Remarks to HISD Board on School Improvement Plans

Mr. President and Members of the Board:

Someone told me… “Whether you believe it or not, this district has good schools and bad schools and we have to do something about that.”

I agree. HISD does have “bad” schools. HISD has schools with dirt lawns and leaking roofs while others are dry inside and lined with pristine hedges. HISD has schools without librarians. Some school libraries don’t have any books. Some schools have art, music and PE teachers while others have teams of instructional specialists and consultants. Some elementary schools have amazing labs with 3-D printers while others have STAAR labs on Saturdays.

But if HISD blindly follows the state and only uses STAAR scores to determine performance for campuses and administrators, you’ll continue this unending cycle of schools coming on and off IR lists.

These 60 school improvement plans have one thing in common. Blaming teachers.

They identify “root causes” like…

“Our teachers lack the capacity to plan and deliver lessons that include problem solving…aligned to the rigor of state standards.”

What’s curious? Countless studies have shown performance on standardized tests to only be correlated with socioeconomic status. Research at the University of Texas’ School of Education has specifically shown STAAR scores to be insensitive to instruction.

Have some schools cracked the code to getting disadvantaged students to achieve on STAAR? Sure. But the cultural bias in STAAR means different students from different backgrounds start out either ahead or behind and when your only metric of success is STAAR scores, you get improvement plans like these that spend larger and larger amounts of money on professional development and greater and greater amounts of time on data collection.

Ultimately STAAR score economics lead us to schools without — without librarians and counselors, without music and PE and many times without time to play.

Our new superintendent is fond of saying he wants to educate the “whole” child, and I know many of you know the staffing and resource inequities in HISD. So I ask you, what do these turnaround plans say about your values?

I know the administration will tell you these plans are required and they have to be approved by the TEA. I know the TEA has even questioned this board’s ability to oversee these plans and that it seems you have no choices. But I also know that this board has fight in it. Many of you just told the state to “come and take it” with recapture and believe that the largest district in the state has to take the lead at forcing the legislature to act on school finance.

So I ask, where is that leadership and zeal with regard to protecting our kids from bad education policy? Protecting our kids from an accountability system that sets up them up to fail and to divide its students into winners and losers — haves and have-nots.

So I leave you with these questions?

Will you approve plans that focus poor kids on tests and punishes the teachers that spend their days educating them while the HISD PR machine highlights the amazing things happening in a just a fraction of the district's “good” schools?

And when the TEA pushes you to do things you know aren’t right for kids — things you know furthers inequity in this district, will you fight? Will you put your the weight of your positions and some of the millions this board spends on lawyers each year into this battle?

I’ve read all 34 of the elementary school improvement plans. In 23,066 words, the word data is used 349 times. The word art is used just twice. The word music, not once.

The school chiefs know every principal and teacher that didn’t hit their goal on the last snapshot but can’t tell you if they’re complying with this district’s new mandate on physical education.

These improvement plans and the measures of success you give these administrators matter.

Two questions: What are your values? And will you fight?