March 10, 2023

Ruth Kravetz: The State’s Houston ISD Takeover is Unfair, Racist, and Wasteful

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Writing for the Texas Observer, the co-founder of Community Voices for Public Education, argues that the proposed Texas takeover of Houston schools is wrong, wrong, wrong. 

Contrary to what you may hear from some Republican leaders, Houston Independent School District (HISD) is not a failing district. HISD received a B grade in the most recent state school ratings and is AAA bond-rated.

Why, then, is Houston ISD even under threat of a takeover?
Texas has a district takeover law that turns even one slip at one school into an excuse to step in. Even in a district that is largely successful.
In the past few years, HISD already proved that local control works: Since 2019, voters elected an almost entirely new school board, and students and teachers worked to bring Wheatley’s state score up to a C in 2022. Since 2015, HISD reduced its number of low-performing schools from 58 to nine, which is fewer than are found in Dallas ISD. Even using the state’s deeply flawed accountability system to rate schools, Houston ISD comes out fine.
Nevertheless, the state’s takeover efforts persist. If successful, a state-appointed board of managers will make all policy decisions with Texas Education Agency (TEA) Commissioner Mike Morath pulling the strings behind the scenes. HISD’s democratically elected board will only have a ceremonial role with no voting authority. And the kicker is that the unelected Morath, who’s appointed by Governor Greg Abbott, has full discretion to expand the takeover. The superintendent could also be replaced, and individual schools could be parceled off to charter school operators—such as YES, KIPP, IDEA, and churches—with the usual consequences as seen around the country.
At the same time, Kravetz charges, the state has repeatedly moved the goalposts in the middle of the game. What is this really about?

Unfortunately, the state takeover of Houston ISD has nothing to do with student needs. It is about power, profits, and a willful disregard for children living in poverty.

As I ponder the district’s future, I am reminded of a student I once taught. When I went to his house to help him think about college, he had no electricity and the only furniture in the house was a bed, an engine block, and a chair. He did his homework by a street lamp outside. The last thing he needed was more pressure to meet arbitrary standardized testing goals or for the state to punish his school for serving low-income students like himself.

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