TEA Commissioner Mike Morath visits Houston ISD for 1st time since state takeover

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Wednesday, February 7, 2024
TEA commissioner visits Houston ISD for 1st time since state takeover
Texas Education Agency Commissioner Mike Morath visited Kashmere High School on Tuesday, making it the first time he set foot on a Houston ISD campus since the state takeover.

HOUSTON, Texas (KTRK) -- Texas Education Agency Commissioner Mike Morath visited the Houston Independent School District on Tuesday, making it the first time he set foot on a campus after announcing a state takeover of the district.

ABC13 spoke with Morath as he toured Kashmere High School. Kashmere is one of the first 28 schools to implement state-appointed Superintendent Mike Miles' "New Education System." The reform program is intended to improve test scores. Thus far, it has. NES students showed improvement on both STARR and NWEA exams.

"It's great to see some of the changes that happened because our kids needed to see improved academic support, and that's what I'm able to see some evidence of (Tuesday)," Morath said.

Still, both Morath and Miles have told ABC13 that while test scores have improved, there is too little data to draw any kind of conclusion.

"It's still early," Morath said.

The tour took place one day ahead of a deadline for the principals of 24 other underperforming HISD schools to notify the district if they are interested in opting into NES. The district will announce new NES schools on Friday. Six "failing" schools are already poised to join.

The NES program has faced criticism for a myriad of reasons, including staffing cuts and increased teacher turnover.

"I'm not impressed at all. I think this was another way for Mr. Miles and Commissioner Morath to spew propaganda about these NES schools," Jackie Anderson, president of the Houston Federation of Teachers, said.

Morath said he also visited to check in on the district's special education progress.

In November, 13 Investigates uncovered that the district had uncertified teachers in the role, which is a violation of state rules.

When ABC13 asked the district for an update on its special education program, a spokesperson provided this response:

"Houston ISD is continuing to increase the number of students identified who have a disability for which special education services are needed. As of December 2023, we completed 1,158 evaluations. For comparison, last year, by December 1, 2022, HISD had only evaluated 758 students for special education services.

When students are evaluated, we are required to hold an Admission, Review, and Dismissal (ARD) meeting within 30 days. In the 2022-2023 school year, HISD missed 515 initial ARD timelines. To date, for this school year, we have decreased that number to nine. We are very focused on meeting our compliance requirements and are committed to providing our students with the services they need in a timely manner.

In addition, in the midst of a national shortage of speech providers, we have worked diligently to recruit qualified professionals to support our students in this area. We had a need for these professionals at 37 of our campuses at the beginning of the school year and have now reduced that number to three. We expect to fill all such positions in the next several weeks."

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