Houston teachers union president worries about transparency amid TEA takeover

“If you want buy-in then you need to include everyone in the process, and that’s not happening.”


Houston ISD Superintendent Mike Miles met with reporters after the TEA takeover of HISD officially took place on Thursday.


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Newly appointed superintendent of HISD Mike Miles, began his term Thursday and immediately set about laying out a set of reforms for the district, including a pay-for-performance system and what he is calling the New Education System program, or NES.

The NES program will begin at 28 of the district’s lowest-performing schools, where teachers, principals and staff will be required to reapply for their jobs.

Miles says the program is intended to ensure improved instruction in HISD’s schools with the most need, from elementary to high school, along specific neighborhood feeder patterns.

“I can improve the quality of instruction and achievement in one high school, let’s say, but then what about the middle schools that feed into that high school?" said Miles. "So we’ve chosen 3 feeder patterns, Wheatley, Kashmere, North Forest and, I think, 3 other schools that are really high-need schools.”

Faculty and staff that already have contracts for the coming school year will remain employed by the district this year, even if they are not rehired at one of the 28 priority campuses.

The schools in the program will also see pay raises for teachers to an average of $86,000 per year plus a stipend. The hope is that higher wages will incentivize faculty to stay, since several of the 28 schools have had high rates of teacher turnover in recent years.

Miles also said he wants to unload some of the burden placed on teachers by handing off some of their duties to newly hired support staff, such as teachers' apprentices and learning coaches. The district itself will also take over lesson planning at NES schools.

“When doctors come into a room to do surgery, they just come in, have somebody put their gloves on, and they do their surgery. Teachers should be similar in that they should be able to instruct. They shouldn’t have to make copies; they shouldn’t have to prepare the room; they shouldn’t have to prepare their materials. That should be done for them," said Miles. "They shouldn’t have to worry about lesson planning; somebody else can do that.”

The lesson plans would be developed by HISD’s curriculum department. Miles says teachers would be free to make adjustments to the provided lesson plans each day.

Miles's plan also involves a new pay-for-performance model in the district, which would financially reward teachers based on student performance on standardized metrics and was a strategy Miles formerly used as head of Dallas Independent School District.

"We identify what you value, whether that’s achievement, whether it’s graduation rate, whether it’s preparation for year 2035, and then compensate people who can give you that value," said Miles.

However, such models have faced backlash from teachers’ unions in the past, who say pay-for-performance models incentivize teachers to teach to standardized tests, rather than purely for well-rounded learning.

Jackie Anderson, president of the Houston Federation of Teachers, said she wants to know what Miles is bringing to HISD that has not been done before.

“We’ve had these full-scale reconstitutions under (previous superintendents),” she told Craig Cohen on Houston Matters on Friday. “…You’re not doing anything that hasn’t been tried and failed in HISD.”

Miles stressed that this is a process that would need to move quickly, seeing results in year one, though the process is expected to take at least five years, and from his perspective, the schools had multiple years to address this and did not. But Anderson said that HISD has always been “a tale of two cities” and had inequities that weren’t properly addressed. She said the teachers’ concerns are the lack of transparency.

“If you want buy-in then you need to include everyone in the process, and that’s not happening,” Anderson said. “…You’re talking about [28] different schools of our district… How is this going to affect those communities, and those parents, and those teachers in those schools?”

Read more about what Houston ISD has to do for the takeover to end

Anderson said he must listen to both sides before decisions are made. She also said she doesn’t know the new board of managers.

“They’re not representatives of the district,” she said. “My expectation is that they would truly represent the students of HISD.”

Some teachers will be required to reapply for their positions and Anderson said the HFT will ensure that they all have contracts and there will be no laws violated.

“We seek to make sure that each one of them has a job for at least this school year, that it is in HISD,” she said.

Anderson encouraged teachers to be active and knowledgeable about the process.

“They still have time to make a decision without damaging their certification,” she said. “They need to make the decision before July 14 (if they want to continue teaching at HISD) when they have the option to leave the district without penalty.”

Anderson said she hopes that Miles will be transparent during this time.