Houston ISD: Doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results.

Albert Einstein is often quoted as defining insanity as “doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results.”

The Houston ISD School Board is about to undertake that exact ritual. New Board. New Superintendent. Same test-centric goals.

The HISD board is set to approve its “new” goals for the district at its next board meeting on April 9th. The board’s process began in January when the board met for a few hours one Saturday morning with a (seemingly questionable) consultant who to develop these metrics and goals as prescribed by the Texas Education Agency’s best practices on school governance on which the board was trained in December. 

We were critical of their process right from the start because it seemed backwards. Trustees had been talking for months about needing to set “values and vision” for the district, yet skipped over this step completely when they wrote the goals first. Their excuse was that the TEA was pressuring them to draft the goals by certain deadlines and therefore could not take the time to agree on a vision first. 

The result: the board simply checking a box and producing a very poor slate of test-centric goals drafted with literally zero public input. 

These goals are important because they will go on to be the performance metrics for Superintendent Carranza, metrics that will be used to pay Mr. Carranza tens of thousands of dollars a year, possibly hundreds of thousands of dollars over several years, and in doing so, drive the actions and culture of HISD for years to come. 

The board must get these goals right.

Here is the latest draft of the goals as presented at a board workshop on March 20:

Goal 1.

Percent of students reading and writing at or above grade level as measured by the STAAR Final Level I Satisfactory Standard will increase three percentage points annually between Spring 2017 and Spring 2022; reading in grades 3-8 will increase from 36% to 51%; writing in grades 3-8 will increase from 34% to 49%; English I for first time testers will increase from 44% to 59%; and English II for first time testers will increase from 44% to 59%.

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Goal 2.

The percentage of graduates meeting the Global Graduate (postsecondary readiness*) standards will increase four percentage points annual per year from the Class of 2015 rate of 69.9% up to 90% by 2022. 

*Global Graduates are students who meet any one of the following criteria: complete coherent GTE sequence; earn GTE nationally recognized certification; complete 1+AP/IB Course; meet criterion on 1+AP/IB exam; earn 12+ hours of postsecondary credit ; meet state criteria in ELA and Math (TSI-A, SAT, or ACT); enlist in the U.S. Armed Forces

Goal 3.

Among students who exhibit below satisfactory performance on state assessments, the percentage who meet or exceed their progress measure on the STAAR/STAAR EOC will increase three percentage points annually in reading from 58% to 73% and in math from 55% to 70% between Spring 2017 and Spring 2022.

Take a look at some of the goals Dr. Terry Grier was compensated on...

 

“Demonstrate progress toward becoming a Recognized District as measured by TEA Accountability System Indicators and toward more campuses making adequate yearly progress as measured by No Child Left Behind standards.”

“HISD will show an annual increase in the percentage of students who meet or exceed college-readiness in both ELA and math, over the district's percentage from the prior year.”

“The district shall increase average scale scores for grades
3-11 on all TAKS subtests.”

Sound familiar?

The current draft goals are extraordinarily similar to what has driven HISD for the past decade, and in that time, HISD’s test-centric culture has done nothing to increase achievement while being the overarching excuse for dismantling or neglecting the resources that support music, art, physical education and student wellness. 

Writing goals about increasing test scores by a few more points will not help our students. We need our trustees to think creatively and act boldly on the promises they made to voters to take a more holistic view of our students. 

If the Board of Education wants to increase outcomes for its students, then it needs to look to the only policy which has been proven to sustainably move the needle on the achievement gap: integration.

HISD schools are extraordinarily segregated and revamping the district's magnet system could have a powerful affect on the achievement gap. If the board was serious about integration, they could write a goals like this…

 

The percentage of students attending schools with an economically disadvantaged student population of 85% or higher will decrease from 56% of campuses in 2016 to 49% of campuses in 2019.

If the board wanted to get serious about literacy, instead of writing goals about increasing reading test scores, they could write a goal about increasing the number of books students have read, like this…

 

Each student in grades 3-12 will increase the amount of books they read independently by 50% from the previous school year and each student in grades PK-2 will increase the amount of books read to them by 50% from the previous school year.

Or, the board could focus on libraries (although that would mean they would have to actually provide all HISD schools a library)…

 

Each student in the Houston Independent School District will increase the amount of books they check out of the library by X%.

Or, the board could pick from a myriad of goals addressing the whole child and focusing on equity like these…

 

The 4 year graduation rate will increase from X% for the graduation class of Z to Y% for the graduating class of year ZZ. 

Y% of students, instead of the current X%, will participate in at least one extracurricular or co-curricular activity each year by year Z.

Percentage of HS students participating in AP, CTE courses/certifications and other rigorous courses will increase from X% to Y% by year Z.

Percentage of high school students participating in community service will increase from X% to Y% by year Z.

The percentage of special education parents who rate their child’s services as “highly satisfactory” on an annual customer service survey will increase from X% to Y% by year Z.

The percentage of students who have daily access to a mental health professional on their campus will increase from X% to Y% by year Z.

The percentage of students who have interactions with campus police shall decrease from X% to Y% by year Z. 

The percentage of students referred to the District Alternative Education Program shall decrease from X% to Y% by year Z. 

The percentage of students who are being taught by a teacher with less than 3 years of experience shall decrease from X% to Y% by year Z.

The percentage of students who receive daily instruction from a PE, music or art teacher shall increase from X% to Y% by year Z. 

The percentage of students who have access to wrap around services shall increase from X% to Y%.

*Each of these goals should be disaggregated for African American, Latinx and economically disadvantaged groups so that trustees can monitor equitable access to enriched curriculum.

My point is that there are countless ways to measure success other than through test scores, and it’s pretty shocking that HISD’s senior administrators haven’t been able to articulate those options to the board, the school board hasn’t asked the administration to produce them, or that the school board hasn’t hired a consultant who can insert ideas consistent with their values into the process. 

The school board doesn’t have to accept my suggestions, but it does seem counter to the district’s stated principle of “Family and Community Empowerment” that this extraordinarily important process which has lasted for over three months has been completely devoid of any public or parent input.

In the end, I pray 1) that our school leaders see that repeating the past will only produce more of what we already have, 2) that Houston ISD gets the opportunity to evolve from the soul-crushing metrics of raising standardized test scores by a few points and 3) that all HISD stakeholders become invested in delivering the holistic environment and enriched curriculum that maximizes the individual potential of each and every child.

We must think bigger. Our children deserve better.