My kids’ school has provided an exceptional education. The TEA says it’s “failing.”

A couple of weeks ago the Texas Education Agency (TEA) released their ratings of schools and school districts. I am the mother of two children at a school in Houston Independent School District, the state’s largest school district and the seventh largest district in the country. How did my kids’ school fare in this year’s accountability system? The school failed, receiving an “Improvement Required” rating. 

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Donors, Endorsements and Ed Reform: Analysis of Gretchen Himsl, Candidate for HISD District 1

Now that we’ve all been able to hear the candidates’ positions on repeat at candidate forums these last few months, we thought we would kick off our campaign finance analysis. Understanding donors to trustees is important, because after the election is over, we need to know who will have access and influence with these trustees over the coming four years.

We’ll be publishing a list of notable donors for each campaign over the coming weeks and keep them updated as new finance reports are published.

Today, we start at the top of the list — District 1, Gretchen Himsl.

Already clear from her endorsement by Houstonians for Great Public Schools (Houston GPS), an organization which pushes to make testing outcomes the center of the school board’s focus and her work as an analyst at Children At Risk which is most widely known for its school rating system heavily based on STAAR scores, Gretchen Himsl is clearly the candidate most tied to the state’s accountability system. Her campaign logo even has a No. 2 pencil in it.

This pro-accountability position is confirmed with the endorsements and donations from the current HISD District 1 Trustee Anna Eastman and three other former HISD trustees: Paula Arnold, Catherine Mincberg, and Dianne Johnson. All of these trustees are pro-STAAR, pro-accountability trustees.

Paula Arnold and Catherine Mincberg were a part of the beginning of standards-based reform and decentralization in Houston ISD as chronicled in the book by Don McAdams: Fighting to Save Our Urban Schools-- and Winning!: Lessons from Houston.

To give context around the ongoing connection of former trustees Arnold and Mincberg to high-stakes, test-based education reform, take a look at Center for Reform of School Systems, an education governance consulting firm on which Paula Arnold serves as a board member along side the Godfather of No Child Left Behind, Rod Paige. Catherine Mincberg and Rod Paige serve as “faculty” at CRSS, and CRSS’s founder and chairman is Donald McAdams, a republican and former HISD trustee, who hired Rod Paige as superintendent and helped usher in the decentralization and high-stakes testing culture that HISD suffers from today.

Arnold and Mincberg are both donors to Gretchen’s campaign along with another education reformer, super conservative James Windham. Windham serves alongside Michael Williams and Rod Paige on the board of the group Texas Aspires, a staunch defender of STAAR and advocate for pro-charter, anti-teacher policies in state politics. Read Windham bash teachers, the NAACP and the rights of LGBTQ kids in his own words here.

Also, notable donations to Gretchen are lawyers from Bracewell LLP, a major Houston law firm that does business with Houston ISD, Sara Morgan, a democratic super donor and wife of oil magnate William Morgan, and Garnet Coleman, a State Representative to whom Gretchen’s husband once served as Chief of Staff.

Another interesting connection... Paula Arnold serves as Anne Sung’s campaign treasurer while Rod Paige (Arnold's colleague at CRSS) served as campaign treasurer for her opponent, John Luman, last year.

High-stakes test-based education reform is a small world.

 

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

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. 
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Rushed & Confused, HISD Trustees Bend to TEA Demands with STAAR-Centered Goals for District

The children of Houston need a school district less focused on the STAAR. Less focused on what the TEA wants to hear and more focused on what our kids actually need. For the first time in many years, we have a progressive Board of Trustees who trust teachers to do their jobs, who want to invest in the arts and other evidence-based programs to educate the whole child and rely less on standardized testing as the primary measure of success. However, it seems that many of those values walked out the door last Saturday when the TEA consultant walked in. 
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Policy Brief: Local Promotion Standards

Promotion standards, or the requirements students must meet in order to move on to the next grade level, have recently been a significant topic of discussion in the Houston Independent School District. Given that the Board of Education and the district’s senior administration are seeking to overhaul these promotion standards in 2017 and in recognition of the fact that the current standards were put in place prior any sitting trustee’s tenure on the board, HISD Parent Advocates provides this brief to summarize the policy’s origin, history, and effectiveness as well as propose best practices and guiding principles that parents believe trustees should include in the design of the district’s new standards. 
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The Tide is Turning in Houston ISD

With respect to over testing our children, the tide is turning in HISD.
In the state’s largest school district and arguably one of the birthplaces of corporate education reform, these years of parents asking questions, expecting more and opting out when they’d had enough is working. Trustees—new and old—and now their new superintendent see that change can no longer wait.
And it looks like that change may get one step closer this week. 
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How HISD's Calendar Fails Students That Fail STAAR

The board should take a number of proactive steps to protect students, parents and teachers:
1) Table approving any school calendars until administration has solved these conflicts to the satisfaction of the board.
2) Follow last year’s precedent and suspend the use of STAAR scores as a promotion standard for non state-required grades: 3rd, 4th, 6th and 7th.
3) Bring the summer school schedule into the same official calendaring process as the regular school year so that conflicts like this have greater transparency and receive the same public input.
4) Guarantee that all teachers necessary to a student’s grade placement and accelerated instruction planning are available and compensated for participating in GPC meetings.
If student success and school accountability are important to this board, then students, teachers and parents need to know that trustees are putting the policies and tools in place not to just give assessments but to also appropriately respond to their results.
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Remarks to HISD Board on School Improvement Plans

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?
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October Speech to HISD School Board on High Stakes Testing

So, while the board is lobbying for our city to buck the system regarding recapture, I’m asking you do the same thing when it comes to the intensive testing culture we have in this state. 
First, step up locally and remove promotion standards tied to STAAR for grades other than 5th and 8th grade. 
Then, continue the work of removing the ties of STAAR and teacher evaluations. 
Next, let’s think about how we can support failing students rather than punish them, and how Houston ISD can work together with other districts across the state to demand the TEA and education policy in Texas do the same? 
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