Education News

Business Leaders Reiterate Call For State To Intervene in Houston Schools

Texas Education Commissioner Mike Morath is widely expected to remove Houston’s elected school board this academic year. But Morath didn’t reveal any details about that decision when he addressed hundreds of business and education leaders Monday.

Morath addressed hundreds of business and education leaders at an event hosted by the Greater Houston Partnership Monday.

In a visit to Houston, the state’s education chief called for Texas schools to deliver more fully on the promise of public education, but he stopped short of talking about a state takeover of Houston schools.

Texas Education Commissioner Mike Morath is widely expected to remove Houston’s elected school board this academic year because of either academic or governance issues. But Morath didn’t reveal any details about that decision when he addressed hundreds of business and education leaders at an event hosted by the Greater Houston Partnership Monday.

That didn’t stop local business leaders from saying what they want to see happen.

“We think the Houston Independent School District’s board’s long-term failure to consistently support all of our schools, all of our kids warrants new leadership at HISD,” said Bob Harvey, president and CEO of the Greater Houston Partnership.

Harvey previously advocated for a state takeover in an editorial published over the summer.

Harvey urged others to stay involved in public education, in particular to vote in the upcoming HISD board elections and to recruit qualified candidates if the state installs a board of managers to govern Houston schools.

HISD faces a potential takeover because of both academic struggles and the board’s behavior. On one hand, a state law mandates the commissioner to oust the elected board or close struggling schools if even one school fails state standards for five or more years. That has occurred with Wheatley High School, a historically black school in Houston’s Fifth Ward. It has received failing ratings from the state seven times in a row. HISD has appealed the latest rating, which is expected to be resolved by December.

Separately, the Texas Education Agency has conducted a special investigation into the HISD board and found multiple alleged violations. The state’s lead investigator has recommended the commissioner replace the entire board in his preliminary report, but the final report has not been released and no decision has been made.

In pushing for a state takeover, Harvey laid out what he called several “guiding principles,” such as focusing on the needs of the district’s lowest-performing campuses and engaging with parents for them to be more involved.

Harvey said that while the Greater Houston Partnership’s involvement in education has been “episodic,” the business group would stay involved for the long haul if the state intervenes — for five or even 10 years.

“It can be said that the board of managers, they’ll be most popular the day they’re appointed. They’ll be less popular the next day and the next day as they start to make tough decisions. There has to be groups like ours that stay close enough to the issues to be able to provide enough support change by change, issue by issue,” Harvey said.

Bob Harvey, the President and CEO of Greater Houston Partnership, said the business group would stay involved for the long haul if the state intervenes.

Morath didn’t discuss the uncertain future of Houston schools in his address. Rather, he focused on key data points that he said indicate Texas isn’t making sure every student is prepared for success in life.

“And the question is — is every school delivering on that promise?” Morath told the crowd. “And the unfortunate truth is some of the schools that we have are not good enough for my kids or your kids or the kids that are in them. It’s not due to lack of effort, it’s not due to a lack of energy. It’s not because we don’t have loving people. It’s because this business is a hard business.”

Morath highlighted several changes coming to Texas schools, including expanded pre-kindergarten and new teacher pay incentives, thanks to the school finance package passed by lawmakers.

HISD Interim Superintendent Grenita Lathan attended the address, but declined to comment to reporters. When asked about Lathan’s performance, Harvey with the partnership said he gave her “high marks” for maintaining her focus on kids.

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Laura Isensee

Education Reporter

Laura Isensee covers education for Houston Public Media, including K-12 and higher education. Previously, she was a staff reporter at The Miami Herald and contributed to South Florida’s NPR affiliate. Her work has also appeared in The Dallas Morning News, Reuters and Clarín in Argentina. Laura has won awards for...

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