Closing the School-to-Prison Pipeline

If DISD's Mike Miles has a plan for that, then let's give him a chance.

How is that not a horror? No matter why it happens, no matter whom we blame for it among adults, how is it not a horror for babies to be consigned to hell when they have barely drawn breath?

If we go back to the research that was assembled when George W. Bush was governor of Texas, especially the work on so-called anomalous schools, we see that all of those kids can be taught to read and write by fourth grade, even the ones from the most bitterly impoverished and chaotic backgrounds. And we know from the research since then that teaching them to read and write by fourth grade will have a bigger impact on their behavior and achievement during the balance of their school careers than any other single factor.

Think about it. In our educational system in America, children learn to read from pre-K through third grade. From fourth grade on they read to learn. If they cannot read, they are prisoners in a world without meaning to them. From fourth grade on, they learn how to be prisoners, and most of them get good at it.

Jared Boggess

I got myself into this whole issue of school outcomes because of a series of conversations I had with clergy and other people in southern Dallas recently concerning the staggering rate of nonemployment in many southern Dallas census tracts. Not unemployment. That's different.

Unemployment is a measurement of people who work for a living but don't have a job right now. The number I was looking at is for what is called "not in the labor force." Those are people who have never had jobs, do not have jobs now and are not looking for jobs. In some of the census tracts around the area where the city wants to build a fancy private golf course on city-owned land, as many as 60 percent of residents are not in the labor force.

The people I spoke with in the community painted a picture of thousands of young people who have left the school system unable to read or write, acquired prison records early and are now virtually unemployable. I haven't come up with hard numbers yet to test that thesis. But if you drive those streets and look at the kids and young adults crowded under shade trees in the summer, you get the picture.

I don't know how many people have seen that picture. Maybe it would be a great shock for people who have never ventured into the city's poor neighborhoods. But I know who has seen it.

Everybody who has anything to do with Dallas Independent School District has seen it. Everybody in the news media. Everybody who works for the city. Everybody in public works contracting. Certainly everybody involved in community leadership in any meaningful way. I have. I think a whole lot of us have seen that picture and know it well.

And we accept it. We take it as a given. Whoever or whatever that grim reaper may be, it comes along the line of cribs and stamps "PRISON" on the babies' heads, and you know what most of us do about it on any given day? We shrug.

So here's my question. Back to new DISD Superintendent Mike Miles. He came in here from Colorado and started shaking things up right away, knocking heads, kicking asses and taking names. I still think he made a lot of mistakes. I still don't get what he's up to. But here is my nightmare. What would I say if he turned to me?

What if he stopped in his tracks, turned, pointed and said, "You there. You got a lot of opinions. What do you think I should do? Just pretty much carry on with things the way they've been going?"

What if he turned again and pointed to the horrors? Imagine him pointing to the tens of thousands of children who for one reason or another are consigned to lives of waste and torment, to say nothing of what they do to the rest of us in the process. What if he turned back to me and said:

"Is this OK with you?"

What do I say? "I think you're paying your P.R. person too much?" Yeah, I think I might wind up being one of those guys Patton ran right over with the tanks.

The other consideration is this. In this community, there are those who have a vested interest in the status quo. If this attempt to do something meaningful with the schools fails, Champagne corks will pop in some very bad places.

I'm not saying Miles didn't screw up. I am saying we may not be watching the right game. We don't want to spend all our time making sure Patton stops at red lights and signals properly for turns. We should want him to get on down that road as fast as possible.

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My Voice Nation Help

I would like the school to prison pipeline expanded - especially for Harvard MBAs who have screwed up this economy so badly.



Mile's wouldn't ask you "what would you have me do?" because he knows this isn't a school district problem but a societal problem and there are no answers forthcoming. There can be incremental improvements in giving these kids additional resources at earlier ages (DISD just started their first full day PreK program last year.  It's under funded and under staffed but at least it exists). But poverty and language barriers are driving the bus of the student achievement gap...not ineffective teachers.  I asked Lew Blackburn last year to take a look at the revolving door of school suspensions.   The kids that have the most problems are moved for 6 weeks to an alternative campus that provides them with counselors and helps them catch up on missed work and gives them some needed support and just about the time the kids are beginning to turn the corner they go right back into their "home" school - only to  act out again and return to the alternative campus to start the process all over again.  I suggested that the kids be moved to the alternative campus for the remainder of the school year for major discipline problems.  Lew pushed back saying that the kids "need to be with their buddies and that it would be cruel to take them out of their home school for so long...six weeks is enough".  No Lew, no it isn't.

ThePosterFormerlyKnownasPaul topcommenter

Jim, what is the role of the parents with these disciplinary problems?  Can we expect DISD to teach and instill socially acceptable behavior into children that were not taught this by their parents?  There are constant references to "it takes a village to raise a child."  Well, it looks like some of the villagers are not doing their job and living up to their repsonsibilities.

As far as the children and young adults not in the labor force, exactly whose responsibility is this?  Is it the parents for not instilling a work ethic into their children?  Is it a cultural framework that calls being productive and working hard "being white"?

At some point Jim, each and every person has to take personal responsibility for their situation and condition; and, take whatever reasonable steps are needed to improve their situation, socially and economically.  Just ask an AA member about responsibility.

Sure there are a number of people who are given a raw deal in life, especially the conditions into which they are born.  However, it does not mean that you have to accept this raw deal.  You can change your life.

I am grateful for a number of things that had a profound impact on my own life.  One is my grandfather immigrating to this country.  The other is my grandfather making my father learn English.


I don't know of anyone that has changed something as big and lethargic as DISD without upsetting people.  Lots of people.  Change is scary.  Period.  Status quo...feels so safe.  Miles has made some HUGE mistakes.  I'd be all for getting the pitchfork out, but 10% of DISD grads are college ready..  Sitting around complaining about the fireman's tactics doesn't really help with the fire.  Schutze has the right frame of mind.


You nailed it with "there are those who have a vested interest in the status quo."  And if you want to find them, attend any school board meeting and observe who is talking about the needs of kids and who is talking about the desires of adults.


The other kick-out is the Truancy Courts.   They bring in close to
$10million a year for Dallas County,  fines and costs,  from those least
able to afford it.  And they're completely beneath anybody's radar.
has a typical 15 year old who won't get up and go to school.  She's
tried everything,  taken him to counseling,  to every Dr the school
suggests,  pleaded with the school to work with her.  DISD keeps filing
on him,  and,  as she's the parent,  files on her.  $800 per
appearance.  She works as a cleaning lady.  Jr. refused to come to Court
one morning,  Judge calls to tell him to get down there.  He hangs up.
I noted,  if the Judge can't make Jr. do something,  why does he find
Mama guilty for having the same problem.

There's no limit
on the number of cases DISD can file.  After a half dozen Mama has
choices,   she can move to Richardson,  or she can help Jr. drop out.
Again,  they don't improve attendance.  They do force borderline kids to leave school.  Mission Accomplished.


If we had a Disconnect Award, you would be the grand winner, Schutze. Miles is a Broadie. Their approach (pay big bucks for a supt who then hires layers and layers of high paid cronies while treating teachers as day labor) simply hasn't work anywhere. Do your research.

Miles' approach has teachers up in arms because it's pedagogically weak. Miles portrays himself as some kind of wunderkind when his own tiny little high schools in Colorado were as weak as Dallas high schools after years of his marching around firing teachers and inspiring terror. His approach to managing teachers is outdated and ineffective.

Your statements correlating kids who are suspended with those who appear in the justice system is as weak as saying people who have consistent contact with police are more frequently in the justice system as offenders and it's the police officers' fault.

Broadies starve the classroom, create chaos, and then move on as the predators they are. Your column blames teachers, who have no control over hiring or resources, on the unemployment and crime rate in South Dallas. It's a leap in logic that is beyond ridiculous.

Why not blame police officers for the crime rate in South Dallas (oh, yeah, that's been tried, also) or blame store owners for the crime rate or blame phases of the moon. Could it be the parents and community are socializing their children into a culture whose norms set them up for total failure? Could the oppositional behavior noted by the sociologist be the basis for a refusal to do what is necessary to enter the mainstream economy?

Myrna.Minkoff-Katz topcommenter

I, for one, don't think you're over the top in comparing the city's school system to the systematic destruction of minorities by the Nazis.


@Myrna.Minkoff-Katz Visit a Dallas school, anywhere in the city, and come back and report on what you actually see. Most kids are learning in a productive environment. The chaos caused by the dysfunction at Ross Avenue is for the most part held at bay.