Zero Hour for Mike Miles in DISD's District 8

The special election for the school board will decide his fate. For now.

On November 5 in the Dallas school board's District 8 — sort of a big wobbly east, west and northwest Dallas gerrymander — voters will choose between two candidates, both of whom are exactly the kind of people everybody always says we need more of on the school board.

Kristi Lara, 36, and Miguel Solis, 27, are both smart and deeply thoughtful about education and the future of our society. Both are idealistic. Both are tough for their ages and intensely focused on children.

But this election will have little to do with them. In fact the election will run so narrowly down the same rut that school debate has occupied here for the last 20 years, many people may completely miss the stellar quality of these two candidates.

This election will be about Mike Miles. Our embattled superintendent is still with us only by virtue of a four-four tie on a school board that is one member shy of a full deck and will be until the special election brings a ninth to the table. If the ninth is pro-Miles (that would be Solis), he stays. If the new member is anti-Miles (that would be Lara), he goes. So, yes, that is what people will be talking and thinking about rather than the personal qualities of these two candidates.

But it's also a joke to think it's all about Miles, as if he stirred it up. This fight was going on long before Miles came to town a year and a half ago, going back at least to the early 1990s when Sandy Kress, an early pioneer of accountability-based school reform, was president of the Dallas school board.

When Kress started out as a reformer in Dallas, he drew bitter opposition from black leadership who saw his reform ideas as an assault on a race-based hegemony they felt they had won as tribute in the settlement of their federal desegregation suit. That settlement was not a victory for desegregation. In fact in the 1980s black Dallas leadership, acting through a group called the Black Coalition to Maximize Education, pulled the rug from under their own lawyers and cut a deal instead with the old white business leadership in Dallas.

Black leaders wanted an end to court-ordered busing. They didn't want their kids going to school with white kids. They struck a deal with the old white leadership instead to establish a separatist school system in southern Dallas based on minority sub-districts and special funding for what were called "learning centers" — schools with beefed-up budgets under direct control of the black community.

The problem with the learning centers over the years was that they did a lousy job teaching poor kids to read. The Kress reforms, first in Dallas and later statewide, were based on two assumptions: 1) It's too easy for adults to come up with self-serving reasons not to teach kids to read. 2) We need to teach kids to read.

The blowback to the Kress ideas helped form the same weird tripartite coalition in Austin back then that we can sort of see coming together again in Dallas today. The black community hated the Kress reforms because it saw them as a threat to their control of black schools. The teachers unions saw accountability measures based on student test scores as a threat to tenure guarantees they had achieved over a long period of time in a right-to-work state. Ultra-conservative whites saw testing as a waste of money because they didn't believe you could teach poor minority kids to read anyway.

From that math then-Governor Ann Richards, the last Democrat to occupy the office, worked a solution that meant to hell with Kress and to hell with school reform. In 1993 when Kress appeared before a Texas House Education Committee, Richards pulled the rug from under him, rolled him up in the rug and tossed him to the wolves like a big burrito. No great surprise that Kress later went to work for George W. Bush as one of his top education advisers, first in Austin, later in Washington.

All of these same issues are still in play and unresolved in Dallas today. The opponents of reform are working overtime to paint the conflict as driven solely by Miles' personality — a claim absurd on its face when placed in the historical context. And the fact that the history is so long, so deep and so bad is why voters will be unable to focus on anything else in the upcoming District 8 race.

Lara, the anti-Miles candidate, is a community organizer and social activist. She was one of the orange horde who went to Austin to support the Wendy Davis filibuster. She speaks powerfully about the role of family background in the destinies of public school students and the importance of getting all communities to invest their hearts and souls in the schools.

Solis, son of a public school teacher, has already taught in a DISD school himself, left to get a master's degree at Harvard and now has returned to Dallas to make a difference. He is committed to the idea that every kid can be brought to the level of literacy and competence that enables a decent, productive life.

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13 comments
Gangy
Gangy

I don't know Solis.  I do know Lara.  She is the epitome of integrity and social responsibility.  She is also quite sharp.  District 8 should grab her up!

Momto3inDISD
Momto3inDISD

The Dallas Morning News reported that Elizabeth Jones voted for KEEPING Miles, not firing him, so I think the political alignments discussed in this article may not be correct

Momto3inDISD
Momto3inDISD

according to the Dallas Morning News, Elizabeth Jones voted for KEEPING Miles, not firing him.  So I think the board politics and alignments as set forth in this article are somwhat misleading

bbetzen
bbetzen

What does it say about the Medrano family if what Jim says is true and that they are ultimately supporting Mike Miles who pushed out of their principal positions all four of the most prominent and productive Hispanic Principals in recent DISD history? Three no longer even work for DISD due to their treatment by Miles.  See http://dallasmorningviewsblog.dallasnews.com/2013/08/three-of-our-four-annointed-super-principals-have-been-drummed-out-of-disd.html/

It is also under Mike Miles that after years of constantly increasing availablity of ACT testing for Hispanic seniors that his first year in DISD the percentage went down by 24%, along with a 21% drop in Black seniors able to take the ACT, while Anglo non-Hispanic students percentage continued a slight increase?   Does this sound to you like a good way to raise the average ACT score for DISD?  

It is similar to what Mike Miles did in Colorado when senior enrollment dropped 33% during his 6 years as superintendent in a district with a growing family population.  See http://schoolarchiveproject.blogspot.com/2013/05/damage-by-mike-miles-in-colorado.html

Cliffhanger
Cliffhanger

So-called accountability based reform hasn't worked ANYWHERE. The problem is that we have a split from those profit from faux reforms and those who profit from the status quo, and they're the ones who bankroll the elections of our useless school board.

The problem with real, actual reform is that it builds collaborative teaching efforts through shared information, stability, continuing education for teachers and empowering principals and teachers instead of administrators and consultants.

 


EastDallasDad
EastDallasDad

I'd like to know more about this "tenure" in DISD? A couple of years ago the district placed every teacher on one year contracts. At one time there were two and three year contracts but I'm not aware of tenure ever existing in DISD. I saw my principal fire numerous teachers over the years too.

I'm assuming you mean tenure as it is usually defined in this context: "a permanent post, esp. as a teacher or professor."

eastdallascam
eastdallascam


Jim, just curious about your thoughts - does the fact that Miguel Solis worked as Miles' special assistant, within the last year, raise any concerns for you? 

While only time will tell, my initial concern is that Solis may act on the school board with special consideration to Miles rather than District 8's constituents. In addition, Solis' limited educational experience - as a teacher, principal, or otherwise - I find concerning as well. Based on the info I could find quickly, he graduated from Lamar in '08, then went to Harvard 2011-2012. It seems there are only a couple years there he could have spent working directly in DISD schools

IanDailey
IanDailey

@eastdallascam From a personal perspective, I don't believe that you need to be a teacher for 10 years to understand the problems at the classroom level, I would hazard a guess just one term would provide that (unfortunately), and clearly Miguel has more than that.  However, my quick research suggests that Lara has no experience in Dallas ISD (as a teacher, principal etc.).  So the direct comparison on that level between the two is rather telling. 

Lara's experience in education centers around being an academic advisor, full disclosure I can not find out where that was performed, but I know it was not within Dallas ISD. 

So Miguel carries both classroom and operational experience of Dallas ISD specifically, I think that carries the advantage to me.  As for his connection to Miles, he also left that position, so an inference that he would side with Miles might in fact be the exact opposite. 

I have had the good fortune to meet both candidates, as an individual I believe both to be level headed, and passionate about the children they are seeking to serve.  However from an experiental level Miguel pulls ahead significantly. 

EastDallasDad
EastDallasDad

@IanDailey  I taught for a decade and two years isn't enough experience in the classroom. It takes somewhere between 3 to 5 years to really know what you're doing and that's also when the research says you become most effective.

IanDailey
IanDailey

Or in 2004, Mathematica Policy Research, Inc. found that students of Teach For America corps members made at least as much progress in reading as would be expected and attained significantly greater gains in math compared with students of other teachers, including veteran and certified teachers.

Or according to studies about the impact of different teacher-preparation programs in Louisiana, North Carolina, and Tennessee. Each of these statewide studies, conducted between 2009 and 2012, found that corps members often help their students achieve academic gains at rates equal to or larger than those for students of more veteran teachers.

IanDailey
IanDailey

As to the data about experienced teachers versus younger/less experienced teachers ... (and please don't mistake this for my suggesting experienced teachers aren't amazing, for surely they are ... but new methods of instruction allow us to accelerate the new generation of teachers)

In 2013, the U.S. Department of Education's Institute of Education Sciences, performed by Mathematica Policy Research, concluded that Teach For America teachers were more effective than other teachers at their schools. The increase in student performance was roughly equivalent to 2.6 months of additional schooling.

IanDailey
IanDailey

Firstly, thank you for your service as a teacher, truly the most noble of all professions, and one that is too often under appreciated.

I don't believe that I stated it took that long to become a great teacher (although fundamentally I disagree with your assertion, and the data supports that young, passionate teachers have an equal or greater effect on a childs progress, the easiest way to look at this data is to consider TFA. I can totally understand those who dislike the TFA model, however their academic results speak volumes (and the research models undertaken are "gold standard") have been proven consistently, depsite the other criticisms).

However, before we get to that, I actually stated that it takes a semester to learn the deficiencies of the system, or the "pain points" of the District, I don't know many teachers who would disagree with that assertion, otherwise it's akin to that your first few years you are in a magical world where all is good and then all of sudden a new district appears that is dysfunctional

 
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