Amid Boos, HISD Trustees Adopt New Way to Fire a Teacher

The Boo Birds played the Houston ISD Administration Building last night and it was a standing room only crowd.

The school board -- well, seven of them (trustees Manuel Rodriguez and Carol Mims Galloway weren't there) -- stood behind their earlier vote and went 7-0 in a final vote on the proposal to allow the district to fire teachers who can't help students improve on standardized test scores.

Along the way, they and Superintendent Terry Grier were booed several times.

While a victory for Grier, who pushed hard for the 34th amendment to the district's policy on teacher review criteria that could lead to dismissal, it also clearly deepened the divide between the union teachers and Grier.

Houston Federation of Teachers government liaison Zeph Capo, out in the crowded hallway where the overflow of about 750 teachers and parents stood, predicted teachers would be bailing out of the district.

"I think a lot of the 21 districts surrounding us are going to have their pick of teachers. Many people told me they're out of here," he said.

HISD police let people into the room in trickles as spots opened up inside with people leaving. Occasionally they stepped in if someone in the audience got too boisterous as they did with one woman in the back who shouted "This is America!" after board President Greg Meyers asked the audience to listen to trustees without interruption just as the board members had listened to them.

The list of speakers was long but not all were teachers decrying the upcoming vote. Some were parents thanking the district for raising the standard for teachers. They were booed by the teachers as well.

Judy Long, one of the founders of Parents For Public Schools, said "there is a connection between teaching and learning," called the test score results viable data and urged trustees to vote yes.

Christianne Melanson, a Bellaire High School parent, spoke in support of the measure, saying not looking at data showing how well teachers are doing with students "would be like using lawyers without knowing if they've ever won a case."

Amy Maldonado, another parent said, "I understand this can be threatening to the teaching community. The children are the stakeholders that have to be served."

But others disagreed strongly. One man said adding the new criteria was "changing the rules in the middle of the game which is usually considered unfair."

One thing that most everyone could agree on was that the value-added Aspire program of assessing teachers for bonuses still needs tweaking.

At the end of the speakers session, Grier spoke to the crowd saying that studies show "the teachers are the No. 1 most important influence on student achievement."

Of the district's 12,781 teachers, 421 of those "have regressive value-added scores of a minus 3 or higher," Grier said adding that research also shows that students with effective teachers tend to substantially improve compared to those with less skilled instructors.

And he said the most important number is "the 100 percent of Houston students in HISD who deserve to be taught by an effective teacher.

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Margaret Downing is the editor-in-chief who oversees the Houston Press newsroom and its online publication. She frequently writes on a wide range of subjects.
Contact: Margaret Downing