The Texas State Supreme Court gave the green light yesterday to a state takeover of the Houston Independent School District, based on the low performance of one school, which has high proportions of the neediest students. This will allow State Superintent Mike Morath (not an educator) to appoint a “board of managers.” Will the board reflect the anti-public school bias of Governor Abbott? Will HISD be purged of imaginary CRT and other fantasies of the far-right? It doesn’t matter to the Court or to Morath that state takeovers have a very poor record. See Domingo Morel’s book Takeover: Race, Education, and American Democracy.

Houston Public Media reports:

State-appointed managers can replace elected school board members in the largest district in Texas, according to a decision released by the state’s Supreme Court Friday morning.

Justices overruled an appellate court’s decision that had blocked TEA from taking over the district. The case isn’t over, though. A lower court will hear further arguments.

“No basis exists to continue the trial court’s temporary injunction against the Commissioner’s appointment of a board of managers,” the opinion read.

It is not clear if TEA will use the decision to replace the Houston ISD board.

“TEA is currently reviewing the decision,” a spokesperson wrote.

The Texas Education Agency first attempted to seize control of the Houston Independent School District in 2019. The agency pointed to dysfunction at the school board, as well as years of what TEA deemed unacceptable academic performance at Houston ISD’s Wheatley High School.

Invoking a 2015 state law, TEA argued the circumstances allowed education commissioner Mike Morath to appoint a group of managers in place of the elected school board trustees.

While the takeover was stalled, all but two of the elected Houston ISD board members departed, the board hired a new superintendent, and Wheatley High School received a passing grade from TEA.

The Houston Chronicle wrote:

The takeover issue has been simmering for years. Education Commissioner Mike Morath first made moves to take over the district’s school board in 2019 after allegations of misconduct by trustees and after Phillis Wheatley High School received failing accountability grades….

Advocates and education researchers have called into question the effectiveness of takeovers, and even the process can upend a district and create distraction.

“The back and forth over this issue has created significant chaos in HISD,” said Brandon Rottinghaus, professor of political science at University of Houston. “That’s problematic from a governing perspective and the ability to right the ship and move forward.”

The looming possibility of a takeover makes Mary Hendricks, a third-grade HISD teacher, a little nervous.

“I’m concerned for the students because I’ve been teaching for 16 years, and they’ve been through a lot of changes, like Hurricane Harvey and COVID,” Hendricks said. “I don’t think another catastrophic change would be what’s best for our kids.”

Some students have become aware of the possibility of a takeover. Elizabeth Rodriguez, a senior at Northside High School heard about it at an after-school club she is in called Panthers for Change, a teen advocacy group.

Rodriguez is skeptical of using test scores as a measure of school success and thinks they should not be a major deciding factor in whether the district is taken over.

“There are some students who are really smart and do well in classes, but don’t do well on the STAAR,” Rodriguez said. “Not everyone is the same, and everyone works differently.”

A Brown University study from 2021 looked at 35 school districts from across the country that were taken over by states between 2011 and 2016. It found takeovers typically affected districts where the vast majority of affected students were Black or Hispanic and from low-income families.

Ruth Kravetz, co-founder of Community Voices for Education, a Houston-based advocacy group that focuses on education, said the state should focus its energy on investing in public education, especially for at-risk students in the state’s largest school system.

“Takeovers have historically had horrible outcomes and are used overwhelmingly for students of color,” Kravetz said. “What the state is doing is starving are schools of money and narrowing the curriculum by spending so much money on testing. If the governor really wanted to improve the state of schools he would spend the money on all the schools in the state of Texas better.”