Peep-hole power

It's a scary world out there, but someone's gotta keep it under control. Jim Schutze uncovers the secret agony of the Dallas Citizens Council.

The problem, Fish says, was that they found out. DISD shared all kinds of data with the Citizens Council that it wouldn't release to the public. Two retired Texas Instruments executives helped carry out some detailed statistical and management analysis. They all looked at the recent national research. And they came up with the answer: Teachers.

Some are good. Some are OK. Some are terrible.
And that's what counts. It's not the kid's social background or parental involvement. Those things can help or hurt, but the research shows that you can teach kids to read, no matter where or what they come from, with the right teachers. Or you can turn them into educational toast with the wrong teachers.

What Fish, the NAACP, and LULAC are demanding from DISD is the underlying database that will show exactly who the so-called "toxic teachers" are and where they are in the system. It's data that the Citizens Council has had in its possession for years. They have refused to release it, arguing that it was shared with them on a confidential basis. The school system is using its own legalistic argument to refuse releasing it, and all of that is about to go to trial in a civil suit.

Fish and other activists don't want the Citizens Council to release DISD data that doesn't belong to them. They want them just to say that teachers are the issue, to hike up their suit-pants, belly up to the bar of public opinion, and take a stand. But it is on this very point, when the Citizens Council is asked to take a strong public position on its own findings, that it goes into a state of political fibrillation.

Because? Because the good members of the council are convinced all the bad teachers are going to be black.

"Yes," says a former Citizens Council employee. "That is what they think. That all or most of them will be black. And there is a general fear of racial politics in the business community that has not gone away."

The assumption, then, is that when DISD gets around to identifying all of its seriously ineffective teachers, they will be African-American. And that will be trouble. And the Citizens Council can't handle it.

It's an assumption that expresses a curious flip-side of white racism--the inexplicably high opinion white people sometimes have of themselves. Why, in a city that recruits many of its new young teachers from the rural villages of East Texas, would we not expect to find a lot of Opies among the district's worst teachers?

Be that as it may, the other interesting piece of this puzzle is that black leadership appears ready to clean house at DISD no matter what skin color the bad teachers may have. Dallas County Commissioner John Wiley Price says that, after the appropriate efforts have been made to retrain people who may not know how to teach, the ones that are still no good will have to go even if every single one of them is black.

"Hell no, if they're not capable, I don't care whose friend she is," he says. "Got to go. Got to go.

"That's what bothers me about racism," he adds. "They think just because somebody is black, we uphold them. We're talking about our children. If teachers are not competent, they have got to go."

He suggests the reason the members of the Citizens Council may not be aware of the mood on this issue among local elected black leaders is that they never talk to them.

"I wouldn't know David Biegler if he walked up to me right now," Price says. "You know, it would be different if they said, 'Hey, we talked to Price, and he was unreasonable.' But they never talk to me. Even if they had talked to some of my colleagues on the commissioners court, they would tell them, 'Hey, he has some pretty strong views, but he'll listen to your views.'"

Fish has a charitable view of their indecision. "I think they just don't have the moves. They're like a team that has brought the ball down to the five-yard line, and they don't know how to move it the rest of the way."

The former Citizens Council employee suggests that going the next step--talking to Price, for example, and then going public with their research--is probably more effort than the members can muster right now.

"I think they wonder legitimately if this is their role," she says. "They're not elected officials." She suggested they may well see their role as bringing the ball to the five-yard line and then hitting the showers. Fast. Get your people outta here!

The research done for the Citizens Council by the TI guys and other sources did not point to specific bad teachers, but it did come up with the fact that 3 to 5 percent of the teachers in the district are so bad, they actually leave their students at a lower grade level at the end of the year than they were at the beginning.

Other research shows that the vast majority of DISD students could be taught to read well by the end of third grade with the right teaching. Instead, the majority are well below nationally normed grade levels.

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