Tuesday, July 22, 2014

Mike Miles Contract Meeting 2:43 AM to 4:05 AM, 7-22-14

7-21-14 at 5:30 PM the DISD Trustees began a board meeting to address a request for contract extension, retirement vesting, clearance to begin consulting, a "salary bump" and possibly other items not made public.  They went into closed session about 5:50 PM on 7-21-14.  They did not return to an open meeting until 2:43 AM on 7-22-14.

Dallas ISD Board Meeting 2:43 AM to 4:05 AM on 7-22-14
The video record of this exceptionally informative board meeting is online at http://www.dallasisd.org/Page/663 .   The meeting starts at 9:17:00, 9 hours and 17 minutes into the tape, at 2:43 AM.   The first action after the resumption of the open meeting was the reading of the proposed contract. 

It is strongly recommend everyone concerned about Dallas ISD students listen to all of this video tape.   The statements by board members were very informative.  Share it with your friends.

Ultimately the contract was extended to July 1, 2017 but not until two critical, but failed, amendments were attempted.  That amendment process was exceptionally informative.

The first amendment was to delay the planned vote tonight until after the formal evaluation of Miles was completed.  There was much debate.  It was only supported by Foreman, Jones, Blackburn and Nutall and failed.   While Miguel Solis and others made statements that all the needed data is now available, it is my understanding that more of the needed data will not be available until August.  This point must be clarified.

The second amendment was to eliminate the ability for consulting from the contract.  The proposed contract allows Mr. Miles to consult 8 days a year using vacation time for the consulting and then giving any money earned, less expenses, to the Dallas Educational Foundation.  Only Foreman, Blackburn, and Nutall voted for that, but Jones documented many excellent concerns in her statement.  

The final vote to approve the contract until 2017 passed 7 to 2 with only Foreman and Nutall voting against it.   This extension mandates that if Mr. Miles is terminated without reason that the complete liability of DISD would never go beyond one years' salary, or $300,000 presently since there was no raise given this evening.

Only media, from every TV station in town, and 3 of us "civilians," were present for this latest morning meeting in DISD history addressing a superintendents' contract extension.

Dallas can be thankful it was not an easy process for those involved.   A lot of work went on this evening behind closed doors.  Sadly the data on the student lack of achievement from the STAAR tests and the shrinking size of the most recent graduation class appear to have been ignored by the majority of the board.

What else counts?   Dallas needs this to be explained by the board members who supported Miles this evening.  If Mr. Miles had a principal whose school tested worse year to year in 4 out of 5 subjects by an average of over 3 percentage points, and only improved by 1.9 percentage points in only one subject, and had a minority achievement gap that virtually exploded, what would Mr. Miles do?  This is what has happened inside DISD to the 65,000 students grades 3 to 8 we have entrusted to Mr. Miles.   See data charts here. 

Regarding the vesting issue and a "salary bump," they were not granted.  The final agreement appears rather austere in detail, not granting many of the extras that were requested .   

We need a public debate of the data that is collecting about our children's progress in DISD.    

Dallas is loosing critical focus due to "home rule," while DISD has been deteriorating since July 2012 following the 5 greatest years of progress in DISD historyThe public must be contacting all board members about the damage now happening inside DISD.

Please listen to this 80 minute meeting that starts at 9:17:00 on the tape.  It exposes the DISD Board regarding dedication to detail, data, professional management, and following established procedures.

Wednesday, July 9, 2014

Academic Loss, discipline issues, & Falling Graduation Numbers in Dallas ISD

Mike Miles' second year in DISD ended patterns of progress since 2006.

Academic Issues:

It will be another 60 days before the statewide data is available to see how DISD did relative to other school districts in Texas.  Based on the passing rates achieved in 2014 compared to 2013 passing rates, academic achievement for DISD has fallen in 4 out of 5 subjects as reflected in the most recent STAAR testing of almost 66,000 students in grades 3 to 8!
Results are at https://mydata.dallasisd.org/SL/TAKS/index.jsp 

2014 STAAR grade 3-8 Results by Student Group for DISD
Click on chart to enlarge.
The above 2014 STAAR test report is from taken from page four of the document at https://mydata.dallasisd.org/docs/STAAR2014/2014_STAAR_38_AD1_PERCENT_LVL2_DISTRICT_C.pdf  

The minority achievement gap increased for every subject for both African American and Hispanic minority groups. 

An education data expert much more experienced than I studied this data and described the minority achievement gap as "exploding" under Mike Miles' leadership.

Graduation Issues:

Graduation numbers are deteriorating since 2013.

The DISD Class of 2014 is the first graduation class in 7 years that is not larger than the previous year’s graduation class.  
More exact numbers for the Class of 2014 will be available at the end of the summer to determine how great the loss is.  This is an estimate using the average number of diplomas granted during the summer from 2001 to 2010. That 238 average number is added to the number of diplomas granted through June for 2014.  The result is that the Class of 2014 is over 400 students smaller than the Class of 2013.  Here is a 44 year history of DISD enrollment and graduation numbers:
Dallas ISD Enrollment and Graduation numbers 1970 to 2014
Click on above chart to enlarge.  (email bbetzen@aol.com for Excel copy of spreadsheet.)
The above chart provides priceless data about the history of the past 44 years in Dallas ISD.

The “% Total Enrollment” column, second to the last on the right, is the percentage of the total DISD enrollment that year who are receiving a diploma with that graduation class.  In a perfect world with stable populations, 100% graduation rates, k-12 school systems, and zero population growth, 7.67%, or 1/13th of the enrollment, would be graduating each year.  That never happens in any school district. Instead, as is shown in the above chart, the highest percentage of enrollment ever graduating from DISD was 6.2% in 1979. That was probably due to the massive flight of over 49,000 Anglo students the previous 8 years in mostly the lower grades combined with the older Anglo students probably wanting to remain until graduation. 

White flight decimated DISD with enrollment going from 164,726 in 1971 to only 127,462 in 1984. During the 9 year tenure of Nolan Estes reflected in this chart the Anglo enrollment dropped by over 50,000 students.  Only 42,000 Anglo students remained when Nolan Estes retired.  

Then in 1984 "No-pass No-play" and higher graduation requirements were added during the legislative session. That led to the largest drop in graduation numbers during these 44 years with over 800 fewer students graduating with the Class of 1985!   Graduation numbers continued to fall from 1985 onward.  The "Percentage of Total Enrollment" number for graduates fell below 4.5%, falling as low as 3.2% for the Class of 1994. 

From the Class of 1986 to the Class of 2010 the percentage of full DISD enrollment represented in the graduating class never went above 4.5%.   That goal was achieved with the Class of 2011, and went up to 4.8% by the Class of 2013! Now it appears to have fallen to 4.6% with the Class of 2014. 

This 44 year history of DISD graduation rates shows the wonderful value and reality of recent DISD progress since 2006!  DISD can be very proud!

It also makes the current decimation of graduation numbers since 2013 that much more painful.  Progress must be started again!

It became obvious that the progress improving graduation rates was slowing to a stop when the
official enrollment count on November 1, of 2012 was made.  Those measurements showed that year to year growth in senior enrollment had slowed to the lowest percentage growth in 6 years!   That rate of growth had suddenly fallen by November of 2012 to only 0.76% after 5 years of growth of 2.66% or higher!  Then with the Class of 2014 we had the first year with a smaller senior class in 7 years.  It was 500 students smaller, a 6% drop!  In the previous 16 years the largest such drop in DISD had been 3.84%.

18 Years of Dallas ISD enrollment by grade, 1996 to 2014
Click on above image to enlarge. (email bbetzen@aol.com for Excel copy of spreadsheet.)
Below is an enlargement of the section in the above chart with the most critical data, the graduation rate progress and then the sudden 5.4% drop in graduation numbers with the Class of 2014:

Can Dallas Ignore Colorado Graduation History?

If Mike Miles had come to Dallas with a record of having turned around falling graduation numbers in Colorado, then Dallas could have reason for hope.  But the opposite happened in Colorado! Senior enrollment and graduation numbers went down for the last 5 years Mike Miles was in Colorado.  A total of 1/3 of senior enrollment was lost!  

See details about Harrison School District 2 in Colorado in the chart below taken from http://schoolarchiveproject.blogspot.com/2013/05/damage-by-mike-miles-in-colorado.html :

Harrison Two School District enrollment history 2000-2013
Click on above to enlarge.
Study the row for 12th grade enrollment above.  Notice how the growth of 12th grade enrollment ended in Harrison District 2 in the 2008-09 school year.  It then fell from 781 that year to only 467 in 2012-13!
Dallas must not allow such attrition, started this year under Mike Miles, to continue in Dallas ISD!  It has already started. 

DISD will have the highest number of new teachers in history next year!
What reason is there to believe that the pattern Mike Miles brought from Harrison District in Colorado here to Dallas ISD, will suddenly change to a growing 12th grade enrollment?  He now has a record of 7 academic years of constantly lower 12th grade enrollment (5 years) combined with lower 12th grade enrollment growth (2 years).  (http://schoolarchiveproject.blogspot.com/2014/04/six-years-six-measurements-disd-vs.html)  

The hundreds of thousands in salary lost to Mr. Miles is nothing compared to the billions that will be lost in deteriorating progress for our 160,000 students and our city!
DISD must return to the progress that was being made with ever larger graduation classes, and constantly higher numbers of college ready students, before Mr. Miles arrived!  
Mr. Miles was hired due to a record of increasing the average ACT scores in Harrison Two School District.  It was not pointed out to the public, and may have not even been explored by the DISD Board doing the hiring, that this increase in the average score was happening with fewer and fewer students being tested.  Ultimately 1/3 of Harrison senior enrollment was missing after 5 years.  That fifth year was the year Mike Miles came to Dallas ISD! (See http://schoolarchiveproject.blogspot.com/2013/05/damage-by-mike-miles-in-colorado.html )
Many students transferred out of Harrison into District 11 to the north in Colorado Springs during this time.  Then the District 11 average ACT scores were reported in the Colorado Springs media as going down.  Which students were being allowed/encouraged to leave Harrison?
Discipline Issues:
The discipline report below must be updated as it is now 10 months old.  Current reports from teachers indicate that discipline problems have never been worse within DISD, but the reporting of those problems has apparently been massively discouraged by current DISD Administration.   A student reportedly cannot now be sent to Lacey, the DISD off-campus school, for fighting until after their 5th fight!
When Mr. Miles started he came into a district that had enjoyed falling discipline rates for three years.  Then discipline problems exploded:

Here is another breakdown of those numbers:

As is clearly visible on these charts, they are 10 months old and do not reflect what happened in 2013/14 in DISD.   That data will be requested 7-28-14 to update these charts.    Due to changes in the reporting requirements, which will also be requested, it is too early to know how the numbers may change, if at all.
Another way to look at discipline issues is by grade and by grade over time.   Here is that history from 2006 to 2012 by grade focusing on 6th through 9th grade.   Those years are generally acknowledged as the worst relative to discipline problems, but why?
Notice how 6th grade went from being almost no discipline problem in 2006/07 to being one of the worst grades by the first semester of 2012/13.   What happened?   It was during these 6 years that the 6th grade was pulled from the elementary schools and placed in all of the middle schools all across Dallas.  This explosion of discipline problems where there had been almost none points to other research across the nation indicating how destructive separate middle schools are to student achievement compared to K-8 schools. 
Fortunately some DISD schools are beginning to change.  This year DISD will have Rosemont, it's first former K-5 schools transformed into a K-8 school in full operation.  The transition to a full K-8 school takes three years.  It is certain Rosemont will have some of the best behaved and highest performing 6th through 8th graders in the district!
Here is a chart on discipline problems by grade comparing 2011/12 (red) with the first semester of 2012/13 (yellow).  The 2012/13 year was the first year when all 6th graders were in middle schools across Dallas, except for Rosemont.
Needed Public Debate
Recent events in Dallas, attempting to support a move toward a "home rule charter district," tried to focus on selected data to put all of public education in a negative light.  Similar events are happening across the nation as part of a national assault on public education in the name of "reform."   It is a "reform" that is micromanaging data to manipulate the public.  In Dallas they ignored the positive data showing record setting annual progress that DISD was enjoying up to 2012!  A 20 percentage point improvement in graduation rate since 2006 cannot be ignored!
The complicating factor in Dallas is that negative data began to accumulate in 2012 in many areas in addition to those above.   Teacher turnover went from 12.9% in 2010/11 to 26.5% in 2012/13, and is now beyond that by most estimates for 2013/14! 
Public debates of the DISD data are needed!  They need to be debates because there are two sides to the data, each side trying to justify their own goals with the data.  The public should see such debates in an orderly, civil setting.  Questions strictly limited to one minute should be allowed from the public at the end. 

If Mayor Rawling wants to support Dallas public schools he would encourage such debates on data within DISD.  He should be there to be involved.  It should be a regular event, at least annually.  Our students could only benefit, with many hopefully being present to hear the issues they live every day in DISD classrooms.

Wednesday, July 2, 2014

Academic Loss in Dallas ISD 2014

Dallas ISD Student Achievement 2014 Grade 3 to 8 dated 5-22-14
Click image to enlarge.
The above chart is page 4, a summary of report for all grades, 3 to 8, from Dallas ISD Data Portal on most recent STAAR testing.  The first three pages of this 4 page report, with grade by grade results, is found on the DISD Data Portal site at  https://mydata.dallasisd.org/docs/STAAR2014/2014_STAAR_38_AD1_PERCENT_LVL2_DISTRICT_C.pdf

  1. In four out of five subjects average achievement of grade 3 to 8 students is lower.  Only math improved.
  2. The Minority/Anglo achievement gap is growing in all subjects.
  3. Seven of the 17 tests showed a higher percentage of students passing with an average increase 3.0 percentage points.
  4. Ten of the 17 tests showed a lower percentage of students passing with an average decrease of 4.1 percentage points.

These 2014 test results for DISD can be linked from and studied by school or by feeder pattern at https://mydata.dallasisd.org/SL/TAKS/index.jsp

Tuesday, July 1, 2014

Petitions regarding efforts to extend Dallas ISD Superintendent Mike Miles' Contract

There are at least two petitions circulating for signatures to urge DISD Trustees to either extend or not extend Superintendent Mike Miles' contract.   This is a comparison of the different letters documenting evidence for each choice. The letters are posted below with comments inserted in parenthesis an in bold regarding accuracy. Input is welcome! 

The first letter listed is the one supporting a petition, started by Stand For Children, asking to have Mike Miles' contract extended.  Both are copied directly as they were found online:
We, the concerned parents, teachers, business owners and community members of Dallas (and across the state of Texas) ask you to Extend Dallas ISD Superintendent Mike Miles' contract through 2016-2017 school year. 

His record of achievements in Dallas is clear, to date he has: 

o Restructured management to create a "feeder pattern director" for each of the 22 high schools so that there is one person accountable for not only the high school but also every elementary and middle school that feeds into it, helping create a consistent culture attractive to parents evaluating DISD as an option for their child. (This is probably the most positive change Mike Miles has made in DISD.)

o Implemented a new principal evaluation system that has resulted in the turnover of ~100 (45%) of campus principals in years 1 and 2.  (Sadly due to this system DISD lost some of the most productive principals in the district.  One was the Sunset principal who took a failing inner-city high school from a 33% graduation rate to a 70% graduation rate. At the same time this high school excelled academically until it was among the four top DISD comprehensive high schools in having a higher percentage of seniors pass all End of Course exams than the other 18 high schools.  There are 22 such comprehensive high schools in DISD. His success, and that of some of the other principals pushed out by Mr. Miles, was addressed in the press: http://dallasmorningviewsblog.dallasnews.com/2013/08/three-of-our-four-annointed-super-principals-have-been-drummed-out-of-disd.html/ )

o Gained board approval to implement a robust teacher evaluation initiative with several different levels of proficiency (vs. the prior system where 99% of teachers were rated “proficient”) that will include 35% of a teacher rating based on student achievement and 15% based on student feedback. (The published research on such teacher evaluation systems is consistent in showing that they do not work and instead lead to tragic teacher turnover.  While DISD is not yet publicly documented as being at the 35% teacher turnover rate Mr. Miles had his last year in Colorado, current teacher turnover is the highest on record in memory.)

o Gained board approval to implement a new teacher compensation system that will be tied to robust teacher evaluations vs. the historical practice of tying teacher compensation solely to years of experience teaching. This policy will be implemented in 2015.  (Same comment as one above.)

o Completely reconstituted alternative certification area and moved TFA certification to SMU to help in teacher retention as candidates can receive full credit towards masters in education.  (Within DISD there is no longer a financial incentive for receiving a masters degree.)

o Implemented Imagine 2020 plan to drive additional resources toward strategic feeder patterns that have historically underperformed academically.  (No improved student achievement has been demonstrated due to this plan.  Instead, especially in the Lincoln and Pinkston feeder patterns, as reflected in the most recent STAAR tests, achievement has gone down.  See https://mydata.dallasisd.org/docs/STAAR2014/2014_STAAR_38_AD1_PERCENT_LVL2_FP_C.pdf for an 86 page report by feeder pattern on the STAAR tests for 2014.)

o Rebuilt the reserve fund balance from $60 million to $300 million while improving the district’s credit rating.  (The question must be asked as to how much more often students are being subjected to less experienced and therefore less expensive teachers who are also reportedly more often not certified in the area being taught.  This information must be verified by more transparency regarding the qualifications of those teaching our children. How often are they "permanent" substitute teachers?)

o Reconstituted the Dallas Education Foundation to support initiatives district-wide. (Yes, this should be positive.)

o Installed state-of-the-art bandwidth across all 230 campuses. (Definitely positive if the reports of downtime continuing in schools as an issue are not correct.)

o Hired a new director of Pre-K education with a strong focus on substantially improving the number of students accessing a quality education within Dallas ISD. The spring 2014 Pre-K rally saw a 90% increase in enrollment over the year earlier period. (Definitely a positive, especially if this person hired remains after another year.  How many of those hired to work directly under Mr. Miles his first year are still with DISD?)

DISD has suffered mightily because of having nine superintendents in 20 years, with an average term length of only 2.3 years. St. Marks has had one headmaster that entire time, and Highland Park has only had 7 superintendents in its 95 year history. (Do you really think a school district with an 88% poverty rate has the same issues as a district without any poverty rate issue at all?  The most recently hired superintendent, Dr. Hinojosa, came from DISD and remained 7 years overseeing the 5 most progressive years in history for a 20 percentage point growth in the graduation rate.  That progress has now been ended under Mike Miles.) You can't create reform if every time you hire a reformer, they are gone in 2-3 years. The status quo just decides to wait them out. Superintendent Miles needs to be able to implement the changes he was hired to do. (You must look at Mr. Miles record! He leaves a 7 year path of constantly lowering 12th grade enrollment and smaller graduation classes.  What does that say?  If there are errors in this data, please point to it.)

Here is the letter being circulated by Dallas Friends of Public Education:
Dear Dallas ISD Trustees:
As you consider whether to extend Superintendent Mike Miles' contract in the coming weeks, please take into account the following:
*      This administration has fostered an unacceptable level of teacher churn and outright loss. Together with an increase in the use of Teach for America graduates, these practices have deprived students of the wisdom and experience of veteran teachers who have the skills and ability to recognize and address the needs of our children, including fostering social-emotional learning, one of the claimed goals of Destination 2020.
*      Superintendent Miles implemented a new principal evaluation system that positions compliance with district mandates as a priority. The system does not take into account the unique nature of each campus and the positive relationships principals have built within their community and has resulted in the loss of several effective well-loved principals. A principal turnover rate of 45% had the effect of undermining community relationships and campus stability, adversely affecting student discipline and established campus initiatives.
*     The Leadership Development Academy Mike Miles developed incurs an ongoing cost of several million dollars a year. The Academy has an emphasis on Core Beliefs and not the administrative and leadership skills needed to create a positive campus culture.  Of the 19 campuses headed by fellows in 2013-2014, eleven had climate survey results placing them in the bottom half on campus leadership and improved morale.  Two campuses, an elementary and a middle school, ranked at the very bottom in these categories.
*      Superintendent Miles developed and plans to implement a teacher evaluation instrument based on flawed metrics that recent research, including studies funded by the Gates Foundations whose METs study was the basis for the district's plan, has cast doubt on. Research suggests that this plan will serve only to increase teacher churn and may indeed unfairly target teachers who may be effective. The TEI will require a minimum of $8 million a year to implement and will undoubtedly lead to expensive litigation in the future.
*      Plans to tie teacher evaluations to compensation will deter experienced teachers from applying for district positions, and encourage the departure of veteran teachers who are not valued in a system that rewards a narrow range of achievements and relies on subjective observations and surveys. The loss of their experience and wisdom will be felt by students for many years to come.
*     The Imagination 2020 initiative diverted millions of dollars, including transportation cost overruns estimated at $8-$10 million, to three high schools and their feeder schools, with no significant results.
*      In an effort to increase the fund balance Miles implemented budgeting schemes involving planned teacher vacancies, the use of substitutes, and class size waivers. Students suffered as there were permanent substitutes in many classrooms and unacceptably large class sizes in others.
*      The installation of a fiber optic system in the district was initiated before the current administration, yet some campuses report limited access and availability in all areas. Both the nature of the system and the contracts involved tie the district to this technology for many years, with an impact on the physical location of district facilities and future options that may be more desirable.
*      A new emphasis on Pre-K initiatives, including the hiring of a new director with an emphasis on the number of enrollees rather than knowledge of early childhood development, threatens to undermine the stability of established community Pre-K programs that have demonstrated good results. It does not appear that the district has adequately planned for expansion and, in fact, district programs may be inferior to community programs in terms of teacher-student ratios and a reluctance to emphasize English acquisition skills.
*      2012-2013 academic results showed slight gains in closing the gap with the state, but DISD still lags behind state averages.  2013-2014 initial results do not show any significant improvement, and in fact show decreases in 18 out of 22 comparisons for AA students and 14 out of 22 comparisons for Hispanic and Economically Disadvantaged students.  High school EOC results were flat last year, and this year 42.1% of district high school students are in the position of  having failed one or more of the tests needed to graduate.
Superintendent Miles has spent millions of dollars on administrative reorganization, the principal fellows program, Imagination 2020 and the Teacher Excellence Initiative, with no significant impact on student achievement or college and career readiness.
Campus morale is at an all-time low and the district is experiencing an unheralded exodus of veteran teachers, even before the new evaluation system is in place. Our children need stability at home and when they do not find it there they rely on stability in the classroom. Miles, and you, have denied them even that brief respite.
It is clear Mike Miles' priorities are misguided and not in the best interests of our students.
We urge you to deny Mr. Miles his contract extension and to thoroughly examine the effects his administration has had on the students and teachers of Dallas ISD.
I am unable to find any factual errors in the second message above.  I did not write it, but the people who did have placed correct data before the public.  

Transparency is the greatest weapon we have to improve our schools.  We must use it! 

Bill Betzen 7-3-2014

Thursday, June 26, 2014

Dallas ISD Trustees must demand data!

Dallas ISD Enrollment History up to 2014
(Click above image to enlarge.)
Increased public transparency for what is happening within DISD must be demanded by the Dallas ISD Trustees.  Record setting teacher turnover and reports of classrooms without teachers must be verified with monthly reports of days filled by subs, and/or days subs were needed but could not be located.  Such data must be a part of the superintendent monthly report to the DISD Trustees. 

Regarding the data on the above chart, see  http://schoolarchiveproject.blogspot.com/2014/03/best-five-years-for-dallas-isd.html for a details & sources for this data.

As shown in the above chart, the growth in the Cumulative Promotion Index has almost stopped, the best predictor of future change. Not specifically shown above is the 500 student drop in 12th grade enrollment for the DISD Class of 2014.  The Class of 2014 will be the first class in 7 years that will be smaller than the previous graduation class!  It may be smaller than any class since 2009 once the final numbers are in.  How far the 2014 CPI will drop will not be known until November.
The history of 12th grade enrollment loss under Mike Miles, ultimately shrinking graduation classes, existed long before he came to Dallas.  After two years of normal 12th grade growth in his previous district, Harrison, that growth stopped in 2009.  The Harrison Class of 2010 enrollment then dropped 7%, the Class of 2011 dropped 18%, and the Class of 2012 dropped 11%.  Finally the Class of 2013 dropped 12%, but by that time Mr. Miles was in Dallas where 6 years of record 12th grade enrollment growth suddenly also stopped.   Within the year, the 12th grade enrollment for the Class of 2014 had dropped 6%!  This is the largest DISD 12th grade enrollment drop in decades!

All this data, both missing but anticipated, and that which we have, indicate DISD is heading for a disaster, with children involved and already suffering!

Monday, June 23, 2014

Changing School Culture: Four Steps

These thoughts were originally written in April of 2012 as only three steps.  It was during a time when paying attention to research was presumed to be an obvious component in school culture.

Sadly, since July of 2012, such attention to research appears to have become very selective inside DISD.  It is certainly no longer the driving force, if it ever had been, driving the changes within DISD.  The Dallas public must now repeatedly demand to see the research both for and against the changes that are being considered in DISD, and do it before the change happens!

The visibility of research must now be added as a fourth step, more urgently needed than ever, to help guide the changes within DISD.  Research must return to a critical center in DISD school culture.

The four steps are: 1) transparency, 2) parental involvement, 3) a move toward a more developmentally appropriate grade configuration with k-8 schools, and 4) public discussions and debates regarding the research surrounding planned changes within DISD.   All four steps are present now inside DISD to some extent or another, but three of the four (transparency, parental involvement, and dedication to research) are deteriorating under recent  DISD school culture these past 2 years.  The only progress is far too little and is happening in the area of k-8 school development, step 3 below.

1) Transparency

The old cowboy insult of “all hat and no cattle” is an all too accurate description of educational history in Texas. In 2000 such reporting became so bold that Houston actually claimed "zero dropout rates."  The reality was that far less than 50% of any 9th grade enrollment were receiving diplomas within 4 years.  The dropout rate was very far from zero, thus "no cattle!"

Fortunately many school districts are slowly moving away from such “all hat and no cattle” claims, but TEA recently made some of the boldest "all hat and no cattle" claims in the history of school accountability in Texas.  TEA claimed graduation rates that amounted to placing Texas among the group of states having the 4th higest graduation rates in the nation!  Fortunately business leaders in Texas, as well as academic leaders, were vigilant and publically challenged these unrealistic graduation rates.

In spite of what TEA is trying to do, absolute transparency is slowly being understood as the best alternative. Texas has led the way with the raw data about our schools and our students being placed online and annually updated at http://ritter.tea.state.tx.us/adhocrpt/Standard_Reports.html.  Almost all the reports posted in this blog come from that web site. With more such transparency Dallas was making more very real progress through 2012 than at any time in the past 20 years!  Then the progress stopped.

Admitting and sharing the painful truths in our public schools is the only way to have a strong foundation for progress.

The most accurate, easy to audit measurements for a credible transparency are the number of students who enroll each year in each grade, combined with the number who graduate annually, and how many of those annual graduates are ready for college. Simple spreadsheets for each school and school district should include enrollment by grade and year, covering 10 years or more of such annual enrollments.  Each years numbers should include graduation numbers and percentages of those graduates who are college ready.  It would quickly show if progress is happening.

The Internet allows the accumulation and availablity of such data to explode. Dallas ISD is constantly taking advantage of that availability with results that are improving, and constantly need to improve. DISD does not yet have such a multi-year spreadsheet online and in a prominent place on the DISD web site.  Such a spreadsheet could look like the chart at the end of the post at http://schoolarchiveproject.blogspot.com/2012/01/dallas-isd-one-of-most-improved.html.

Such a prominent spreadsheet on the DISD web site would make Dallas a national leader in educational transparency. No other major US City has such longitudinal, multi-year, transparency. DallasISD can lead the way!

Such a lack of more complete transparency also hides good news.

Significantly positive changes within DISD started 6 years ago, but received no publicity. Those positive changes happened when the 9th grade bubble began to disappear. The 9th grade bubble is caused when the 9th grade is larger than the 8th grade the year before. That is caused by large numbers of 9th grade students failing and repeating the 9th grade. Too many middle school students were not prepared for the 9th grade. As they fail the 9th grade enrollment grows due to students taking the 9th grade two or more times.

From 1996 through 2006 the average 9th grade enrollment in Dallas ISD was 33% larger than the 8th grade enrollment due to such failures. For the decade between 1996/1997 to 2005/2006 the average 8th grade enrollment was just over 11,025, and the average 9th grade enrollment was 14,727. That 33% 9th grade bubble began to disappear in 2006.  It is now only a 9.27% bubble for the current 2011/2012 9th grade class!

The 9th grade shrinking means more students are passing on to the 10th grade. In spite in the fact that DISD is now has the smallest enrollment it has had in over 15 years, it now has the largest 10th, 11th and 12th grade enrollments in over 15 years!! Fewer students are dropping out in the 9th grade! (See enrollment by grade numbers going back to 1996/97 at http://schoolarchiveproject.blogspot.com/2012/01/dallas-isd-one-of-most-improved.html)

Good things are happening in DISD. These DISD cultural changes must continue!  They must be known! More complete transparency will expose all sides of DISD, the good and the bad.
2) Parental Involvement!

Parental involvement is the foundation for any cultural change within DISD. A project that has evolved to center on parents was started several years ago in one Dallas ISD middle school. This School Archive Project started as a focus by students on their own futures in letters they write to themselves for a time-capsule. Then in 2009 the most critical component was added: letters by parents to their child about their own dreams for their child. It is reinforcing parental involvement as never before.

Now entering middle school students start the year receiving a letter from their parents about their parental dreams for them in life. Yes, those dreams include education. These new students bring these letters to their Language Arts Class. They spend a week writing a letter to themselves about their own history and goals for themselves in middle school. Then both letters are placed into a self-addressed envelope and into the 500-pound vault bolted to the floor in the school lobby.

This vault is in a prominent place and under spotlights. Students pass it several times a day. At times they may be reminded of what their parent's letter says that is inside the vault. Imagine the conversations that the writing of these letters may have provoked between parent and child. This helps to make such priceless, private conversations more common. It documents them and saves them for history.

The last month of middle school this almost three year old letter is returned to students and to their parents. Everyone sees how things have changed since these letters were written. Parents and students write new letters, this time looking 10-years into the future. This time the letters are placed into the vault for the next decade. Photos are made on the day the letters are placed into the vault. Students and parents receive copies of those photos with details on the back for the 10-year class reunion. Everyone is reminded that at that 10-year reunion the returning students will be asked to speak with decade younger students in the school about their recommendations for success. They are warned to prepare for questions such as "What would you do differently if you were 13 again?"

This School Archive Project started in 2005. The graduation rate for Sunset High School, Class of 2006, was below 33%. Sunset received most of these students. Their graduation rate slowly started to rise due to this project, and many other positive changes in the high school including a dynamic principal. In 2009 they installed their own vault at Sunset, and that same year the other middle school feeding into Sunset installed their own vault. The graduation rate for the Class of 2011 was 62%. It is expected to be near 66% for the Class of 2012. It will probably be 70% or better for the Class of 2013. No other high school in Dallas has improved even half as many percentage points over the same period as Sunset!

The many changes at Sunset made a very real difference. But Sunset is the only high school that has almost all incoming students already exposed to the School Archive Project before they arrive, and ready to do it again. That difference may be what has helped to make Sunset the most improved graduation rate high school in all of DISD for the past decade.

Sunset High School Progress in Dallas ISD
Right-click on above image to enlarge and/or print.
It is the power of personal letters focused on history and the future, placed in a secure location of respect usually reserved for diamonds, gold, and money. It's a message about the value of history, the passage of time, hard work, and planning for the future.  See http://www.studentmotivation.org/ .

The value of the mentoring component is yet to be realized when the 10-year reunions start in November of 2014. The reunions will add to the cultural change. They may evolve into the largest single contributor to an ongoing, educationally focused, cultural change. The message former students bring back to decade younger students may become the most priceless factor in the improvement of our schools.

What would you do differently if you were 13 again?

This project starts with parents documenting their dreams for their children. This then helps their children, our students, to then focus on a more realistic future in a way that is easier to embrace, and change as needed. Such conversations need to be more common by parents and children.
3) Developmentally Appropriate Grade Configuration: change to k-8 schools
(Yes, close all middle schools!)

Debates over grade configurations surrounding middle school have gone on for as long as middle schools have existed. Research has now pushed that issue well beyond the debate stage.

A July 2011 Harvard University study has emphasized the urgency of an improvement for our public schools that parents need to study. This detailed and extensive research concluded (page 23): "Taken as a whole, these results suggest that structural school transitions lower student achievement but that middle schools in particular have adverse consequences for American students." If parents agree, they must demand changes in grade configuration, especially here in Dallas due to the publicly acknowledged issues with our DISD middle schools.

The Harvard study showed that in virtually all subjects the scores on standardized test were lower in middle schools than in K-8 elementary schools. Parents and teachers familiar with both settings will rarely be surprised by these findings.

This past November a powerful editorial was published by CNN giving a simple message: "By all accounts, middle schools are a weak link in the chain of public education."

The K-8 response to this "weak link" is gaining momentum. The number of  K-8 schools has almost doubled in the US since 2000 as over 1,000 middle schools have disappeared, or been re-purposed as K-8. Google news for K-8 and middle school.  You will find reports of school districts closing middle schools and changing them to K-8 elementary schools with very few exceptions. The reason is as simple as the statement a decade ago by William Moloney, then the Education Commissioner of Colorado: "K-8s are the place where everybody knows your name."

What better place to endure the uncertainties of puberty? Instead DISD is now forcing students entering the changes of puberty to move to a strange school with hundreds of other students from other schools also struggling to regain their self image as they change. It is no wonder that we have behavioral issues! Student performance then falls in DISD middle schools.

This past April the National Middle School Association changed it's name to the Association for Middle Level Education. They saw middle schools being closed in the US, and realized such separate institutions do not exist in the highest achieving school systems in the world, such as Finland. In such countries the elimination of the middle school transfer trauma appears to help in far exceeding US academic achievement while at the same time investing significantly fewer classroom hours. The name change reflected a more authentic focus on educating students ages 10 to 15. Will Texas public schools see what is happening? (See more links to articles on this issue here.)

Parents can study these factors and be the driving force behind helping DISD to slowly move to k-8 schools systemwide That process has already happened in one school, Rosemont Elementary in DISD, which is leading the way. Parents studied the issues and demanded the change. More schools will follow as quickly as parents can study the issues and continue to demand the change.

Such change will also strengthen PTA memberships as parents will be with the same PTA for three more years. There will be more of an investment in each k-8 school. They must be the best schools for the sake of the neighborhood!
4) Visibility and open debate of research
DISD continues to reference selective research and supporting data in the changes they have been recommending for our schools, but that effort avoids much more research and data that point the other direction.  This must change.
When policy changes as large at TEI, the Teacher Excellence Initiative, are being designed and considered, there should be public meetings where the research pointing both ways can be presented and discussed.  It must be a public debate well beyond the level of 3x5 cards.
Currently even the Gates Foundation, on whose research much of TEI is based, is now recommending that any usage of testing of students in teacher evaluations be placed on hold.  Can DISD ignore that request?  A more public dialogue on the research is needed.

As to costs for these four changes, only the one for a movement to k-8 configurations would involve signficant costs due to potential building modifications. This k-8 change process could go slowly, as quickly as parental groups form and request such changes.  It could be worked into the normal building budget for DISD. Also, since Dallas County has seen a constant drop in birth numbers since 2007 there may not be the normal pressure for building new schools.  Such k-8 transitions could happen more easily.  Otherwise, especially by ignoring patterns present in national research, DISD could loose millions of dollars in multiple areas in addition to the loss of potential student achievement.

These four ongoing changes within Dallas ISD, if accelerated and reinforced, will create a high preforming urban public school system that truly becomes a national model.

Work wins school board election over money!

Working this past month to get Joyce Foreman elected as my areas DISD Trustee was an honor! Joyce and her supporters now need to take what we achieved and replicate it across Dallas so that DISD Trustees who truly represent the families using DISD are the ones in power! We must do this again and again! Joyce may have started something very big!   We must take back control from those who only have money but do not have hundreds of volunteers who believe in our schools.
Joyce Foreman Victory Celebration
Click on photo to enlarge.
DISD must return to active public transparency focused on the most current data.  Management decisions must be based on the most comprehensive and recent research available.  Public debates must happen when there are areas of conflict so that the research on both sides, if there is any, is known to the public. The public must be able to have dialogues with the decision makers that go beyond a 3x5 card!

We must demand more accountability so that the 6% drop in our senior class enrollment for the Class of 2014 is the last  such loss of students we have.

We must not allow what happened in Colorado to be repeated in Dallas!  Too many of the current DISD Trustees are not asking enough questions, the same trustees heavily supported by the PAC's, and who most often vote to blindly support Mr. Miles and his decisions.  Some of his decisions have been very good, but too many are destroying DISD.

Watch the student attrition rates.