Teachers Everywhere Should Be Worried About What’s Happening in Houston I.S.D.

It’s like a dystopia.

Teachers Everywhere Should Be Worried About What's Happening in Houston I.S.D.

The largest school district in Texas has been in the news a lot lately. You may know the district was issued a state takeover and its superintendent was replaced by Mike Miles, who, notably, has never taught.

You may know that as a part of his “wholescale, systemic reform” he identified 28 underperforming schools and identified them as NES schools—which stands for New Education System.

You may know a few headlines—the most bizarre being that Miles starred in a musical skit for convocation that’s been scrubbed from the Internet.

Often, the real story isn’t as bad as newspaper headlines make them out to be. That’s not the case with what’s happening in H.I.S.D.

The experiences teachers are sharing are a different story entirely.


Here is what this reform looks like on a classroom level, from teachers currently in H.I.S.D.

Teachers read from a script the first two days of school.

Read right off the page. No get-to-know-yous, no surveys, no relationship-building, no games, nothing. Right into curriculum.

Teachers must keep classroom doors propped open.

However, teachers and parents argue this violates past safety mandates to leave classroom doors shut and locked.

Teachers cannot dim the lights.

Even if they leave the windows open, have lamps, etc., the lights must be at full power.

Teachers have constant interruptions from administrators and district “minders.”

APs have to submit a minimum of five teacher observations per day, so this means near-constant interruption.

Administrators evaluate teachers on a checklist that has very little to do with pedagogy.

Teachers don’t know how school leaders will use these observations. This is the actual form (big thanks to Janice Stokes).

Evaluation form used by reform in HISD

My first three reactions:

If teachers are reading from a script created by the district, why are we evaluating them on their instruction being relevant and engaging? Isn’t that on your people, Mike?

MRS stands for Multiple Response Strategies. Pair-and-share, whip around, etc. These are acceptable checks for understanding, but every four minutes is formulaic and prevents any kind of extended focus or stamina.

I haven’t heard “DOL” since 1992.

Classroom monitors can coach teachers on instruction at any time.

Even with students present. Not insulting at all!

No “weak readers” can read aloud because it models disfluency.

Huh. OK.

At NES schools, libraries have been replaced with detention centers.

A district employee I spoke to insists it is a “flex space that can have other uses besides discipline.” I said, “Oh, like a library?” She did not respond.

Students may not free-write.

Also, students may not work independently for more than four minutes.

Every four minutes, teachers are required to hold an all-class response to check for understanding. That’s great, until you actually have to read a book, take a standardized test, or focus for more than four minutes.

Every classroom activity must tie directly to instruction.

No classroom celebrations, relationship-building activities, brain breaks, or routines/procedures instruction are permitted.

Teachers received extremely limited training on this model.

The location chosen for training left people sitting on floors and stuck in parking lots for over 45 minutes.

There is no information tying any of these strategies to best practice or research on what’s best for kids.

This authoritarian approach to education is taking a huge toll on school climate and morale. A friend of mine said teachers at her school are breaking down on a daily basis. Even the strongest, most experienced educators—department chairs and leaders with stellar records—feel demoralized and unnerved (and that’s saying a lot after the past few years).

And no, the answer isn’t to “just move,” or switch districts, or quit teaching altogether. First, that response is lazy and reductive, but more importantly it doesn’t account for the hundreds of thousands of kids in H.I.S.D. schools forced to learn in environments counterproductive to their wellness and development.

Public school teachers in Texas have known for years that it’s in the best interest of the state to destroy public education and reallocate funding to religious and private schools. Years of slashing budgets, demonizing teachers, lowering standards, letting chaplains offer mental health counseling—don’t tell me that’s a state that holds any kind of value for public education. That’s a state that wants to “prove” public education doesn’t work so it can privatize.

It’s just wild to me that they’re not even hiding it anymore.

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Often, the real story isn't as bad as newspaper headlines make them out to be. That's not the case with what's happening in H.I.S.D.