Almost twice as many teachers resigned from Houston ISD so far this year compared to the last two school years

As expected, more Houston ISD teachers are resigning than normal in the wake of the state takeover and sweeping reforms. Educators blame a culture of “fear and intimidation,” while state-appointed superintendent Mike Miles has emphasized “making a choice” to be in a “high-performance culture.”

More than 600 children attend pre-kindergarten through first grade at Neff Early Learning Center. It is a rare school in Texas because the entire campus follows an inclusive learning model.
Shannon Harrison/Houston Public Media
FILE: A teacher walks with her student at Neff Early Learning Center.

From August through early January, 633 teachers resigned from the Houston Independent School District, according to information obtained by Houston Public Media through a public records request. During the same time period in the 2022-23 school year, 331 teachers quit. The year before, only 309 resigned.

"I do believe that is because of the way that teachers are being treated," said union president Jackie Anderson with the Houston Federation of Teachers, who described a shift in the district's culture to one of "fear and intimidation."

The near-doubling in teacher resignations came as sweeping reforms unfolded across the state's largest district, which employs more than 10,000 teachers who have expressed mixed feelings about the changes. Superintendent Mike Miles' overhaul has generally reduced the autonomy of classroom educators. While the level of changes differs from campus to campus, many teachers are now expected to use centrally created curricula and to adhere to a district-approved model of instruction that features fast pacing and frequent student engagement strategies.

Former Navarro Middle School teacher Melissa Yarborough made the decision to leave a few weeks ago. She took an offer to teach English as a Second Language classes for adults.

"The takeover was really the main reason, though, because eventually teacher pay is going to be connected to test scores, and so you can’t predict what your salary is going to be year to year," Yarborough said.

The reduction in her autonomy spurred her early departure. She intended to continue teaching English Language Arts at Navarro through the end of the school year, but she grew concerned about repercussions for her plan to teach a novel during the second half of the year — rather than using the district's centrally created curriculum, which features shorter reading passages instead of full books.

"It was a highly rebellious plan — teaching an English class using novels," she said. "Towards the end of December, I was called into my appraiser’s office and told ‘We have observed you not using the district curriculum' — which is slideshows, by the way — ‘and you have to use the district curriculum.'"

Superintendent Miles has said he expects turnover as the district expands what he calls a "high-performance culture."

“In a school organization that’s a high-performance culture, teachers choose to be in that culture — or not,” Miles said in September. “It’s kind of like the NES schools. There are a lot of teaching jobs out there — not just in HISD, but elsewhere — and if you really don’t like the NES schools, that’s okay. It’s understandable, it’s not for everybody. So, choose.”

Duncan Klussman, with the University of Houston's College of Education, said he expects teacher resignations to remain higher than normal as Houston ISD shifts away from its previous decentralized approach, where campus principals and classroom educators had more autonomy.

"You have a lot of individuals teaching in HISD who came in under that type of approach and liked it, and maybe that’s the reason they chose to stay there for years," Klussman said. "When it becomes very top down, you don’t get to kind of show us your art of teaching because it’s handed completely to you. That person may not fit in that situation real well."