On Thursday, September 7, 2023, the Houston ISD Board of Managers voted unanimously to initiate the process to designate Houston ISD a District of Innovation (DOI). Texas law offers DOIs greater flexibility to implement innovative strategies to meet the unique needs of their students and communities by allowing them to exempt themselves from certain state laws.
Across Texas, 965 school districts are DOI, representing around 95% of districts in the state. Typical exemptions include changing the start date for the school year, bypassing the teacher certification waiver process through the Texas Education Agency (TEA), and providing credit for course mastery regardless of instructional time. Districts may not exempt themselves from provisions related to district governance, curriculum, state accountability and assessments, school finance, and federal requirements.
Districts of Innovation are self-designated and while they have significant flexibility in choosing exemptions for state law, they are still held to academic accountability standards. A district may not designate itself a DOI if its most recent state accountability rating is unacceptable (D or F). If during the five-year term of a DOI a district fails to meet academic or financial accountability requirements, the TEA commissioner may terminate the district’s DOI designation.
Districts of Innovation in Houston
The vast majority of school districts in Houston take advantage of the flexibility that DOI designation provides. Of the 25 school districts in Harris county, only Houston ISD and Cypress-Fairbanks ISD are not DOIs.
The types of exemptions utilized vary across the Houston area, however, most of the districts take advantage of an earlier start date for the school year. By law, districts are unable to begin a school year before the fourth Monday in August, but because of DOI, districts across our region start up to two weeks earlier. This allows them the opportunity to combat summer learning slide, align dual-credit opportunities, and better balance semester schedules around winter holidays.
Another example of innovative use of exemptions is attendance requirements for course credit. Districts seek this exemption so that they can provide students opportunities outside of traditional classroom environments including blending learning, internships, and career and technical education courses that might require an adjusted schedule.
The chart below illustrates what exemptions other Houston-area and large urban-area districts have claimed.
Overall, DOI designation offers school districts a pathway to take an innovative approach to education and customize learning to best serve students and their communities.
Becoming a District of Innovation
This Thursday’s HISD board meeting agenda includes a resolution to initiate the DOI designation process, the first of several statutory requirements to become a DOI. The chart below illustrates the full process, which includes votes by both the school board and the district-level committee.
Districts are able to designate themselves DOI for 5 years before a renewal is required but may end the designation at any time. Amendments to the innovation plan require an additional majority vote of the district-level committee and a 2/3 majority vote of the school board. Innovation plans are publicly posted on the TEA website and the website of the individual school district.