1. Separate is never equal.
Turning over Wheatley High School, Kashmere High School, Henry Middle School and Highland Heights Elementary School to a charter operator or any organization with a separate, un-elected board creates two separate and unequal systems of governance within the same school district.
If these four schools are chartered, when parents there have a problem or concern about the management of their child’s school, they will not have the same recourse as families whose children are in the rest of HISD. By design, the school board will not have the same level of control over these schools, so families will no longer have the same level of representation and oversight by their elected officials, despite being taxpayers in the same system.
Notably, the student populations at the four schools proposed for chartering are overwhelmingly Black and Brown and experience high concentrations of poverty, while the schools in HISD where White and affluent families are being concentrated are not labeled “failing” and are not facing the same threats of takeover. When leaders say they’re fighting to keep local control of HISD through chartering some of its schools, they are really only fighting for some people to keep that control while others lose it.
A two-tiered system within the same district with those with racial and economic privilege with one form of representation while those without that privilege having another sets a terrible precedent—one that looks more like a time before court began desegregating our schools and breaking down the injustices of separate but equal.
2. Local policies gone. Progress reversed.
Something else written into the SB1882 rules: all policy that school boards have adopted over the last few decades, all the work that has been done by local communities, is automatically thrown out at schools chartered through SB1882.
Houston ISD’s local board policy will not apply at these four schools unless the school board members name specific policies in the contract—a difficult job given the expanse of local board policy.
Some examples of the important policy work the school board has done in the last few years include the passage of an anti-discrimination policy and policies limiting the use of suspensions for young kids that had been predominantly used to punish Black boys.
Policies like these would be automatically eliminated for any of the schools chartered under SB1882 partnerships.
3. Destabilizing schools. Destabilizing kids.
A change in leadership destabilizes these communities further. The leadership changes, the curriculum changes, and the teachers change. Publicly, Houston ISD administration has stated that stabilizing leadership at schools is a goal. Continual changes such as these are bad for kids and the relationships they build.
According to the rules the Commissioner of the TEA adopted about SB 1882, the charter has SOLE discretion regarding the hiring and firing of personnel. It is required to be written into these so-called “partnership” contracts. The charter may choose to keep some employees, but there is no guarantee that teachers currently employed at these schools will have jobs.
Schools with higher proportions of white and affluent students have much more stable leadership and teachers. Perpetuating turnover and instability in some schools versus others is yet another way the system perpetuates inequity in schools.
4. Special education ignored.
Charters are notorious for not serving special education and other special populations adequately. The system is set up to incentivize schools to ignore and “weed out” these children, and so they do. Take for instance the Energized charter school network that was at the center of last year’s chartering plan: Its schools consistently have less than 5% special ed populations and sometimes 0% or 1% when the district and state have over 10%.
Converting neighborhood schools to charter schools would harm already vulnerable populations.
5. Rules ignored.
The board is not following their own process. Last spring, as the board was gearing up for its vote in April, they passed a policy and procedure specifically for approving charter contracts under SB1882 (ELA Local). This policy calls for a Request for Applications process and a review committee to conduct extensive reviews of applications. None of this has taken place. The board is ignoring its own rules.
6. No partner. No transparency.
Despite being about ten weeks away from the TEA deadline for the district to sign a contract with a partner to take over the schools, there has been no public announcement about who is under consideration and no public engagement with the communities of these four schools.
The only organization being whispered about is the City of Houston, which would form a separate nonprofit which which would then contract out the running of the schools.
The city has NO experience running a school, and in fact, two of the key officials have a poor track record in education.
Juliet Stipeche, the Mayor’s Director of Education and point person for this effort, was the decisive vote to close Dodson Montessori and strip Jones High School of its programs when she was Board President, both schools had predominantly Black student populations.
Furthermore, Mayor Sylvester Turner himself was a State Representative for twenty seven years prior to being Mayor. In the legislative session just before he successfully ran for mayor, he voted in favor of HB1842—the law that threatens the local control of Houston ISD’s school board which he now professes to want to save.
7. Double standard.
Supposedly, that state and ed reformers only want us to care about students meeting standards.
But what about our standards for the government?
The state’s own documentation shows they didn’t comply with HB743—simple time limit rules that the legislature passed in 2015 so young kids wouldn’t be taking the same 4-hour long tests older kids were taking.
Parents are currently fighting the Texas Education Agency in court about this—parents have won at every step so far but the TEA now wants a review by the Texas Supreme Court before a trial makes their lack of compliance a public issue.
While the Texas Education Agency has fought hard to stop parents from having the right to sue them, they’ve admitted in court that school districts themselves have the exact standing they say parents don’t.
It is irresponsible for the district to turn over management of our neighborhood schools without fully litigating whether the Texas Education Agency followed the law itself related to STAAR for the last several years—the same exact years the agency says HISD schools continually failed to meet standards.
8. Poverty is the problem.
The ultimate problem in these schools is poverty, and changing the management of the schools will not solve poverty.
The Texas Legislature, and even City of Houston officials are loathe to admit that this is the real problem, because then they would need to take real, concrete steps to combat poverty, such as raising the minimum wage or ensuring all families have healthcare. It’s much easier to blame teachers and parents for a school’s performance than to admit that the system is rigged against students and families in poverty and reform it.
Ultimately, the move to charter these four schools represents the district abandoning its commitment to children. It is an admission by district leaders that they cannot teach the Black and Brown children in these high-poverty schools.
We should reject that idea.
The voters of Houston ISD are capable of electing our own leaders who are able to govern our schools. Democracy matters. Our voices at local school board meetings matter. The policy work we have done as a community over decades matters.
Students of color and students living in extreme concentrations of poverty shouldn’t have to give up democracy in order for their schools to be receive adequate funding.
Don’t be fooled. No true change in schools comes without community engagement, and sustainable, true change comes when people affected by the change lead the way.
It doesn’t come from the top down, from a mandate by state government or the mayor’s political backroom.
It comes from the bottom up.
It comes from students, parents and the community.