Houston/ Politics & Govt
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Published on February 23, 2024
Houston's Largest School District Set to Launch 40 New Campuses Amid Controversy Over New Education SystemSource: Google Street View

Education in Houston's largest school district is facing major changes as the Houston Independent School District (HISD) plans to rapidly expand Superintendent Mike Miles' "New Education System" (NES). The overhaul will add up to 40 new campuses for the 2024-25 academic year, incorporating a controversial set of reforms aimed at boosting student performance, despite pushback from educators and families. According to the Houston Landing, HISD will also implement proficiency screening to shuffle low-performing teachers out of the district's struggling schools.

The expansion comes as HISD is still smoldering from the decision by a University of Houston education professor to suspend his course in protest of the rigid curriculum inflicted upon student teachers in HISD. Alberto Rodriguez believes the scripted lessons in HISD schools contradict the teacher preparation standards taught in his "Science in the Elementary School II" course, as reported by the Houston Chronicle. The curriculum is so structured it is hindering student teachers' ability to develop and plan lessons far in advance – a critical skill for educators.

Despite the opposition, HISD is touting the early success of its NES program, with analytics showing that students at NES schools are outpacing their peers in traditional schools in key subjects. Mike Miles has also been quick to point out the particular benefits for historically underserved students, claiming, "For Black and Hispanic kids, if they were in an NES school, they did much better than a Black kid in a non-NES school and better than a Hispanic kid in a non-NES school," as told to the Houston Landing. This attempts to justify the rapid expansion of the program, which has seen its fair share of critics.

On the proficiency screening front, HISD's plan to employ an evaluation system at the end of this school year has caused unrest among teachers. Critics argue the system sets teachers up to compete against each other, potentially harming collaboration. Despite this, Miles assures teachers not to panic, stating that most educators will score above the levels that pose a risk to their employment. However, the planned approach uses a predetermined distribution ensuring that 15 percent of teachers districtwide will end up in the lowest two scoring brackets, as per the interview with the Houston Landing.

The controversy surrounding HISD's educational directions underscores the tense environment within one of the nation's largest school districts. Although the University of Houston has found a replacement for Rodriguez's course to secure the continuity of teacher preparation, the challenges faced by HISD and its partners are far from resolved. As HISD pushes forward with its NES, educators like Rodriguez are raising concerns about the potential long-term impacts on teacher education and the quality of learning experiences for the diverse student body of the district.