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Two trustees speak about CEP

This week, Carl Whitmarsh forwarded to his list a pair of articles written by HISD trustees on the subject of CEP and the changes that have been proposed by Superintendent Terry Grier. Since that has been such a contentious topic, which took up a fair bit of time in the interviews I did with Grier and with HFT President Gayle Fallon, I figured I’d reproduce them here. The first is from Trustee Manuel Rodriguez, the second from Trustee Carole Mims Galloway. Click on to read them.

The Honorable Manuel Rodriguez, Jr.
HISD Trustee, District III

“They have it wrong” was my first thought after reading the Houston Chronicle editorial, “CEP and other options.” CEP is anything but a “reform school setting with inferior educational instruction.”

Two important things to note when considering what was written:

A visit to CEP’s Ferndale School will quickly dispel the notion that it is a reform school setting. It is a structured, positive educational environment where students are attending school more often than in their home school and are on task. The “reform setting” comment negatively strikes at the students HISD sends to CEP rather than credibly painting a picture of what one finds at CEP, and I find that offensive. The Texas Public Policy Foundation published a highly critical review of Texas school disciplinary and juvenile justice programs in 2006, and CEP was the only program cited in the report as a “DAEP that works.”

Everything I have seen and heard about CEP’s ability to educate students, most of whom were failing at their home schools when referred to CEP, has been positive. To suggest that they deliver “inferior educational instruction” is a misguided characterization and, until the promised evaluation is completed and suggests otherwise, is wrong.

Promised Evaluation of the CEP Program

In the Opinion, it is stated that Superintendent Grier is asking the Trustees to “effectively discontinue…its contract with Community Education Partners.” To do this would put the proverbial cart before the horse. Why? Because the Trustees agreed that nothing regarding CEP would be considered until the evaluation of their Program was done by a third party evaluator. This still has not been done; therefore, no other options should be considered until the evaluation reveals the effectiveness of the CEP Program.

The Opinion wrongly lauds the idea of a “swapping program,” where problem students would be sent to another campus in the hope that a school move would be better for the student. Such a program has failed here and in other urban school districts before and, if replicated in any form, will send more vulnerable students to the street as dropouts.

We wrongly condemn teachers and administrators by suggesting that they cannot control their students, and that they are too quick to refer them elsewhere for minor infractions. Last school year, there were 100,200 student incidents reported in HISD schools. Only 2,900 of these HISD students who committed these offenses were referred to CEP. On average, students referred had seven Code of Student Conduct violations, two in-school suspensions and one out-of-school suspension prior to a CEP referral. We must acknowledge the negative impact these students have on school safety and student learning. We must do what is best for the total population of students and teachers, insuring the best learning environment for all.
The District cannot experiment with the educational process for all students at the expense of students who have proven that they will not change or improve their personal behavior.

It is time to take a step back, let the promised evaluation of the HISD-CEP Program be completed, and then consider the best options for the future of our students. I believe the facts will speak for themselves and we will find our best option is the one we have now.

WE NEED TO SLOW DOWN

“Let’s Not Throw the Baby Out With the Bath Water”
By Carol Mims Galloway

I was part of the Board that initially hired CEP. We made the decision to hire them because HISD tried numerous unsuccessful approaches with disruptive students and they were becoming more violent.

In the 1980s, the District response to disruptive students was:

  • Repeated short-term suspensions
  • Lateral transfers
  • Expulsions to the street

HISD acknowledged these approaches failed to make schools safer, improve classroom learning environments, or get disruptive students back on track academically or behaviorally. Juvenile crime increased when students were suspended or expelled to the street. HISD’s Alternative District staff will readily admit that short-term suspensions and lateral transfers just temporarily moved the problem and helped no-one. After those failed approaches, HISD created its own alternative education schools – Terrell and Belfort at a per pupil cost of over $18,000 per year. HISD admitted that these schools were overpriced and ineffective.

In 1997, the District hired CEP to do the following:

  • Reduce the per pupil cost for disciplinary alternative programs and create savings by reducing the number of students repeating grades
  • Improve school safety and create better learning environments for referring schools
  • Improve state test scores for referring schools
  • Improve behavior and academic performance when students transition back to HISD
  • Decrease recidivism rates for students referred to discipline programs

CEP was greeted positively by the Board, referring principals, the teachers union and the Chronicle. In the first year of operation, school crime decreased significantly and principals and teachers reported a better learning environment. Students referred improved their behavior and academic achievement. The cost was reduced from $18,000 per student to $8,000 per student. Over the last 13 years, the HISD/CEP partnership has achieved the following results:

HISD schools are safer. District-wide incidents involving student fights are down 17%, assaults on employees are down 46% and campus gang violence is down 49%.

Test scores for schools referring students to CEP have increased a greater percentage than those schools that refer only a few students.

Students referred to CEP have gained on average more than two levels growth in reading and math, passed four courses, and earned four credits while at CEP. Over 60% of previously grade-repeating students placed there for 120 days were promoted. These results are much greater than what these students achieved in their referring schools.

I understand the need to evaluate all programs for their effectiveness and cost in these tight budget times. However, CEP has been extremely effective for the schools referring students as well as for these at-risk students who have benefitted from a structured program designed specifically to meet their needs. The District cut its per pupil cost in half for disciplinary programs, generated revenue through the increased attendance of these students, and cut the high cost of students repeating grades. Most important, we saved a lot of students who would have dropped out.

The Superintendent promised a third party evaluation of the CEP Program before making a recommendation to the Board. This has not been done. The Superintendent has been urged by the Board to visit CEP and have his top staff review their results. This has not been done.

CEP has been a great Program that has served students well and saved the District money. Why aren’t we talking to CEP about ways to reduce the cost of the Program rather than cancelling an effective Program and replacing it with approaches that failed more than 20 years ago? Our children, parents, and our teachers deserve better than repeating our failures and calling them “reform.”

Maybe Dr. Grier should take a lesson from the CEO of Waste Management Inc., go to work for a week or two in our schools, preferably one in my District, and see what its really like teaching in the classroom.

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3 Comments

  1. Cindy says:

    Are we shocked that the things Superintendent Grier verbally promised don’t actually happen? Just like he promised that no teachers would be fired based on negative value-added data (test score data) alone without an intensive support process and a real chance for improvement in place for those staff members first. Yet, despite what Grier said, the written policy is still worded so that it allows him to fire teachers based solely on a negative value-added score. And, despite what Grier said, there is supposedly a “list” of over 400 teachers slated for firing circulating around the upper echelons of the district. And, that supposedly several teachers on this list are older, more experienced (and therefore more expensive salary-wise) teachers who teach upper level advanced, Pre-AP, and/or AP students who already have super high test scores and for whom it is very difficult to achieve positive growth, especially under a system that calculates no growth the same as negative growth. Sounds like more of Grier’s “fancy footwork” and “spin tactics” to come up with a way to fire expensive older teachers, many of whom are on continuing contracts and couldn’t otherwise be fired. And, for what, to build fancier fences around some schools so he can get a kickback?

  2. Amanda says:

    I have been an educator for many years and I see discrimination on a daily basis. Our school system is so busy pandering to those students who are being disruptive and at times violent that we discriminate constantly against those kids who come to class, get on with their work and who are generally in compliance. Ask any student who attends a public school and they will be able to regale you with accounts of students who are unable to control themselves. As teachers we take way too much time out of our instructional time dealing with recurring incidents and repeat offenders.
    HISD says that their number one priority is the safety of the students. They need to keep that promise to all kids and not just the troublemakers

  3. […] who has strongly disputed some of Grier’s claims about CEP’s effectiveness, and from some HISD Trustees. Grier, whose main argument was that CEP cost too much, has now given up this fight, at least for […]