Wow. You really have to be careful these days what to make of things people tell you about Dallas School Superintendent Mike Miles and school reform. A few days ago somebody told me Miles was going around town giving speeches saying he wants to fire all the teachers who have more than five years experience.
So pretty much a psychopath. Sworn foe of everybody's favorite Mizz Gurney, the one teacher you loved in elementary school. Mean to old people. Boss from hell.
Sure did not sound like any Mike Miles I ever knew. Miles spent two years putting together a teacher assessment program -- with a lot of input from senior teachers -- using a variety of tools to gauge which teachers do a good job, which ones need help and which ones need to go. His success in persuading the school board to adopt the new system was perhaps his most important achievement since taking over the Dallas school district in 2012.
Like the system or hate it, the fact is it's based on a variety of criteria, including several kinds of classroom observation, student test scores, student surveys and assessment by principals. Why after investing so much effort in crafting a complex system and selling it to the board on the basis of its fairness and accuracy would he go around town sawing off his own branch, telling people in public, "Nah, I just hate the old ones"?
Plus this. Miles is not a flamboyant person. We have had some of those as superintendent of schools in the past. Disagree with Miles or agree with what he says, you have to admit either way that he is a man who measures his words like tea.
So what's he doing going around town saying he wants to can all the senior teachers? Why the sudden flamboyance? Did he have a mini-stroke?
I heard it a few times more. That means it's being churned somewhere. Usually when I catch one of these stories making the rounds, I tend to suspect either the teachers unions or black elected leadership in old South Dallas, the two constituencies with the biggest dogs in the hunt in terms of wanting to call off school reform.
But, no. Unfair. Not this time. I should have thought of the third usual suspect. If an absolutely loony urban legend does not come from the southern Dallas patronage machinery or from the teachers unions, then where? Of course! The Dallas Morning News!
When the wash finally got done and this one was traced back, the trail led straight to Dallas Morning News editorial writer Tod Robberson, who wrote this for his newspaper on March 27:
There's always been a pall of illogic surrounding Dallas ISD Superintendent Mike Miles' assertion that teachers are largely expendable after five years of service because, he has said, they've reached their maximum level of effectiveness and cannot be expected to improve significantly beyond that point. He has used this assumption, which administrators around the country seem to have bought into, to nudge experienced teachers toward the exit door so the district can hire younger, cheaper and more malleable teachers who are less likely to challenge his reforms.
Eric Celeste, who writes the "Learning Curve" education report for D Magazine, traced it back to Robberson quicker than I did. He called up Miles, who told him he had never said such a thing. Miles told Celeste he had met with the Morning News editorial board a long time ago, and at that meeting he told Robberson that the best window for effective teacher training is in a teacher's first and second year on the job. He said that is when they are experiencing their greatest professional growth, not to say they don't continue to grow later, just not as fast.
Two things he could have said. 1) Teachers are expendable after five years, and I want new baby teachers anyway so I can boss them around. 2) We need two kinds of training, one for newbies and another for experienced teachers.
Robberson saw Celeste's challenge and decided he needed to defend himself. Quoting from the Celeste piece, Robberson noted that Miles had called Robberson's story "absurd."
"Not a smart move," Robberson said sternly, "considering that we all heard him say it, and several of us recorded his remarks."
To prove his point, Robberson provided the following quote, apparently a transcript he made of a meeting between Miles and the editorial board in October, 2012.
This is Miles speaking:
"Research is very clear that the first and second year experience matters. After that much less so, and virtually no difference after fifth year. So if you get a higher caliber person coming up front then you don't have to train them for three years, you actually beat the research, right? Because you have a higher quality coming up front. So, uh, yeah, and I know veteran teachers hate to hear this. But after about, actually after about three or four years ..."
After three or four years what? Dot dot dot? Did he say dot dot dot? Was he making a finger gun? Dot dot dot, three more coots 6 feet under? Did he blow smoke from his finger?
Why not the whole quote, Robberson, since you're so proud of it? And if it seemed a tad off point -- which it does, a big tad -- why not call Miles and say, "When you told us dot dot dot, did you mean blowing away old people?"
The recorded quote in no way confirms Robberson's allegation that Miles thinks teachers are expendable after five years and wants to get rid of them so he can hire all new ones.
Let me point out something else about the Morning News. Last week the News published a story saying Miles might be engaged in a massive fraud against the federal government to strip-mine federal subsidies from poor kids' classrooms so he can spend the money on affluent kids instead.
Son. Of. A. Bitch. That is huge. It's an enormous accusation and, by the way, a national story if true, making a mockery of school reform efforts here and everywhere, showing that so-called school reformers like Miles are grotesque charlatans whose aim is to harm, not help, the very neediest of children. That's a truly awful thing, or, as we call it in our profession, a Pulitzer.
The story was based entirely on research provided to the News by a guy named Bill Betzen, a retired teacher and very nice man who has dedicated his life to getting rid of Miles. When I challenged Betzen last week on a few minor points in that report, he told me he could not answer because he was not the author of the report, that it had been produced by secret authors not willing to "be visible" who apparently also were unwilling to defend their own work even from a position of invisibility.
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School district officials subsequently explained that the report was hogwash -- their term was "poppycock" -- based on a fundamental misreading and misinterpretation of arcane education finance accounting categories.
Since then, not one word from the News. Not a syllable. They publish a story containing an allegation of unimaginable enormity. "DALLAS SUPERINTENDENT CAUGHT STEALING PORRIDGE FROM OLIVER TWIST, GIVING IT TO RICH KIDS." Send that balloon up. Pop! It sinks to earth immediately. And never another word until the next bullshit scandal.
I call it Scandalgate -- the scandal of scandals that can't stay airborne two minutes, most of them coming from The Dallas Morning News. Dot dot dotting the old teachers. Up, down, gone. Stealing Oliver's porridge. Up, down, gone. Are people at the News embarrassed by this stuff?
As for Robberson, his attempt to come back at Celeste is proof of what I have always suspected about that guy. He's just not a reporter. A reporter would at least know not to offer a taped quote that doesn't get the job done. I know what I'd do with him if I were his boss. Dot dot dot, man. I'm sitting here eating me some good porridge, blowin' smoke from my finger as we speak. Some people really are expendable.