One year of the HISD takeover

It’s been a year since HISD was officially taken over. Where do we stand on the things that matter, the schools’ and students’ performances? Early data is mostly positive, with a lot of caveats.

According to early data, HISD appears to be making initial progress with complying with state and federal special education requirements and improving student outcomes, which are both key requirements to ending the intervention. However, several education experts said one year of data is not enough time to indicate whether the district is heading in the right direction and more work still needs to be done to ensure students receive an equitable education.

During this first year of takeover, HISD has reported higher levels of teacher and principal turnover compared to prior years and job cuts in nearly every department due to a $528 million budget shortfall, which have led some to question the long-term sustainability of Miles’ reforms as he plans to spend millions of additional dollars expanding the NES model to about half the district’s campuses next year.


Toni Templeton, a research scientist at the University of Houston Education Research Center, said that the teacher turnover at HISD is part of a troublesome increase in attrition across the state, where more than 10% of teachers have left education altogether in recent years. Campus climate — an area in which Miles’ administration has been criticized — can often play a factor, she said.

What increasingly concerns researchers, however, is the growing tendency of school districts to replace departed educators with uncertified teachers who tend not to stay as long as those with traditional training. HISD data indicates the district hired at least 839 uncertified teachers, or about 7% of its teaching workforce, to start the year.

“It’s problematic because there’s an actual science to teaching and learning — the preparation, the clinical practice, that’s all been linked in research to lower attrition and better performance, so we are really alarmed by what we’re seeing statewide,” Templeton said.

While teachers have been leaving in the greatest numbers, the forced resignations of several HISD principals in recent months have rallied thousands in the community against Miles, especially at some non-NES schools — including two that boasted recent Principals of the Year — where families were more than happy with their principal’s leadership.

HISD hasn’t yet released records indicating how many principals were let go in May, but their departures came on the heels of widespread principal turnover throughout the year. At least 71 principals left or were removed from their positions between June and March, with that number expected to rise significantly as more data from the spring is released.


There is limited data on student academic performance and progress during the state takeover so far since the results of several exams taken at the end of the academic year, such as the State of Texas Assessments of Academic Readiness, will not be publicly released until summer.

One of the few available data points is HISD students’ beginning- and middle-of-year scores on the Northwest Evaluation Association’s Measures of Academic Progress Growth assessment, or the NWEA MAP. Miles introduced the national exam for the first time in HISD to monitor students’ academic progress throughout the year.

HISD elementary and middle school students took exams in reading, math and science in September, January and May, although several campuses struggled to provide adequate heating to students during January exams and air conditioning during the May assessments. The tests measure both academic achievement and growth using a RIT, or Rasch Unit, score ranging from 100 to 350.

The middle-of-year exam results showed that students at NES campuses saw more growth in math and reading than students at non-NES campuses, although the raw RIT scores remain lower for students at NES schools, which largely consist of Hispanic, Black and low-income students, according to data obtained by the Chronicle.

Average districtwide scores for each grade, however, are a few points below scores from the “norm group,” which is a separate large group of diverse students from across the U.S. who have also taken the test. Miles told the Chronicle in January that the test results show HISD is on the right path and the NES reforms are paying off, but HISD still has “a long way to go.”

“One set of data does not a trend make, I get it, but you can see that we’re headed in the right direction,” Miles said. “You can see that what we said was going to happen to the NES schools happened. Kids who are behind get more supports.”

According to district data, about 60% of NES students met their expected growth targets on the middle-of-year MAP reading exam, compared with 54% of non-NES students. On the math exam, approximately 61% of NES students met their expected growth targets, compared with 59% of non-NES elementary and 55% of middle school students.

Overall, MAP scores at NES schools jumped from about 190 points to 195 points in reading and about 183 to 188 in math, while scores at non-NES schools generally remained consistent at about 201 on the reading exam and around 194 on the math portion.

HISD students were originally scheduled to take the end-of-year Measures of Academic Progress Growth assessment in mid-May, but the district pushed testing dates for most students to May 28 to 30, meaning test results are not available.

Erin Baumgartner, director of the Houston Education Research Consortium, said it’s good for students at NES campuses to be reporting more growth, but it’s too soon to determine if it’s a sign that the model is working or not. She said more data is necessary to determine why the growth is happening, if it’s connected to the NES reforms and if it is sustainable in the long-term.

“Getting the full school year’s worth of information will be very helpful, but it’s also important … to see how this continues into next year and how this progress happens,” Baumgartner said. “For some students, there was a complete shift in their education experience, and so that really might have done a lot to boost them initially, but can we keep those that boost going?”

There’s a lot more, so read the rest. The Chron has a series of articles marking the one year anniversary, and of those the other that drew my interest was this collection of quotes from various stakeholders, looking back on the year that was. I’d put it at two to one, maybe even three to one negative. The early numbers may be trending positive, but the vibes most definitely are not.

I’ve said before and I’ll say again, I think Mike Miles has done some good things, things that will make academic performance and outcomes at HISD better overall. Changing how we teach reading was necessary and overdue, and likely happened more quickly and with less fuss via his edict than via a trustee-driven process. Bringing more resources and attracting better teachers to the initial NES schools, many of which have been long underserved by HISD, was a good and needed accomplishment. He deserves credit for these things.

But the negatives are overwhelming, and they threaten to swamp what good there has been. I don’t want to relitigate everything here, but I do want to focus on what I think is the main issue, which is Miles greatly overstepping his initial mandate, which has led to most of the conflict and controversy that we see now and which I believe threatens to undermine the progress that is being made. Miles came in with a mandate to improve a relatively small number of underserved and underperforming campuses, with a short amount of lead time before the school year was scheduled to begin. He did that, and then very quickly pivoted to implementing the same kind of changes at a much larger number of schools that were not within that mandate, before we had any idea how well his changes would work and without the input or feedback from the schools that suddenly found themselves in his scope.

This to me is a mistake on multiple levels: There was no time or effort made to get buy-in from the community. There was no evidence that any of the reforms were working. Many of the reforms he had in mind, for things like teacher and principal evaluation, were based on unproven data and methodology and relied on small samples that were naturally subject to a great deal of volatility. Increasing the focus of his mission necessarily meant paying less attention to the initial subjects of the mission and created distractions by generating the controversy that they did. High-profile firings of well-regarded teachers and principals were made without warning or justification and came at the same time as other staff reductions were being made, which gave the whole process a chaotic and arbitrary feel, which led to even more public dissension. And all of this was happening as Miles himself continuously gave a my-way-or-the-highway response to criticisms.

The bottom line is that Miles is a leader who has lost the confidence of the people he was brought in to lead, people who had no say in his selection and no mechanism for holding him accountable. It’s a mess of his own making, and it not only puts the much-needed bond issuance in jeopardy, it threatens to make HISD’s long-term demographic issues worse. I fear that people who have the means to pull their kids out of HISD for next year will do so, which will exacerbate its fiscal position, reduce its political clout, and make Houston seem like a less-desirable place to live. How much better off is HISD if academic scores notch up a bit but its enrollment for 2024-25 falls to 150K or something like that? How much better off would we be instead if Mike Miles had even a basic ability to listen and be empathetic?

Maybe I’m overestimating the problem here. Maybe the STAAR and accountability scores we get will show a big step forward, which will not only be great for the students but also make the eventual departure of Mike Miles that much more tangible. Maybe things will calm down over the summer and people will send their kids back as usual. All I’m saying is that we could have gotten the good things with far less of the bad, if not for Mike Miles’ actions. And if the first thing that a reinstated school board and its newly-hired Superintendent do is throw out most if not all of the changes Mike Miles made in an effort to close the door on a deeply painful chapter of HISD’s history, we’ll know the reason why.

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3 Responses to One year of the HISD takeover

  1. Sandra G Moore says:

    The last line assumes that the goal is to actually improve education for the children in HISD. Mike Morath knew who Miles was before assigning him the role of superintendent. The goal, I believe, is to promote student withdrawal and put these kids into for profit charter schools where the laws are vastly different. Special needs are irrelevant as is teaching the children to think critically. Miles and Abbott want clones who will do as told and not challenge the system because they won’t know what they have missed. HISD will be destroyed regarding quality education, Abbott will be gleeful and Morath along with the appointed board of trustees will have been quietly complicit. Good for CVPE for sounding the alarm over and over and over!!

  2. Meme says:

    Judith Cruz has been a strong supporter of the takeover.

  3. Pingback: A closer look at the HISD bond proposal | Off the Kuff

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