The reform efforts at Sam Houston High School, once the worst-ranked campus in Texas, have drawn high-profile praise, from Gov. Rick Perry to U.S. Education Secretary Arne Duncan.
“Sam Houston is proof that positive change is possible,” Perry said at a celebratory news conference in October. “After six years of underperformance, this school has not only met state standards, it is now a recognized campus.”
Perry is correct: Sam Houston last year did break its streak of “academically unacceptable” ratings from the state, but that is only part of the statistical picture. Duncan’s visit last month to Sam Houston — where he applauded the turnaround efforts — has reignited debate about the high school’s transformation: Is it the success story that Houston ISD and elected officials claim?
The answer is complicated. But in the final analysis, one thing is clear: Despite an improvement in student test scores, Sam Houston benefited from the state’s easier rating system last year.
In the summer of 2008, the Houston Independent School District was under orders from Texas Education Commissioner Robert Scott to make major changes at Sam Houston, which was the longest-running unacceptable school in the state. State guidelines required HISD to replace the principal and rename the school. In addition, at least 75 percent of the teaching staff had to be replaced, and half the students were supposed to be new.