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Op-Ed: Creating a real TEAM HISD

By Jesse Alred     Jul 14, 2010 in World
Houston - The expansion plans of Knowledge Is Power Program (KIPP) and YES Prep charter schools are threats to the quality and number of public school teacher jobs in the Houston Independent School District (HISD).
KIPP and YES-Prep are trying to recruit 20,000 HISD students, and they want only students who will work hard, and go to school six days a week, an extra month in the summer, and accept longer school days.
If KIPP can find 20,000 families who are willing to push their children to work harder and longer, it will cost HISD 1,000 jobs and take our best students, and peer role models, out of neighborhood schools.
"We've been hoping for many years," Mike Feinberg (CEO of KIPP) and Chris Barbic (CEO of YES Prep) wrote in the Houston Chronicle on March 10 of this year, "that our existence would result in this type of relationship with HISD."
The business leaders financing KIPP expansion have helped four HISD board members win election: Harvin Moore IV, Paula Harris, Mike Lunceford, and Anna Eastman. Mr. Moore was a founding member of KIPP's local executive board, and remains a strong advocate of KIPP growth. The former president of KIPP's national foundation was a partner and executive with the search firm that identified Dr. Terry Grier as a Superintendent candidate.
What can public-school teachers expect when our leaders have associations with our competitor? When will KIPP invite Gayle Fallon, Houston Federation of Teachers President, to sit on its governing board?
Dr. Grier recently replaced Steve Amstultz, the popular principal at Lee High School, which was high on Newsweek's list of America's Best High Schools, with Paul Castro, principal of Westside High School, arguably HISD's most successful neighborhood school outside Bellaire and Lamar. Mr. Castro apparently did not want the job and went to KIPP. Thus, HISD lost two of its best school leaders.
Since Dr. Grier was hired, five HISD principals, including the west district's Principal of the Year, have left for KIPP.
On the Houston Chronicle's School Zone blog, one Lee High School Science teacher complained about that school's treatment after Science teachers raised test scores there. "So after this breakthrough year, how many of them will be back at Lee teaching this year? Two. Maybe. Maybe one. Four are going to KIPP and other schools."
KIPP has shown us how to create better schools for low-income minority kids in the city. KIPP's fundamentalist approach has been one that good teachers have preached for years. Yet its unlikely HISD officials loyal to KIPP want us to replicate these successful practices in the real public schools.
While Dr. Grier has become a target for teacher anger on issues from unfair teacher transfers, which amounts to collective punishment, and the policy of firing teachers based on state test scores, the school board majority hired him and has driven these proposals.
The unpopular, irrational and teacher-scapegoating termination policy, blaming teachers and ignoring the responsibility of administrators, parents and students for mediocre student test scores, had the unanimous support of the school board members who were present.
Charter proponents on the board have an incentive to show disrespect for teachers. The more dissension they create the better for KIPP recruitment. The more quality administrators who leave, the better for KIPP recruitment. The more administrators alienate quality teachers like those at Lee High School, which had impressive AP scores last year, the better for KIPP recruitment.
KIPP is expanding too fast for Teach for America to supply all its teacher needs. With the support of its friends inside of HISD, now KIPP can recruit not only our best neighborhood students, but our better administrators and teachers.
While opposing the teacher-blaming rhetoric and actions of the Superintendent and school board, our union leaders should be for anything that helps students, unless it compromises standards, because educational quality has now become a job security issue.
Dr. Grier's has made some proposals that are clearly aimed at improving schools. These include increasing the number of students taking Advanced Placement (AP) exams; extending hours and the lengthening the school year where students are not performing well; and providing kids with more help in the form of paid Math tutors.
Houston Federation of Teachers (HFT) Vice President Andy Dewey, who teaches at the elite Carnegie Vanguard (where everybody goes to college), may be right to say Dr. Grier is increasing the number of AP test takers purely for publicity, but AP courses train kids to handle the pressures of college-level work. So getting more kids in neighborhood public schools taking AP tests is a positive reform from an educator's perspective.
Mr. Dewey also derides HISD for providing students with college-educated Math tutors. "HISD is soliciting anyone with Math skills and a degree to be an Apollo 20 tutor," he comments via twitter. "They get rid of teachers for this."
The schools need to get better, and educated tutors in Math should help.
A recent study commissioned by HISD indicated that only seven percent of our Hispanic ninth-graders eventually earn a college degree within four years of leaving high school. This may not apply to students at Carnegie Vanguard, but its a crisis that does not surprise those of us who teach in Houston's neighborhood schools.
School improvement is our issue, because administrators want schools to look better on paper, but they are unwilling to support teachers by raising academic standards, freeing us to give honest grades, enforcing discipline, removing oppositional students and limiting time investment in test preparation.
As for students who absolutely reject going to college, we need to stop pretending they are, and blaming teachers when they do not; and Gayle Fallon has a creative idea: reinvest in high-quality vocational education. The Houston Community College (HCC) already has an infrastructure of programs from computer technicians to nursing. Team up with HCC on vocational education the way we have in creating the early colleges.
Historically, teachers used to have two kinds of organizations to choose from: impolite unions that went on strike, protested and conducted sick-outs and work slowdowns over wages and benefits; and professional associations seeking deferentially to lift the professional status of teachers and promote conditions for mission accomplishment.
Today, pay is up, respect is down, and we need militant union tactics to achieve professional goals.
This opinion article was written by an independent writer. The opinions and views expressed herein are those of the author and are not necessarily intended to reflect those of
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