What the Numbers Say (and What Critics Won't) about Mike Miles' Tenure in Colorado

A couple weeks back, a retired Dallas businessman named Don Williams published a set of three academic studies he commissioned at his own expense, all claiming to present evidence that Dallas ISD Superintendent Mike Miles is a failure.

I was impressed that Williams was able to commission a study by an associate professor at the University of Texas: Julian Vasquez Heilig, a professor in the education school and the proprietor of a blog called "Cloaking Inequity," which chronicles education reform.

Heilig is a guy to take seriously, so I paid attention when I saw he was making an argument I'd always dismissed when it came, as it had before exclusively, from a retired Dallas schoolteacher and activist named Bill Betzen. Betzen has been saying for a year that he has numbers that show Miles was a failure during his six-year tenure as superintendent of a suburban school district in Harrison, Colorado.

Betzen and I are not statisticians. Heilig is. When I saw that Heilig was taking on the Miles-botched-Harrison argument, I was hopeful he would supply some of the answers I had never been able to get from Betzen.

For example: Betzen has argued that the size of the senior class in Harrison suffered a serious decrease, going down by almost 33 percent over Miles' tenure. And he has numbers to prove it. Along with the decrease in senior enrollment was a decrease in the number of seniors taking SAT and ACT tests for college entrance.

What Betzen is suggesting is that Miles somehow ran students out of town if he thought they might turn out to be low scorers on tests. I asked him if he had any evidence to prove his allegation. He said, "[Miles] was, I am told, pushing out kids that were lower-scoring. Principals were allegedly told to push out such kids. I only have that secondhand, it is only allegations." What a remarkable admission!

More recently, Betzen has compiled numbers to show that the number of black and Hispanic high school students in Dallas who took the SAT and ACT college entrance exams went down during Miles' first year as superintendent here. Again, I've asked what that has to do with Miles and I have not received an answer.

I'm not alone in this. I spoke with Dallas schools spokesman Jon Dahlander last week, to ask if the district had any explanation for the decrease in minority SAT and ACT test takers that Betzen has documented. He said no, and then he told me he and Betzen had been carrying on a running dialogue.

"I told him," Dahlander said, "'If you can find any kind of directive or any kind of action by the superintendent to the staff to discourage kids from taking the ACT, bring it to me. I want to know. I really want to know. Short of that, all we have is some data showing that fewer kids took the ACT, and there's no real explanation for it.'

"He said, 'You're right, I haven't been able to find a fire, but there's a lot of smoke.' I said, 'OK, well show me the fire, and then you might have something.'"

When I saw the study by UT's Heilig, and saw he also was referencing the decline in senior class enrollment in Harrison under Miles, my hope was that Heilig was going to bring the heat — the numbers and the causal connections that give some useful meaning to the issue. Imagine my disappointment, then, when Heilig merely repeated Betzen's arguments, almost word for word, and then said in a footnote: "The following analysis was conducted by retired Dallas ISD teacher, Bill Betzen."

There is a more fundamental problem with the work Betzen, Heilig and other Miles critics have done to analyze his tenure in Colorado. None of them cites or seems to have seriously examined the one authoritative source of data by which Miles' tenure must be measured first — the annual student achievement test data compiled and published by the Colorado Department of Education.

Colorado does what Texas does: spends vast sums testing almost every kid in the state on reading, writing, math and science in order to track performance. As in Texas, all the key evaluations of school districts in Colorado are benchmarked to the annual test data.

I'm not arguing that annual achievement tests are the end of any story about education. As Michael McNaughton, another local activist and Miles critic, wrote to me in an email: "I use two different groups of professional education consultants that parse this stuff out for us for a fee because it is far more complicated than simply grabbing some numbers from the edu website and drawing blanket conclusions. ... You might want to try that approach someday if you are really interested in education issues."

Which is fair. But the numbers are still significant, and that's why Betzen, Heilig or McNaughton can't bring forward their complicated and sometimes obscure criticisms of Miles' tenure in Harrison without looking at the state data in Colorado first. The state data paint a picture of unmistakable and even dramatic success in Harrison on Miles' watch.

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31 comments
Subnx
Subnx

Why take the ACT or the SAT if you know you can't afford to go to college? Our state universities have lost their way chasing rankings and prestige instead of providing affordable education to the kids.

eastdallascam
eastdallascam

Jim, it may not surprise you that I am left with a some questions after reading this article. I genuinely look forward to your responses.

1)"I'm not arguing that annual achievement tests are the end of any story about education."

- Just after reading this I wondered to myself, "What is Jim arguing here?" The answer remains unclear to me, as the rest of the article primarily focused on said set of data.

2) "The state data paint a picture of unmistakable and even dramatic success in Harrison on Miles' watch."

- Leading up to this quote in the article, your writing seems to lambaste Betzen and Helig for not being able to provide concrete connections between DISD data and any or one of Miles' directives or actions. The remainder of your article lauded the successes of the Harrison district under Miles as evidenced in the CO state data; however, the article does not mention one action or directive from Miles' suggesting such improvements are the result of his leadership. I found this contradiction seriously confusing. Perhaps you can make sense of it for your readers.

3) From where does the data come from for Helig's and Betzen's "labored and unfocused statistical smoke shows?" Is there a reason their source or sources are less reliable or credible than CO state data? I ask because the your writing in this article makes it sound this way.

Keep up the good work.

mcdallas
mcdallas

Article about DISD = over 200 comments.  Guaranteed.  only 177 left (if my math's right.  I went to school in Dallas)

ChristianY
ChristianY

 @JimSX  Keep up the good work. These guys are like the Tea Party of education. They want you to believe that Miles is the anti-Christ and he is out to get the teachers and low performing students. What I find interesting is that they tell you how much chaos and low morale there is in the schools yet when you go to meetings there are only 3 of them unless Miles or their friends might be fired and then you have 30 show up. The district has 9,800 teachers and they represent a very small number of them. Not to mention how much of their arguments are based on assumption. This is what Miles/ObamaCare is going to do to us if we don't stop them immediately. 

bbetzen
bbetzen

Thank you Professor Heilig.  I have posted the comment below at your excellent article, but thought it may be of interest to some on this site.  I look forward to your answer. 

Julian, thank you for your excellent work. Another factor in the 8th grade scores is that 2012/13 was the year that the final step was taken in the 7 year transfer process of all 6th grades being moved from elementary schools and into middle schools in DISD. The process started in 2006/07. I have studied how 6th grade discipline problems suddenly exploded with these moves, starting with a 130% increase from the 5th grade levels in 2006/07 to a 440% increase in 2012/13. See http://schoolarchiveproject.blogspot.com/2013/03/middle-school-chaos.html

None of this process has anything to do with Mr. Miles as it all started long before he came to Dallas, but it may help explain why 8th grade scores went up in 2012/13. That year the final transitions of the last approximately 30% of sixth graders were moved into middle schools. That immediately increased the status of more 8th graders who were now on “top” of a larger “totem pole.” I have seen this phenomenon addressed in research before where students in the highest grade in a school perform better when in the top grade. What is that called? Could that have been a factor for the 8th grade last year here in DISD?

Momto3inDISD
Momto3inDISD

at our high school, all juniors are taking the SAT in February - paid for by the District.

Waiting til Senior year is a little late - taking it spring of Jr year gives students time to improve in their week areas before college applications are due and then re-take the test.

joyce.foreman
joyce.foreman

"One last wrinkle in the matter of declining minority SAT and ACT test takers in Dallas under Miles. Miles recently persuaded the school board to fund the SAT test for all DISD seniors — something never done before in Dallas — so that for the first time, next year, every single senior will take it."

SAT test are not mandated and every senior does not have to take the test because the district spent money on taking the test. FACT...... 

rusknative
rusknative

hey betzen....if you are so smart, then why aren't you rich.....that was what we asked one of our old foggie highschool teachers back in 1956 when we were faced with merely opinions pretending to be facts.  so how about it....who made you winner of the 64 Thousand Dollar Question?

JimSX
JimSX topcommenter

There's a whole table of numbers with the print piece that we are trying to get attached to this online version. 

bbetzen
bbetzen

Jim, do you think it is an accident that the Cumulative Promotion Index in Harrison dropped 15 percentage points under Mike Miles and now, this year, for the first time since 2006, the CPI is going down in DISD?   Since 2006 DISD has gone from a 40.7% CPI to the 2012 CPI of 65.8%.  That is one reason our AVERAGE test scores were NOT going up.  There were more students to average in.  DISD wanted that!   We were not pushing out low scoring kids but encouraging them to stay.  If we had strictly interpreted passing scores, and not allowing students to pass to the next grade, students would have been leaving in the higher grades as they did in Harrison.   That appears to be happening now in DISD and the CPI is going to be going down over two full percentage points, to the lowest level since 2009!

Mike Miles is focused on testing.  I think it is better to be focused on kids.  Look at this chart that shows what Miles did in Harrison and what he is now doing in Dallas ISD:  http://schoolarchiveproject.blogspot.com/2013/10/mike-miles-resume-focusing-on-dropout.html

bbetzen
bbetzen

Jim, you and I both need to be very clear with the public as to what are allegations and what are facts. Your article is confusing and leaves people with the idea that the 33% decrease in senior class enrollment during Mike Miles 6 years in Harrison was an allegation.  It is not.  That is a fact.  It is also a fact documented in the public enrollment charts on the districts web site that all high school enrollment went down about 26%.   It is also a fact that families were moving into the district.  How else could elementary school enrollment go up over 20%?   Why were high school students leaving the district?   Did the DISD Board get an answer to that question before they hired Miles?   Now that the DISD senior class enrollment is going down for the first time in 6 years, and going down by 5.5%, there may be more interest in getting the answer to that question.  It's just a little late.

One simple way to get rid of low scoring students is to be very firm in not allowing students unable to pass state exams to pass to the next grade.  A strict interpretation of those standards would easily raise test scores.   If you ignore graduation rates and push for high scores in tests, you will get high scores on tests at the cost of students attrition.  That is what happened in Harrison and it appears it is starting in Dallas ISD. to see more of the tragic data about Harrison, and what is now beginning to happen in Dallas, see http://schoolarchiveproject.blogspot.com/

bbetzen
bbetzen

Jim, here is what I wrote in an email to you that you appear to have ignored:

“The trick that Miles has consistently done is too narrow the number of students being tested. You may want to go back and check the numbers of kids tested each year. If it is not an increase each year especially in the elementary grades in Harrison, then there is a major problem. If it does not equal the full enrollment at Harrison in those grades each year, then there is a problem. For the seniors and the high school students, he had a decrease in the enrollment which is the same thing. He was, I am told, pushing out kids that were lower scoring. Principles were allegedly told to do push out such kids. I only have that second hand, it is only allegations . But sadly it is very consistent with the data. Especially the data in District 11 to the north where ACT scores went down. and where the majority of the kids leaving Harrison transferred to.”

The District 11 scores going down after they accepted so many Harrison transfers is not an issue for you pointing to low scoring students being pushed out of Harrison?

MaxNoDifference
MaxNoDifference

At last the the fog is starting to clear around the battlefield as the various participants are being sorted into sides.  To quote Walt Kelly: " We have met the enemy and he is us."

bbetzen
bbetzen

@eastdallascam Jim's writing on Miles has amazed me as I had been a fan of his for years, but this was unusual.  The data I used is the original and simple enrollment data on the Harrison and DISD web sites.  It is reliable, solid, and shows massive students attrition in Harrison that nobody debates.   What caused the attrition is debated, and that is understandable.  But it happened there, and now, suddenly, it is happening in Dallas.   That is a major indication that something is not going right.   I can only guess as to what that is, but something is not right.

JimSX
JimSX topcommenter

@ChristianY @JimSX 

Take Michael McNaughton, Angela Davis, Rena Honea, Bill Betzen, Joyce Foreman and about six other people out of the picture, and the entire mass movement against Miles disappears.

Flabbergasted
Flabbergasted

The teachers are afraid of losing their jobs. Everyone knows that. To deny that there is fear of losing one's job, or the reality that around two thousand teachers had enough and left DISD, is to be  a well paid shill.

JimSX
JimSX topcommenter

@bbetzen 

Heilig/Betzen:

Why isn't this the honest approach? 1) Look at the state data. 2) Report what the data show. 3) Argue with the data.

You guys didn't even look at it.  Instead you both started out with your butterfly nets catching the numbers that worked for you.

How is that a fair investigation? How is that scholarship?

JimSX
JimSX topcommenter

@jheilig @ProfessorJVH

Professor Heilig, here is the full text of my original email to you:

To: Dr. Julian Vasquez Heilig, Lindsay Redd, M.A, Dr. Ruth Vail.

From: Jim Schutze, investigative columnist, The Dallas Observer

Re: Digging into Data and Evidence: Mike Miles, Dallas ISD, and Trickle-Down Education Reform

I am working on a story about your report, “Digging into data.” I can't find any evidence that you looked at or took into account student achievement data from the Colorado Department of Education. I'm sure this is my own oversight or misreading of your article.

I do note, however, that the state data would seem to directly contravene the points you make in your article, which suggests students fared poorly under the Miles regime in Harrison.

It's a fairly glaring omission, if it's not just my own mistake, especially in an article in which your own academic institutional affiliations are cited to lend credence.

In fact any serious reference to the Colorado data would seem to refute your most important conclusions. By all the metrics I can find, student achievement in Harrison far outpaced achievement statewide in the same time period.

I hope one or more of you can call or contact me to help with this point. I bet it's there and I'm just not seeing it. My apologies if that's the case. My writing deadline for this story is the end of the day Thursday.

I can be reached at jim.schutze@dallasobserver.com. Let's arrange a time to talk. Thank you.  

Here is the quotation of that email that you fabricated: "I am working on a story [I actually mean opinion column] about your report, 'Digging into data.'"

I don't know how important a fabrication it is. It's just a fabrication. You also excised all of the portions of my email where I told you I thought it was possible I was not reading your report properly and asked for your help in getting it right. The fact that you were afraid to talk to me about it  makes me think I read everything exactly right. 

bbetzen
bbetzen

@JimSX Jim, I hope your numbers will include full enrollment numbers and the number of students from that full enrollment that actually took the test for all the years in question.   Seeing the fluctuations from year to year as the claimed increases in grades are made will be important. Also, as you suggested in your comments, and I agree, it is certainly good to also know the enrollment fluctuations year to year in all surrounding districts.  If a do-not-pass-do-not-promote policy is in effect it would move population to other districts or other schools.   Such a policy would certainly raise grades at the cost of a higher student attrition.   It is very possible that is the dynamic we are looking at.

JimSX
JimSX topcommenter

@bbetzen 

Bill, the allegation you are making here is not that students left Harrison. It is that Mike Miles pushed students out of Harrison. Otherwise all of your numbers are meaningless dreck.

Let's explore the enormous range of reasons and factors that might have contributed to a population shift. One is that other districts in that region also experienced declines, so maybe there was something big going on in the region that was entirely external to the schools. Like a shift in the economy? In employment maybe?

Maybe there was something going on internally in the school district like a reduction in social promotions of woefully behind-grade-level students, which, of course, would produce more drop-outs.

Bill, maybe it ad something to do with sun-spots. But you are throwing a handful of dot-points on the page and then drawing a line through them to show that Mike Miles is the causal theme of the numbers. Doing it with a lot of nudge-nudge wink-wink (hey man, there's smoke here so maybe there's fire) is deeply intellectually dishonest.

Look, let me tell you something.  If a superintendent of schools were stupid enough to railroad his own students all the way out of town by fiat and policy and then come to Dallas in this especially poisonous atmosphere and try the same shit, he'd get caught.  Jesus Christ, Bill, he can't even change the board agenda without getting a special investigation of it by a former US Attorney. If he did any of the stuff you suggest he has done, somebody would have ratted out his ass big-time by now.

You know why you don't have any proof of your allegations? because there isn't any. All of this stuff you have tossed out is just fool's work. It's nothing. It's character assassination based on random crap analysis.

I asked you if you had any proof That Miles had done any of what you keep saying he has done. You admitted you do not. Do you still not get how bad this makes you look?  

bvckvs
bvckvs topcommenter

@bbetzen @eastdallascam 

Betzen,

That part where you said, "I can only guess" is the only true statement you've made.

But here's something nobody has to guess about - he fought corruption from the South Dallas evangelical community, and he stood up to false accusations (from scumbags like you)... and he came out clean.

The only rule he broke was when he unilaterally ended a corrupt practice.  The condemnation he got for that (from scumbags like you), he has every right to wear as a badge of honor.

MichaelMacNaughton
MichaelMacNaughton

@JimSX 

We are just the tip of an iceberg.  The people who believe that Miles is not the right leader for the district are not going to go away.

jheilig
jheilig

@JimSX @jheilig @ProfessorJVH I posted a screenshot of your email days ago on Cloaking Inequity. http://cloakinginequity.com/2013/10/09/drama-from-the-mailbag-286-and-a-broad-alums-track-record/

So you did ask about the use of the brackets. A good place to start to understand the use of brackets in writing is here: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Bracket

Wikipedia: "Square brackets – also called crotchets or simply brackets (US)  – are mainly used to insert explanatory material or to mark where a passage was omitted from an original material by someone other than the original author, or to mark modifications in quotations" 

Which means I never attributed the information in the brackets to you. It was my own modification of your quotation. That is why and how you use brackets in writing.

It's not "fabrication"— it's grammar.

Also, if you want a school-level t-test analysis of two years of Colorado data, email me a school-level excel or spss dataset of test scores for all schools and student groups in Harrison. We have already conducted that statistical analysis of the Dallas STAAR and EOC data analyses: http://cloakinginequity.com/2013/10/09/drama-from-the-mailbag-286-and-a-broad-alums-track-record/ 

Why you are still talking about Harrison data? We already statistically analyzed the Dallas data— so you have me stumped. I suspect Dallas ISD student achievement is more important to the Dallas community than a community in Colorado.


bbetzen
bbetzen

Jim, whenever students begin to disappear from school enrollment records, and there are no population movements to go along with it such as employment losses in the area, that is a red flag.   When you have elementary enrollment growing over 20% and high school enrollment goes the other direction, decreasing 33% over 6 years, that is a major indication of problems.  There were demonstrations in Colorado Springs.  Thousands were angry about what was happening.  That is now happening in Dallas, but we will not tolerate the pushing of such great numbers of our students out of high school!

Yes, higher SAT/ACT scores are good, but we have to work on student motivation first and not enough of that is being done.  The truth of life in this world must be placed front and center more often. Nothing happens overnight that is truly positive.  It takes work and time. Better than pushing our kids out of school is to simply tell them the truth about life.  "Low grades will not make it the best world possible for you."  90% of the actions Miles it taking were being pursued before he arrived.   But the new and oppressive "busy work" management pressure on teachers and students is not positive, nor necessary.  Morale in DISD has never been worse!

JimSX
JimSX topcommenter

@jheilig

Heilig, I’m sorry, I’m sure all of this feels pretty muddy and bloody to you. Look, I’m going to guess that, in spite of the glamor-shot pose on your blog, you really don’t have a lot of street in you, so you don’t understand that you can’t jump into a bitter local political fight like this one in Dallas and then just announce that you’re done. Once you’re in it, you’re in it. The other folks in the fight will let you know when you’re done.

You would have no vulnerabilities here if you had produced a piece of genuine scholarship for the rich guy in Santa Fe who “published” your work. But you offered warmed-over maxims and then cited as your authority a gad-fly in Dallas who admits he’s only guessing. You don’t even leave your opponents an option: nobody could let a wide-open opportunity like that slide by in a fight.

This kind of debate in the political marketplace is down and dirty, I know, but that’s something you should have figured out before you accepted the businessman’s invitation. By the way, at a time when ed schools are coming increased critical scrutiny (see Bill Keller in today’s “Times, “An Industry of Mediocrity, “http://www.nytimes.com/2013/10/21/opinion/keller-an-industry-of-mediocrity.html?ref=opinion&_r=0) you do your colleagues no favors by dragging your credentials and their name through this particular trailer park.

Yup, it’s a trailer park. So, tell me again: why are you here?  

jheilig
jheilig

Remind me not to respond to you again because it's clearly not productive.

JimSX
JimSX topcommenter

@jheilig @JimSX @ProfessorJVH 

Email you a spreadsheet? How about you find your way to the Colorado Department of Education all on your lonesome and build your own spreadsheet? And, please, really, you're going to talk to me about grammar? Your blog is a grammarian's nightmare. Your explanation of the use of brackets to set off explanatory information is ludicrous. In that case, the line inside your brackets would have started off, "He actually means...," not "I actually mean..." The first person in that context connotes quotation. I will say this in your defense: your writing is so incredibly sloppy that I'm willing to concede you may not have realized what you were doing was fabricating a quote. But you were fabricating a quote. You don't know grammar, my friend, and, anyway, grammar does not trump meaning.

bbetzen
bbetzen

@Catbird @bbetzen Don't let them pass to the next grade.  How long do you think they will stay around?

Catbird
Catbird

@bbetzen Curious, how wold an administrator go about  "pushing" under-performing students out of  a high school? What is the mechanics of it? Is there an example you can cite?

 
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