Update from Houston ISD: Fighting for the ‘Heart & Soul of Learning’

Jackie Anderson, president of the Houston Federation of Teachers, speaks at a March rally with Houston ISD parents, community allies, and local elected officials.

Nearly two months have passed since the Texas Education Agency’s occupation of Houston ISD began. With just weeks before the start of school in Houston, much remains unclear. But one thing is certain: Houston educators, students, and families should brace for a deluge of hastily implemented experiments. 

The other thing that has become crystal clear? What we are seeing in Houston is a version of what state leaders — including our appointed education commissioner — would like to play out in districts across the state. 

For that reason, we should all be paying attention. If the following “innovative” policies could happen in a B-rated school district — the state’s largest — then they could happen anywhere. The threat is even more real with TEA “refreshing” the state’s A-F accountability system, raising the bar for each level of the rating system

Test Score-Based Teacher Pay

Last week, Houston Public Media reported on documents revealing state-appointed Houston ISD Superintendent Mikes Miles’ plans for teacher compensation. For the upcoming school year, 28 Houston ISD schools will shift their model to one based not on rewarding educators’ experience but on tying pay to students’ standardized test scores. 

By the 2025-2026 school year, the stated goal in the district documents is to move all schools to this test score-based “hospital model” for paying educators. 

“Children come into schools with different backgrounds, different experiences, different levels of understanding, different levels of motivation, and pay-for-performance doesn’t take that into consideration,” said Jackie Anderson, president of the Houston Federation of Teachers. “It takes away from the heart and soul of learning for children, and that’s not fair.”

These developments won’t surprise educators in Dallas ISD, where Miles implemented the Teacher Excellence Initiative (TEI). TEI served as the inspiration for the statewide Teacher Incentive Allotment, a pay-for-performance scheme pushed widely by Education Commissioner Mike Morath. 

How did that work? A Dallas Morning News analysis showed little improvement on student test scores during Miles’ tenure in Dallas ISD. Meanwhile, the turnover rate for Dallas ISD teachers increased from 12% to 22% during Miles’ first two years in the district.

Turning Libraries Into Detention Centers

Much has come out about Miles’ New Education System (NES), a program being implemented in 28 “low-performing” Houston ISD campuses this year — along with 57 campuses that have “voluntarily” chosen to align with this new way of operating.

Few updates about the NES schools have been as disquieting as this week’s headline: Miles is eliminating librarian positions at these 28 schools and turning libraries themselves into Zoom detention centers for misbehaving students. 

Miles’ disrespect for the critical work of school librarians has been on display from his very first week on the job in Houston. In a June interview with the Houston Chronicle editorial board, Miles was clear that librarians and libraries were not a priority — even as he decried the need to improve students’ reading scores. 

“I’d rather have a high-quality teacher getting paid a lot, than have a librarian doing what, checking out books?” Miles told the editorial board. 

This week’s news was just another insult to injury to professionals who open the world for students and make them feel welcome at school. 

Mass Staff Layoffs

In an in-depth look at the situation, Anderson and labor and parent partners, Jay Malone and Ruth Kravetz, mention Miles’ “‘fire your way to excellence’ mentality.” That mentality has been on display already. 

This week, Miles confirmed his administration has eliminated 2,347 positions within the district. Just under 100 of those positions were in the Human Resources department, charged with filling teacher and staff vacancies before the start of school Aug. 28.  

As a result of the layoffs and the drive to fill additional openings in the classroom amid a statewide educator retention crisis, district HR employees have been told to work extra hours and through the weekend. One directive instructed employees to check with their supervisors at 5 p.m. each day to confirm whether they can be released from work. 

As of last week, the district still had 65 teaching positions to fill in NES schools. Administration had not released district-wide vacancy numbers.