Mike Miles at the Tribune Festival in Austin.
Mike Miles at the Tribune Festival in Austin. Credit: Christina Burke for Houston Landing

Houston ISD Superintendent Mike Miles is usually unfazed by external resistance – be it during public meetings at the Hattie Mae Building or a public outcry against his decision to rid some HISD schools of libraries.

Against a new wave of criticism from audience members and Harris County elected officials at the Texas Tribune Festival, Miles continued to stand by the steps undertaken after the Texas Education Agency’s (TEA) takeover of the school district.

“I’m trying to transform HISD to prepare those students. And the resistance is the status-quo bias that every large district has,” he said at the festival, in an interview with Houston Landing editor Jacob Carpenter, adding that his critics comprise those who are holding these schools back from attaining success.

Despite the resistance, he iterated his observations on the growth of AI and its impact on the preparedness of the current students at HISD. During one of his public meetings, Miles presented his vision for “Destination 2035,” an initiative rooted in bridging what he calls “achievement gaps.”

His paranoia is particularly about those students who read or do math at a level that does not comply with his idea of “Year 2035 competencies” and as a consequence, seeing them land low-income jobs that do not require much skill.

“We have to build a culture of high performance,” he said at the festival panel. “This is a long-term proposition to change culture. Culture is changed over time.”

September marks Miles’ fourth month at HISD. Presently, there are more than 80 campuses under the “New Education System,” including NES and NES Aligned campuses.

At the festival, Miles said he expects around 70 schools at HISD to receive a low grade of “D” or “F” in TEA’s accountability system that rates schools on an A-F scale and set himself a timer to improve these schools.

“If we don’t start to see the needle move in two years, you should fire me,” he said. “That’s accountability.”

His solution to hold teachers accountable – gauging their competency by their students’ test scores, which is yet another step in his overhaul of HISD that has received backlash from teachers and parents alike.

His decision to turn some of HISD schools’ libraries into centers for disciplinary action also garnered widespread protests, including a “read-in” protest where parents and teachers stood with their backs turned on Miles, books in hand, while he presented.

Some reference Miles’ stint in Dallas as evidence for their concerns about the way Miles is handling operations at HISD.

Dallas was different – it did not have a “whole-scale reform,” just the “pay-for-performance system,” he said at the panel meeting.

“And that has worked to great effect. That is indisputable. And I know the naysayers want to say it hasn’t, but you just need to go look at the research,” Miles said, citing research from the National Bureau of Economic Research.

The panel ended with Miles advocating for the need for equity in HISD and addressing the prevalent inequities that exist in the school district. Miles, in earlier public meetings, emphasized how students of color, especially from the Black and Hispanic communities, read at a lower proficiency than white students.

“What I can do and what I’m doing is we can address inequity in the system. We can help make the schools in the underserved areas stronger and more effective, and if we can pass a bond we can put some of the best magnet schools in the underserved areas,” he said.