In the Fight Over Mike Miles, One Critic Can't Take the Heat, Flees the Kitchen

Kind of a hilarious war of words going on right now between me, Dallas political activist Rene Martinez and a UT Austin Education School professor named Julian Vasquez Heilig. Heilig has threatened to call the cops if Martinez emails him again. I think Heilig might do better calling his mom.

Heilig is one of several academics retired Dallas business executive Don Williams hired to write "studies" of the regime of Dallas school Superintendent Mike Miles. I put quote marks around it, because the end product of Williams' paid campaign was a thin gruel of anti-school-reform propaganda.

When Miles came to town a year and a half ago from Colorado, he wasn't interested in some ideas Williams offered him for school reform, mainly involving a program Williams would run. Williams has been out to get Miles ever since in what has become an ever more pointedly personal vendetta. The "studies," which appeared in print days before the school board was to vote whether to fire Miles, were the most recent salvo.


I took Heilig to task for his contribution last week , saying his paper fell in lockstep with local critics here who have cooked up a theory that Miles skews district-wide test scores by discouraging minority kids and low-scorers from taking the tests. In fact the anti-Miles set claims he deliberately pushed low-scoring test takers and their families all the way out of the school district he headed in Colorado. Now they say he may be doing it here.

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

The main man behind this theory, Bill Betzen, is a retired Dallas school teacher. When I asked Betzen for proof -- any proof at all -- for his suggestion that Miles deliberately ran his own low-scoring students out of town in Colorado, Betzen told me he was "guessing" and that his theory was based on second-hand allegations.

Betzen is a self-taught numbers guy who did some really brilliant work on local political redistricting two years ago. What he does have now is a set of numbers to show that senior class enrollment in Harrison, Colorado, where Miles was superintendent, fell off precipitously over the course of Miles' tenure. And he has numbers to show that the number of black and Latino students taking SAT and ACT college preparedness tests here in Dallas fell off during Miles' first year as superintendent.

What he wants us to conclude from his numbers is that Miles was "pushing out kids that were lower scoring" in Colorado, as he put it to me. In fact, he said, "Principals were allegedly told to push out such kids." I asked him how he knew that. He said, "I only have that second hand. It is only allegations."

What about the suggestion that Miles has been deliberately stopping black and Latino Dallas students from taking the SAT and ACT tests? Jon Dahlander, spokesman for Dallas schools, told me he's been challenging Betzen for some time to bring forward anything at all to show an active role by Miles in the decreased number of minority test takers. And Betzen has produced nothing.

The problem is that an almost infinite number of factors could have produced smaller senior classes in Colorado or the fall-off in minority SAT and ACT takers here. The driver in Colorado could have been something regional and economic or internal to the school district, like a tougher policy on social promotion, but not aimed deliberately at a manipulation of test scores.

Without examining any of these, Betzen leaps to the worst-case scenario, suggesting it must have been Miles breaking the law to game the system. And then he admits he's guessing.

Miles, meanwhile, has successfully persuaded the Dallas school board to fund universal SAT testing for all high school seniors next year. That means he is deliberately and knowingly bringing down on his own head seriously lower average SAT scores for next year. He's doing it anyway in the belief that knowing where all seniors stand in terms of college-readiness is the only way to know what the end-product is for a 12-year DISD education.

That move alone would seem to put the lie to the unproved allegation that Miles deliberately steers minority kids out of college preparedness exams. It has done nothing, however, to slow Betzen down in making just that allegation. Heilig, meanwhile, a member of the faculty at UT-Austin, wrote a hired-gun article at the behest of the anti-Miles Rumpelstiltskin, Williams, in which he cited Betzen as one of his authorities.

In my piece last week, I said both Heilig and Betzen had neglected to look at the core data on Miles' tenure in Colorado from the Colorado Department of Education. I did look at it, and it makes Miles look like a major success in bringing up student achievement there, especially for black and Hispanic students.

Now, since then everything with me and Heilig and Betzen has descended into one of those typical, blogospheric mud-rasslin' fights, which I admit is where I live a lot of the time. I think it is very much not where Heilig lives, and not too far into it he clearly wanted out. "Remind me not to respond to you again," he told me, "because it's clearly not productive."

Sure. But you may have to remind me to remind you.

He also got into it with Rene Martinez, District 3 director of the League of United Latin American Citizens, who had been telling him that Latinos here have Miles' back. Heilig emailed Martinez: "I would appreciate if you would refrain from emailing or contacting me further. Thank you."

Martinez emailed him back, "You are a joke. Hope you don't ever set your face in our community. Que Dios te Bendiga." (God bless you).

Heilig wrote him back: "I have asked nicely previously. Please do not send me another threatening email, or I will refer this matter to the police."

So Martinez sent him another email: "Julian again, que Dios te Bendiga and hope you have a good day. If you are ever in Dallas I will buy you coffee. Will not bother you any more young man."

Martinez is a much nicer man than I am. That's the point at which I would have suggested to Heilig that he call his mom, and, while he was at it, maybe the FBI. That was a few days ago, and since then there has been radio silence from the good professor. He should be safe now, assuming he gave instructions to Rumpelstiltskin to leave him alone from here on out as well.

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Jim Schutze has been the city columnist for the Dallas Observer since 1998. He has been a recipient of the Association of Alternative Newsweeklies’ national award for best commentary and Lincoln University’s national Unity Award for writing on civil rights and racial issues. In 2011 he was admitted to the Texas Institute of Letters.
Contact: Jim Schutze