HOUSTON--The state takeover of the Houston Independent School District that was supposedly triggered because of one chronically under-performing school raises many unsettling questions about the state’s true agenda, and the community is demanding answers, Zeph Capo, president of the Houston Federation of Teachers and AFT Texas said at a news conference today.
The takeover was triggered by a state law that allows the state to take over an entire school district if even one school has been chronically underperforming. HISD as a whole scored a well-above-average 88 academic accountability rating, with just one school out of nearly 300 campuses, Wheatley High School, scoring a 59. Yet several Houston charter schools scored lower, but remain allowed to continue operating and are not being singled out in the takeover.
In an attempt to get some answers, the American Federation of Teachers – the national union of which HFT is an affiliate -- filed a Freedom of Information Act request with the Texas Education Agency for copies of any communication between Education Commissioner Mike Morath or Deputy Commissioner Airick Journal “A.J.” Crabill and several charter operators, Houston Independent School District board member Jolanda Jones and pro-charter organizations. The organizations fear the takeover is motivated by political interests to charterize public schools, not educational interests of students.
“There’s a longstanding skepticism about this law that allows the state to take over a local school district because of one outlier. Why is Wheatley High School being scapegoated but not numerous charter schools that scored lower? This is not on the level and parents, educators and the community have lots of questions and need answers.
“Is there is an agenda to punish public schools and divert resources to charters, even if they’re not performing well? Is the plan to push a portfolio model that would blanket the city with charter schools? We’ve seen that model across Texas and it left the public schools to pick up the broken pieces.”
He went on to note that HISD should be lauded for making steady progress, as the high B rating indicates. “Instead of throwing the baby out with the bath water, we should continue on our path of progress while giving Wheatley the attention and resources it needs to improve,” he said.
AFT President Randi Weingarten added:
“No matter what city we’re in: Newark. Philadelphia. Detroit. The people who know best about what kids need are the educators who are with them every day in the classroom. State takeovers over the last 30 years in over 100 cities have not actually worked to improve student achievement, because too often, they’re not meeting kids where they are, and actually working with communities to improve schools from the inside out.
“To the educators and parents in this community, this looks like a power grab and an attack on self-governance -- an attack on this community’s diversity. But more importantly, it has a history of not working for the very people it’s supposed to help. So we need some more answers on what’s really behind this proposed takeover, and we need to be sure someone’s looking out for Houston’s students in the process.”
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