October 2, 2023

Commentary: Review of the negative portrayal of Rep. Harold Dutton

By: William M. Trotter II

A July 27th Houston Chronicle article painted a picture of Representative Dutton that sparked my interest.    While the Houston Independent School District (HISD) earned an overall “B” rating by the Texas Education Agency under the state accountability system for the 2018 -2019 academic year.  250 out of 271 rated campuses earned a passing grade.  Fifty-seven HISD campuses earned A’s, 78 earned B’s, 86 earned C’s and 29 earned D’s.  21 HISD schools received an “F” rating for the 2018 – 2019 school year.

This matter seemingly arose from policy disagreements on a bill that would clear the way for state education officials to replace Houston Independent School District’s school board.  Dutton was responding  to the pattern of low academic performance of Wheatley students.  Dutton is a Wheatley graduate.

The opposing party was apparently State Rep. Alma Allen, whose daughter is the HISD school board president, and engaged Dutton with a bombardment of questions. Rep. Allen’s efforts eventually killed the bill by invoking a procedural point, and emphasized that “local control” was being attacked.  I thought it best to check the statutes and administrative code because if the largest school district is exempted from the accountability requirements, how can the other 1,028 districts be held to the accountability standards and made to ensure that they maintain a quality education system for all of its citizens.  I realize Rep. Allen’s son is on the state’s  Board of Education, but what are the rules to ensure Texas students are given a quality education.

The Texas Education Agency (TEA) accredits public schools in Texas at the district level for grades K-12. The Accreditation Status, Standards, and Sanctions section of the Texas Administrative Code (TAC) states how accreditation statuses will be determined and assigned to school districts. The Texas Legislature in 1993 enacted statutes that mandated the creation of the Texas public school accountability system to rate school districts and evaluate campuses.

Texas provides annual academic accountability ratings to its public school districts, charters and schools. The ratings are based on performance on state standardized tests; graduation rates; and college, career, and military readiness outcomes. The ratings examine student achievement, school progress, and whether districts and campuses are closing achievement gaps among various student groups.   Other district-level sanctions referenced in TEC §39.102 include, but are not limited to, the appointment of a monitor, conservator, management team, or board of managers to a district. Wheatley was low performing for seven years.    After a school has been found to be unacceptable, corrective actions should be implemented and produce a campus improvement plan.  In Wheatley’s case, no corrective actions have been implemented after 7 years of continuous failure.   No campus improvement plan has been developed nor implemented.  I read a recent article published in the Houston Chronicle written by Jacob Carpenter.  HISD filed a bare-bones appeal of Wheatley ‘F’ rating.  The article is shared to give those thinking of the HISD Administration’s zeal, dedication or intention to improve Wheatley High School by focusing on education quality.  It reads,  “If Houston ISD trustees expected the district’s administration to make an impassioned, detailed appeal to the state for an accountability reprieve at Wheatley High School — a last-ditch effort to avoid severe state sanctions tied to chronically low performance at the campus — they did not get it from Interim Superintendent Grenita Lathan.  Instead, Lathan submitted a two-page, bare-bones case for overturning Wheatley’s failing grade to the Texas Education Agency, infusing the request with none of the emotion that trustees displayed last month when they ordered her to file an appeal. Rather, Lathan briefly recounted the reasons trustees expressed for supporting an appeal — the lingering effects of Hurricane Harvey, some signs of progress at Wheatley, the impact of sanctions on a district — that her administration believes is doomed to fail.”

While Dutton is sharply focused on Wheatley, he is looking at a pattern of disfunction that continues today.  Our children deserve  schools that practice continuous improvement toward the goal of helping students reach proficiency in reading and mathematics and to graduate on time with a regular diploma,  Especially in Texas, we cannot afford to be complacent about any school because the individual toll for any student “left behind” is unacceptable.  Most of the affected schools are concentrated in high-poverty communities, that does not mean that high poverty is the cause of low performance.  The Wheatley High School that produced Rep. Barbara Jordan, Rep. Mickey Leland, Commissioner El Franco Lee, doctors, lawyers, educators, musicians, scientists and other professionals stand for the proposition that the amount of money in your pockets has nothing to do with the quality of you mind.

Wheatley is a critical site for an education intervention and for improving student achievement.  At the campus-level, organization and administration (e.g., strong principal, teachers working together) and, in some cases, external “best practice” models or methods are needed to help turn Wheatley around, whether there exists clusters of persistently low-achieving students or an entire student body that is low-achieving, considering the practice of busing better students out of Wheatley’s enrollment zone.

It seems that Representative Dutton is sending a message to School leaders in our community. He seems to be  insisting that principals should set up-to-date and challenging expectations for all our students, and relentlessly focus on improving teacher content knowledge, upgrading the content of the school curriculum, and improve classroom learning and the interaction between teachers and students.  So if he is accused of anything at all, He is guilty of insisting that Wheatley students are given a quality and competitive education.  After high school students  transform into young adults and hopefully productive citizens with sustainable incomes.  Poorly prepared students tend to become poorly prepared college students and adversely impact the workforce and the future tax base,  I happen to have heard Rep Dutton emphasize two quotes by Dr, Benjamin Mays, “Not failure, but low aim is sin” and “Whatever you do, strive to do it so well that no man living and no man dead and no man yet to be born could do it any better”  We would have different outcomes in our schools, if these were the ,mantra of  School Leaders..

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