Updates from Houston ISD: It Gets Worse

Another week, another disappointing series of announcements from Texas’ most trod upon district. In the 11 months since the Texas Education Agency first announced that it would be taking over Texas’s largest school district, we have unfortunately come to expect bad news from Houston ISD. Recent announcements have been no exception. 

Just this week, puppet Superintendent Mike Miles announced that while the overall budget will need to be cut due to declining enrollment and the expiration of federal pandemic funds, “New Education System” or NES campuses will likely see a budget increase. This school model, based on Miles’ Third Future charter schools, will expand to encompass approximately 130 (about half of all HISD) campuses next year. Though Miles has promised not to shutter campuses in the 2024-2025 school year, his track record of snap decisions and broken promises does not inspire confidence in this declaration.  

These budget announcements are hot on the heels of yet another unpopular move by Miles. Just before spring break, the Houston Chronicle leaked a list of 117 school principals (over 40% of all campus principals) that were effectively put on notice by Miles for scoring low in his controversial Leader Effectiveness Development System (LEAD).  

Under this unvetted and untested system, these campus leaders will have to prove their “proficiency” through an additional series of observations and evaluations in April before they will learn if they still have a job next year. If they make it through the gauntlet, their pay next year will be based upon their rating. Almost 60 principals have already left their campuses (involuntarily or otherwise) since Miles took over the district. 

District principals have criticized Miles’ LEAD as arbitrary and inapplicable in a district with the diversity of campuses that HISD has. This may explain in part why some of Houston’s highest-performing schools and most beloved campus leaders ended up on Miles’ list as those needing improvement. Unpopular as the takeover and Miles are in HISD, these evaluations can signal to teachers and parents a general lack of confidence in their school communities, destabilizing the workforce and student support systems in place.  

Speaking of a destabilized workforce, have we mentioned what’s been going on with teachers in HISD? We now know that Miles has hired over 800 uncertified teachers to fill in the gaps in HISD classrooms this school year; a number that represents 7% of all teachers in the district. Though some of these hires may have content-area knowledge, they are not equipped with the classroom management and pedagogical knowledge needed to be effective classroom leaders. While most have been hired under a waiver (the numbers don’t fully align), the district has provided no assurance that they are following their stated intent to help these new teachers become fully certified as is required by state law.  

This is unfortunately not a situation unique to Houston ISD. The uncertified teacher problem is reaching critical mass across the state. As we wrote about in our recent State Board of Educator Certification meeting recap, uncertified teachers now make up the fastest-growing group of all new teacher hires in Texas. New data related to the pervasiveness of uncertified teachers is expected soon from the Texas Education Agency (TEA). We will continue covering this important issue in future editions of the Hotline.  

These seismic shifts in the levels of qualifications required for campus and classroom leadership result in an underprepared teacher workforce and ongoing disruption to student learning. HISD, a B-rated school district, was taken over by Commissioner Morath for a lack of academic performance, and just about every decision and “innovation” that Mike Miles has instituted threatens the stability in our classrooms that is essential for student learning to occur.