Mike Miles versus The World

In Dallas ISD, a fight over principals, race and a slice of the pie.

Mike Miles versus The World
Taylor Callery

This is a good time to reflect on the difficulty of finding truth in the battle over school reform in Dallas, because at this moment I don't seem to be able to get through the front door. I am standing on the parking lot at James Madison High School on Martin Luther King Jr. Boulevard in South Dallas, trying to get into a community meeting organized by school board member Bernadette Nutall to rally support for Marian Willard, principal of Madison. It's a cool breezy evening in March.

Apparently Willard is on a list of some 50 principals slated for replacement under the school reform campaign of the new superintendent, Mike Miles. Nutall is mad at Miles and doesn't want Willard removed. This rally is, among other things, an orchestrated media event to show how beloved Willard is and what a great job she's doing. My feelings are hurt since I'm supposed to be in the media, and I can't even get in the door. But there's a fight in the parking lot, right in front of the door.

One fighter slips off quickly when half a dozen school district cops materialize. The cops and some male school employees form a bear-baiting ring around the remaining combatant, a big male student who is waving fists, making little bluff-runs, retreating, trying to break out of the ring. The cops and faculty don't want to grapple, so they goad and herd from safe distances. They don't look bored exactly, but you can tell they've been down this road before.

Dallas ISD Superintendent Mike Miles.
Mark Graham
Dallas ISD Superintendent Mike Miles.
Former DISD principal Donna Johnson.
Mark Graham
Former DISD principal Donna Johnson.
Minister and community leader L. Charles Stovall.
Mark Graham
Minister and community leader L. Charles Stovall.

A dozen male students and a couple girls who had been walking away from the school have regrouped now in the parking lot to watch. The kid sees his public looking at him, and he starts John Wayne-ing a little more. The cops back off a pace. TV crews are about to show up. What to do with this?

The front door flies open and a long willowy figure appears, silhouetted in the aura of bright light spilling from the hallway. It's school trustee Nutall. She scopes the scene in a split-second. Her normally bulletproof composure explodes. She shouts angrily at the cops: "This does not need to be in front of the cameras! Y'all need to move this out of here!"

The cops exchange "do-it" looks, then make a serious run at the kid. It's enough to scare him away from the door. Like seasoned horse-trainers, the police dance the young man backward around a corner and out of view. One cop hangs back, menacing onlookers not to follow. Whatever happens to that kid, I do not hear a thing.

Half an hour later about 120 people are seated in the high school auditorium. They cheer and applaud as Nutall introduces speaker after speaker to sing praises of Principal Willard. (Willard declined to comment for this story.)

One speaker familiar to the crowd here tonight is Wilbur Williams, retired principal at Pearl C. Anderson Middle School. He's an orator. He tells the crowd: "I asked one of the people who work at this school, 'When's the last time you had a fight at this school?'" He affects an expression of puzzled bewilderment. "He said, 'I don't know.'"

From the audience, Juanita Wallace, head of the Dallas branch of the NAACP, shouts the response. "They don't have them."

Williams takes it up emphatically: "They don't have them!"

And there you have it. No fights at James Madison High School! So the one half an hour ago at the front door must have been a history-making first.

Something about the fight over school reform makes people on all sides say crazy stuff. It's about children, and children always make people crazy. It's about jobs and money. But perhaps even more crazy-making, school reform is also about a bitter half-century fight for racial justice in Dallas, the city that made Little Rock look reasonable. In that long war, one of the toughest struggles was to force the opening up of lucrative administrative jobs to black candidates. Call it fairness, call it political patronage, call it what you like: Those jobs are dearly coveted and tightly held by the people who have them now, and their removal will not be quiet.

That said, by the time this story appears, most of the real behind-the-scenes fighting will have been resolved. While partisans of all stripes have been duking it out for the cameras, most of the people slated for removal have been quietly negotiating severance packages, according to very reliable sources. To some extent, the public acrimony has served as pressure to sweeten some of those deals.

Another factor not visible to the public, according to sources outside the administration, is that a few of the principals to be replaced are not under the gun for reasons having anything to do with academics or the reform program. In two or three cases, principals have been targets of investigation by the district's Office of Professional Responsibility (OPR), which looks into how money is handled and other forms of misfeasance.

All of which skirts a fundamental question: Why would black and Hispanic leaders not be on the other side of the battlements, shoulder-to-shoulder with Mike Miles fighting to close the egregious ethnic student achievement gap in the Dallas school system? Pointing to that gap, Miles says, "We have to ask ourselves, is it OK?" So is it? Is the achievement gap a fair trade-off for the jobs? Did anybody ask the kids?


The black and Hispanic communities are split. Hispanic leaders seem to have Miles' back. Rene Martinez, a former school district employee who is a leader in the Dallas chapter of the League of United Latin American Citizens, says support for Miles is strong in the Hispanic community because "he's trying to change this system that we have that's still full of cronyism, favoritism and good-old-girl, good-old-boy."

Black leaders, not so much. In fact not at all. Because he is threatening the jobs of black principals, Miles, who is black, is now routinely accused of anti-black racism by elected and community leaders in black Dallas. Dallas County Commissioner John Wiley Price, one of the city's most powerful black elected officials, has urged black churches to close their doors to him.

Joyce Foreman, community activist, political consultant and a former member of the board of the regional transit agency, calls Miles a fly-by-night opportunist. "This guy is a carpetbagger. He has no vested interest in this community," she says.

Foreman insists Miles will do much more harm than good before all is said and done. "He has a mind-set as a reformer," she says. "You come in, you shake it up, and then what? Once you shake it up, you are also pushing out the good. No teacher or principal worth their salt is going to stay around. They are going to go somewhere where they feel wanted and needed."

Grassroots sentiment in the traditional black community in southern Dallas seems to go hard against Miles. Charles Taylor, an officer of the alumni association at Lincoln High School, accuses him of sowing terror and intimidation among faculty and administrators. Taylor says, "Nobody does well under fear. Nobody."

And it gets worse. Wallace of the NAACP says Miles' reform strategy is a sham to camouflage a racist crusade against African-American administrators and teachers: "He does not like strong black women," she says. "He doesn't like black people period, but he particularly does not like strong black women."

Even though Miles is black, Wallace says Miles "thinks he is neutral. He and Tiger [Woods] are in the same basket."

Foreman expresses similar feelings: "Just because you're my color, that doesn't mean you're my kind. Miles is mixed race," she says.

That's rough stuff. But the notion that both African-American and Hispanic leadership should support Miles based on a program of reform aimed at all minority students probably ignores two overarching, conflicting, very important realities. Black people have a good slice of the jobs pie under the status quo. Hispanics have a skinny slice. Follow the pie?

Student enrollment in the district is now almost 70 percent Hispanic and 24 percent black, reflecting transitions in what used to be black neighborhoods, now rapidly trending majority Hispanic. But the lion's share of principals' jobs still go to African-Americans, a reflection of civil rights struggles in the past.

Personnel data released to the school board recently based on 2012 numbers showed 49 percent of principals' jobs occupied by African-Americans, 31 percent by Hispanics and 19 percent by whites.

Black personnel in 2012 occupied 45 percent of staff jobs at the middle of the salary range, from $39,000 to $79,000 a year. Hispanics held 30 percent of those jobs, and whites occupied 22 percent.

White people came back into their own at the fat end of the salary range, $80,000 and above, holding 49 percent of those jobs, while African-Americans held 30 percent and Hispanics 17 percent.

Numbers given to the board for recent hires show African-Americans in the lead generally. Approximately 60 percent of the replacement principals being trained in Miles' special training academy for principals are black, so the percentage of black principals in the district right now and in the near future probably should be put at above 50 percent, perhaps as high as 55 percent.

Black leaders, in other words, are trying to martial their diminished forces in the community to protect a slice of the DISD salary pie that is much bigger than what would strictly reflect black student enrollment or general population figures. Hispanic leaders are fighting to increase their slice of everything. While the other groups slug it out, white people, whose children make up 4.7 percent of the student enrollment, are drinking iced tea.


So we're back on jobs, money, grownups — everything but the children and that achievement gap. But what about Miles' argument? How badly does Dallas Independent School District really do at educating minority children? Let's look at high school seniors, since they are the district's final product.

At Madison, almost 90 percent of the class of 2011 took SAT "college board" tests. Of those tested, 1.3 percent achieved a score deemed "college-ready" by the Texas Education Agency. Given the size of the senior class, that would amount to one and one quarter of a student capable of hitting a college-ready score on the SAT.

Madison is not the worst in Dallas on that particular bottom line. Three high schools — Roosevelt, Pinkston and Samuell — produced zero test-takers in the class of 2011 capable of making a college-ready score. That would be zero of any ethnic category.

By that measurement alone — college-ready scores on the SAT — Dallas is not the worst in the state compared with the other three big urban districts in Texas. It's next to the worst. In Austin, 37.1 percent of 2011 SAT test-takers were college-ready. In Houston it was 20 percent. Dallas was at 10.1 percent districtwide. San Antonio was at 4.5 percent.

In response to pressure from local leaders, the Legislature and the Texas Education Agency have invented other measurements that tend to soften the blow, looking for "most improved" and so on. But some of the agency's less subjective measurements tend to put Dallas at solid rock-bottom among major urban districts in Texas.

In the four major Texas urban districts, the state now holds 25 high schools on a list called "academically unacceptable." Those are high schools so bad that parents of a student assigned to one of them have a legal right not to send the kid. Of those 25 bad schools, 15 are in Dallas.

The Dallas school system enrolls 31 percent of the total half million-plus students in those four districts, but Dallas operates 60 percent of the academically unacceptable high schools. Of high schools in major urban districts that produced 0 percent of college-ready SAT-takers in the class, 60 percent were in Dallas in the most recent ranking. In those four districts, Dallas spends the second highest amount per pupil, after Austin.

Not counting the magnet schools, the only general enrollment high schools in Dallas with decent SAT scores are the ones that have significant remnant white enrollments. Woodrow Wilson is a good example. At Woodrow, 41.5 percent of white kids who took the SATs scored at college-ready levels. Of black kids who took it, 4.3 percent were college-ready. For Hispanics it was 9.4 percent. Consistently and across the board in Dallas, the best thing a kid can do to gain a college-ready education is be white.

That discrepancy is a core focus for Miles, and early on after his arrival a year ago it seemed to earn him solid support from two of the three African-Americans on the school board: board President Lew Blackburn, who represents District 5 extending south of the city into the dissolved Wilmer-Hutchins school district, and Bernadette Nutall, who represents District 9 in old South Dallas. Miles never had much support from Carla Ranger, who represents District 6 in southwest Dallas, a bright person who tends to be unpredictable.

But Miles' Blackburn/Nutall support went up in smoke the minute they realized his list of 50 people to be replaced among the district's 225 principals included popular black principals like Willard, who are viewed as community leaders in their own right. As soon as Nutall saw Willard and a handful of others were slated for replacement, she began an aggressive campaign to protect their jobs, reaching around Miles to contact subordinates two levels down from him in regional positions called "executive director."

After Nutall buttonholed one regional executive director at a public event, the executive director wrote to her immediate superior complaining that Nutall "tried to engage me into conversation, but I did not. After she was complete in releasing her venom about the superintendent, she left."

Other executive directors reported to their boss that Nutall had sought them out. "We were encouraged by Ms. Nutall to not hold certain principals accountable for their performances," they said in a group letter.

When word of Nutall's attempts to get to his team reached Miles, he fired off an email to her: "Please stop this behavior, which serves only to intimidate the district's staff and does not serve the interests of either the district or its children," he wrote.

Soon enough, Blackburn joined the fray in Nutall's defense. He informed Miles he intended to carry out his own personal investigation of the matter and demanded that the complaining staff members appear before him. Miles refused to produce his staff members, telling Blackburn his interference "further serves to intimidate them."


Of course, none of that gets to what the Miles reform is really about. It's based on an overwhelming consensus in national research over the last two decades showing that teachers are the most important factor in the success or failure of a school system to effectively educate children. Other research has found there are good ways to identify good teachers and to train less able teachers to get better. But even the best teachers must be led by effective team leaders in the post of principal.

For the last year, Miles and his administration have been going after the principals piece first, scouring school leadership ranks according to measurements laid out in a 24-page document called the "Principal Performance Rubric." Principals are evaluated according to 47 different criteria, which are far from the measurements used in the past. In the old days, principals were judged almost entirely on the basis of basic administration and discipline. Miles is evaluating them on additional grounds, looking at team-building and teacher training, student achievement and parental involvement.

Ultimately it's about whether or not a principal has been successful at persuading teachers to teach their students the Mike Miles way. And if we listen to Leslie Williams, one of the regional executive directors who have been carrying out the plan, the Mike Miles plan couldn't sound more reasonable.

The first thing a principal must do, step one in a process called "aligning the curriculum," Williams says, is make sure each teacher knows what must be taught. The state of Texas, after all, requires by law that a certain body of knowledge be conveyed to each student in each year of that student's career. That required knowledge is what Williams calls "the standard."

"The teacher, herself or himself, must look at the standard and be able to do what we call 'unpack it' and be able to develop rigorous lessons on a daily basis to teach the students."

Teachers are free, he says, to figure out their own ways of getting it across. "They create their own lessons without depending on the curriculum and instruction departments to develop their lesson plans for them," he says. "They have more freedom this year than ever before, and I have been in this district for 37 years."

It is a core assumption of the reform effort that no teacher can accomplish these goals without engaging the students. In fact the word itself, engage, has become a kind of mantra.

He explains: "What we mean by engaging students, you have to develop lessons that get the kid excited about math, for example. You have to be able to sell math to students."

And then finally, the student is really supposed to get it. Really. Get it. The teacher must see that the student either really gets it or really does not — a process sometimes called "demonstration of learning" in district jargon, sometimes called "strategies to check for understanding."

"It can be something as simple as thumbs up, thumbs down," Williams says. "That way the teacher can scan that classroom and see that 90 percent of my students understood it, and 10 percent didn't. Now I know who that 10 percent are. I have a choice of going back and reteaching it or making sure that little Johnny comes to tutoring after school."

Williams says most of the elements of the Miles plan have actually been around forever, usually under different names and with varying levels of emphasis. A demonstration of learning, for example, used to be called an "exit ticket" by teachers, meaning a kid was ready to exit one lesson and move up to the next.

It sounds pretty hard to argue with in the abstract. But then, that's the abstract for you. How does it shake out in real life? Teachers and principals were extremely reluctant to talk for this article, even when promised anonymity, saying they feared reprisals during a time of turnover and turmoil. But a few did describe their experiences on the condition that they not be named.

One is a veteran elementary teacher. She says she must work under a not-very-bright principal who is constantly looking over his shoulder to an even less smart executive director. She says her principal has told teachers in the school that he will be out of a job if he fails to get them to toe the line. Toeing the line, she says, is all about what her principal nervously calls their "L.O.s and DOLs."

That would be "lesson objectives" and "demonstrations of learning." Her principal, she says, wants her to lay down an L.O., teach it for no more than two days, then do the DOL and move on to the next L.O. Oh, yeah, and do that engagement thing too.

"It's very anti-early-childhood," she says. As children's brains and thinking abilities develop, she says, they may need revisiting and repetition of lessons throughout a year in order to grasp them. She says she understands that plans initially conceived at headquarters may be smarter and more flexible than what she gets when her job-sweating principal starts nattering to her about L.O.s and DOLs. But that doesn't help her situation in her classroom.

"We have to rely on the principal's interpretation of his directions," she says. Based on what she hears from fellow teachers, she says there is pain and frustration districtwide where the rubber meets the road, in the classroom.

A principal who was willing to talk about it anonymously says he didn't necessarily disagree with either the call for change or the method of change, but he thinks the people carrying it out are basically being assholes about it. Schools of which he has been principal, by the way, have had top student achievement records.

"I just don't like the way they've implemented these things," he says. "They've come in with the attitude of basically, 'You all suck. We're going to change everything.'

"Really, there are a lot of schools in the district that do suck, and we do need to make changes, but there are some schools that just need to be helped whenever we can but not to the point where you want to make a lot of changes."

As he talks about the Miles team, it becomes obvious this principal despises them all because he thinks they all come from the other side of an important tribal line in education. On his side of the line are the doers, the ones who have been in the classroom, who have been assistant principals and principals, the education equivalent of people in the military who have seen battle. On the other side are those whom he labels with a term that drips with derision as it leaves his lips: They are "consultants."

"In public education if you can talk a good game, if you can talk the educational garbage, you can pretty well move up," he says. "There's a lot of people who can tell you how to do things, but when you ask them, 'Well, have you ever done it yourself?' they say, 'Well, no.'"

For him, the consultants and other voices from outside the district urging reform achieve the opposite of a morale boost. "Outside people, the mayor and all these people, trying to tell us how to do our jobs, that's why education is paid so bad. People feel like anybody can do this."

His ultimate verdict on Miles himself is the worst thing he can say: "The bottom line is, this guy, this superintendent, he's a consultant."

Donna Johnson retired from the district more than a decade ago as principal of Metropolitan High School, which drew students from all of the high schools in the city. She stays in touch socially with many working principals in the district, some of whom she sees and chats with during her daily visits to the gym. She says her impression is that almost all of them are suffering from battered morale at this point, including some whom she considers among the best.

"Good ones, let me tell you." She says many would leave tomorrow, "if they can get another job."

The main complaint she hears is micromanaging and an insistence that principals manage every second of every day according to the Mike Miles formula, stripping them of discretion and wriggle-room that they feel they need in order to cope with the demands of the positions.

"He has people coming out to require the principals to sit in the classroom and observe the teachers. I have no problem with that. But if you've got a tremendously outstanding teacher, you already know that. Why do you have to have a certain number of observations for that teacher? Why not spend that time with someone who needs help?"

She says some principals complain about the executive directors who are carrying out the plan. "From what I understand, the people that they send out are not the best people."


All of these objections to the reform sound reasonable and have a ring of truth or at least a certain familiarity for anyone who has ever worked in a large corporate or institutional setting. Sending instructions from the head office to the troops is always going to be the pass-it-on game, where the message gets more garbled the more people it passes through. Meanwhile, new instructions and changes in the chain of command will inevitably cause some level of consternation.

For his part, Miles says all of that is to be expected and none of it surprises him. "It is totally understandable that people have concerns about people," he says. "This is a people business, after all. That's what we do."

He says he is unfazed by the rough talk about him in the community. "It would be alarming to me if people didn't fight for other people's careers. They want me and the administration of the district to show that we're not insensitive. I think that's important."

Miles says many accommodations are being made behind the scenes in cases of principals who will be removed from their posts but not fired from the district. "One thing you probably don't know," he says, "is that anybody who's not under an OPR investigation — that's different — we are trying to offer a solution." Some principals, for example, may be offered assistant principal jobs at other schools in a kind of obliquely downward transfer not uncommon within the district in the past.

But on the reform itself, Miles stands fast, convinced that the need is urgent and his plan for meeting it is on solid ground supported by research. "Some people will say there is no way to know what an effective principal is, just like there is no way to know what an effective teacher is. That's not true."

He refers to a report called "Ensuring Fair and Reliable Measures of Effective Teaching," published in January by the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation. Based in part on research done in Dallas, the report asks if there is a way to know which teachers will produce students who will be more successful than they would have been without that teacher. If you send really hard-to-teach kids to Teacher A and the same kind of kids to Teacher B, can you know ahead of time which teacher will be better able to help them learn?

The answer, according to the report, is yes. And further into the report when it begins to talk about how you know, the bone structure of the Miles reform plan appears. The frequent monitoring of classrooms by people from different parts of the hierarchy is one of the most effective predictors. Elements sometimes spoken as sneering buzzwords when people bitch about Miles — engagement, feedback, collaboration, leadership — emerge from the report as proven tools to turn education around.

One accusation does make him bridle — that he's a hopscotch consultant making a name for himself with a program of drastic change that shortchanges basic fairness.

"Another thing that people say that's incorrect," he says, "is that it's all about change. Nobody has said that, not even close. You go back to the question, what are the right metrics? They have to be designed as a fair evaluation process."

For board President Blackburn, that one consideration — fairness — is the real bottom line. "The key word is fair," Blackburn says. "I don't question the administration's decisions about hiring an employee or terminating an employee other than: Has that employee been treated fairly, especially when it comes to a termination or separation? Are we treating our employees fair across the board?"

Miles says he does not disagree with Blackburn on that score. The question is the definition of fairness. "This is what I define as fair," Miles says. "First thing with fairness is, have we outlined fair expectations? What does it mean to be an instructional leader? What does it mean when you have a student engagement? What does it mean to align the curriculum? Those are all expectations. You have to say, 'This is what that means and this is what it looks like.'

"Second, it's only fair if you professionally develop [train people in] the things that you most expect. So the bigger question is how much professional development do you do and instructional feedback? I didn't invent that. Principals have been giving instructional feedback to teachers since forever. Now we happen to be doing more training on it and monitoring."

And back once again to what was supposed to be the basic question: No matter whose ox gets gored, do we need school reform, and why? Last February the congressionally chartered Equity and Excellence Commission delivered a report on the American achievement gap to the secretary of education called "For Each and Every Child." The report opened with a stern admonition:

"Education is the key to a strong democracy, economic competitiveness and a world-class standard of living. In recent decades, however, America has lost its place as a global leader in educational attainment in ways that will lead to a decline in living standards for millions of our children and the loss of trillions of dollars of economic growth."

The second source of fuel for the reform movement is upbeat, however, based on decades of settled scientific research showing that all children, even the ones from the toughest, most deprived backgrounds, can be taught and that the secret to it all ultimately is the teacher. Good teachers led by good principals working from good plans can turn it all around for children and the nation.

There are different schools of thought on how to get there. Most give weight to teacher pay. The Equity and Excellence report points to a 2010 McKinsey and Co. study, which found that better pay would have a significant impact on the quality and supply of recruits.

The McKinsey report said hiking starting pay to $65,000 from today's $37,000 and top salaries to $150,000 from today's $70,000 "would lift the percentage of new teachers in high-poverty schools coming from the top third of their academic cohort from 14 percent today to 68 percent and would cost (at current teacher/student ratios) an estimated $30 billion a year, or about 5 percent of current K-12 spending."

The urgency for school reform in Dallas springs from a cascading sense of local crisis. At the beginning of this year when Education Week magazine and the Education Research Center issued their annual report card for the states, Texas ranked 36th in the category called "Chance for Success," measuring how well schools equip kids to get on in life.

The math here is pretty straightforward: America competes poorly with the rest of the developed world. Texas competes poorly with the rest of America. Dallas competes poorly with the rest of Texas. Minority kids in Dallas public schools compete poorly with the rest of Dallas. It shouldn't be hard to figure out which end of the barrel that puts them in.

But is turning that barrel over worth the pain? Michael J. Sorrell, president of Paul Quinn College in southern Dallas, sees the minority kids who leave the Dallas schools still imbued with an eagerness to get ahead, ambitious kids who want to go to college and learn. He knows intimately how hard it will be for most of them. That knowledge, he says, forms his view of the Miles school reform effort.

"The system is broken," he says. "As painful as it is for folks to sometimes admit, when things are as broken as this, given the miserable success rates of our students, I have to say that the schools are broken. Our students are not performing. They're not performing on tests. They aren't performing in the classroom. It's not going well."

Sorrell says he thinks there is broad awareness of the need for change in the community, tempered by pain and hesitation over the nature of the change. In his view the willingness of the community to fight for the jobs of individual principals and teachers is simply an expression of human nature.

"I haven't met anyone, even those people who don't agree with Mike Miles, who doesn't think something has to be done. But this is akin to folks who hate Congress but love their congressman. They separate the congressman from the body, because acknowledging that their congressman contributes to the issue is personally painful."

Sorrell believes the change ahead is absolutely necessary even though it will be painful for everyone from Miles to his most bitter detractor. "I am pulling for Miles," he says, "because I am pulling for this community. I am pulling for our kids, and as a person who gets the end result of DISD, I just don't know how you can't pull for the teachers, the principals and the superintendent. I pull for all of them."

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67 comments
ebailey75057
ebailey75057

"No Child Left Behind"  What an impractical concept to burden taxpayers with.  

There are children who will advance and there are children who will not... fact of life. 

Even when the facts are laid out in front of them,  JWPRICE and company continue to hamstring the Dallas community with their cronyism and yet somehow continue to be re-elected.  What has Price presented as a solution"?  Nothing, he is too busy keeping his "Friends" employed.  To the the citizens of Dallas you have no one to blame but yourselves for the state of your school district. Keep re-electing  Price and company and continue to witness the fruits of your follie concerning your children's education. 

bbetzen
bbetzen

There are a multitude of issues related to Mike Miles and current DISD management: http://schoolarchiveproject.blogspot.com/2013/05/damage-by-mike-miles-in-colorado.html  However, the bigger issue is for Dallas to get our students to take ownership of their own educational process.  That is slowly happening is 10 DISD schools with School Time Capsule Projects.  One school actually had their 9th class write letters for the vault this past week.   See http://schoolarchiveproject.blogspot.com/2013/05/school-time-capsule-project-is-9-years.html

Quintanilla Middle School started that project in 2005 and is now the highest rated of the 19 non-magnet middle schools on the southside of Dallas: http://childrenatrisk.org/research/school-rankings/northtexas/  This is in spite of Quintanilla having one of the highest poverty rates (95.7%) and highest LEP (Limited English Proficiency) rates (49%) among DISD middle schools.

The power of a realistic focus on the future is slowly being seen.

lauans
lauans

What I really want to know is when we stopped requiring students to be students and instead become test takers? When did that happen? For sure it started way before Mike Myle’s arrival on the scene. It has been a slow and steady erosion of education values and principles that has led us to the culmination of where students are now only cyphers for us to use our latest testing structure on. Testing has now become our new GOD in this system. For months prior to testing we are teaching for the almighty Test. During the testing season (Oh yes, there is a testing season) there are a slew of tests, one right after another from multiple testing authorities that want to intimately probe the minds of our students. After testing there is analysis to see exactly what the student knows. And through all this testing what they really are trying to test, using students as mindless drones, is whether or not what the teacher is effective in their methods of teaching to the test.

They don't really care about the students. Really there are no consequences for the students in all of this testing other than to say that they are at this or that level of competence. What is really affected are the labels that are now applied to that school. It determines if our institutions are deemed poor, fair, recognized or exemplary. Correspondingly our teachers are deemed poor, fair, recognized or exemplary. It really has nothing to do with the students and whether they are held back, passed or receive specialized assistance, and that is a shame.

Because once these labels are affixed to our institutions it becomes affixed to those students as well, good or bad. These labels tell parents who are concerned about the education of their kids to stay far away from these "bad" schools. These tests don't foster or promote change in the institution. Not really, at least, not in a positive way. What they do seem to promote is more and more teaching to the test. Almost like a dog chasing its own tail. If only I run faster and faster, I know I catch that tail. If only we teach more and more for the testing elements we will reach our testing goal. And now add Mike Myles with his own preconceived values to this volatile mix. Certainly the current system is not working for our students. But has Mr. Myles core values added positive change for our educational system to be repaired and rebuilt or simply added fuel to a system already in flames? Let us examine his core values:

•Our main purpose is to improve student academic achievement.

•Effective instruction makes the most difference in student academic performance.

•There is no excuse for poor quality instruction.

•With our help, at risk students will achieve at the same rate as non-at risk students.

•Staff members must have a commitment to children and a commitment to the pursuit of excellence.

On the surface, there is absolutely nothing wrong with these core values, they are commendable. Who doesn't want to improve the student academic achievement? However, Mr. Myles has chosen to focus on the one element in which he knows Dallas ISD has the most power and control over. It is mentioned in four of the five core values in some variation.

"Effective instruction"

"poor quality instruction"

"With our help"

"Staff members"

He has chosen instruction and teachers to be the catalyst to jump start a change in Dallas ISD's broken system. But as always, however lofty the vision or goals may be, there is always devil in the details. His implementation of accomplishing these goals instead of being new, fresh and 180 degree different from what is being done currently, appears only to be more of the same. More and more pressures being put on teachers to perform and teach to the test with little or no implementing innovative techniques, re-training or mentoring program to support his greatest asset and ally in accomplishing these new standards. Like an overlord cracking his whip he is commanding his team to perform or die. Perform or you will lose your job. Needless to say morale is down.

And what about the students? Do we continue to ignore their role in their own education? While educators continue to receive the brunt of the onus of this new regime, students appear to be getting lighter and lighter responsibilities. No actual or enforceable homework requirement, Unruly students continually being allowed to take focus off of instruction and receiving no real consequences for their behavior. Said behavior becoming more and more habitual among a greater number of students. Parents are not being held accountable for either their children's education or behavior. The core beliefs themselves enforces this imbalance by ignoring students and parents role altogether in improving the system. I have no qualms whatsoever in using the following overused phrase because the truth rings ever true. It takes a village to raise a child.

This article response is not meant to be a Mike Myles bashing article. Clearly we need strong administration support to guide us to where we need to be. But, continuing to ignore all the major players (administrators, educators, students and parents) inputs and responsibilities in the rebuilding of our educational system is a fatal flaw that will continue engender distrust, disappointments and ultimately failure. No one wants failure here.I do not want Mike Myles to fail in his 2020 quest. I do not want hundreds of teachers and principals fired for being told they failed to teach effectively. And I certainly do not want students to continue to fail in an attaining a class A education. Being right or winning the right to say “I told you so” does not defines a “winner” here.

There should be no enemies here.No one should be against anyone, but for everyone. Once we learn this and begin to work together we will all win with our students becoming the ultimate winners.

Not a Teacher, past or present

Not a Principal or Asst. Principal

Not an Administrator of any kind

A concerned citizen with a love of learning

oakclifftownie
oakclifftownie

Things were so much easier when it could ALL be BLAMED ON WHITEY !

Whitney Threadgill Mahan
Whitney Threadgill Mahan

Schutze, you're losing your edge. You don't seem to get this one at all. It's about the kids. Or it should be. None of this addresses what is right for the kids. This is all a power struggle among adults trying to make a name for themselves, or ruin the name of others. Meanwhile the students are suffering.

Sean Tinsley
Sean Tinsley

Only problem I have with this is the fact that the only thing standardized testing is effective at is being a bunch of horseshit political maneuvering. It doesn't serve the children. It's a major reason they come out of elementary and middle school unable to read or grasp basic concepts. No child left behind can go fuck itself. Schools have been using mentally disabled programs to push illiterate kids through to graduation for YEARS. DISD is a corrupt pile of ass, and I welcome most any dramatic change; the old hands have thoroughly raped the system.

Jonathan Green
Jonathan Green

Changing technology, corporate restructuring and pressure to reduce costs and increase productivity are just some of the big challenges organizations grapple with every day. Today's business organizations are seeking to hire people who are savvy, critical thinkers, and who can implement strategic plans from start to finish. This has not been what is being developed in DISD Schools in the Southern Sector. Children graduating from the High Schools listed are coming out qualified for menial jobs at Dollar General as cashiers, labors for the city, stockers at a Home Depot, and clerks at a Wal-Mart. These are not critical thinkers who have been developed through educational training to perform at a higher level in corporate America. What gets to me is that I never hear John Wiley Price, or Dr. Jerry Christian speaking to the community about ways of designing and implementing resources that takes an innovative approach to developing students with the knowledge, expertise, and leadership acumen to sustaining economic stability. I often hear John Wiley Price, Jerry Christian, and Bernadette Nuttall shouting, however in their rants they are not proposing any methodologies or strategic plans that can move Teachers and Students in a direction of sustainability. Standardized testing is a measuring tool that effectively measures the teachers learning capabilities and the students learning progress. In DISD, you have children coming out of Middle Schools into High Schools that cannot read, they have poor sentence structure, and lack the technological savvy to qualify for a job in the field of Management and Technology. These are organizational issues that have systemically plagued DISD, issues that Mike Miles wants to change through hiring innovative leaders who are established in shaping students academically,encouraging them spiritually, and emphasizing strong ethical leadership. Leaders that step in the classrooms should be utilizing creative and strategic processes to engages students be creativity, visionary, implement strategic planning, teamwork, and technology and organizational development. The evidence shows and supports the greater the education, the greater the earning potential. There is no earning potential at Dollar General, or riding on the back of a city truck put tar on the streets, and bagging groceries at Wal-Mart after twelve years in school. The vast majority of these Principals have no skills in implementing and applying organizational leadership theories which increases organizational effectiveness. The only Principal that I feel has not been given a fair shot is Dr. Leslie Swann at Lincoln High School. Dr. Swann inherited a dysfunctional organization that will require more that one year to measure her effectiveness in developing and implementing strategic plans that increases the organizational effectiveness at Lincoln. I believe that Dr. Swann is a true leader who can effectively manage and motivate teachers and student through thoughtful leadership practices. I believe Dr. Swann can build a strong organizational foundation of knowledge and skills that applicable to a students success after graduation. A lot of these so called appointed leaders should lay all the facts on the table; why a student is graduating and cannot come into an interview and write sentence.

primi_timpano
primi_timpano topcommenter

The teachers do not like the new plan. To hell with them, the old plan didn't work. It is the parents fault less than 2 percent of some high school students have college ready SATs. We can't fire the parents, we can't afford to send kids to boarding schools, parents are the lay of the land and must be navigated. I would cull these vestigial failures of teachers as quickly as possible.

kwhuie
kwhuie

The simple truth here is that the education establishment has always been resistant to change.  DISD is a wasteland and has been so for decades.  Miles was brought it to reform a clearly dysfunctional system and the only way to do so is to hold those in charge accountable for their success or failure.  I feel for the guy because he really walked into a no-win situation.  What was he supposed to do just go along with the same failed policies that got the district where it is today?  I hear a lot of criticism about Miles and his policies, but what I am not hearing are alternatives to improving these schools.  It seems the vast majority of those in power are quite content with schools that are producing 1.5 "college ready" SAT scores in an entire senior class.  That is sickening.

crg328
crg328

I'm a DISD teacher (for 14 more days) and there is no amount of money you could pay me to work for Mike Miles again. I'M am SO OUT. 

Miles is ALL about alignment but it seems like a "DOL" was interpreted or understood differently every month since the beginning of the year. HE NEEDS TO ALIGN HIMSELF. I have wasted so much time listening to our principals and instructional coaches explain this stuff that they don't even understand themselves. 

"Write your DOL like this.." 

"Take 10 minutes to do DOL's"

"Make sure the VERB used in the objective is the same one used in the DOL"

"USE THREE MRS's and THREE checks for understanding PER LESSON."

This crap has made my head spin all year. I'm going to set all my lesson plans and DOL/OBJECTIVE CHARTS on fire this summer. 

I can not wait to start my new job in a smaller district that respects me as a professional and is excited to have me! 

gpulte
gpulte

What is painfully missing from this discussion is that it is not just teachers and principals that matter. Teachers matter, princiapls matter, but parents doing their jobs in raising their kids matters as much or more. Parents must be engaged in their children's lives, many DISD parents are not engaged and do not support their kids in the learning process for a variety of reasons. Children need access to resources and parents who provide acccess to learning experiences as well as encourage and promote learning. DISD parents dropped the ball a long time ago. Teachers are puling their weight. Principals are pulling their weight. Miles is going after the wrong variable, the parents.  

JMFitzmaurice
JMFitzmaurice

One major problem is that Miles plan also drags down the best schools and teacher's. My son's school and always taught the DISD/Texas curriculum, and supplemented by including the Core Knowledge Foundation curriculum as well. They did NO drilling for tests. For example, this year in fourth grade my son should have learned about Medieval Europe, and Ancient China. The school has always performed well, as a recognized school despite having majority Non native English Speakers, and almost 90% economically disadvantaged. It also has more than twice the normal percentage of Gifted and Talented kids, owing in large part to this additional education starting from Pre-K. This year they were told they had to stop as it was not allowed under Miles Grand Unified Theory of Education. They were told teaching any of it could cost them their jobs. This was a major reason we worked to get our son into this school and POOF, now it is gone. God forbid any teacher or principal try to do anything more advanced, or different, even if it has a decade long track record of working, engaging students, and propelling them to better test scores.

titusgroan
titusgroan

What was it Swift said about knowing when a true genius appeared?

Sia1
Sia1

@JimSX 

"Black leaders, in other words, are trying to martial their diminished forces in the community to protect a slice of the DISD salary pie that is much bigger than what would strictly reflect black student enrollment or general population figures."

Re this sentence, I think you meant to say "to marshall." According to my paperback dictionary, "martial" is an adjective, not a verb.

Flabbergasted
Flabbergasted

I find it unbelievable that Jim S now carries the water for the Dallas Citizens Council and the Chamber. Pod people, indeed.

Myrna.Minkoff-Katz
Myrna.Minkoff-Katz topcommenter

In a provincial place like Dallas, you can't just blow into town and lay down the law.  In New York no one would even notice.

sisterfunkhaus
sisterfunkhaus

Did anyone actually think that reforming DISD would be easy? It is a school district in need of major changes. Those changes are going to be painful and piss a lot of people off. Miles needs a fair amount of time to implement his plan before we judge him. I for one back him getting rid of Willard. Her school has been one of the worst in the district for many years. It saddens me that the African American community does not want better for their kids. They should be incensed that their kids are in such a low performing school. Instead, they make it about race as usual and hold their kids back from getting the education they deserve.

dallas1845
dallas1845

Also, Texas public schools compare quite favorably to almost all other states when broken down into races. Massachusetts is the clear front-runner, but our Hispanic students do better than other states', our Black students do better than other states', and our white students do better than other states. We just have a significantly higher proportion of minority students, which usually perform lower than white students. FYI, California is the *worst* across all groups. Kind of shocking

mcdallas
mcdallas topcommenter

@lauans The essay competition is at another website.

mcdallas
mcdallas topcommenter

@Jonathan Green They're called "paragraphs".  Used to break up several different thoughts and allow the reader to more easily move through the material.

EastDallasDad
EastDallasDad

@primi_timpano Teachers had no input into the old plan or the new plan. If all we care about is results, why do teachers (even award winning Advanced Placement teachers with a lengthy record of success) have to follow Miles' system. To hell with them. Just let them teach. Accountability combined with micromanagement is a recipe for failure.

JimSX
JimSX topcommenter

@gpulte 

Miles is not in charge of parents. He is in charge of teachers. Teachers are the most important variable we can do anything about.  Why in the world wouldn't we concentrate our efforts on that variable?

Louisjkool
Louisjkool

@JMFitzmaurice Thank you for your letter; it totally sums up Miles "way or the highway".  Your son was learning for the joy of learning, being encouraged by the teachers.  He is imposing his will on top performing schools, not allowing teachers to teach.  He is an arrogant charlatan, bent on seriously disrupting an already fragile district.  Concerned parents, if they can afford it, will pull their kids from DISD.  Teachers who want to teach are leaving; although, some are waiting him out due to their loyalty to the students.  I'm curious which school your son attends - maybe Harry Stone??

casiepierce
casiepierce

@Sia1 Yeah I had to read over that line a few times, and figured it was an editing mistake.

joe.tone
joe.tone moderator

@Sia1 Ah hell. I'll fix this in the morning. This got through 47 editors. Thanks for being cool about it.

WhiteWhale
WhiteWhale

@Myrna.Minkoff-Katz Bullshit in New York the Teachers union has destroyed many reform efforts.  Hell it wasn't until last year that New York got rid of the rubber rooms where teachers that could not be trusted in the class room surfed the internet all day at full pay.

JimSX
JimSX topcommenter

@Myrna.Minkoff-Katz 

Yeah, I can't get over that line. He has no right to tell us what to do, because the man is not even a distant cousin of ours.

crg328
crg328

@sisterfunkhaus Try reforming a school district without teachers. My principal and the "executive directors" walking into my classroom on a weekly and bi-weekly basis have Never had to implement the ridiculous and taxing initiatives that DISD teachers have had to comply with this year. I love my students but not at the expense of my health therefore I will be joining the mass exodus of Dallas teachers. 

To quote @EastDallasDad "Reform? Yes. Miles? No." 

gpulte
gpulte

@sisterfunkhaus He cannot do anything without teachers and principals. This is not about improving education, this is about privatizing education.  

JimSX
JimSX topcommenter

@dallas1845 

Wait, let me think about this. You say our black students are the best. Our Hispanic students are the best. Our white students are the best. But when  you put them all together, our students fare poorly. I'm trying to decide if this is a Statistics 101 problem or a Logic 101 problem.

wbm100
wbm100

@JimSX @gpulte There are no consequences for bad student behavior -  that is THE problem in DISD. In the student handbook chewing gum is on the same tier as disrupting class. Reformers never mention it though, Never! Charter schools and private schools have strict discipline & consequences. Unless this elephant in the corner is not addressed, DISD will be mediocre at best.

EastDallasMom
EastDallasMom

@JimSX @gpulte We need to design a ménage à trois of reform, coming at us from all sides because, yes, it is his job to communicate  and engage the staff and parents, everyone's responsibilities.  We also have to accept that some parents are not capable and if we can't engage them, DISD has to do their job.  

EastDallasDad
EastDallasDad

@JimSX @gpulte He may not be "in charge of parents" but he is responsible for increasing parental involvement.

gpulte
gpulte

@JimSX @gpulte 

Why in the world? Because the teachers and principals are not the problem. To focus on teachers and principals will get you very limitted returns, especially when those teachers and principals are already micromanaged to death executing the Miles brand of the 'ed reform' agenda.  One can only squeeze so much juice out of a turnip Jim.   

JMFitzmaurice
JMFitzmaurice

@Louisjkool 

Sidney Lanier, the arts vanguard. One of the ways they had kept kids interested, and performance up even among the lower non vanguard grades, and in the non vanguard students was through this program. It is such a shame to see it discontinued, and the focus for drilling on tests come in.

I remember when we first looked there one of the teachers saying, "I find if I just educate my kids, the tests take care if themselves." I think this is the problem with Miles. It is not the end result that matters, it is the process - his process. It reminds me of what my dad, an oil exec once said. He was one of the youngest of the group of execs who had degrees in fields relating to the business. He had a degree in petroleum engineering. Over the years a lot of execs under him were replaced with younger men. They tended to have MBA's or Law degrees. I remember him saying, "They do study after study, spend forever looking at the data, come up with a plan, force everybody to follow the same plan, and then think they are done. They only care about procedure, not outcomes. They make the guys who are doing well already do worse." sound familiar? 

Oddly enough when he retired he went to work in a University. He claimed after dealing with people running educational institutions he would never complain about the level of incompetence in the business world again. It would be "like complaining about a flashlight after staring into a nuclear blast."

Sia1
Sia1

@joe.tone @Sia1 If you have any openings for an editor tomorrow, let me know.  I can start immediately.

Myrna.Minkoff-Katz
Myrna.Minkoff-Katz topcommenter

@WhiteWhale My comment was not meant to glorify New York teachers; it was merely to express how much stake native Dallasites have in the status quo.

Myrna.Minkoff-Katz
Myrna.Minkoff-Katz topcommenter

@JimSX Native Dallasite mentality about us "carpetbaggers" is ludicrous and self-defeating. Philadelphia was a poky, dull city before New Yorkers came in and transformed it into one of the most exciting and dynamic cities in America.

dkv_tx
dkv_tx

@JimSX  

dallas1845 is correct.  The other states benefit from having a lower minority population.  We are the top or close to the top on test scores for each individual minority group.   But, that is neither here nor there when you consider how poorly Dallas fares compared to Houston.

casiepierce
casiepierce

@Myrna.Minkoff-Katz @WhiteWhale This is an interesting comment. I wonder if you haven't noticed where your comment is parked and the plethora of other comments? On an article that just came out (in print) today? You're right, we don't care. And it shows.

casiepierce
casiepierce

@Myrna.Minkoff-Katz Would you just go back to your grand Mecca already and stop telling us all about how awful we are. WE KNOW WE HAVE PROBLEMS! So, run along!

dkv-tx
dkv-tx

@JimSX
@dkv_tx  I just looked at the most recent 2011 NAEP State Comparisons for Math in 8th Grade.  Texas is 10th for Whites, 2nd for Blacks behind Hawaii and 2nd for Hispanics behind Wyoming.   I don't see either state having the same numbers or problems as Texas.  Clearly we can do better in Dallas, if we could match the results from Houston and Austin that would be a start. Jim- here is the link for accessing the NAEP data: http://nces.ed.gov/nationsreportcard/naepdata/

JimSX
JimSX topcommenter

@dkv_tx 

At some point would one of you be willing to offer a link to the research about our kids doing better than the rest of the country? 

 
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