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Few things have been able to unify members of Houston’s Black and Latinx communities, along with labor, religious and political leaders, like the move to call for TEA to back off its attempted takeover of the Houston Independent School District (HISD), the largest school district by far in the state of Teas, and the eighth largest in the nation.

The Defender, on multiple occasions, chronicled the list of arguments offered by “takeover” protesters as reasons TEA needs to stand down and let HISD handle its business. However, a well-respected community leader sees this issue quite differently.

Dr. D.Z. Cofield, pastor of Good Hope Missionary Baptist Church, and host of KTSU FM’s “Real World. Real Talk,” sees the potential TEA takeover of HISD as a good thing. Cofield responded to several of the arguments for leaving HISD untouched, and offered his take on why he believes a TEA takeover can take HISD students outcomes to new heights. 

DEFENDER: Protesters argue that state takeovers of ISDs fail consistently across the country. How do you respond if someone says that?

COFIELD: First of all, let me start with one of the fundamental problems is we’re having protests outside of HISD headquarters. HISD has nothing to do with this. This is TEA all the way. The fact is, HISD, the school board has dropped the ball on the education of our children, generationally. We’re blaming House Bill 1842 that was introduced as bipartisan legislation by State Rep. Harold Dutton and a Republican, and we’re blaming Representative Dutton for the accountability tool that was basically created to help hold us accountable. Man, we had schools in the Houston Independent School District that have been failing seven years, five years outta seven, four years outta seven. And the crazy part is, when you talk about consecutive years, the problem is that when these schools fail, let’s say they failed three years, four years. And then they have one year that they didn’t fail. Then they can fail another four years because the law is not triggered.

And so what was amazing to me is, even when Wheatley was failing and Kashmere didn’t have a certified math teacher in the building, period, for years; didn’t have a certified math teacher in the building, HISD did absolutely nothing.

Now, when you talk about schools failing under TEA, fact of the matter is they were failing, that’s why TEA had to come in. North Forest, for example, was failing. It was failing predominantly African American leadership on the board. It was failing. Mike Williams, grudgingly, commissioner of TEA at the time, grudgingly, after years of giving them opportunities to turn it around, ended up taking it over. And guess what? It was annexed by HISD and HISD didn’t do better by the children of North Forest. They did worse.

As a matter of fact, the only school district that did better in North Forest was YES Prep North Forest. And they did better in part because they had two strong African-American leaders, two brothers who came in there, changed the culture, worked with the parents, and got the results in terms of raising the scores in their student outcomes.

People are talking based on feelings, not facts. The fact of the matter is, there’s no school that was “doing well” that TEA took over and then it was doing worse after TEA. All of ’em were failing. All of ’em were failing for a variety of reasons. On my show, “Real World, Real Talk” (KTSU 90.9 FM), a caller called in and she wanted to talk about La Marque. La Marque was annexed by Texas City. It was a financial issue for La Marque. They weren’t handling the money. At the end of the day, TEA doesn’t want to come in and take over anything. That’s not what they want to do. And they gave us multiple opportunities over years to get it right. And the HISD school board didn’t get it right. And there are reasons why they didn’t get it right. There’s some fundamental, philosophical reasons why HISD never got it right.

DEFENDER: You talked about the history of schools failing in HISD. One of the refrains from protesters was “Why is TEA stepping in now amid the turnaround HISD is experiencing?” Case in point, Wheatley moving from an “F” grade to a “C.”

COFIELD: So, here’s the problem. If a “C” is doing fine for somebody, that should be a problem. Because “C” is average. “C” is mediocre. Our children have genius within them. And the fact of the matter is HISD wouldn’t have made the changes they have made without the hammer over their head of House Bill 1842. They weren’t making these changes before. There was no way to quantify the problems.

I’ve talked to people who, for example, finished in the top 10% of their schools, and I’m talking about the historically Black schools, who went to colleges and universities and had to take remedial classes. Our children have continually been undereducated and virtually unemployable when they walk across the stage.

And I come at this from a different perspective. I am an educator, but I also come out of the juvenile justice system. And so, I’ve seen the miseducation of our children and the results of our children not being educated. Because many of those who are on the board don’t believe that our children have genius within them, and they’re not committed to bringing that out of them, as we saw in many instances in our schools prior to desegregation. You had a parent probably like mine. My father grew up behind a mule plowing in Lincoln, Alabama. And he gave me three rules to live by. He said, one, failure is not an option. That’s not even a choice. You can’t fail. Secondly, mediocrity is unacceptable. I brought a “C” home one time, and he looked at me, he said, “What is this?” I said, “It’s a C,” and I had a bunch of friends who were happy to pass. So, you know, I walked in, “Hey, I got a C.” And he said, “What does C stand for?” I said, “I got a C.” He said, “Look at the report card.” And it said, “average.” He said, “When did I have an average son?” He said, “I expect more from you than average.” I was like, “Yes, sir.” That was it. And then the third rule was, you gotta be twice as good as white folk to make it in this world. Nobody’s gonna give you anything. And our bar is so low. It’s so low.

Here’s what we’re missing, as well. When you look at the Children at Risk Annual Report of High Schools, the three worst high schools in HISD weren’t even the high schools that triggered House Bill 1842. And when you disaggregate the data; when you pull, for example, the magnet programs outta Sterling, Vanguard outta Jones, School of Communications outta Yates, when you disaggregate the data and you look at the local kids that are going there, man, our kids are doing horrible. And we’re okay with that. And we can’t settle for a “C.” But again, all of this came about. So, when people say, “Why is the state stepping in now,” because House Bill 1842 has passed, and House Bill 1842 said, “Hey man, you can’t have a school failing seven consecutive years. You can’t do it because you’re doing a disservice to our children.”

What I hope people will do is stop taking this takeover possibility as an indictment of their education or of a school’s history, because that’s emotional. For example, my wife went to Jack Yates. She’s a proud Jack Yates alumnus. But she understands that the indictments being cast against Jack Yates, for example, and not educating our children properly, or failing multiple years, or Wheatley, whatever the school is, that’s not speaking to where they were historically. That doesn’t take away from the legacy of those schools.

We’re saying today, our children are not being educated the way that other children in the district are being educated. And that is unacceptable. There needs to be equity not just in funding, but in educating our children. And so, for me, that is the bottom line: what’s happening with our children. I don’t want people to say, “Oh, they’re attacking my education.” No, they’re not attacking your education. You’ve got your education. We’re talking about our children and our children’s children, and what needs to be done to make sure that they are adequately prepared to be successful in the world.

DEFENDER: Another point protesters made was TEA’s takeover is not about educating students, but rather it’s a political and property grab—close schools which brings property values down, allowing individuals from outside the impacted community to swoop in and buy land cheap, then develop for-profit businesses. They mentioned North Forest ISD as a prime example.

COFIELD: First, I would say, the state doesn’t have to come in in order for that to happen. It’s already happening. The Houston Independent School District is arguably one of the largest real estate brokers and facilitators of real estate development in our area. And it’s been happening for years. We have seen literally bonds that voted to repair and renovate schools and two bonds later it was on the bond to tear those schools down in our community. So the question is, who’s making money from the tear down? Who’s making money from the rebuild?

When somebody asked me about considering to run for the school board, I had a brother come to me and he said, “Now Reverend, you know, this school board is not about educating children… it’s about contracts.” That’s what the school board is about. They’re not concerned about educating children. They could care less. It’s about contracts. It’s about bids. It’s about who gets a piece of the pie. That’s been going on. So, you don’t need to state to come in to do that.

I asked Dr. Abe Sevadra when he was superintendent, they were tearing down a school in an area where at the time, Mayor Bill White had a program to build, I wanna say 500 single-family houses. It was in the northeast section of our city; predominantly African American. And they’re coming in building these starter homes. That was his program. That was his vision. HISD went in and tore down the schools that were there. So, I asked the question, because I’m on boards that were on both sides of the table, and I said, “Dr. Sevedra, why would we tear down schools where the mayor is trying to build houses?” Because one of the first things you look for are schools for young families. And he said, “Well, they’re not there now. And if they get there, we’ll build a school later on to serve that population.” So, I was like, “Hmm, okay.” And that’s when I started asking questions. Somebody’s making money from the tear-downs. Somebody’s making money from the buildings. But at the end of the day, that’s already going on with HISD. That has nothing to do with the state. That’s all local leadership and all local governance.

DEFENDER: Another charge is, the takeover is really about “voucherizing” and “charterizing” HISD so that it’s no longer a public school system in the traditional sense.

COFIELD: One of the problems, let’s be honest, many of the people who are articulating these positions don’t send their children to their local schools if they live in the hood. These are people who have the means and affluence, and exercise choice. So, whether they are choosing to send their kids to a school that they are not districted to because they’re able to get them there, drive them there, or whatever the case may be, or they’re able to move outside of a district or live outside of the city of Houston, as many of our community leaders do, they live outside of the city so they can send their kids to great schools.

We’re talking about people who don’t have a choice or who don’t know that they have a choice. So, when you speak to vouchers and charters, it’s amazing because the propaganda of the district has blamed everybody else for their failure to educate our children. They blame charter schools. It’s YES Prep’s fault. It’s KIPP’s fault. It’s whoever the latest charter is that’s coming in. Then it’s the state’s fault. There’s no ownership taken by the district. One of the benefits to the state coming in is that my understanding is that these representatives, this appointed board, will not be beholding to a specific special interest group or area. Right now, we have, I believe, very competent able school board members to represent the interests of African American children. Problem is, they’re outnumbered. They’re outnumbered. So, even if they present something, you have this Brown/Black war that nobody wants to acknowledge is going on between the Latinx community against the African American community. Because they feel like they’ve been left out and haven’t gotten to the table enough.

You have the Anglo community who has never been committed to educating the mass of African-American children. They have literally rejected the spirit, the tenets and the principles of Brown versus the Board of Education. So they’ve never wanted to educate our children. And then you have three African American board members who are sitting there trying to fight between these two juggernauts on each side of them, and we’re outvoted. So, it’s no wonder that you have, for example, millions of dollars spent to expand a baseball field for Bellaire, but you can’t get quality educational material in the schools east of Main Street. There’s a fundamental problem with that. And so, as the board comes in, this board will function as an at-large board. My understanding is, in reading the ruling, that they will come in [and] nobody is representing any one area. They look at all of the kids and they’re basically charged with bringing water into the dock and raising all of the boats. And getting all of the students at a level where their student outcomes are acceptable.

DN: PART TWO of this interview coming soon

Aswad Walker

I'm originally from Cincinnati. I'm a husband and father to six children. I'm an associate pastor for the Shrine of Black Madonna (Houston). I am a lecturer (adjunct professor) in the University of Houston...