The Houston Independent School District (HISD) shares many problems with other American school districts. Layoffs and school closures plague the district as it struggles to maintain a productive environment for Houston area students. Changes to teacher evaluation processes will not stop 730 teachers from being laid off. Lunch prices will increase. Changes are certainly under way, and the special education program presents alarming challenges.
HISD Superintendent Terry Grier believes that the district has tagged too many African American students as requiring special education.
An audit done by a Boston firm, along with research conducted by Grier’s administration, made statistical comparisons to other school districts. The report done by Thomas Hehir and Associates of Boston studied HISD in the fall of 2010. The study found that, “African American students in HISD are dramatically over-represented in the categories of mental retardation and emotional disturbance.”
Amazingly, 16,386 students in Houston have been labeled as ‘special education.’ This number includes special needs and handicapped students. In this number, Grier believes that HISD has overly labeled African Americans with mental retardation and emotional disturbance tags, and has also categorized elementary Hispanic students with English language deficiencies. He believes that too many Hispanic students are not being helped with the English language at the elementary level, such that when they reach the middle and high school levels the school is unable to work with them and, consequently, moves them to special education.
“I knew since my first day on the job, one of the big concerns that have been stressed to me by teachers, educators and school board members was the condition — and I’ll use that word loosely — the condition of our special education department and that word ‘condition’ there, the connotation was not good,” Grier said.