DISD Home-rule Supporters Should Step into the Light

DISD Home-rule Supporters Should Step into the Light
Daniel Fishel
 UPDATED MAY 1 2014:

What is it about? Oh, it's a group of people, some of whom are smart and committed to public education, who have found a kind of loophole in state law that would allow Dallas to set up a "home-rule" or rogue public school system, and, by the way, given the condition of public education generally in Texas, "rogue" is a compliment. Home rule would allow Dallas to devise its own system of governance for schools — elected board, appointed board, board made up solely of professional circus clowns, whatever. The mayor could make the appointments or it could be left to Pete Delkus. Whatever system Dallas devised would have to be approved by local voters in an election with a turnout of at least 25 percent of qualified voters.

The petition drive appeared out of nowhere just before the March 4 primary elections. So-called "volunteers" showed up at the polls gathering signatures required by state law to kick off the home-rule process. Reporters had to scratch around to find who was behind all of it, and most of the people whom they did find declined to talk.

The shadowy billionaire bankrolling part of it is John Arnold, a former Enron person. Since Enron, Arnold has been active in public pension reform issues. He also has been a generous benefactor of preschool programs. His detractors argue that the preschool thing is just cover for a conservative agenda — a theory with too many moving parts. If all he cares about is the conservative agenda, why not just hang on to his money and tell people to kiss his ass?

But I do think the ruling paradigm among mainstream media types concerning education reform and who's for it is seriously skewed and gets in the way of good reporting. The fact that this guy is rich and maybe conservative in no way rules out his being sincerely committed to education reform, and, look, I am saying this as a lifelong hippie libtard myself. Being liberal or "progressive" in no way puts a person on the side of goodness and light here.

The biggest coalition of forces against reform — the people who will find reasons all day long why you cannot teach poor black or Hispanic kids in tough urban neighborhoods — are arrayed around what are typically taken for liberal forces. In Dallas I'm talking about the teachers unions and elected black leadership dependent on the school system for jobs.

It's true nationally, as well. Diane Ravitch, the education expert who must have a condo on the road to Damascus, has now turned against reform, which she formerly championed, arguing the same thing too many reporters believe, that reform is a sinister plot by the mega-rich to take over urban public school systems. It's a thesis that refuses to answer its own core question: Why?

She and many liberals will tell you that the only way to help poor kids is to eliminate poverty. That's a fundamentally stupid assertion, for two reasons. First, we tried that with LBJ's War on Poverty, and it did not work. There seems to be something about poverty that you can't lift other people out of. They have to lift themselves.

Secondly, you can too teach very poor kids from really tough backgrounds to read and do numbers by the end of third grade. It's a lie that you can't. The research and the data proving you can are overwhelming, and the people who started putting that all together were a bunch of damn Republicans under George W. Bush when he was governor of Texas, and don't I hate that, you bet I do, but there it is.

But, wait, again. Home rule, what home, what rule? What is it for? I had a talk last week with Mike Morath, a member of the Dallas school board who is the one who really came up with this idea. By the way, he's one of these prematurely retired rich guys devoting his life to school reform for reasons that I have been forced grudgingly to accept are sincere and moral.

Morath starts with the numbers. From 1996 to 2012, SAT achievement gaps between white and black students and between white and Hispanic students in Dallas public schools have soared far above the statewide gaps. The percentage of minority high school senior students in Dallas schools capable of achieving what the state considers a passing SAT score has hovered between 2.5 and 5 percent.

So basically the Dallas school board just needs to shut up. There is not one thing they can say to make that utterly inexcusable and intolerable failure go away. Yes, the current reform superintendent is finally nudging the dial upward, but only after he survived a concerted attempt by the teachers unions and by elected black leadership in and out of the school district to get him fired.

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This is truly the problem. Both parties have chosen the same stupid path for education. They are essentially not restructuring public education but dismantling it. I would never want our schools to go back to a time when only the “elite” are educated.


There are so many problems with this " home-rule" idea that people are not even thinking about. For one thing the privatizing of schools is so wrong. Students are not a product. The perfect example of the danger of privatization is with prisons and the juvenile correctional centers. If someone is unaware of the dangers then I suggest they investigate. I also wonder if the average citizen is aware that more money is spent on prisoners than our students, but complain that too much money is already spent on education, but explain to me, how prisoners deserve to be funded more than our students. 

Another thing people need to evaluate is what will happen to the students, like other charter schools they can deny students enrollment, I guess if the parents pay more money they can get accepted.  I'm curious to find out if schools are privatized, does that mean I won't have pay school taxes anymore. I have read that they no longer have to control how many students are in the classroom, so I guess that will mean larger classes and fewer teachers, because all I ever read about is the complaining about teachers. Everyone seems to complain about teachers, and yet the same ones want to give guns to teachers, go figure! The truth is that they just want to fire teachers so they can't get to retirement because the guy from Enron has ended that for his people and probably got a bonus. Most people know teachers hired today don't have the staying power because the money is not worth the headaches and have a 5 year turnaround. I have rarely met incompetent teachers, sure there are some, but instead of helping them they get broken by adding behavior problems, larger classes, and are harassed by administrators and students know which teachers are disliked by administrators. I have seen that a lot and it's a shame. 

But the last consideration is that the Bush family has a charter school business. They seem to want to dissolve public education, but I'm sure they still want the tax payers money. Explain to me, how is this is  going to be profitable because the Bush family only cares about money, after all they made a killing (no pun intended) off the wars W started. I guess it will be profitable if they charge parents and cut teachers pay and have them work a longer year with no pay increase. 

Finally, the curriculum, the textbooks and exactly what information will they be programming into the children, because this is going on right now. I can only assume it will be biased and have an agenda all their own. So I hope voters will really think about the consequences of this proposal.

Teachers need to be empowered not subjected to abuse . Students tell me all the time which teachers are dislike by administrators and ergo discipline problems. Teachers that are liked and supported by administrators don't have these problems because students know they will lose the argument and so they behave. 

 The majority of students are so great that it saddens me that they will lose out of an education if this passes. It has been proven that charter schools are not the panacea for education. TEA has already shut down several charter schools, but now DISD wants to become a charter district. NO!

 Ask yourself, why is a billionaire from Enron so interested in "home rule"? I'm sure making money is involved.

 I am very disappointed that the mayor is for this, but I guess that it is because he would be helping to run it and ergo there is money in it for him in as well, so not only will he be earning money in his business, as mayor and then as a leader in the schools. I doubt if he would be so interested if he wasn't going to make money, after all he is a republican and making money is what they believe in and worship.

  If home rule wasn't going to be profitable, do you think they would be doing it?  I think not! So voters check out everything before drinking the Kool Aid they are offering to heal education. Just saying! 


Schools are not pizzerias. Children are not pizzas. 

Privatizing schools to force longer working hours on fewer teachers is proven to hammer academic performance of students.

Children are not pizzas who can be assembled by oppressed workers for the profit of the pizza shop-owning corporation. 

Education is not an assembly-line process.  

Get real.


Dallas Morning News article on the front page today, March 15, suggests that elections go away with "home rule."  Elections out the window, democratic institutions done away with.

Whose home, again?


We agree that education is the most critical issue defining our success as a city and that every child in Dallas ISD deserves a quality education that prepares them for college, the workforce and life in general. We know that big changes are needed, and Home Rule is an important tool provided by the Legislature to make those big changes.  Support Our Public Schools is just opening the door with the petition drive, from there, like Mr. Schutze wrote, "The state law is written so that the process has to be one of deliberation and discovery, ultimately voted on by the people."



You wrote: "She and many liberals will tell you that the only way to help poor kids is to eliminate poverty. That's a fundamentally stupid assertion, for two reasons. First, we tried that with LBJ's War on Poverty, and it did not work. There seems to be something about poverty that you can't lift other people out of. They have to lift themselves."

1.  But if you read Ravitch -- as all of us at the U.S. Department of Education did back in the Reagan years, and many of us do still (and so should you) -- she will spell out the damage "reform" efforts have done to schools, to the schools' ability to teach kids to read, and to the damage it does to discussion to ignore the massive gains made in teaching poor kids, and instead claiming falsely that public schools are failing.

Did you read Ravitch's book, <i>Reign of Error?"</i>  If Ravitch does have an encampment on the Road to Damascus, it's because she's good at making blinded people see.  She goes where the need is.

2.  Who said the War on Poverty didn't work?  You didn't check their numbers?  Why should we trust you to check the numbers on anything, then?

Johnson's Great Society programs made massive improvements in education in the U.S., especially in educational achievement among poor, middle class, women, and minorities.  It was so successful, in fact, that there are now industries built around trying to mine profits out of the success. 

Public education is the ladder many people in poverty use to climb out, and pull their families up with them.  It proved successful between 1964 and 1983 (the year of the report of the Committee on Excellence in Education), and it's been successful up to the present day, though recent efforts to dismantle the Great Society's education improvements have been too successful in too many cases, and have stunted the ability of these programs to be wildly successful.

Don't fall victim to hoaxes, don't let those who have worked so hard to kill anti-poverty programs and public education, then turn around and claim their work has succeeded, so 'finish the victims off.'

Chutzpah, you know:  The guy convicted of murdering his parents who then asks for mercy in sentencing on the grounds that he has been orphaned.

It's telling that the chief advantage cited for this hostile, private takeover of Dallas schools is the ability to abandon the scorecards by which you've indicted the district. With those measures gone, how could anyone ever measure success?  (That is not to say that efforts to increase "accountability" are not malicious, misdirected and wasteful of public monies; it is to recognize that reforms since at least 2001 have failed, not the schools.)


Jim, we may ultimately agree on more today on this topic, than what we fight about.   Here is what we may fight about. 

You write: "Yes, the current reform superintendent is finally nudging the dial upward, but only after he survived a concerted attempt by the teachers unions and by elected black leadership in and out of the school district to get him fired."   Until the next testing round, the jury is out on this one.  But to get some type of score you may want to try to get, and then verify, a true school by school count for all teacher vacancies and less adequately certified teachers teaching subjects they are not certified for but they are still teaching within DISD.

Did you also know that the official 12th grade count for the Class of 2014 is 530 students less than last years 12th grade class?  Did you know this is the first time in 7 years that12th grade enrollment did not grow?   Did you know this is the biggest loss of 12th grade enrollment in 29 years?    Did you know that Mr. Miles had the same losses in 12th grade enrollment each of the last 4 years he was in Colorado, ultimately loosing 32% of his 12th grade enrollment?   Do you know that translates into a dropping graduation rate?   

You may want to ask the trustees, but I don't think any of those who hired Mike Miles knew of this massive drop in 12th grade enrollment the last four years Mike Miles was superintendent of Harrison School District Two.  I do not think they knew this before they hired him, and some may still not know it or understand it even though I have sent the data to them.


Some former advertising CEO named Mike Rawlings is a big supporter of this reform package so I would have assumed that he is responsible for the initial public outreach. Or there is his right hand guy, Sam Merten who used to be a writer, then went to the media company that ran a mayoral campaign for some guy that kept saying "world class". I wonder what happened to his client.........


@Guesty @edarrellHow is turning a public institution into a "charter" institution NOT a private takeover?

Of the several dozen charter schools in Dallas ISD boundaries, how much say in their governance has any voting citizen in Dallas? 

Remember Prime Prep?  Who is responsible there to look out for public tax monies? 

That's the intent of charter schools, to take money away from public schooling, to get schools out from the public's view -- in some cases for good reasons (teach science, but the Gulen schools appear to be the best example there), or, in many more cases, to teach watered down science (creationism), or bogus history ("American exceptionalism" and the ABEKA curriculum), and religion.


@Guesty @edarrell

If you think any common sense reform would be a part of the charter, I think you haven't been paying attention to what has been proposed, and who is proposing. 

The ONLY thing almost concrete is the claim that a charter district could get rid of more teachers, faster.

No successful enterprise has ever got there by firing the front line workers.  And so far, that is the ONLY proposal.

Also, I'm still waiting for anyone to point to a successful use of this law before. 

Heck, don't limit yourself to Texas:  Where has it EVER worked?

How much does the Dallas school district spend every year?  You're willing to gamble that amount?



The City of Dallas has a "charter."  The existence of a charter does nothing to make an institution private rather than public.   

The DISD Trustees appoint the commission.  It is a public agency involved.  

The TEA has to approve the charter before it becomes effective.  It is a public agency involved.

More voters than voted for all the the trustees in the past 4 election cycles combined would have to vote for the charter for it to be approved.  That is about as public as it gets.  Hell, we would have more input into this document than any decision made at the DISD in the past 50 years.  

And the future of the governance of the DISD would be up to us, the people who vote, but it would always report to publicly elected officials.  The only question is at what level.  Would we want to continue directly electing trustees?  We would have that option.  Would we want the teachers to be able to appoint one or two additional trustees?  That would be an option.  Would we want the City to appoint trustees?  That would be an option.  Would we want the ability to recall trustees (an option not present now)?  That would be an option.  Would we want to restrict the trustee's ability to change the election cycle?  We would have that option.  Do we want to limit the trustees to setting education policy but keep them out of all management/personnel/contract decisions except for the power to audit the superintendent?  Sounds like a great idea to me.  


@Guesty I asked before, and you avoided answering:  How does the Dallas taxpayer get a say in the governance of this "home rule" district?

It's out of the hands of the voters.  It's an appointed, private group, not under the rules of the Texas Education Agency, not under the rules of Texas independent school districts, not under the jurisdiction of the Dallas County School Board, not under the jurisdiction of the City of Dallas.

Is any public agency involved in this takeover attempt?  No.

Please explain to this uninformed person how it is NOT a private takeover? 

And in other cases where such charters have been used, how was the public oversight kept going?

There may be uninformed nonsense here,  but not from me.


@edarrell @Guesty  But it doesn't become a "charter school."  It becomes a home rule district with a charter outlining how it is run, just like the "charter" for the City of Dallas.  The "charter" is just a document.  The charter drafted by a committee appointed by the trustees, is voted on by the public, and must be approved by the TEA.  Trustees still very likely would be elected, but if not, they would become political appointments by elected officials (that doesn't make them private, many government jobs are appointed).  The property of the DISD continues to be the property of the DISD.  

This is not turning the DISD into a charter school.  That is uninformed nonsense.