Road map to trans­for­ma­tion

HISD has strengths to build on but a long way to go to get the re­sults its stu­dents de­serve.

Houston Chronicle Sunday - - OUTLOOK - By The Ed­i­to­rial Board

Nearly every­one in Hous­ton agrees HISD needs im­prove­ment. But af­ter so many years of mixed re­sults, the cen­tral ques­tion is how. Some dis­tricts have tried in­stalling an all-char­ter school sys­tem, as in New Orleans. Other dis­tricts, as in Buf­falo, have com­bined wrap­around ser­vices and univer­sal free col­lege. If there were any sim­ple so­lu­tions, they’d have fixed the prob­lem years ago.

What re­forms might work best here in Hous­ton, where HISD must close achieve­ment gaps, lift up un­der­per­form­ing schools and cre­ate eq­uity in a district where nearly 80 per­cent of stu­dents are eco­nom­i­cally dis­ad­van­taged, 91 per­cent are chil­dren of color and nearly onethird are English Lan­guage Learn­ers ?

To find an­swers to that ques­tion, the ed­i­to­rial board spoke to nearly two dozen ed­u­ca­tors, ex­perts and par­ents. HISD ad­min­is­tra­tors de­clined in­ter­view re­quests.

What we heard, again and again, is that there must be an em­pha­sis on the ba­sics: good teach­ers, good school lead­ers, wrap­around ser­vices that tend to emo­tional and so­cial needs of stu­dents — and a func­tion­ing school board that puts chil­dren first.

The goal: To close the achieve­ment gap and boost op­por­tu­nity

In Cam­den, N.J., a for­mer su­per­in­ten­dent who over­saw a wave of re­forms and the district’s turn­around be­gan his ten­ure with a 100-day lis­ten­ing tour, meet­ing with stu­dents, par­ents, ed­u­ca­tors and com­mu­nity mem­bers. Closer to home, in Spring Branch ISD, a group of com­mu­nity mem­bers, par­ents, stu­dents, teach­ers and

ad­min­is­tra­tors par­tic­i­pated in a “vi­sion­ing process” to de­ter­mine the district’s strate­gic di­rec­tion, said for­mer su­per­in­ten­dent Dun­can Klussmann, now a pro­fes­sor of ed­u­ca­tion at the Univer­sity of Hous­ton.

In that district, the goal was to dou­ble the num­ber of kids who com­pleted some form of higher ed­u­ca­tion, tech­ni­cal train­ing or mil­i­tary ser­vice. Ev­ery de­ci­sion made af­ter that was in ser­vice of that goal, Klussman said.

In Hous­ton, the short-term goal will be for the district to see enough im­prove­ment to exit state over­sight. That won’t hap­pen un­til Wheat­ley High scores at C or bet­ter on state ac­count­abil­ity rat­ings for two years in a row, and no other schools stay on “im­prove­ment re­quired” sta­tus for five years or longer.

But writ largely, the goal will be for achieve­ment gaps to shrink through­out HISD and for stu­dents to have roughly equal chances at suc­cess across ev­ery cam­pus.

First, at­tack the root cause

Suc­cess re­quires ad­dress­ing not only aca­demic needs, but also the so­cial and eco­nomic forces that can make it harder for chil­dren to learn. Poverty, seg­re­ga­tion, home­less­ness, fam­ily vi­o­lence, im­mi­gra­tion sta­tus and high mo­bil­ity rates all con­trib­ute to low test scores and poor grad­u­a­tion rates. HISD’s ex­ten­sive wrap­around ser­vices — ev­ery­thing from in­ten­sive coun­sel­ing and men­tor­ing to win­ter coats and free bus passes — should con­tinue but with im­proved co­or­di­na­tion, fund­ing and con­sis­tency.

But even that is only a bandaid. Ruth Lopez Tur­ley, founder of the Hous­ton Ed­u­ca­tion Re­search Con­sor­tium (HERC), says re­form­ers too of­ten fo­cus on “symp­toms” rather than “root causes” of aca­demic in­equal­ity. As a re­sult, fac­tors like still­preva­lent seg­re­ga­tion are over­looked.

Tur­ley is right, but tack­ling school seg­re­ga­tion is a huge task, one that re­mains a stub­born prob­lem in dis­tricts across the coun­try.

HISD would be wise to study what works and what doesn’t in San An­to­nio, New York City, Dal­las and other cities try­ing to solve the is­sue of seg­re­ga­tion and repli­cate those mod­els here.

Start early

Early child­hood ed­u­ca­tion must be another pri­or­ity. Co­pi­ous re­search has shown that high qual­ity pre-K helps close racial and so­cio-eco­nomic achieve­ment gaps and boosts school readi­ness. HISD poured $22 mil­lion into its full-day pre-K last year and now of­fers the pro­gram in 900 class­rooms.

Still, more should be done. Morath, who says the ap­pointed board should make early child­hood in­ter­ven­tion a pri­or­ity, said 10,000 pre-K el­i­gi­ble chil­dren in Hous­ton are not en­rolled in the pro­gram. Some may be at­tend­ing pri­vate schools or re­ceiv­ing ser­vices else­where, and the suc­cess in all-day pre-K should not be dis­counted, but Morath is likely right to ar­gue many others are slip­ping through the cracks. HISD must in­crease out­reach and mar­ket­ing to reach as many chil­dren as pos­si­ble.

Put good teach­ers where they are needed

Good teach­ers are at the core of suc­cess­ful school sys­tems. HISD must put mas­ter teach­ers where they are most needed. HISD al­ready of­fers $5,000 bonuses to teach­ers who move to un­der­per­form­ing cam­puses. That may need to be in­creased, and in any case money is not enough. The district must de­velop an ef­fec­tive eval­u­a­tion sys­tem to iden­tify the teach­ers best suited for chal­leng­ing schools; teach­ers, in turn, need re­sources, ad­min­is­tra­tive sup­port — and other ef­fec­tive teach­ers.

That’s the ba­sis for the ACE model used in Dal­las ISD, where a cadre of highly-skilled teach­ers re­ceive stipends and pro­fes­sional sup­port to work in strug­gling schools.

Bet­ter prin­ci­pals mean bet­ter schools

As any teacher — or par­ent — knows, build­ing a suc­cess­ful school be­gins with a strong prin­ci­pal. In HISD, which op­er­ates on a de­cen­tral­ized fund­ing sys­tem, that is even more vi­tal. Here, many de­ci­sions about staffing, ser­vices and even cur­ricu­lum are made at the cam­pus level. That’s a key strength of HISD, and is a strong mag­net when re­cruit­ing for top cam­pus lead­ers. But it also re­quires a prin­ci­pal who is not only knowl­edge­able about aca­demic mat­ters, but one who is adept at manag­ing a bud­get and lead­ing a large team.

Those skills can be hard to find in a sin­gle per­son. Too of­ten, HISD prin­ci­pals lack the train­ing and guid­ance re­quired for a de­cen­tral­ized sys­tem to op­er­ate prop­erly. The Leg­isla­tive Bud­get Board, which re­cently com­pleted an ex­haus­tive per­for­mance re­view of the district, found that some school lead­ers could not prop­erly sched­ule lunches, leav­ing many stu­dents with­out enough time to eat. Par­ent Heather Golden told the ed­i­to­rial board that it can some­times be dif­fi­cult to get an­swers from cam­pus lead­ers. Naomi Doyle-Madrid, whose three chil­dren at­tend HISD, said she has seen some prin­ci­pals strug­gle with fi­nan­cial tasks.

More strin­gent prin­ci­pal train­ing, which in­cludes bet­ter coach­ing and men­tor­ing for less ex­pe­ri­enced or strug­gling cam­pus lead­ers, is much needed. As is more ac­count­abil­ity for those who fail to meet school im­prove­ment plan goals.

Fix the school board

Mak­ing any kind of seis­mic shift, how­ever, re­quires a func­tion­ing school board, some­thing that HISD has long been lack­ing. Morath blamed much of the fail­ings in the district on the elected trus­tees, say­ing they had ab­di­cated their re­spon­si­bil­i­ties.

“It’s not an ac­ci­dent. It is a re­sult of what hap­pens at the top,” Morath said of the district’s in­abil­ity to close achieve­ment gaps. “There are not enough lay­ers in a bu­reau­cracy even as big as Hous­ton to pro­tect teach­ers from the fool­ish­ness of their school board mem­bers.”

A top pri­or­ity for the board of man­agers must be to put in place pro­ce­dures and guide­lines that will build the foun­da­tion for the elected trus­tees that will even­tu­ally take over gov­er­nance of the board. The LBB re­view rec­om­mends hir­ing a pro­fes­sional me­di­a­tor to run teambuildi­ng ses­sions, de­vel­op­ing a for­mal self-polic­ing struc­ture to ad­dress vi­o­la­tions of ethics poli­cies and en­forc­ing board poli­cies.

Mis­con­duct, squab­bles and po­lit­i­cal pos­tur­ing by board mem­bers must be­come a thing of the past. HISD lead­ers must be will­ing to throw out what is not work­ing and to try out some­thing new. From now on, stu­dents must be put front and cen­ter.

A road map

Few of th­ese re­forms will mean­ing­ful, or even pos­si­ble, if the district doesn’t first be­come more ef­fi­cient in how it spends its money, and more adept at manag­ing con­tracts.

For ex­am­ple, the LBB re­view found that the district has paid $27 mil­lion to an out­side cus­to­dial ven­dor since De­cem­ber, 2017, du­pli­cat­ing ser­vices al­ready pro­vided by HISD cus­to­dial staff. An al­ter­na­tive cer­ti­fi­ca­tion pro­gram has had an an­nual net loss of about $200,000 to $500,000 over the last three years while pro­duc­ing only 221 teach­ers, ac­cord­ing to data pro­vided to the Ed­i­to­rial Board in ac­cor­dance with the Texas Public In­for­ma­tion Act. Of those, only 149 are still em­ployed by the district, which em­ploys a to­tal of more than 11,500 teach­ers. The district should elim­i­nate or re­vamp those pro­grams.

It also needs to pare down top-heavy ad­min­is­tra­tive ranks, which the LBB con­cluded take away needed re­sources from class­rooms and cre­ate an un­wieldy bu­reau­cracy that makes it hard to get things done. That would make the district oper­a­tions more nim­ble, more re­spon­sive to the needs of stu­dents and teach­ers, and more ef­fi­cient.

The LBB es­ti­mated that fol­low­ing all 94 of its rec­om­men­da­tions could save HISD $237 mil­lion over the next five years, but fol­low­ing even a hand­ful would free up re­sources to go where they are most needed: the cam­pus and class­room.

That’s where the real change must be cen­tered.

Chron­i­cle file photo

How to get HISD back in line? The ex­perts we asked said it’s a mat­ter of get­ting back to ba­sics.

Mark Mul­li­gan / Staff photograph­er

Hous­ton ISD in­terim Su­per­in­ten­dent Dr. Grenita Lathan, cen­ter, cheers with Kash­mere High School prin­ci­pal Regi­nald Bush, right, and his staff dur­ing a cel­e­bra­tion in Au­gust mark­ing the school's meet­ing of state ex­pec­ta­tions for the first time in 11 years.

Newspapers in English

Newspapers from USA

© PressReader. All rights reserved.