Tag Archives: Texas Education Agency

Texas Hangs Sword of Damocles Over Houston Schools

3 Feb

When the Houston Independent School District (HISD) Board refused to privatize four schools, state takeover of the district became likely. States taking over school districts have an awful track record. Takeovers in Philadelphia, Newark, Detroit and Tennessee have been long running disasters for students, parents, schools and communities. So the idea that Texas will likely seize HISD – a district the Texas Education Agency (TEA) assigned a grade of B on its new A – F grading system – is bizarre.

HISD is the largest school district in the state of Texas and the 7th largest in the United States. The nine HISD Board members are an impressive group whose children attend district schools. Seven of them are products of HISD. They all are college graduates and most earned advanced degrees. Seven of them have both teaching and administrative experience in public schools. Anne Jung was a high school science teacher who earned a master’s in physics at Harvard. Jolanda Jones is a Rhodes Scholar and an NCAA heptathlon champion with a Juris Doctorate from the University of Houston. Wanda Adams was a scholarship winning athlete who attended Kashmere High School which is one of the four schools TEA might shutter. She is an Emmy winning college graduate who has been named to multiple top 50 lists in Houston area plus has served two terms on the Houston city council.

Richard Carranza became HISD superintendent in August of 2016. In March of 2018, he resigned to take a similar position in New York City Schools. With the HISD board’s impressive resumes and the fact that their last top hire was considered the best administrator in America to lead the nation’s largest school district, it was startling to read Governor Greg Abbott’s January 3rd tweet,

“What a joke. HISD leadership is a disaster. Their self-centered ineptitude has failed the children they are supposed to educate. If ever there was a school board that needs to be taken over and reformed it’s HISD. Their students & parents deserve change.”

A counter observation based on biographies is that every elected board member in HISD is more qualified to be an education leader than Mike Morath, the guy Abbott appointed Texas Commissioner of Education. They all are more educated with advanced degrees in clinical psychology, physics, law, education leadership etceteras compared to Morath’s bachelors degree in business. The board members have decades of experience working in public schools compared to Morath’s six months as an untrained long term sub teaching a computer science; a class outside of his field of study.

Morath tried to privatize the Dallas Independent School District while a board Trustee. It appears that Abbott might have a similar agenda for the entire state and that is why he selected this unqualified person to lead the state’s schools.

Terrible Education Policy Driven by Benighted Legislation

Takeover Authors

In 2015 Governor Abbott signed HB 1842 into law. It mandates “intervention in and sanction of a public school that has received an academically unsuccessful performance rating for at least two consecutive school years ….”

The law mandates that if a district does not implement an approved plan to turn the school around “the commissioner shall [may] order:

  • appointment of a board of managers to govern the district as provided by Section 39.112(b) [repurposing of the campus under this section];
  • alternative management of the campus under this section; or
  • closure of the campus.”

The bill allows districts to present a turnaround plan in which the district could be designated an “innovation district.” If after five consecutive years of bad tests scores at any district campus an “innovation district” would lose its designation and be subject to the above sanctions.

HB 1842 passed by large margins; 26-5 in the senate and 125-18 in the house. It is doubtful that many of the legislators fully understood that they were putting their constituent’s democratic rights in jeopardy when they voted for this bill.

In 2017, Senate Bill 1882 incentivized privatizing schools in minority neighborhoods. Sarah Becker an HISD parent and school psychologist explains,

“In the spring of 2017, just months before the sanctions of HB1842 were slated to go into effect; the legislature passed Texas Senate Bill 1882, which gave school boards another option for these so-called failing schools. SB1882 encouraged school districts to hand over control of these neighborhood schools to charter operators (referred to as “partnerships”) the year before schools would get ratings for the fifth year. In exchange, the school and its board would get a reprieve from Representative Dutton’s death penalty for two years and, as a bonus, would receive extra funding for every student enrolled in one of these charter-controlled schools.

“With one law the death penalty (1842) and the other law the price of clemency (1882), these two laws now work together to coerce local school boards to be the hand of privatizing their own neighborhood schools. One by one, schools are turned over to private, appointed organizations by local politicians that want to save their fledgling political careers, and in turn, these “partnerships” provide cover for conservative leaders that would have a hard time explaining to Texans how their state undermined local control of schools with state-mandated takeovers and closures.”

This combination of laws is based on the faulty premise that school quality can be measured by standardized testing. The famed education scholar Linda Hammond-Darling mentioned last week in an Ohio presentation,

“There’s about a 0.9 correlation between the level of poverty and test scores. So, if the only thing you measure is the absolute test score, then you’re always going to have the high poverty communities at the bottom and then they can be taken over.” (Emphasis added)

A correlation of 1 means it is a certainty and – 1 means it cannot happen. A correlation of 0.5 means there is a mild positive relationship. The 0.9 correlation with family wealth is the only correlation above 0.5 for any of the researched variables such as schools, teachers, sex or race.

In 1998, Noel Wilson wrote a major peer reviewed scholarly paper, “Educational Standards and the Problem of Error”. Wilson’s paper basically says that the level of error associated with standardized testing is so high it makes these tests unreliable as evaluative tools.

A year later, James Popham of the UCLA graduate school of education also wrote a peer reviewed paper on testing. In his Education Leadership article based on the paper he concluded,

“Educators should definitely be held accountable. The teaching of a nation’s children is too important to be left unmonitored. But to evaluate educational quality by using the wrong assessment instruments is a subversion of good sense. Although educators need to produce valid evidence regarding their effectiveness, standardized achievement tests are the wrong tools for the task.” (Emphasis added)

The science has not changed. Standardized test results will not evaluate a school’s quality but will identify poverty. The new approach in Texas guarantees that parents in minority mostly poor communities will have their democratic rights and public schools taken away. It may not be a racist intent but it certainly brings about a racist outcome. If this were not true at least one school in a majority white affluent neighborhood would be identified as “failing”.

TexasIR4_Correlated_w_RacePoverty2

HISD Parent Advocate Demographic Map of Houston Schools

Failure Demgraphics

Demographic Data from HISD

Houston’s Long Relationship with Destroy Public Education Ideology

Teach For America (TFA) or as my friend Ciedie Aech calls them the “teach-for-a-minute girls” came to Houston in 1991. A TFA teacher is a temporary employee with a bachelor’s degree and five-weeks of summer training from TFA. A new career teacher has a bachelor’s degree, a year of student teaching in conjunction with a year of teacher education classes. The TFA temp will normally leave after 2 years if not before. It would not be unusual for a career teacher to still be at a school 30-years later.

The new career teacher will likely not be confident or competent their first year. Most new teachers find an informal mentor on staff that guides them. The TFA temp normally does not have a clue about how unprepared they are. Because career teachers were so denigrated during their training, TFA teachers are reluctant to ask the advice of a veteran.

To label TFA teachers highly qualified or even qualified is to dissemble.

TFA is another of the destroy-public-education (DPE) organizations that only exists because of billionaire dollars. In her book Chronicle of Echoes, Mercedes Schneider documented that in 1995 TFA was $1.2 million in debt despite receiving a $2 million dollar federal grant.  Founder Wendy Kopp was able to scrape by with four $10 million gifts from the Broad foundation, the Dell foundation, Dan and Doris Fisher (Gap founders), and The Rainwater Charitable Funds. In 2011, the Walton Family gave TFA $49.5 million and since then money from billionaires has continuously poured in; even Houston’s own John Arnold has sent them more than $7 million.

In 1994, two teachers from TFA Houston with no training and three years teaching experience, Michael Feinberg and Dave Levin, founded KIPP charter school in Houston and New York. Schneider noted in Chronicle, “By 2000 Feinberg and Levin were receiving funding from Donald and Doris Fisher.” The Fisher’s co-founded the KIPP foundation where they were joined on the board by Carrie Walton Penner (Walmart heir), Mark Nunnely (Bain Capital) and Reed Hasting (Netflix) among others.

Chris Barbic another Houston TFA teacher with limited experience followed in Feinberg and Levin’s footsteps to founded YES Prep the next year. This charter was seen as miraculous. Gary Rubinstein was a fellow TFA teacher and personal friend of Barbic’s in Houston. He often shoots down miracle claims by charter schools. Gary wrote of Yes Prep,

“In 2010, YES was awarded a million dollars by Oprah Winfrey, in part because of their incredible record of getting 100% of their 12th graders to be accepted into college.  This was before people knew to ask, ‘But what percent of your 9th graders remained in the school to become 12th graders?’”

KIPP which uses a 19th century “no excuses” pedagogy has 25 schools in Houston and YES Prep has grown to 18 schools. Rubinstein concluded the article cited above with:

“So is YES Prep failing its Black students and then abandoning them when it serves YES for them to do so?  I can’t be certain, but the data makes me pretty confident that the answer is YES.”

YES Prep and KIPP are two more DPE organizations that only exist because a group of billionaires dedicated to privatizing public education gave them millions of dollars. It is not because they are superior schools but because they are not public.

The fraudulent “Texas miracle” that led to the No Child Left Behind (NCLB) Act and the federal takeover of public education came from Houston. Roderick Paige was the HISD Superintendent that rode that “miracle” all the way to the office of United States Secretary of Education.

Paige’s strategy was to give bonuses to school leaders that hit bench marks and fire those that didn’t. Drop out rates plunged and test scores soared. Later in was learned that the “Texas miracle” like all school miracle claims was a fraud. They cooked the books on dropout data and principals raised 10th grade testing scores by holding low scoring 9th graders back and then promoting them to 11th grade the next time they were due to test.

It is close to a consensus conclusion that NCLB was a colossal and damaging failure. Its strategy of test and punish became test and privatize. Alfie Kohn published a 2004 article, “Test Today, Privatize Tomorrow; Using Accountability to ‘Reform’ Public Schools to Death.” In a 2008 addendum, he wrote of the suspicion that schools were purposely setup for failure:

“We now have corroboration that these fears were entirely justified. Susan Neuman, an assistant secretary of education during the roll-out of NCLB, admitted that others in Bush’s Department of Education ‘saw NCLB as a Trojan horse for the choice agenda – a way to expose the failure of public education and ‘“blow it up a bit’’’ (Claudia Wallis, ‘No Child Left Behind: Doomed to Fail?’, Time, June 8, 2008).”

Some Observations

With the HB 1842 and SB 1882, the Texas legislature has created an education code that eerily mirrors NCLB. It has reinstituted the test and punish theory using the same faulty methodology for evaluating schools – standardized testing. Is this the result of ignorance or something far more sinister?

Local Houston billionaire and former Enron trader John Arnold has joined forces with San Francisco billionaire Reed Hastings to privatize America’s schools. They have each pledged $100,000,000 to their new City Fund dedicated to selling the portfolio model of school governance. TEA Commissioner Mike Morath recently started the System of Great Schools which is a strategy roadmap and toolkit for implementing the portfolio model for school governance, a model that posits disruption and school privatization as good for Texas.

Fewer and fewer schools in a portfolio district are controlled by a vote of the community. I believe in democracy and local control. How do Texas politicians justify undermining democracy and local control? What a strange group of conservatives.

Texas Public Schools in Portfolio District Crosshairs

26 Jan

Radical market theorists are reshaping Texas education governance by instituting the portfolio district school model. It is a scheme promoted by the University of Washington based think tank, Center on Reinventing Public Education (CRPE). To advance this design, the accountability system and justifications for closing public schools is adopted from Rahm Emanuel’s Chicago Public Schools. This top down plan is being guided by Mike Morath Commissioner of the Texas Education Agency (TEA).

A quick glance at the CRPE web site reveals they see Texas as a target of opportunity. It states,

“We’re currently working on:

“…

“Analyzing how state education agencies can support local leaders on the portfolio strategy, such as through the Texas Education Agency’s new System of Great Schools Network.”

A few of the benefits that TEA claims for the System of Great Schools (SGS):

  • “Membership in a professional learning community of superintendents and senior staff that come together regularly to build understanding of the SGS strategy, …”
  • “Regular connection points with Commissioner Morath.”
  • “The district increases access to school choice options and helps families identify and attend their best-fit school.”

TEA’s SGS web site offers a complex excel file with a roadmap for implementing SGS strategies.

sgs implementation road map

Image of SGS Roadmap Excel Page Labeled “Top 12 Deliverables”

The “School Performance Framework” hyperlink in the Excel sheet opens Chicago Public School’s “School Quality Ratings Policy (SQRP) Handbook.” Much of the “objective” justification used for closing 50 Chicago schools in one year is in the handbook. Those 50 schools were almost all in predominantly African-American neighborhoods and employed mostly African-American teachers.

Enacting Unproven Agendas like this is not Conservative

On January 20, 2015 Republican Greg Abbott became the 48th Governor of Texas. One of his early decisions was to appoint Mike Morath Commissioner of Education. The very conservative Donna Garner – a Trump supporting retired school teacher and education policy commentator for Education View – was not impressed. She wrote,

“As a conservative, I appreciate Gov. Greg Abbott for the many courageous positions he has taken for Texas; but he really missed it on this one!

“I cannot think of very many people whom Gov. Greg Abbott could have appointed who would have been a worse choice than Mike Morath as Texas Commissioner of Education.”

mike_morath

Mike Morath from his TEA Biography Page

Morath’s appointment continues a more than a decade long period of Texas Education Commissioners lacking proven education training or experience. His education background consists of serving four years as a Trustee for the Dallas Independent School District and teaching an advanced computer science class at his high school alma mater after the previous teacher resigned suddenly. He completed the year.

Morath has referred to himself as a “super-nerd.” In 2015, the Dallas News stated, “Morath, 38, is a numbers whiz who excelled academically, earning his business degree in 2 1/2 years at George Washington University in Washington, D.C.”

Morath started a company that developed a management information system that streamlined federal food programs for low-income families. At age 36, he made enough money selling the company to semi-retire. Dallas Magazine shared,

“His next goal: searching for his special purpose. An evangelical Christian, Morath believed God would lead the way to this discovery.”

The same Dallas Magazine article also reported that his fellow Dallas Trustees found him “an arrogant wonk who won’t listen to others.” They were especially alienated when Morath tried to privatize the entire district using an obscure never used 1995 Texas law authorizing Home Rule Charters. The Texas Observer reported,

“The idea came from Mike Morath, a Dallas ISD trustee since 2011, when he ran unopposed for an open seat. He’s part of the new generation on the school board, an entrepreneur and policy wonk backed by the Dallas Regional Chamber’s Educate Dallas PAC.

“Morath tells the Observer he spotted an off-hand mention of home-rule charters in a news story about another Texas city….  

“Drafting a home-rule charter, he figured, could be just the thing to give Dallas ISD the freedom it needs to make real changes. Morath shared the idea with a handful of local lawyers and businessfolk, and they in turn founded Support Our Public Schools.”

There were several big dollar contributors for Support Our Public Schools which is a 501 C4 organization meaning it is not tax exempt because its main purpose is to promote a political agenda. Only Houston billionaire John Arnold openly admitted giving large sums to the group.

Garner made an interesting observation in her piece denouncing Morath’s appointment. She defined two types of schools:

  • Type 1 Education: More than a century of children educated in democratically run public schools by certificated teachers. They used technology like Big Chief Tablets and pencils to learn reading, writing, mathematics, science, and civics. They participated in physical exercise and team sports. They attended the school in their neighborhood which likely had several generations of history. “Americans became the leaders of the world because of the many scientists, inventors, technicians, entrepreneurs, engineers, writers, historians, and businessmen who used their Type #1 education to elevate themselves to great heights.
  • Type 2 Education: A philosophy of education that opens the door to subjective, digitized curriculum and assessments found in Common Core the Bill Gates financed national education standards pushed by the Obama administration and CSCOPE the Texas attempt to impose standards based scripted lessons on all teachers and schools. It is the same “innovative” school model pushed by the Texas Association of School Boards and the Texas Association of School Administrators; their 21st century transformational “visioning” approach to education. An approach that embraces the technology industry’s future ready agenda which supports greedy consultants, lobbyists, and vendors who make a fortune off education’s “Golden Goose” of public dollars.

future-ready-pledge

Promotion for the Future Ready Pledge by the Office of Education Technology

Garner’s article about Mike Morath’s appointment concluded,

“Mike Morath is not the right person for the Texas Commissioner of Education. He will not support whole-heartedly the Type #1 curriculum standards that the elected members of the Texas State Board of Education have worked so hard to adopt.  Morath’s philosophy of education is very closely attuned to that of the Obama administration’s Type #2 Common Core.  I am terribly disappointed in Gov. Abbott’s choice of Mike Morath as the Texas Commissioner of Education.”

Test to Privatize

Standardized-testing is NOT capable of measuring either school or teacher quality. The only strong statistical correlation related to standardized-testing is family wealth. In a paper on the limitations of standardized-testing the non-profit organization FairTest wrote,

“Test validity, experts explain, resides in the inferences drawn from assessment results and the consequences of their uses. Relying solely on scores from one test to determine success or progress in broad areas such as reading or math is likely to lead to incorrect inferences and then to actions that are ineffective or even harmful. For these and other reasons, the standards of the testing profession call for using multiple measures for informing major decisions – as does the ESEA legislation.” (Emphasis Added)

It is not an accident that 100% of schools designated as failures and slated for intervention are in poor communities. Likewise, it is not surprising that there has never been a school in a middle class community designated for closure or other interventions. It is only the schools in poor and almost exclusively minority communities that are slated for state intervention in Texas.

To evaluate a school, information about the accreditation of its teachers and their years of experience would be meaningful. As would information about class sizes, art programs, music programs and physical training. A review of the condition of the facilities would also make sense. Surveying students, teachers and parents would yield actionable information. Evaluating schools on the basis of standardized-testing is indefensible.

In 2012, TEA promulgated a rule that required any school designated a failure five years in a row based on the State of Texas Assessment of Academic Readiness (STARR) testing must undergo state intervention. In 2018, the first 52-schools that require intervention appeared on the states to-do-list.

An example of the interventions to expect comes from San Antonio. The Rivard Report shared,

“One of the schools that received an “improvement required” was Ogden Elementary in SAISD, which now has received a failing grade for five consecutive years. However, because of a partnership SAISD leveraged with Relay Graduate School of Education, state law permits Ogden reprieve from accountability consequences for an additional two years.”

Relay Graduate School of Education is a fraudulent school started by the charter school industry. In 2015, Seton Hall’s Danial Katz described the school for Huffington Post:

“For those who are unfamiliar, Relay “Graduate School of Education” was singled out as an innovator by Secretary of Education Arne Duncan last November, but it is a “Graduate School of Education” that has not a single professor or doctoral level instructor or researcher affiliated with it. In essence, it is a partnership of charter school chains Uncommon Schools, KIPP, and Achievement First, and it is housed in the Uncommon Schools affiliated North Star Academy. Relay’s “curriculum” mostly consists of taking the non-certified faculty of the charter schools, giving them computer-delivered modules on classroom management (and distributing copies of Teach Like a Champion), and placing them under the auspices of the “no excuses” brand of charter school operation and teachers who already have experience with it.”

The San Antonio Relay Graduate School is led by Dean Annie Hoffman. Prior to joining Relay, Hoffman completed her Masters of Education in Language and Literacy at the Harvard Graduate School of Education. She began her teaching career at Sherman Elementary in the Houston Independent School District.

Down the road in Houston, people are fighting mad about the threat to turn 10 schools over to a charter management organization to avoid state sanctions. Last spring, the Chronicle reported,

“HISD administrators sought to stave off potential sanctions by giving control over the 10 schools to a charter school operator, Energized For STEM Academy Inc., but district leaders retreated from that recommendation Wednesday. Their decision came less than 24 hours after a raucous school board meeting ended with two arrests and about 100 members of the public, nearly all of whom opposed the charter proposal, temporarily forced out of the administration building.”

“Had HISD trustees voted to surrender control over the schools, all of which serve predominately black and Hispanic student populations in high-poverty neighborhoods, the district could have received a two-year reprieve from any state sanctions.”

Six of the schools with a long track record of low tests scores were able to meet the required standards to have the threat removed. However, four schools still need to score well to ensure the district is not taken over by Mike Morath’s TEA. January 3rd, Governor Abbott tweeted,

“What a joke. HISD leadership is a disaster. Their self-centered ineptitude has failed the children they are supposed to educate. If ever there was a school board that needs to be taken over and reformed it’s HISD. Their students & parents deserve change.”

Charles Kuffner weighed in at Off the Kuff. He speculated,

“It should be clear why the state has been reluctant to step in, despite Greg Abbott’s nasty tweet. If the TEA takes over, then the TEA owns all of the problems that HISD is trying to solve. … That’s not their job, and there’s nothing in the track record of past takeovers by state agencies, here and elsewhere, to suggest they’ll do any better at it than HISD has done. There’s a reason why Abbott hasn’t had much to say about this since his Trumpian Twitter moment.

Bigger Money is Driving the Portfolio School District Model

In July of 2018, former Enron trader, John Arnold, joined forces with San Francisco billionaire and Netflix CEO, Reed Hastings. They each pledged $100,000,000 to a new non-profit dedicated to selling the portfolio model of school governance. They call it City Fund. Gates and Dell have also contributed to City Fund.

William J. Mathis and Kevin G. Welner, University of Colorado Boulder wrote a short paper “The ‘Portfolio’ Approach to School District Governance.” Their basic definition explains,

“Generally speaking, four reform strategies are combined, in varying degrees, in portfolio districts:  (1) performance-based (generally test-based) accountability, (2) school-level de-centralization of management, (3) the reconstitution or closing of “failing” schools, and (4) the expansion of choice, primarily through charter schools.”

The portfolio model promotes disruption as a virtue and posits no value for stable neighborhood schools. As schools are closed or reconstituted, the new schools are not democratically controlled. For example, the portfolio district in Denver, Colorado has 204 schools but 108 of them are no longer governed by the school board. They are governed either by private charter school companies or non-profit organizations.

texas portfolio model map

Map from the Texas Systems of Great Schools Web Site

Concluding Observations

In 2016, the highest paid Superintendent of Schools in Texas was Mark Henry from the Cypress-Fairbanks Independent School District. He received $383,402 to administer a 116,000 student district. At the IDEA charter school chain which has less than 36,000 students, that same year CEO Tom Torkelson made $513,970 and CFO, Wyatt Truscheit received $435,976. Plus, President JoAnn Gama took in $354,484 which is more than all but three public school superintendents in the state of Texas.

It is clear why charter school executives are for them, but data says charters do no better than public schools and are creating havoc with the public education system.

It is not just conservatives who are having issues with privatizing the public education system. Three Democratic Texas legislators, Gina Hinojosa, Mary González and Shawn Thierry reported,

“When charters cherry-pick students, neighborhood schools are left to educate a disproportionate percentage of more challenging children. Neighborhood schools are required by law to enroll all kids, regardless of disciplinary history, special needs or family challenges. Educating children who face more challenges in life is more expensive; the cost falls disproportionately on local public school districts.

“Yet, charters receive more funding from the state per student than 95 percent of all students in Texas. In El Paso, charters receive $1,619 more per student than El Paso ISD. In Austin, charters receive $1,740 more per student than AISD. This funding disparity holds true for many of the largest school districts.

“This lopsided funding model results in increasing funding for charter schools and decreasing it for traditional public schools. In the 2018-2019 biennium, charter schools received $1.46 billion more than the prior biennium, and traditional public schools received $2.68 billion less.

“Ultimately, this parallel system of exclusive schools, funded with increasingly more public money, is often a false promise that results in less access and less funding for many of our kids.”