Archives for category: Houston

In 2015, I wrote about a group of high school students in Houston who sued the state for underfunding public schools. Valerie Strauss wrote about them too. She wrote: ““The two students who filed the brief on behalf of the HISD Student Congress, an organization that represents about 215,000 students in the district, are Zaakir Tameez, a member of the 2015 class of Carnegie Vanguard High School, and Amy Fan, a member of the 2016 class of Bellaire High School.”

I have always believed that students have more power than they know and they need to speak up about their education.

The two young people who founded the HISD Student Congress–Tameez and Fan–filed an excellent brief, but their appeal on behalf of underfunded school districts was rejected 9-0 by the Texas Supreme Court, which is elected statewide and consists of Republicans. The court complimented the students on their brief on page 24 of the ruling, footnote 100:  “High school students Zaakir Tameez and Amy Fan, with the help of other students, have filed an excellent amicus brief.”

These are remarkable young people, our hope for the future.

After graduating from HISD, Amy Fan went to Duke University, where she graduated in 2020. She returned to Houston and is now the official advisor to HISD StuCon. She helped co-found a local civic engagement collective with other HISD StuCon alumni called Institute of Engagement. They just launched Shift Press, an online publication for Houston youth to tell their stories. 

Zaakir Tameez is a remarkable young man. After he graduated from high school, he enrolled at the University of Virginia. He was an intern with the President of the University of Virginia and with Nobel Laureate Joseph Stiglitz. After his graduation, he was selected as a Fulbright Scholar and is currently studying in the UK. He will begin Yale Law School in the fall.

So much for the detractors of Houston public schools!

Zaakir Tameez recently wrote to alert me that the school district (HISD) is trying to take control of the HISD Youth Congress away from students.

HISD is now trying to take over the Student Congress and replace it with a “district-sanctioned vehicle” that operates “under the direction” of administrators. In other words, district staff recommended that the board dissolve the student-run, student-led group that has been operating for seven years now to create something new that they can control. 

It would mean so much to us if you could speak on this – a short blog post, or even a tweet. We are trying to raise awareness to fight back. It’s a sad situation, really. We’ve spent years advocating for greater funding & resources for HISD and to prevent the board takeover that is being planned by the State of Texas. 

But then, this. Without any heads up, they are attempting to take us over.  Not one board member or member of district staff has reached out to us yet to inform us of the resolution. I am attaching the resolution text and an FAQ on the situation…Your response would be so greatly appreciated. We’re proud that you came from the same schools that we did. 




 

Audrey Amrein Beardsley writes here about Houston’s experience with value-added evaluation of its teachers.

The Houston Independent School District (HISD) contracted with William Sanders’ SAS to provide a model to calculate the “value-added” of its teachers from 2007-2017.

Teachers objected that the method of calculating their scores was opaque. They couldn’t learn how to improve their practice because Sanders’ methodology was proprietary and secret.

Teachers were fired based on their VAM scores.

The Houston Federation of Teachers sued to stop the use of the “black box” method.

In 2017, a judge agreed and enjoined the use of VAM.

Thus by now, after a decade of VAMMING teachers, Houston should have identified and removed all the “bad” teachers and employ only “effective” or “highly effective” teachers.

But the state threatened to take over the entire district because one high school–Wheatley– has low test scores. Wheatley High School has a disproportionately large share of students who are poor and have special needs, has low scores, even though all of its teachers–like all of Houston’s teachers–were VAMMED for a decade.

If VAM were effective, HISD should be the best urban district in the nation.

All achievement gaps should have closed by now.

Why is the state–which has no expertise in running a large urban district–taking control away from the elected board?

Republican activists have been trying to invalidate 127,000 votes cast in Harris County (Houston). Their case failed in the state courts. They are now in federal courts, arguing that votes cast at a drive-in location are invalid, even though the sites were approved by the Secretary of State of Texas.

ACLU Challenges Effort to Invalidate Nearly 127,000 Drive-Thru Votes Cast in Harris County, Texas

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
November 1, 2020

CONTACT:
Imelda Mejia, ACLU of Texas, 602–510-4534, imejia@aclutx.org
Inga Sarda-Sorensen, ACLU National, 347-514-3984, isarda-sorensen@aclu.org

HOUSTON — The American Civil Liberties Union and ACLU of Texas moved to intervene tonight in a lawsuit that seeks to invalidate nearly 127,000 early votes cast via drive-thru voting in Harris County, the state’s largest county and the third largest county in the country. This is the third such attempt to discard these validly-cast ballots.

“The push to toss the ballots of nearly 127,000 Texans in Harris County is unconscionable and illegal,” said Sophia Lin Lakin, deputy director of the ACLU’s Voting Rights Project. “It appears to be an attempt to undermine a true and accurate vote count and improperly influence the outcome of the election.”

Tonight’s ACLU challenge was filed on behalf of the League of Women Voters of Texas and several individuals who voted using the drive-thru option, including:

  • Michelle Colvard, a 45-year-old registered voter who lives in Houston. She has both spina bifida and monoclonal gammopathy. Because of these conditions, she uses a wheelchair and is more susceptible to severe illness from COVID-19. She chose to drive-thru vote as the option that would minimize her risk of COVID-19 exposure.
  • Karen “Kim” Vidor, a 64-year-old registered voter living in Houston. She has been a registered voter in Harris County since she was approximately 18. She suffers from hypertension, cardiac issues, asthma, and rheumatoid arthritis, all of which heighten her risk from COVID-19. If her vote is at risk of not being counted, she fears she will be totally disenfranchised. For Vidor, a Republican, this is “not a partisan issue,” but rather an issue of having her vote counted.
  • Joy Davis-Harasemay, a 44-year-old registered voter who lives in Houston. She has both asthma and spondylitis, a degenerative spine disease that makes her unable to stand for long periods of time. She used drive-thru voting, and if her vote is not counted, she will be heartbroken and disenfranchised. As a Black woman, she likely will not vote again in this election for fear of breaking election rules and being accused of voting twice.
  • Diana Untermeyer, a 58-year-old registered voter who lives in Houston. She routinely votes for Republican candidates during general elections, including voting for Sharon Hemphill — a plaintiff in the lawsuit seeking to invalidate the drive-thru votes in Harris County — over her opponent in the 2020 general election. 

“This lawsuit is another desperate and ludicrous attempt by extremists to block the will of the people and disrupt democracy,” said Andre Segura, legal director for the ACLU of Texas. “Throwing out these votes would be patently unlawful and unprecedented. Texans have shown up in record numbers to make their voices heard, and we will fight to ensure that these votes are counted.”

“The attempt to disenfranchise more than 120,000 voters who lawfully cast their ballots during early voting is disgraceful and un-American,” said Grace Chimene, president of League of Women Voters of Texas.“Drive-thru voting was established as a safe early voting option for individuals, including many disabled voters who did not want to enter a polling site during this pandemic. It was tested with great success during the Texas run-off and special election in July. This last-minute attack on voters demonstrates a desire by some to silence Texas voters and we will not stand for it.”

A hearing is slated for Monday morning in Houston in front of U.S. District Judge Andrew Hanen.

Prior to the federal court lawsuit seeking to invalidate the nearly 127,000 votes, some of the same plaintiffs filed a similar suit with the Texas Supreme Court. Earlier today, the Texas Supreme Court denied the request without an order or opinion. In late October, the Texas Supreme Court refused litigation attempting to shut down drive-thru voting in Harris County altogether.

Legal filings: https://www.aclu.org/legal-document/motion-intervene-0 and https://www.aclu.org/legal-document/opp-pi

Statement: https://www.aclu.org/press-releases/aclu-challenges-effort-invalidate-127000-drive-thru-votes-cast-harris-county-texas

In a post from 2019, Mercedes Schneider reviewed the spectacular career of a TFA “reformer” who became a star in Nevada, briefly disappeared, then resurfaced with a cushy job in the booming IDEA charter chain in Houston (Betsy DeVos’s favorite).

Alison Serafin flourished in Nevada when there was a Republican Governor. She was vice-president of the state board. She launched a start-up called Opportunity 180 to foster charter schools. She resigned from the state board in December 2015 since her Organization was seeking state funding. In April 2016 her Opportunity 180 won a $10 million grant to being high-performing charters to Nevada.

Opportunity 180 was supposed to create the Nevada Achievement School District, modeled on Tennessee’s failed program.

By 2017, Serafin resigned, and her name was scrubbed from the website of the organization she founded.

Not to worry. Now Serafin works for IDEA in Houston, which has big plans for expansion.

Reformers fail upwards.

The New York Times declared that its coverage of the pandemic would not be locked behind a paywall, so I’m assuming this article is available for free use.

It focuses on the fight to contain the virus in Harris County (Houston). One obstacle is the defunding of public health services in this country, which left us unprepared for the pandemic. Another obstacle is the actions of politicians who follow Trump’s lead and minimize the danger to the public. A third obstacle is the stubborn refusal of a large minority who insist on their “right” to do what they want without regard to the community.

This combination has crippled the nation’s response to the pandemic and will cost many thousands of lives.

 

Contact:
Zeph Capo
zcapo@texasaft.org
713-670-4348

Texas AFT, Houston Federation of Teachers Fully Support Houston Independent School District
Reopen Plan

Plan Stands in Contrast to Neighboring Spring Branch ISD Hybrid Plan
 

 

HOUSTON—Texas AFT and the Houston Federation of Teachers fully support the Houston Independent School District’s reopening plan announced today, which calls for delaying the start of the new school year and using an all-virtual format for at least six weeks.

The new school year will start Sept. 8 for six weeks, through Oct. 16, after which either virtual instruction will be extended or face-to-face learning will resume with safety measures to protect students, teachers and other school employees.

“At this time, given the out-of-control conditions of COVID-19 in Houston, virtual learning is the safest option for Houston families and educators. It is our mission as professionals to provide the best and safest way to deliver instruction, no matter what method,” said Texas AFT President Zeph Capo.

Capo said HISD’s plan to start the year with distance learning is the right reopening plan for current conditions and stands in stark contrast to the hybrid plan announced today by Spring Branch ISD, a neighboring suburban district. The Spring Branch district asked parents to choose between in-school and distance learning, which both will start in August.

“To even consider bringing students and educators into a Houston-area school building right now is insanely irresponsible,” Capo said.

Capo said the Sept. 8 to Oct. 16 period of distance learning should give officials the time to determine the efficacy of returning to in-school learning.

“This should give us time to determine if someone from the local or state government will step up and lead us into a safer tomorrow. The medicine may be harsh, but it is necessary to shut down all nonessential functions to get this virus under control. That is the only safe course of action to give us a fighting chance to open schools for our preferred in-person delivery model,” Capo said.

“The HFT has recommended an all-virtual start for Houston schools and a delay of in-school learning until there has been a decline of COVID-19 cases over 14 consecutive days, plus a positive test rate of less than 5 percent and a transmission rate under 1 percent,” said HFT Executive Vice President Andy Dewey.

Texas AFT called on state leaders to ensure that all school districts across the state receive the flexibility required to safely educate children while receiving adequate funding necessary to deliver high-quality virtual learning, including digital devices and universal free internet service.

Capo acknowledged the efforts of HISD Board President Sue Deigaard and other urban school district colleagues in fighting for local control so that Austin doesn’t dictate the day-to-day operations of any school district.

 

Houston Mayor Sylvester Turner has canceled the State GOP Convention, which was scheduled for next week.

In light of the dangerous health situation in Houston, the mayor said it was unsafe.

Good to know that local elected officials take the pandemic seriously, even though the president does not.

Domingo Morel is a professor of political science at Rutgers University who has studied school takeovers across the nation. He is the author of Takeover: Race, Education, and American Democracy. 

In this post, he describes the proposed state takeover of the Houston Independent School District as a hoax. 

It is a manufactured crisis. It is a theft of political power, and it is based on race.

If the state of Texas had its way, the state would be in the process of taking overthe Houston Independent School District.

But a judge temporarily blocked the takeover on Jan. 8, with the issue now set to be decided at a trial in June.

The ruling temporarily spares Houston’s public school system from joining a list of over 100 school districts in the nation that have experienced similar state takeovers during the past 30 years.

The list includes New York City, Chicago, Boston, Philadelphia, Detroit, New Orleans, Baltimore, Oakland and Newark. Houston is the largest school district in Texas and the seventh largest in the U.S.

While the state of Texas claims the planned takeover is about school improvement, my research on state takeovers of school districts suggests that the Houston takeover, like others, is influenced by racism and political power.

States fail to deliver

State governments have used takeovers since the late 1980s to intervene in school districts they have identified as in need of improvement. While state administrations promise that takeovers will improve school systems, 30 years of evidence shows that state takeovers do not meet the states’ promised expectations. For instance, a recent report called Michigan’s 15-year management of the Detroit schools a “costly mistake” because the takeover was not able to address the school system’s major challenges, which included adequately funding the school district.

But while the takeovers don’t deliver promised results, as I show in my book, they do have significant negative political and economic consequences for communities, which overwhelmingly are communities of color. These negative consequences often include the removal of locally elected school boards. They also involve decreases in teachers and staff and the loss of local control of schools.

Despite the highly problematic history of state takeovers, states have justified the takeovers on the grounds that the entire school district is in need of improvement. However, this is not the case for the Houston takeover because by the state’s own standards, the Houston school system is not failing.

By the state’s own standards, the Houston Independent School District is not failing!

Although the state has given the Houston Independent School District a B rating, it plans to take over the Houston schools because one school, Wheatley High School, has not met state standards for seven years. According to state law, the state can take over a school district or close a school if it fails to meet standards for five years.

The Houston Independent School District has 280 schools. The district serves over 200,000 students. It employs roughly 12,000 teachers. Wheatley High School serves roughly 800 students and has roughly 50 teachers.

So why would a state take over a school district that has earned a B rating from the state? And why base the takeover on the performance of one school that represents fewer than 1% of the district’s student and teaching population?

The takeover is nothing more or less than a bald-faced attempt to strip political power from black and Hispanic communities.

No one believes that software developer Mike Morath (the current state commissioner) has a single idea about how to improve Wheatley or any other school. He has never been a teacher, a principal, or a superintendent. He is there to carry out the rightwing agenda of Governor Gregg Abbott.

Count on it. This is a bald-faced power grab.

A state judge in Texas blocked the state takeover of the Houston Independent School District until she issues a final order in June. 

A state judge Wednesday evening immediately blocked Texas from taking over the Houston Independent School District until she issues a final ruling on the case, complicating the state’s plan to oust the district’s school board by March.

In doing so, Travis County District Judge Catherine Mauzy preliminarily sided with Houston ISD, the state’s largest school district, in a legal battle that will ultimately determine whether Texas can indefinitely seize power from its elected school board.

Calling the injunction a temporary setback, the TEA vowed in a statement to appeal the ruling.

The Texas Education Agency had planned to seize control of the district, oust the elected school board, and replace it with a governing board appointed by State Commissioner Mike Morath in March. Now the state must wait for the judge’s ruling in June.

The takeover was prompted by the persistent low test scores of Wheatley High School, which has a higher proportion of students in need than other schools in the district of 280 schools.

The state has failed to improve other, smaller districts that it has taken over.

Morath is a software developer, not an educator. He thinks that fixing a school district, one of the largest in the nation, is akin to ironing out bugs in a software program.

Critics in Houston think that Morath’s goal is to replace public schools with charter schools. During his single term on the Dallas school board, Morath led a failed effort to turn Dallas into a charter district, a goal he shared with billionaire John Arnold (Ex-Enron).

Mauzy hinted at her decision just before she stood to leave the courtroom Tuesday afternoon.

“Democracy is not always pretty,” she said. “But I am convinced it’s the best system we have. If we applied some of [the state’s arguments] to the Texas Legislature, I don’t know where we’d be.”

Now there is an interesting thought. Judge the members of the Texas legislature by their thoughtfulness, their diligence, and their intelligence, and how many would be ousted?

The following statement was released on New Year’s Day by Community Voices for Public Education, a coalition of parents and students in Houston. As their statement demonstrates, the state takeover is a fraud intended to strip the school district of its elected school board and to replace it with a hand-picked governing board selected by a non-educator who wants to privatize public education.

 

It is New Years’ Day and public education is on our minds.

Will you make a commitment to fight the immoral, unAmerican and racist takeover of HISD?  Call your elected officials and then bring five friends with you to the January 9 rally opposing this takeover. 

Recently, the Houston Chronicle editorial board used misleading facts and misrepresentation to misinform its readers. The Chronicle seems mission-driven to legitimize the state takeover of HISD no matter the cost to its journalistic integrity or actual facts.

When they do this over three editorials, it is no longer an accident; it is propaganda. 

Here are some examples from the most recent editorials.

HISD at a crossroads: Looming State Takeover: The editorial compared HISD’s 81% graduation rate to Dallas’ 88% and Fort Worth’s 87% leaving the reader with the impression that they were better school districts.  The reality is Fort Worth has a TEA 2019 Accountability Rating of “C”(79) and only 53% of their graduates are college, career or military ready versus HISD’s “B”(88) and 63% graduate readiness. Dallas ISD has a “B” (86) rating and only 57% of their graduates are college, career or military ready. By the TEA’s own standards HISD is the better district. How did the Houston Chronicle and Mr. Morath manage to come to a completely different conclusion? Didn’t any of them bother to check the Texas Schools website? https://txschools.gov 

HISD must learn from others and our own past:  This editorial starts with the statistic of 56% of HISD students not meeting grade level expectations as measured by the STAAR test but it never mentions that Dallas ISD has the exact same STAAR performance rating as HISD. Once again, the Chronicle incorrectly leaves readers with the impression that Dallas is a better school district. (Source https://txschools.gov

HISD needs improvement, but where to start? How could the Chron fail to mention the Superintendent? The person who actually runs the district. The person who hires and places the all important principals. The person who would have to actually implement the LBB recommendations. This piece misleads the reader into thinking the Board of Trustees run the district. They don’t! They are a governing body elected by us and accountable to us. If the state takeover proceeds, our democratically elected school board members, four just elected, will be replaced with a board of managers serving at the pleasure of the governor and the TEA.

A call to all Houstonians to participate: In its final editorial in the series, the Chronicle asks us to put blind faith in TEA Commissioner Mike Morath as our unelected torchbearer. His educational experience is one term as Dallas ISD Trustee in which he unsuccessfully tried to turn Dallas ISD into a “home rule” giant charter using the same tactics he is now employing in Houston ISD. Truly, his resume is thinner than most substitute teachers. 

Throughout the series, the Houston Chronicle disregards overwhelming evidence that state takeovers harm students and communities. They also turn a blind eye to the fact that takeovers have been used disproportionately against school districts of color. Furthermore, they have ignored a preponderance of evidence that high stakes testing is a flawed method for evaluating students, teachers and schools. 

And the series pays the barest lip service to poverty/inequity and the effect on children and families. When seven children share one mattress, they do not need a state takeover to do better in school; they need six more mattresses.

If the Editorial Board wanted to facilitate meaningful change in HISD, their editorials should have been grounded in complete facts and they should have used data to inform, not obfuscate. There is no such thing as problem solving through propaganda.

Community Voices for Public Education
http://www.houstoncvpe.org/