Archives for category: Houston

On November 26, the New York Times published an article that had this headline: ‘Minority Voters Chafe As Democratic Candidates Abandon Charter Schools.’

The point of the article was that many black and Latino families are very disappointed that all the Democratic candidates have turned their backs on charter schools, excepting Cory Booker, currently polling around 1-2%. The article was especially critical of Senators Bernie Sanders and Elizabeth Warren, who have, as the article put it, “vowed to curb charter school growth.”

The article implied that the shift was due to the candidates’ pursuit of the support of the teachers’ unions, and charter schools are mostly non-union. Thus, if you want the union vote, you oppose non-union charters. (In my experience, neither the AFT nor the NEA is anti-charter, since they seek to organize charters to join their unions and have had some modest success; still, about 90% of charters are non-union.)

The article was prompted by an organized disruption of a speech in Atlanta by Elizabeth Warren, who was talking about a washerwomen’s strike in Atlanta in 1881, led by black women. The disruption was led by Howard Fuller, who, as the article notes, has received many millions from rightwing foundations, not only the Waltons but the Bradley Foundation in Milwaukee, to sell vouchers and charters to black families.

Not until paragraph 25 does the article mention that the national NAACP, the nation’s largest organization representing black families, called for a charter moratorium in 2016. That fact alone should raise the question of how representative the protestors are.

I wrote this post about the article. The gist of my complaint was that the Times’ article gave the impression that black and Latino families are clamoring for more charters, when in reality there are many cities in which black and Hispanic families are protesting the destruction of their public schools and the loss of democratic control of their schools.

I questioned why the article relied on a five-year-old press release from the National Alliance for Public Charter Schools as evidence for its claim that the “wait list” for charter schools was in the “hundreds of thousands.” Actually, the 2014 press release from the charter advocacy group said the “wait list” topped one million students. My comment was that “wait lists” have never been audited or verified and that a claim by a lobbying group is not evidence.

I added to my post a commentary by Robert Kuttner, the editor of the American Prospect,  who was also critical of the article.

Both Kuttner and I heard from a reporter from the New York Times. In the response posted below, he acknowledges he made an error in citing poll data in the article, without reading the underlying poll.

I heard from one of the writers of the Times article. She said my post had many inaccuracies. I invited her to write a response and promised I would post it in full. I pleaded with her to identify any inaccuracies in my post and said I would issue a correction. She did not send a response that I could post nor a list of my “inaccuracies.”

The Times posted an article last July about the growing backlash against charter schools. But I do not think the Times has exhausted the question of why the charter “movement” is in decline.  It would surely be interesting if the Times wrote a story about why the NAACP took a strong stand against charter expansion, despite the funding behind charters. Or why Black Lives Matter opposes privatization and supports democratic control of schools. Or why black families in Little Rock, Chicago, Houston, and other cities are fighting charter expansion. None of those families are funded by the Waltons, Bill Gates, Eli Broad, Charles Koch, or Michael Bloomberg, so they don’t organize buses to take hundreds or thousands of people to demonstrations.

The Times should take note of the fact that white Southern Republicans have made the charter issue their own, and they are using it to recreate segregated schools. Indeed, the Republican party has made charter schools and vouchers the centerpiece of their education agenda, and Democrats in most state legislatures have resisted that agenda and support public schools. There is also the fact that DeVos and Trump are pushing charters and school choice even as they dismantle civil rights protections.

I wish the Times had noticed a court decision in Mississippi a few months ago that upheld the right of the state to take tax money away from the predominantly black public schools of Jackson, Mississippi (which are 96-97% black), and give it to charter schools authorized by the state, not the district. They might note that the sole black justice on the Mississippi Supreme Court, Justice Leslie King, dissented from that decision. The district, under black leadership, fought that decision and lost. The black parents of Jackson, Mississippi, are fighting for adequate funding of their public schools, while the white Republicans in state government are imposing charter schools.

In Justice Leslie King’s dissenting opinion, which Justice James Kitchens joined, he wrote “This Court should not be a rubber stamp for Legislative policies it agrees with when those policies are unconstitutional.”

Public school districts in Mississippi receive local funding from ad valorem tax receipts. When a student enrolls in a charter school, which is a free public school, money that would have gone to the district follows the student to the charter school instead.

My view is that we need a great public school in every neighborhood, with experienced teachers, a full curriculum, a vibrant arts program, a nurse, and all the resources they need for the students they enroll. I think that charter schools should be authorized by districts to meet their needs and supervised by district officials to be sure that there is full transparency and accountability for the academic program, the discipline policies, and the finances. Charter schools should complement public schools, not compete with them or supplant them.

Here is Robert Kuttner’s second commentary on the article:



DECEMBER 2, 2019

Kuttner on TAP

Charter Schools and the Times: a Correction and Further Reflections. I made an error in my On Tap post last week on the New York Times feature piece on black public opinion and charter schools.

My post criticized the Times for publishing a page-one story with an exaggerated headline, “Minority Voters Feel Betrayed Over Schools.”

The Times piece cited a poll showing black support for charter schools at 47 percent. My mistake was to infer from this figure that black support and opposition were about equally divided. As one of the story’s authors pointed out in an email, the actual poll showed support at 47 percent, opposition at 29 percent, and no opinion or similar for the rest.

That 29 percent opposed figure was not mentioned in the Times piece. Nonetheless, I should have pursued the underlying poll and reported it, and not just made assumptions. I regret the error.

That said, polling results vary widely depending on the wording and framing of the question, the sponsor of the poll, and the context. For instance, a poll by the Public Policy Institute of California, in a state that has more charters than any other, reverses the finding of the Education Next poll cited by the Times. In California, blacks, with just 36 percent support, were far less likely to support charters than whites.

One of the two polls that the Times linked to used the phrase “public charter schools.” Most charter schools are public only in their taxpayer funding; their actual accountability to public systems varies widely. Many are for-profit, or nominally nonprofit but managed by for-profit management companies.

Another poll, which my post cited, by Peter Hart Associates (for the American Federation of Teachers), finds that black parents are strongly opposed to the idea of reducing funds for public schools and redirecting them to charters, which is often the practical impact of increased spending on charters. As this study shows, the practical effect of charters, in a climate of fiscal scarcity, is often precisely to divert funds from public schools.

I owe our readers a much deeper look at the charter school controversy, as well as error-free reading of polls. Both will be forthcoming. ~ ROBERT KUTTNER

Robert Kuttners new book is The Stakes: 2020 and the Survival of American Democracy.

Follow Robert Kuttner on Twitter

This is one reason why unions are valuable for teachers and public schools. Unions have the resources to go to the courts to fight capricious actions, like the pending takeover of the Houston Independent School District based on the low test scores of one school.


HFT_release_VOCUS 2018 new.jpg

For Immediate Release
November 19, 2019


Zeph Capo
HFT Files Federal Lawsuit over Proposed State Takeover of School District
HOUSTON—The Houston Federation of Teachers filed a federal lawsuit in Austin today, stating the proposed state takeover of the Houston Independent School District is unconstitutional under U.S. and Texas law because it disenfranchises and discriminates against people based on race and national origin.   

Gov. Greg Abbott and Education Commissioner Mike Morath claim the state takeover of the entire Houston school district, which earned an 88 (out of 100) academic accountability rating, was triggered due to one chronically failing school, Wheatley High School, which is attended by predominantly black and brown students. The takeover decision was made just days after voters elected new school board members in Houston, who would not be able to take their seats under the takeover, effectively silencing the democratic electoral process.

“The state’s action to take over the HISD is flagrantly unconstitutional and has nothing to do with giving kids a strong public education,” said Zeph Capo, president of HFT and Texas AFT.

“Gov. Abbott and Education Commissioner Mike Morath will do just about anything to give private charter operators a chance to get their hands on our schools—even violate the state and U.S. constitutions. We can’t allow our government officials to unconstitutionally marginalize black and brown children, deny them their right to a quality public education, or defy the voice of voters who have just elected new school board members,” he said.

The suit was filed in U.S. District Court for the Western District of Texas in Austin.

The suit, which seeks injunctive relief, alleges that the proposed takeover violates the 14th and 15th amendments of the U.S. Constitution because it disenfranchises minority voters and discriminates against the plaintiffs (three educators, one of whom is a parent of children in the district) on the basis of race and national origin and deprives people, no matter their race, color or ethnicity, of participating in the political process or electing representatives of their own choice. Further, the suit states the proposed takeover violates Texas’ Equal Rights Amendment, which states: “Equality under the law shall not be denied or abridged because of sex, race, color, creed or national origin.”

The educator plaintiffs explained why they are participating in the lawsuit:

Jackie Anderson, a special education teacher at Ortiz Middle School, said the takeover would erase citizens’ legitimate votes. “Growing up, my parents instilled the value of civic responsibility. I voted for the first time with my mother. I was taught the value of my vote. Voting is something that you have an obligation to do. Everyone’s vote should count. My choice should be respected. To say that it doesn’t matter is a violation of my right as a citizen,” Anderson said.

Maxie Hollingsworth, a math teacher at Red Elementary and parent of HISD students, said her experience growing up in Little Rock, Ark., cemented her strong feelings about the sanctity of voting rights. “I was raised with the idea of the importance of equitable education and every person’s right to vote. It offends me to my core that people of privilege and power truly don’t care about communities of color and poor people. This takeover is a very targeted and intentional process and amounts to illegal disenfranchisement. It would take away my vote and everyone else’s who voted in the school board election. I can’t look at myself in the mirror and say this is OK. It’s not OK,” Hollingsworth said.

She added that she believes a takeover would result in fewer resources available to students and a greater turnover of educators. “All the progress HISD has made will all be for naught,” Hollingsworth said.

Daniel Santos, a social studies teacher at Navarro Middle School, said he became a naturalized citizen in 2008, when he voted for the first time in his life. “Through voting, I am holding policymakers accountable and making sure that minorities are not disenfranchised. I view the takeover of our recently elected school board as unconstitutional. It’s a serious violation of my civil rights that prevents me as a citizen from holding our policymakers accountable,” Santos said.

Following a state takeover, Santos predicted, “We will see market-based reforms that have failed to improve student achievement in other cities. We cannot let that happen.”

The HFT believes the state’s clear goal is to convert Houston’s public schools to privately operated charter schools, which the previously elected Houston school board had refused to do. However, Capo noted, several Houston charter schools are doing worse than Wheatley but are still being allowed to continue operating and are not being singled out in the takeover. Morath is justifying the takeover using a rule he enacted in 2018 that allows the Texas Education Agency to downgrade a school’s rating if it did not pass three of four measures, even if it would have passed otherwise. Wheatley had a passing 63 grade, or a D, but was curved down to a 59, or an F.

“The real shame is that the focus is on a scheme to charterize the district, not to get Wheatley the resources it needs to improve student achievement. Experience shows that charters do not produce the improvements their supporters claim,” Capo said.







If you would rather not receive future communications from AFT, let us know by clicking here.
AFT, 555 New Jersey Ave NW, Washington, DC 20001 United States

A trio of activists on behalf of public schools wrote a blistering critique of the pending state takeover of the Houston Independent School District, based on the failure of ONE high school that has an unusually high proportion of students who are poor and have disabilities.

Zeph Capo is president of the Houston Federation of Teachers and Texas AFT, James Dixon is pastor of the Community of Faith Church in Houston and a vice president of the Houston Branch of the NAACP, and Hugo Mojica is president of LULAC Education Council #402.

They write:

Residents of this community are increasingly frustrated with the upheaval in the Houston Independent School District. As Houstonians who work directly with the educators, parents and students in the district, we don’t blame them. But something doesn’t add up in the state’s decision to take over HISD.

Houston schools have been on an improvement track for years — the district recently earned a B grade from the state — just two points away from an A. After years of struggle among legislators, administrators and educators to figure out how best to serve our kids, HISD should be celebrating our progress. But instead of cheering parents, educators and students, who came together and turned around the city’s schools, the state slapped our community in the face by announcing this punitive takeover of the entire district.

A byzantine Texas law enables the state to trigger a district takeover — all 283 Houston public schools — if just one school chronically underperforms. So instead of investing in that one school — Wheatley High School, in this case — and providing it the attention and resources it needs, Austin bureaucrats chose to scapegoat and punish the entire city. Given that Houston students just scored second in math and third in reading within their national peer group, HISD seems like it should be a model rather than a takeover target.

The writers might have also mentioned that Houston was the only city to win the Broad award for most improved urban district twice, an honor conferred by the Broad Foundation, which has the same worldview of disruption as the Texas State Board of Education and State Commissioner Mike Morath. Morath previously served on the Dallas board of education but he is not an educator. He is a software developer. He has no ideas about how to improve schools, nor has he ever improved a school.

The authors write:

This political power grab is the epitome of overreaching, but it also reflects an insidious, ongoing effort to deny black and brown communities the educational opportunities their kids deserve. It represents a classist, old-school view of public education that rewards the privileged few and ignores the difficult work that must be done to ensure schools are safe and welcoming and meet the needs of all kids, regardless of geography or demography.

What’s also incredibly disappointing is that this takeover comes on the heels of a democratic election, in which the community elected new school board members. If this untenable takeover proceeds, duly elected trustees won’t get a chance to take their seats, defying the will of the people and denying a voice for those elected to represent the needs of students.

Gov. Greg Abbott and Education Commissioner Mike Morath aren’t actually looking out for Houston’s kids. They want to privatize Texas’ largest school district through a charter scheme. If that happens, this plan will funnel money out of our traditional public schools and into for-profit alternatives. This recent election vote reflected the community’s mandate that Houston public schools continue to invest in evidence-based wraparound services, including health care, before- and after-school programs, and enhanced social and emotional services.

State officials would prefer to privatize rather than invest new resources in a major district that is facing challenges and doing well compared to other urban districts.

Yes, indeed, something stinks in Texas.

The state officials behind the takeover are vandals, disrupters, corrupters of democracy.

They should not be allowed to mess with the HISD.


W. J. Gumbert left the following comment about the state takeover of Houston, based on the low test scores of one high school. For the uninitiated, Governor Greg Abbott and Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick hate public schools. John Arnold is a billionaire who made his money as an energy trader at Enron and now campaigns against public sector pensions and in favor of charter schools.

Gumbert writes:

Let’s remember that charters close their low performing campuses enrolling economically disadvantaged students to circumvent accountability. Wheatley HS is 93.8% economically disadvantaged, 78.9% “at-risk”, 20.5% special education and student mobility is 28.5%. Wheatley would be evaluated under the “alternative academic accountability standards if it was operated by a charter. Regardless, TEA assigned HISD an academic accountability rating of 88.

At the same time as HISD’s takeover, TEA has approved the following charters, operated by appointed boards, to expand despite operating campuses with a lower rating than Wheatley HS:

KIPP Texas – 4 campuses rated 46-54
International Leadership of Texas – 3 campuses rated 45-58
Harmony Science Academy (Waco) – 51
Jubilee Academies – 3 campuses rated 50-51
Great Hearts – 56

The takeover of HISD is SOLELY to allow TEA, Abbott, Lt. Dan and crew to implement the largest portfolio of privately operated charters in the nation. It is not a coincidence that John and Laura Arnold reside in Houston, have funded the expansion of the portfolio model and are funding IDEA’s expansion in Houston. It is time for everyone that cares about kids and democracy to take a stand!!!!!

I am a K-12 graduate of the Houston Independent School District. I am appalled that Texas officials would dare to strip Houston citizens of their elected board because of ONE LOW-PERFORMING HIGH SCHOOL. Wheatley High School happens to have a high concentration of students who live in poverty (88%), don’t speak English, and have special needs (19%).

The Texas Education Agency and Commissioner Mike Morath should be ashamed of themselves. Since when did Republicans become advocates of authoritarianism and enemies of local control?

Commissioner Mike Morath, who is not an educator but a software developer, joins this blog’s Wall of Shame.

For Immediate Release
November 7, 2019

Oriana Korin


Educators Question State Takeover of HISD

HOUSTON—American Federation of Teachers President Randi Weingarten and Texas AFT and Houston Federation of Teachers President Zeph Capo issued the following statements in response to the Texas Education Agency’s announcement that it plans to take over local control of the Houston Independent School District:


Capo said:


“This is a power grab to disenfranchise families in Houston—particularly families of color—who just exercised their voice in a democratic vote on control of the city’s public schools. Now, the state government wants to step in and ignore that vote and exercise state control over this community because of one below-grade school, when the rest of them are scoring in the top tier in math and reading.


“What Houston’s students and their families really need is leadership: leadership that is committed to serving the needs of our local schoolchildren and the needs of the teachers who greet them every day. Educators must be assured that they, their students and their classrooms will be the focus of every decision, and our campuses must be able to thrive as safe and welcoming places for teaching and learning, unfettered by the machinations in Austin.


“The HFT has one goal: to look out for students—not to play politics with how we educate them.”


Weingarten said:


“This takeover by the Texas Education Agency strips the entire Houston community—particularly Houston’s families—of their basic right to have democratically governed public schools. It’s curiously timed during the exact moment the public are casting their votes to make changes in the Houston school board. But the fact remains: Teachers, parents and the community of Houston know what is best for Houston, and they have worked together over the last decade to see real improvement in Houston’s schools. Alarmingly, rather than focusing on that improvement, Austin bureaucrats are using one school’s challenges as the basis for stripping everyone in Houston of their voice.


“The state is playing a crude game of politics with public education in a shameful power grab that ignores students’ educational needs and disrespects the educators in the classroom. Using grossly flawed judgment, politicians in Austin have decided to use a blunt instrument that will undermine and disrupt the mission of community control of public education.


”We’ve been here enough times to know that our first priority must always be students, and our national union will do whatever we have to do to support the educators in this city in standing up for their kids and their schools against the state’s overreach. Our country’s history is replete with efforts to disenfranchise people of color and women, but Texas should not go down that ugly path again with this effort to take over the Houston school system.”



The American Federation of Teachers is a union of 1.7 million professionals that champions fairness; democracy; economic opportunity; and high-quality public education, healthcare and public services for our students, their families and our communities. We are committed to advancing these principles through community engagement, organizing, collective bargaining and political activism, and especially through the work our members do.



Jacob Carpenter, reporter for the Houston Chronicle, tweeted that the state education department plans to strip the Houston school board of its authority because of the persistently low scores of one school.


BREAKING: Texas Education Commissioner Mike Morath has notified Houston ISD that he plans to strip power from the district’s elected board and appoint a new governance team, the result of Wheatley High School’s chronically low performance and findings of trustee misconduct.

Morath previously served on the Dallas school board. He was a software developer, never an educator.


State takeovers of struggling school districts have a very poor track record. Two education leaders in Houston call on state officials to support the Houston Independent School District,  not to dissolve local control.

Ruth Kravetz is co-founder of Community Voices for Public Education and Zeph Capo is President of the Texas AFT. They speak out for democracy.

I have a stake in HISD. I attended public school there from kindergarten through high school graduation. The Houston public schools prepared me to enter a selective college. My mother, fresh off the boat in 1919, having fled war-torn Europe, enrolled in Houston public schools and learned to speak English. Her high school diploma was one of her proudest possessions.

They write:

The Texas Education Agency should heed evidence from around the country that state takeovers of schools harm students and communities. The public needs to know that the rules for assessing school performance, and rating them by letter grade, are capricious and biased, and are archetypal examples of grandfathering at their worst.

They give numerous examples of failed state takeovers. In Tennessee, Ohio, and elsewhere. They could have added Michigan, where state takeovers have been a disaster.


Joe Batory was Superintendent of schools in Upper Darby, Pennsylvania. In this article, which is part of his new memoir, he tells about the arrival of a large number of Vietnamese in Upper Darby in the mid-1980s, speaking no English. What they brought with them were strong family values, a deep respect for education, and a keen work ethic.

It was amazing to him to see how quickly they learned English and how well they did in public schools and how eager they were to become productive citizens.

In one story he talks about Minh and her progress.

“Minh was a delicate Vietnamese flower who arrived in Upper Darby as an 8th grader. She spoke no English when she entered the Beverly Hills Middle School. Five years later, in 1995, she was graduated from Upper Darby High School No. 1 in the class academically.

“At that point, Minh had completed more college-level Advanced Placement courses at Upper Darby High School than any previous student in the school’s history. As a result, she was granted status as a junior when she started Penn State University in the pre-med program. Minh graduated magna cum laude from Penn State with a pre-med bachelor’s degree in two years.

“At Philadelphia’s Thomas Jefferson Medical School, despite being much younger than her peers, Minh ranked near the top academically among all medical students. But she was not No. 1. Minh apologized to me for “her failing” in writing.

“Imagine feeling badly because even though you were an outstanding medical student, you were not No. 1. Minh was truly one of the best achievers and most caring persons I have ever met. She is now a successful doctor.”

For millions of students, the American public school remains the pathto a productive life.

I know that from my own family. My mother arrived from Bessarabia after World War 1 with her mother and sister. She didn’t speak any English. She was nine years old. The family settled in Houston. My mother and her sister went to Houston public schools. Her proudest accomplishment was learning perfect English and her high school diploma. She never went to college. Her family could not afford it. But she always was proud that she was a high school graduate, and she evouraged her children to go to college.



The Houston Independent School District Board did not renew its contract to hire Teach for America recruits. 

TFA profits handsomely on each person it places, collecting $3,000-$5,000 per person. Is it a rental fee or a finders’ fee? The organization has accumulated more than $300 million in assets and has created an international operation called Teach for All, which undermines teachers’ unions around the world. It also has a political operation called Leadership for Educational Equity (LEE), which trains its members to run for office and finances their campaigns. In some districts, like Atlanta, TFA controls the school board and uses its power to promote charter schools and privatization. Many charter schools rely on TFA to supply their teachers.

Houston ISD trustees voted Thursday to end the district’s contract with Teach For America, an organization that places high-performing college graduates from non-traditional teaching backgrounds in classrooms.

In recent years, about 35 Teach For America corps members joined the district annually, committing to a two-year program. Corps members are HISD employees and earn salaries paid by the district, though they cost HISD an additional $3,000 to $5,000 in fees related to recruitment and support.

Board members voted 4-4 on a motion to continue the contract, with a majority vote needed to support its renewal. Trustees approved the contract in 2018 by a 4-3 vote, but the outcome swung this year with Board President Diana Dávila flipping from “yes” to “no” on Thursday.

Opponents of renewing Teach For America’s contract noted corps members are less likely to remain in the district long-term than educators certified through more traditional methods. Some trustees also quibbled with the fees paid to Teach For America at a time when educators across the district are receiving modest salary increases.

“TFA is an organization that is problematic,” HISD Trustee Elizabeth Santos said. “It deprofessionalizes teaching, increases turnover and undermines union organization. We should not subsidize TFA with extra dollars. They should not have special privileges over alternative certification paths.”



The superintendent of a Houston charter school and a school employee have been charged with embezzling more than $250,000 from the school’s bank account. 

The head of a Houston-area charter school and another school employee have been indicted on federal embezzlement charges, accused of siphoning more than $250,000 from the school for themselves and using some of the money to buy a car and condominium.
A grand jury in the U.S. District Court’s Southern District of Texas handed up charges this week against Houston Gateway Academy Superintendent Richard Garza, including one count of conspiracy, two counts of theft concerning programs receiving federal funds, three counts of wire fraud and two counts of engaging in monetary transactions involving criminally acquired property. Ahmad Bokaiyan, a technology support specialist at the school, was charged with conspiracy and three counts of wire fraud. They are now considered fugitives, according to a federal court records…
According to the indictment, Garza awarded a $280,841.85 no-bid contract in 2014 to a group called Hot Rod Systems to build an IT infrastructure at the new school, even though construction on the school had not yet begun. Hot Rod Systems was owned by Bokaiyan. Prosecutors say the two Houston Gateway Academy employees agreed that Bokaiyan would wire some of that contract money into one of Garza’s personal bank accounts. Within days of receiving the contract money from Garza, Bokaiyan wired the superintendent $164,381.
The indictment alleges Garza used more than $50,000 of those funds to buy a new Nissan Armada sport utility vehicle, more than $86,500 to help purchase a condominium, and nearly $26,000 to help make payments on a house loan in Cypress.
Garza’s school enrolls 2,400 students. He had plans to expand to nearly 10,000. He took over the school when it had low scores.
He began an aggressive plan to improve academics on state-mandated standardized tests, placing countdown clocks to test days in all classrooms and requiring even the youngest students to complete three-ring binders filled with practice tests and worksheets. As a result, their Coral middle school campus shot up the nonprofit Children at Risk’s annual school report card rankings, rising to the ranking’s number three spot. All of its 110 fifth and sixth grade students passed the math portion of the STAAR, an exceedingly rare feat for any school, let alone one that serves predominately low-income students. 
One wonders whether he worked the same magic with the test scores that he did with the finances.