Morning News Reports on Teacher Morale, Turns Half-empty Glass Upside Down

Yikes. My Invasion of the Body Snatchers dreams are back. Need to stock up on Benadryl. But, wait: did you notice a story in The Dallas Morning News a couple weeks ago saying barely half of Dallas school system employees think the school district is headed in the right direction and quoting a school board member saying that's a problem? Something about it bothered me at the time. I am spending part of this week on it.

So, as I say, wait up a minute. I am looking at the same thing they did, an annual survey of employee morale. I see numbers showing that the employees district-wide who think DISD is headed in the right direction outnumber the ones who think it's headed for hell in a hand-basket by almost two to one. OK, almost one and three-quarters to one. But you get my drift, right?


Here, let me break it out for you. Employees had to choose "strongly agree, agree, neutral, disagree, strongly disagree" for the statement, "Overall, the district is headed in the right direction." The results were: strongly agree, 17.7 percent; agree, 27.6; neutral, 28.5; disagree, 13.9; strongly disagree, 12.3.

So that's 45.3 percent in the positive camp, 26.2 in the negative. According to my poor arithmetic skills, that means the positives outnumbered the negatives by 1.73 to one.

Given what the school system has been through in the last couple years and given the manic-depressive railing about morale on the blogosphere, I would have thought the ratio would be at least reversed, maybe with an added write-in category, "I want to shoot myself, 76.2 percent."

Nearly two-to-one positive in a time of major upheaval seems pretty sterling to me. However, the News reporters, Tawnell D. Hobbs and Matthew Haag, did throw in an unattributed free-floating assertion that: "Experts on organizational climate have said that ideally about 90 percent of employees in a workplace should say they would recommend their workplace to others."

Really? Amazing. Not in my business. I remember as a very young reporter being told by a city editor that, "Reporters are not allowed to have morale of any kind." Not that newspapers count.

But I did do about four minutes of Googling to see what the larger context might be here. The most recent study I came up with, published last year and based on 2012 data, showed teacher job satisfaction nationally at a 25-year low. But the Dallas survey shows two-thirds of teachers saying they would recommend their schools as good places to work.

More on this in a column for the paper next week. I'm already looking at those high schools where the anti-reform claque predicted disaster because Superintendent Mike Miles was removing supposedly popular, irreplaceable school principals. At Lincoln, for example, the percentage of employees who think their school is headed in the right direction doubled to almost 95 percent after the change of principals.

I mentioned that Hobbs and Haag quoted one school district trustee who supported the line that this survey is bad for Miles. Trustee Lew Blackburn told them, "Unless you get the people on your side, you cannot transform an organization. Too many people are not convinced it's the right direction."

Yeah, but, Matt and Tawnell: This guy voted to fire Miles a few months ago. And lost. You couldn't have worn out your dialing finger enough to call maybe just one trustee on the other side of the vote?

I did a panel discussion last week with my former Observer colleague, Robert Wilonsky, who now works at the News. He told the audience I go around wearing a tinfoil hat, and, you know, coming up with nutty conspiracy theories. Robert has undergone ... how to put it ... a profound personal transformation since joining the Beloans. I almost picked up the phone to caution his wife, Mary, to search the crawl space for remains of a large alien seedpod.

In this case, I can't come up with even a nutty conspiracy theory to explain the sheer shabbiness of the reporting. I can't for the life of me figure out what's going on with the schools beat at our city's only daily newspaper. Weird.

Robert kind of has that look now. In the 1956 original version of Invasion of the Body Snatchers, one of the people who has already been turned into a seedpod is talking -- with that seedpod look on his face -- telling the others that turning into seedpods so the aliens can eat you is a good thing: "Suddenly, while you're asleep ... they'll absorb your minds, your memories and you're reborn into an untroubled world."

An untroubled world, a world where you only have to call one trustee to get a quote to support your story line. Hmmm ... so tempting, I must admit. Tempting. So tired, so tired. Must not sleep. Must not sleep.

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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