Saturday, March 16, 2024

UH education professor suspends course in protest of HISD's rigid lessons

This is scandalous, my friends. University of Houston Distinguished Professor Alberto Rodriguez calls foul in the preparation of science educators in HISD and the response by the university is not only disappointing but also over the top by threatening this distinguished professor's tenure who is speaking truth to power. Check out this Click2Houston video where he expressed well the problem and the ethics behind his decision to discontinue sending pre-service teachers into the school district.

One doesn't have to dig too deeply into the news to learn just how punishing HISD Superintendent Mike Miles' scripted curriculum is on students and teachers. There have been protests about this. Check out the pages of Houston Community Voices for Public Education to get a solid accounting of what's up in what used to be HISD but which has been taken over by Miles' education management organization called the New Education System (NES)/Third Future Schools. Also check out this earlier blog post on the matter for more information: Welcome to the Houston's No longer Independent  School District. Bilingual Education and Special Education are also on the rocks. See People's Report of HISD takeover at State Board of Ed, as well as Support for Houston ISD’s Spanish speakers has dwindled under state-appointed leader, parents say. Considering the accumulating evidence, Professor Rodriguez is not at all out of line with respect to his assessment of Miles' science curriculum.

It's true to form in an authoritarian regime, regardless, that the school district's spokesman, Jose Irizarry, responds to this outing of the science curriculum by Dr. Rodriguez by deciding to gaslight the Houston community. He states that the curriculum amounts to "high-quality instruction and curriculum" when nothing could be further from the truth. Don't drink the Kool-aid, my friends. And let's protect tenure. This is exactly what tenure allows one to do, to talk back to the corporation and call out injustice. Schools should never be used to organize principal, teacher, and student disaffection and failure. 

Moreover, let's not participate in our own miseducation in our understanding of freedom. By this, I mean that we should not be comfortable with conditions like those called out by Dr. Rodriguez. We need to take back our power, beginning with advocating for a quality public education that honors our communities' and students' right to one. We must not become apathetic about this.

Along with the accreditation agencies that require quality, research-based best practices in the preparation of future educators, the Houston community would do well to stand solidly behind this professor. Too many people's lives and well-being are at stake, as is the future of our democracy.

-Angela Valenzuela


A University of Houston education professor stopped teaching his course last week in protest of his student teachers' placements in Houston ISD schools, where he said the "scripted curriculum" used in HISD classes made it impossible for them to complete their assignments. 

Alberto Rodriguez, a distinguished professor of science education at the University of Houston College of Education, informed students in his "Science in the Elementary School II" course of the decision in a Feb. 14 email.

"I regret to inform you that I am suspending my teaching of this course in protest of the impossible school placements to which some of you have been assigned," Rodriguez wrote. "I feel it is unethical and unprofessional for me to continue teaching this course when you have been placed in school settings that make it very challenging for you to complete field-based assignments as expected in the effective preparation of teachers." 

University of Houston spokeswoman Shawn Lindsey said the college immediately assigned another faculty member, who teaches the other section of the course, to Rodriguez's class, ensuring the course continued uninterrupted. Lindsey declined to say whether Rodriguez, who is tenured at the university, would face any disciplinary action, saying they do not comment on personnel matters. 

"As districts across the state and nation have moved to varying degrees of curriculum autonomy, our teacher education program works to ensure our student-teachers gain valuable, authentic classroom experiences," Lindsey said. "We teach our student-teachers to work within a district’s curriculum guidelines just as they would in the real world, and our student-teachers remain able to practice skills a successful teacher needs — such as keeping students engaged, checking for understanding and adapting as needed."

Students in the "Science in the Elementary School II" course, all of whom are seniors, receive student teaching assignments at schools in the Houston, Cypress-Fairbanks and Spring Branch school districts, which they rank in order of preference. 

Rodriguez said the spread of highly structured lessons that may include word-for-word scripts for teachers is a "national issue" that is not isolated to HISD. But this semester, roughly a dozen students placed at HISD schools were complaining to him, sometimes in tears, that the rigid expectations imposed under state-appointed Superintendent Mike Miles made it difficult for them to complete their assignments for his course.


Among other directives, Miles expects teachers to use timers during their lessons, engage in "multiple response strategies" roughly every four minutes and, at schools in his New Education System, administer daily quizzes, while school administrators and district officials go from room to room to monitor their work.

One key assignment in Rodriguez's course involved developing a lesson plan for students to teach in March or April, which would go through a series of revisions in Rodriguez's course before being delivered to children. Rodriguez's students at HISD, however, told him they were unable to plan that far ahead because the lead classroom teachers themselves did not know what they would be teaching at that point — the "script" had not yet been posted online. 

Rodriguez said such constraints violated accreditation standards developed by the Association for Advancing Quality in Educator Preparation (AAQEP) and the Texas State Board of Educator Certification (SBEC), both of which require education students to be able to effectively lesson plan, among other things.

"They are being placed in schools that are following a scripted curriculum that totally contradicts everything that we're talking about in class," Rodriguez said. "There's no way you can make science inclusive and relevant to all students — especially students of color or bilingual students — when you have a teacher that is not allowed to carry out their craft." 

Representatives for the AAQEP and the Texas Education Agency, which oversees the SBEC, did not return a request for comment. The University of Houston noted that its education program is fully accredited by both bodies. 

Houston ISD spokesman Jose Irizarry, in a statement, said district leaders are "pleased that UH has identified an experienced professor to take over the course so that student teachers can continue their work in our schools, where they are seeing how high-quality instruction and curriculum lead to academic growth and gains in student performance." 

Rodriguez said he approached College of Education Dean Catherine Horn, University Chancellor Renu Khator and Provost Diane Chase with his concerns, and that Horn was the only person to respond, arguing that the university could not control the actions of its partners and asking him to continue teaching the course and making arrangements for his students like everybody else. 

The response disappointed Rodriguez, who said he'd hoped the university might try to work with HISD to reach a compromise. 

"That doesn't sound like much of a partnership to me. Partners don't watch teachers being pushed off a cliff and then just kind of look the other way," Rodriguez said. "You try to engage in conversations with school district officials to provide space for our students to practice what they're learning in the classroom."

Horn deferred comment to the University of Houston press office.

"We have found that all of our district partners are willing to work with us so our teacher candidates can complete their certification requirements, including teaching lessons for formal observations," Lindsey said. "In cases where a student-teacher is concerned about their school experience, our faculty work with campus leadership to make adjustments or, in rare cases, move placements."

The professor's future with the university is uncertain. The science education course was the only one he taught this semester, and though he is still engaged in a variety of research projects at the university, he no longer has access to his class files on Canvas, the learning management software used by the University of Houston. 

"I don't know what the next step is on their side, but I'm going to continue pursuing this because I feel like I cannot just sit by as the new generation of teachers are not well prepared," Rodriguez said. 

Sam González Kelly is an education reporter for the Houston Chronicle covering the Houston Independent School District. He can be reached at

A Chicago native, Sam joined the Chronicle in 2021 to cover marginalized communities after two years covering breaking news at the Chicago Sun-Times. Sam has a bachelor's degree from Pomona College.

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