which has something like 3500 students) had more kids that were failing STAAR tests and not meeting academic standards than some of the schools that were getting overall failing grades from the TEA, but because Bellaire is overall performing well those students don’t get the attention they deserve. I don’t know what the data for these schools are now, but the larger point that even good schools have students who could be doing better and that those schools should be held accountable for their performance is a sound one. One could certainly argue that schools whose populations are well above the average for household income and other markers of advantage should be held to a higher standard than schools with mostly disadvantaged students. If that’s where this is coming from, then there’s merit to it.

Like I said, I haven’t dived into the details, which at first glance look to be pretty technical. But at a high level, do I trust that Mike Miles has got the right idea and is executing it well? I think we know the answer to that. Even beyond that, the rigid formula for who gets to proceed and who gets fired or put on probation sounds an awful lot like rank and yank, which is not a good thing and will almost certainly contribute to the further decline in morale within HISD. And basing it on less than a year’s data (!!) with no intermediate steps to evaluate how things are going overall, seems like a great way to get results that don’t actually match up with performance.

There may well be some merit to this idea at a macro level, and certainly if one buys into the whole Mike Miles agenda, it could be a step in the right direction. But then we come back to that question about whether I trust what Miles is doing and how he’s doing it. So yeah, I’m not on board.

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