Politics Over Kids

The Houston ISD school board recently passed a measure to spend more meeting time discussing student outcomes. This policy measure – which has taken months to pass – is an obvious step in the right direction, but the fact that three trustees opposed it reveals how far our district still has to go. It is no secret that several trustees will oppose any policy measure that comes from the state, simply because it comes from the state. There are a range of issues that allow people of good will to disagree, but a laser-focus on kids should not be one of them in making policy for a school district. While a focus (in terms of time spent) on student outcome goals is a mandate from the state-appointed conservator, it is also a basic tenant of good governance. This should be a no-brainer for those leading the school district, but we have gotten to a place where political posturing is more important than talking about whether or not kids are learning in our schools.

Some will say they don’t like the connection between student outcomes and the STAAR, a standardized test that has taken up too much time and space in Texas classrooms, but it should be noted that the school board has the authority – according to state guidelines – to use other metrics for defining “student outcomes,” as long as those metrics are measurable and offer real information about what our children know and are able to do. It seems that some members of this board aren’t interested in finding out whether or not we’re meeting the academic needs of the children in this district.

Another recent policy measure that sadly demonstrated some trustees’ willingness to put politics before children was the vote to end the contract with Teach for America (TFA) as a district vendor. Since 1991, Teach for America has recruited potential teachers to apply to Houston ISD schools through HISD’s alternative certification program. Principals pay the organization out of their own school budgets for recruitment and ongoing professional development, as they would for any other teacher – both traditionally and alternatively certified. The controversy surrounding Teach for America specifically is the result of entrenched political ideology and has very little to do with HISD schools and students.

This decision only results in a smaller applicant pool and fewer options for principals. The district has hundreds of vacancies to fill in the next 10 weeks and sits in a state where over 50% of public school teachers enter the profession through alternative certification. Teach for America Houston has a long track record of recruiting and placing teachers in critical needs positions (Bilingual/ESL, STEM fields, etc.). To claim that the system is somehow improved by ending this option for principals – the people in the district who are most keenly aware of the needs of their schools and communities – is illogical at best. We face major problems in recruiting, developing, and properly compensating educators, and history has shown us that many of the aforementioned vacancies will remain unfilled and/or filled by teachers (likely alternatively certified) working outside their area of content expertise. Ending this long-term partnership does not help the district’s budget; it does not help school leaders, and it does not help kids.