Two big ifs. If you don't happen to be employed by the Dallas school district. If you are not a member of the African-American old-guard elected leadership in southern Dallas with strong personal ties to certain school district employees. If neither of those categories applies to you, then you may not realize the degree to which those groups have been able to paint the picture and frame the debate.
According to those two groups, the debate over public school reform in Dallas is focused almost entirely on the personality of the new superintendent, and the debate is this: Is Mike Miles totally Nazi, only half Nazi or really just somewhat Nazi? Has he ruined the school district, messed up the school district or pretty much had no effect?
Notice how in those framings of the conversation there is no option for: Is Mike Miles doing exactly what he said he would do, and has he won every single big battle over fundamental school reform in the year he has been here?
Think about it. The two big Waterloo moments for Miles came in May, when the school board had to vote on a list of principals he wanted to remove from troubled schools, and last week when the black caucus on the school board tried to scuttle the budget for his special training academy of new principals. Miles won both of those battles.
See also: - Bernadette Nutall: Miles "Experiment[ing] With Our Children" By Pouring Resources into South Dallas Schools - Last Night's Vote in Dallas ISD Was a Win for Mike Miles and a Loss for John Wiley Price
Remember. The region's most powerful elected African-American official, Dallas County Commissioner John Wiley Price, has been carrying out a "Mike Miles Must Go" campaign in which Price consistently paints Miles as an incompetent. Price's mantra is that Miles came here from a much smaller school district and can't get up to speed in the big city. The organized employees of the district, meanwhile, have been painting Miles' reform campaign as a smoke-and-mirrors voodoo that can never achieve true success in student performance.
So what's up with that? The challenges to the reform itself - questions about whether it will really help students -- are still on the table and still valid until the numbers begin to come in. That's at least a year out, maybe longer.
But Price's challenge, that Miles is a hick not up to the rough and tumble of big-city politics, would appear to be flat wrong, already deflated and off the table for future conversation. If we were to view that scenario as a straight-up shootout between Miles and Price, then Miles shot Price's gun out of his hand last May in the principals debate; he shot Price's belt-buckle off with embarrassing consequences to his pants last week in the budget debate; if Price were smart, he'd wave a white hanky at least long enough to get himself put back together.
Did you happen to catch any video of the protest Saturday outside Miles' house? May I point something out for you? The leadership in that protest group is the same leadership that brought us another recent great failure on the social activism and community organizing front in Dallas -- the February 2012 mobilization against a Korean-owned convenience store on Martin Luther King Boulevard. I do not say this with any glee or gloating: I am familiar with and have personal respect for some of these people. I have covered them over the years.
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But look carefully at their last two major adventures. The first was an unsuccessful attempt to force the sale of a business to politically wired insiders. This second is an effort to protect the jobs of politically connected school principals at the expense of and in total disregard for the well-being of children.
Why would we allow people with this kind of clearly demonstrated self-interest to paint the picture for us? And what about the teachers organizations? Certainly they have a right and a mandate to stick up for their members. We should expect them to resist any change that may threaten a single teacher's job, because that's what their members pay them to do.
But take a moment with me. Let's peel away the portraits painted by these two strongly self-interested constituencies and take look at the new superintendent strictly in terms of what he set out to do here and the battles he has fought to get there. All of his program is intact and still under way. He was the victor in his two major political battles.
Look, I'm not saying anything is over, and I am fully aware that the big jury is still out on the question of whether any of this helps kids do better in school. I'm saying only one thing. Look at the picture behind the picture painted by the two big self-interested categories, black elected leadership and the teacher unions. Who's got both boxing gloves up in the air after the bell? Sure looks like that Miles guy to me.