State Takeover Sparks Outrage and Fear Among Houston School Community

As the largest school district in Texas prepares to start the new academic year on Monday, many students, parents, teachers and local officials are feeling anxious and angry about the state’s intervention in their public education system.

New Superintendent Imposes Radical Changes

The state-appointed superintendent, Mike Miles, has announced a series of radical changes that he claims are necessary to improve the performance of Houston’s schools, which serve nearly 200,000 students, more than 80% of whom are Latino and Black.

State Takeover Sparks Outrage and Fear Among Houston School Community
State Takeover Sparks Outrage and Fear Among Houston School Community

Some of these changes include:

  • Restructuring 28 underperforming schools, mostly in lower-income neighborhoods, where teachers have to follow a centrally scripted curriculum, have in-classroom cameras monitoring their work, and get paid based on standardized test scores.
  • Disbanding a team that supported students with autism, although his staff says special education services will continue as part of a restructuring.
  • Filling some vacancies with uncertified teachers.
  • Transforming libraries at dozens of underperforming schools into “team centers” where students will get extra help and where those who misbehave will be disciplined, watching lessons on Zoom rather than disrupting their classrooms.

Miles, a former Army Ranger and diplomat whose mixed record as superintendent of the Dallas school district was marked by upheaval, said recent disappointing standardized test scores only confirmed the need for reform in Houston.

“I’ve talked about bold, systemic change. I think most people understand that we’re not in a good place,” Miles said.

School Community Reacts With Dismay and Resistance

However, many members of the school community are not convinced by Miles’ vision and methods. They say he is imposing top-down decisions without consulting or respecting the voices of those who are directly affected by his changes.

Some of the reactions from the school community include:

  • Lauren Simmons, a mother of an 8-year-old girl who has dyslexia, said she is worried about her daughter’s future after the library at her school, which was a refuge for her, was turned into a team center and the librarian was fired. “I’m hurt … and now to know that Ms. Hensley is no longer on the campus, the library has been shuttered?” Simmons said. “I’m at a point where, do I take my baby to school Monday because what’s going to happen to her?”.
  • Sandra Velazquez, a bilingual elementary school teacher, said she feels demoralized by Miles’ changes and does not trust his leadership. “This is my second year. I came in with high expectations … and now I feel so demoralized,” she said [^3
  • Houston Mayor Sylvester Turner said the libraries plan is creating a prison-like atmosphere in spaces usually associated with learning. He also criticized the state takeover as an attack on local democracy and representation. “This is not about improving academic outcomes. This is about power and control,” Turner said.
  • Wanda Mosley, national field director of Black Voters Matter, said the state takeover is part of a broader pattern of disenfranchising communities of color in Texas. She said her organization is mobilizing voters to resist the takeover and demand accountability from the state officials who authorized it. “We’re not going to sit back and let them do this to our children,” Mosley said.

State Officials Defend Their Decision

The state takeover of Houston’s school district was authorized by Texas Education Commissioner Mike Morath in November 2020, after years of poor academic performance and governance issues at some schools. Morath appointed Miles as superintendent in June 2023, replacing the elected board of trustees with a board of managers chosen by Morath.

Morath and other state officials have defended their decision as necessary to ensure quality education for all students in Houston. They have also dismissed the accusations of racial discrimination and political interference as unfounded and divisive.

Some of the arguments from the state officials include:

  • Morath said he acted in accordance with the state law that requires him to intervene when a school district fails to meet academic standards or faces accreditation sanctions. He said he chose Miles as superintendent because of his experience and track record of improving student outcomes in Dallas and other districts. “I have full confidence in his ability to lead this district forward,” Morath said.
  • Gov. Greg Abbott said the state takeover was a response to the failure of the local leadership to address the chronic problems of Houston’s schools. He said the state has a responsibility to protect the interests and rights of the students and parents who deserve better education options. “The state of Texas will not allow the status quo to continue in our schools,” Abbott said.
  • Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick said the state takeover was a matter of educational justice and equity for the students of Houston, especially those from low-income and minority backgrounds. He said the state is committed to providing them with the resources and support they need to succeed academically and socially. “We are not going to let them down. We are going to lift them up,” Patrick said.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *