‘A fever dream’: Mike Miles stars in musical about himself as disorganization plagues Houston ISD teacher training

The week-long training for teachers across Houston ISD got off to a rocky start, with crowded rooms prompting a fire marshal visit. On Wednesday, TEA-appointed superintendent Mike Miles starred in a musical about himself. 


Houston ISD Superintendent Mike Miles at HISD training for 2023-24 school year.

As teachers arrived at NRG stadium for training on Monday, many were forced to sit on the ground — because there weren't enough chairs — and at least one session didn't have a presenter. The hallways and session rooms were crowded to the point that the Houston Fire Department stopped by.

"Houston Fire Marshal's Office has been made aware of a occupancy concern at the NRG Center for the HISD Conference that is currently being corrected with the assistance of HISD Police and NRG staff," an HFD spokesperson wrote on Tuesday. "HFD Inspectors will continue to monitor this process daily throughout the remainder of the conference to ensure the meeting rooms are not overcrowded."

In a written statement, the district blamed teachers who showed up on the wrong day. High school teachers were supposed to only attend NRG sessions on Thursday and Friday.

"Many secondary educators attended Monday and Tuesday, causing challenges with room capacity," a district spokesperson said. "Any educator who was unable to attend a training session in the first two days is welcome to attend on Thursday and Friday, as their schedule permits."

The teachers’ union blamed the disorganization on a lack of coordination from Central Office administrators.

On Wednesday, Mike Miles presented an hour-long musical performance. It starred himself as the owner of a diner, mentoring students in a town with an "antiquated" public education system.

He poked fun at reporters, with an apparent reference to questions about his plan to convert libraries into areas for "differentiated instruction" and discipline.

The entire video is no longer available on YouTube because several of the songs are copyrighted, like "I Dreamed a Dream" from Les Misérables.

Sarah Rivlin, a Northside High School teacher and Community Voices for Public Education member, argued the musical demonstrated that Miles is "pretty narcissistic."

"It was basically an hour-and-15-minute-long homage to him," Rivlin said. "He took a lot of jabs at his critics. There was not a clear message. It was pretty much the Mike Miles show."

Rivlin received training this week on the New Education System (NES) instructional model. It includes lessons scripted by planners, not teachers. She described a strictly designed lesson with timed segments and no room for variation.

"It is unusable," she said. "I don’t know how those schools are going to function this year. I honestly don’t."

Northside High isn't one of the 85 schools in the NES system this year, but it's expected to face reforms in the coming years as Miles expands the changes to include 150 schools — more than half the district. Rivlin said she'll quit before working under the NES model.

"There’s no point in being a teacher if you’re reading a script," she said. "That’s not the career that I signed up for. So I’m going somewhere else."

In a Thursday press conference, Miles argued that the musical was "great."

"Anybody who says different — you know, that’s an anecdote," he said. "That’s an outlier."

Miles has repeatedly deflected criticism of his reforms from community members, elected officials and the district's largest teachers' union as "misinformation" that isn't worth reporting on because, in his eyes, they don't represent the entire community or truly understand his plan. The musical continues that trend, and he argued that most of the district's approximately 11,000 teachers enjoyed the performance.

"It was a great convocation, and that’s the story," he asserted. "Let’s not do the anecdotes of the outliers or the naysayers. Let’s report from the people who thought it was a really good convocation because that, in a scatterplot, would be the trendline."

Union president Jackie Anderson, with the Houston Federation of Teachers, fired back after the press conference.

"We have about 6,000 members," Anderson said, adding that teachers across the district voted for HFT to represent them in consultations with district administration. "So, I wouldn’t say it’s just a few naysayers. I would say it’s over half of your teachers."

"I’m concerned about the production by Mike Miles for Mike Miles about Mike Miles," she continued. "It was really a waste of time for our teachers. (Professional development) should not be about Mike Miles. It should be about what’s going to be helpful for children."

Many teachers are reluctant to criticize the new administration publicly. They've pointed to a presentation from the district, where teachers were told they should not "communicate false or misleading information about the school or District, particularly if designed to damage the school or district's reputation, or undermines (sic) the school's or District's high-performance culture."

One teacher, who requested anonymity, described the musical as "a fever dream."

"I did not think before I came to work this morning that I could feel any more insulted or disrespected or angry about this takeover," they said. "And unfortunately, I was wrong."

On Thursday, Miles said he's focused on improving outcomes for Houston ISD students. The Texas Education Agency released STAAR scores for third through eighth grade this week. Across Texas, passing rates in all subjects modestly increased year over year. But with the exception of reading, they still haven't fully recovered to pre-pandemic levels.

Houston scores continue to fall short of statewide averages, with more than a quarter of students not passing the reading exam and more than a third not passing math.

"Look, we didn’t do well," Miles said. "We are now two years out of COVID, and we have to do better."

The scores reflect the first round of fully online testing, which advocates argued would increase the difficulty of the test while deepening the achievement gap between affluent and working class communities.

Dominic Anthony Walsh

Dominic Anthony Walsh

Education & Culture Reporter

Dominic Anthony Walsh covers education & culture for Houston Public Media's enterprise team. His work examines the institutions and policies affecting millions of students and families across Texas, with a focus on Houston — home to the largest school district in the state. He comes to the Bayou City after...

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