Self-described King Arthur takes over superintendent’s job at Houston ISD

I hope Supt. Mike Miles and the new board of managers that Education Commissioner Mike Morath has chosen to lead the state’s largest school district can continue – and improve upon — the progress that already was being made by HISD educators before Morath pushed aside the district’s locally elected school board and superintendent.

The futures of HISD’s students depend on it.

But the last time Miles took over a big Texas school district – Dallas ISD – his three-year tenure from 2012 to 2015 was mainly marked by controversy and turbulence that ended in him resigning in the middle of his contract. Some school board members were happy to see him go. That group, however, must not have included Morath, who was on the board at the time.

Miles had big ideas for Dallas, but he often seemed as interested in playing dictator and amassing his own power structure as he did in improving outcomes for students.

In the name of “reform,” he assembled a highly paid management team that helped him create a toxic working environment for many teachers and other employees and a hostile learning environment for students. One of his chiefs of staff resigned shortly before he was indicted on federal bribery charges – unrelated to DISD — that resulted in a conviction and prison sentence.

Miles also employed a human resources manager for the district, who according to an internal investigation reported by The Dallas Morning News, lied, bullied staffers and falsified records.

Teachers were saddled with excessive paperwork and excessive meetings, and some were chastised by administrators in front of their students during surprise classroom visits. He also imposed an evaluation system that did not truly measure the work that educators were doing.

On some occasions, Miles ignored the will of school board members who had been elected by district parents and other local taxpayers. He won’t have to worry about elected board members in his Houston job, but how well will he work with the appointed board whose members Morath also has made responsible for student success in the district?

Miles once fired three principals in Dallas who had the support of a board majority. One of the fired principals had been praised by the then-board president for her work and strong engagement with parents.

At another time, he ordered Dallas ISD police to physically remove one school board member from a school campus in the district she was elected to represent.

NEA-Dallas, TSTA’s local affiliate, had long demanded Miles’ removal before he finally quit.

The state took over Houston ISD because of failing STAAR scores. According to The Dallas Morning News, STAAR scores stayed flat or dropped in Dallas ISD during Miles’ tenure.

The Morning News also reported that, as Miles was departing, he compared the Dallas school district to Camelot and himself to King Arthur.

Dallas ISD is not Camelot. Houston ISD isn’t Camelot either, and it doesn’t need King Arthur. It needs a superintendent who will respect and listen to HISD teachers, not bully them. HISD teachers already had done a lot to improve the district’s performance before Morath intervened and Miles arrived. They will do more, if the new superintendent doesn’t drive them away.

Clay Robison

Next time, governor, please spare us the faux tears after the shooting stops

The day after a gunman used an assault rifle to kill eight people and wound several others at an outlet mall in Allen, Gov. Greg Abbott went on Fox News, seeking cover with an audience that he knew would be friendly toward his predictable – and cowardly – decision to dismiss once again calls for reasonable gun reform.

Instead, he talked about improving mental health services, hollow talk from someone who has rarely tried to do that during more than eight years – and several mass shootings – as governor. Just a few days earlier, Forbes had issued a new report ranking Texas last among the states for mental health care, sometimes a contributor to violence but not necessarily a predictor of homicidal behavior.

Abbott also joined Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick and Attorney General Ken Paxton for services at Cottonwood Creek Church in Allen, where congregants sang “Amazing Grace” during a solemn vigil for the shooting victims.

Abbott, Patrick and Paxton, all of whom put gun rights above victims’ rights, are well-practiced at this mourning business, well-practiced to the point of hypocrisy. Anybody can mourn. But only the governor, the lieutenant governor and a few other elected officials have the authority to take the lead and actually do something to try to prevent future mass shootings, or at least make it as difficult as possible for people to use weapons of war to carry out their hatred or anger against strangers who are trying to peacefully live their lives.

Abbott and Patrick have done absolutely nothing to keep guns, including assault rifles, out of the hands of dangerous people. And had they done so, Paxton probably would have filed a lawsuit against them.

Meanwhile, the carnage keeps piling up – a church in Sutherland Springs, a high school in Santa Fe, a Walmart in El Paso, a shooting rampage in Midland and Odessa, an elementary school in Uvalde and now a shopping mall in Allen. All these atrocities were committed on Abbott’s and Patrick’s watch, and these are just the ones most of us remember.

The only change Abbott, Patrick and their allies have made in Texas gun laws during that span of shootings has been to increase the availability of guns in Texas with a law allowing just about any adult to carry a handgun, without a license or any training. And if an ill-conceived bill now pending in the Legislature to increase the number of guns in Texas schools by arming more school employees makes it to Abbott’s desk, he will likely sign it.

Abbott, Patrick, et al so far haven’t even considered something as limited and sensible as a law to raise the minimum age for purchasing an assault rifle from 18 to 21, even after an 18-year-old shooter used an assault rifle he had legally purchased to kill 19 children and two teachers in Uvalde and injure others. A House committee, after sitting on it for weeks, finally approved that bill following the Allen shooting. But will the measure clear all the parliamentary hurdles and win both House and Senate approval during the legislative session’s closing days? If so, will Abbott sign it? So far, he has opposed it.

For years, the governor and his allies have been cowards in fear of the gun lobby and washed their hands of their responsibility to public safety. I have no expectation that my anger and the anger of millions of other Texans who don’t share their political views will make any difference to them now.

But next time, governor, please spare us the faux tears after the shooting stops.

Clay Robison

Attacks on public education still peppered with lies

Final legislative decisions on vouchers and public school funding, including educator pay raises and retirement benefits, have yet to be made. But whatever happens, this session has been marked by attacks on public education and teachers that were clearly designed to damage public confidence in the most important institution this state has going for it – our public school system.

There are sharp differences of opinion between TSTA and other public education advocates, on one side, and leaders of the political majority on the other, as there often have been whenever the Legislature has been in session. But the attacks on educators this year have deteriorated, sometimes to the point of being mean-spirited.

The tone began to noticeably worsen two years ago when Gov. Greg Abbott and Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick repeatedly lied about critical race theory being taught in Texas public schools and enacted a law to discourage educators from teaching the whole truth about our history and culture to students who need to know it. Their goal, purely political, was to pander to and agitate parents who are uncomfortable with the growing diversity in our public schools, where children of color make up the majority of enrollment statewide and the number of LGBTQ students is growing.

Then last year, on the ballot in a conservative Republican primary, the governor renewed his attack on educators by suggesting wrongly that pornography was widespread in public school libraries, eventually citing only one or two LGBTQ books as examples. Then he ordered a statewide investigation, without noting that most school districts already had policies in place to review such books if parents had complaints about them. His pornography pronouncement defamed school librarians and subjected school boards to attacks from angry and mostly misinformed parents.

Now, with private school vouchers added as an Abbott priority, the political attacks on educators continue.

The Texas Republican Party raises campaign money with anti-public education emails carrying subject lines such as “Filthy Books” or “Don’t let schools exploit our kids!” and urging recipients to tell their legislators to “stop the perversion and sexualization of our children.”

Public schools and the people who work in them are not trying to “exploit” children. They are trying to educate them and prepare them for successful futures. Abbott, Patrick and the Republican leadership are trying to strip funding from public school budgets for vouchers with a long-term goal of destroying public education and privatizing it. The attacks on educators are part of the strategy.

And some Republican legislators have joined the attack. One of the worst offenders is Rep. Brian Harrison of Midlothian, who recently tweeted, “Texas teacher union fighting for taxpayer-funded pornography in children’s public school libraries.”

Not only was that a lie, it also was mean-spirited, meaning, as one dictionary defines the term, “feeling or showing a cruel desire to cause pain or harm.”

It is painful to see underpaid educators who work hard every day to help their students succeed be attacked with political lies. If these attacks succeed, the harm will come later – to the public school system and future generations of children who can no longer take a public education for granted.

Clay Robison

Proposed Texas vouchers would be an entitlement for upper-income families, not a break for low-income kids

Greg Abbott, Dan Patrick and the pro-voucher crowd apparently are still fooling a lot of people into thinking that the millions of tax dollars they want to take from public schools and transfer to private schools are to help low-income children afford private school tuition.

“Why do you want to trap poor kids in bad schools?” someone recently tweeted. The language suggests this person either was paid to tweet the standard pro-voucher line or had fallen for it hook, line and sinker.

The truth of the matter is that low-income students are just about the last people on the minds of the pro-voucher crowd, and the proof is in Senate Bill 8, the voucher bill blessed by Lt. Gov. Patrick. It would provide $8,000 to each child selected for a voucher or education savings account. This is thousands of dollars less than the tuition at many private schools, especially the better ones, where tuition can be as high as $20,000 or $30,000 or more.

Low-income families simply aren’t going to be able to make up the difference. Sure, some private schools have lower, bargain tuition. But would their kids really be better off there?

Vouchers are intended mainly to give a tuition subsidy or entitlement to upper-middle-income and wealthy families who want to send their children to private school and don’t need help from every other taxpayer in Texas.

Clay Robison