Sunday, December 10, 2017

Suggestions for Christmas letter writing, encouraging priceless family talks!

Time Capsule Project schools are encouraged to have the following writing assignment before Christmas break, but any school can do this without a time capsule as well.  See the wonderful gains by Time Capsule Project schools, due partly to such letters, described below in the posting dated 11-6-2017.  Browne Middle School went from the danger of a 5th year as IR in 2016/17, to meeting standards with 4 distinctions instead! All students wrote such letters home for the first time! Letters like this help to change school climate toward being more goal-focused and grounded in personal family history.

Students will bring home these letters that they write in class to deliver to the people they are intended for.  Such letters by students have led to as many as 80% of recipients writing potentially priceless letters back to the student. As students read these letters and ask questions it could lead to some priceless family conversations, especially over Christmas break, conversations about dreams, goals, and family history. It will help fill the gap with their own culture too many of our students suffer from. It will help ease the multi-cultural blending we are all part of.

A more sound foundation for academic achievement is built.


Suggestions - Time Capsule Project First Letter(s),
to each parent and/or other important relatives
(Term “parent” includes all important relatives student would like a letter from.)

This is a description of the letter writing process that is the first step in each year’s Time Capsule Project letter writing. 

First, any older letters students may have written in previous years that are in the school’s time capsule are returned to students.  They must be read and studied again by students who wrote them, and by each of the parents who wrote letters last year.  This is in preparation for the current year’s letter writing process.

Have students write a persuasive letter to each parent. Students will be asking for each parent to give their response to the question: “What are your dreams for me?”.  Students will ask for as many details as the person writing is comfortable with. Students also ask for each parent to write one story from their family history, or community history, that parents want the student to remember.  They consider it valuable enough that they want the student to pass it on to their own children someday.

As students consider to whom they will send such letters, they should think of older family members who have a longer history and possibly more stories of interest that they may write about. All letters can be written in any language both student and writer understand, or that the student can have translated.

Such letters will be written each year to request another letter from parents and/or others.  Every student changes a lot in one year.  The goal is for parents and the other adults to observe those changes and write about how their own dreams for the student are changing and gaining more detail each year as the student grows.

The stories written about can be about the letter writer, or about grandparents, or aunts or uncles, a valuable family story that they want passed on to the students’ children someday. These letters will help students gather a collection of valuable family history stories by the time they graduate.
When parents are finished with their letter and give them to the student, the student should immediately read them. The student should ask the person who wrote the letter any questions they may have about the letter.  They must clearly understand it.  The goal is clear communication. Potentially priceless conversations happen in the process during such conversations.

This letter will go into the self-addressed envelopes along with all the letters received from parents and other adults. This will be repeated each year.

In the 8th and 12th grade all letters written will be focused 10-years into the future.  What do students hope they will be doing and how will they get there? These are goals 10-years into the future.  The final 8th grade and 12th grade letters, and letters parents and others have written about their dreams for students 10 years into the future, will all remain inside the student’s self-addressed envelope and inside the vault for 10 years.

Emphasize that life plans almost always change.  The goal is to develop the ability to change, with education providing many more choices to be available during any change.       
12-10-17 Bill Betzen,

Monday, November 6, 2017

School Time Capsule Project Update 11-10-17

School achievement is driven by motivated students who know where they came from, their roots, and where they are going, their plans. Students and parents must discuss as much as possible the history they share. With that foundation students focus more completely on their own goals by constantly updating them. Such grounded student motivation is the mission of the School Time Capsule Project.

(See below how you could get such a powerful project started in your local school, with the okay of the principal, by purchasing a 770-pound vault on sale at until 12-17-17, which includes free delivery!  Again, see below.)

After 14 years of improvements due to constant input, one of the 6 active Time Capsule Project middle schools have had the highest annual School Effectiveness Indices (SEI) score of all 33 Dallas ISD middle schools for three of the past 4 years!  

On 10-19-17, when the most recent SEI data was released, it was also discovered that four of the five DISD middle schools with the highest SEI's this past year were Time Capsule Project Schools!  (The School Effectiveness Indices (SEI) is a DISD measurement of school performance that has been used 20+ years to measure performance in each DISD school every year.) 

It must be emphasized that there are only 6 active Time Capsule Project middle schools among the 33 DISD middle schools.  Only one of the 25 non-Time Capsule Project middle schools is among the top 5 in SEI scores for 2017. See page 2 of the 2016-17 Summary List at for the middle school listings which are repeated in the chart below. Notice below that the 'worst' SEI for an active Time Capsule Project school still places them better-than-average as 13th best among 33 middle schools. 
Dallas ISD Middle Schools in order by 2017 School Effectiveness Indices Scores

The Time Capsule Project is expanding this year to 14 more schools, including elementary schools for the first time. From third grade through 12th grade there will be two annual lessons:

1.   Students write a persuasive letter to their parents, and/or other relatives, asking for them to write a letter back. Students ask for two things in these letters: "What are your dreams for me?" and "Please write one story from your personal family history that you want me to pass on to my children someday." Over 80% of families respond and write potentially priceless letters.  Students then talk with anyone they asked to write a letter about what they have written. Students must be certain they understand the letter. Such conversations can be priceless, reinforcing family relationships.

2.   The resulting letters from lesson 1, or copies if the family wants to keep the originals, are brought back to Language Arts Class where each student prepares one self-addressed envelope to hold them. Then the student writes their second letter, this time to themselves about their own goals and dreams. All letters then go into that self-addressed envelope for each student. These envelopes go inside a 500-pound, or larger, School Time Capsule Vault in the school lobby. (Vaults can come from COSTCO for $500 to $800. For less than $100 the needed 10 shelves can be purchased and installed by volunteers.)

The previous year’s letters are always studied by students before the next letter-writing actions. In 8th and 12th grades all letters are written focusing on goals 10 years into the future. Students know they will be invited back for a 10-year reunion to pick up their envelopes, usually scheduled just before Career Day. At that reunion they will be asked to return and speak on Career Day with then current students about their recommendations for success, their profession, and life after 8th or 12th grade.

The fourth such 10-year reunion will happen this year at Quintanilla, the first Time Capsule Project School. It is still a 95% high-poverty school, but Dr. Hinojosa, DISD Superintendent, last summer named Quintanilla as the best middle school, the model middle school inside DISD.

The newest recommendation is, when possible, that a school secure the large 43-cubic-foot vault below, now on sale at Costco for $775. With such a large vault every student can be given a large 9"x11" envelope to use in storing their envelopes every year in the vault.  Each year students can read what they have written before as they plan that years letter.  Ultimately the school can leave all letters in the vault for the 10 years.  Fewer letters will be lost. The 10-year reunion will become more significant, especially with letters from parents and other relatives each year.

Quintanilla has had SEI scores among the top 20% of DISD middle schools every year for the past 4 years. Such progress will now happen much more rapidly in new Time Capsule Project Schools due to improvements outlined above. It will not take a decade!

One or more volunteers are needed to function as Time Capsule Masters at each school to help manage the Time Capsule Project.  They sort and help teachers return each year the letters from the previous year by each student.  Once the 10-year reunions begin, these volunteers help manage the reunions. This is exceptionally rewarding volunteer work. I have done it for over a decade, one of many volunteers with many wonderful stories to tell from the Project. We need more volunteers, at least one at each school.

Last year Browne had all students in all grades write letters as described above. Parents responded wonderfully! The photo below shows today’s Browne Time Capsule with the results:

Notice that the shelf for this year’s 8th grade class, 2018, as well as next year’s 8th grade class, 2019, are already filled with letters. These are the letters written last year by then 6th and 7th graders.  They will be returned to those students, and read, before this year’s letter writing. By the end of this year new letters will fill these shelves. The only difference will be that shelf “2018” will hold letters about dreams and plans for 2028. Those letters stay on that shelf until 2028.  

It is recommended 6th and 7th grade classes write letters at the beginning of the year to have the greatest effect on achievement that year. It is best 8th graders wait until the end of their 8th grade year to be able to reflect on more of their middle school experience as they write their letters planning 10-years into the future. Such future-focus by all students was one of many factors that helped Browne achieve the highest SEI scores of any of the 33 middle schools in DISD for 2016/17.  

The SEI for Browne went up 14.2 points in just one year!

A School Time Capsule Project only works in a school that is already a high functioning school under solid leadership. Once you have that, and add to it the grounding in family history and planning for the future reinforced by the Time Capsule Project, you have even greater achievement due to stronger student motivation. Positive student behaviors increase!  

School Time Capsule Vaults should be located in the highest student traffic area of a school, usually the lobby, to remind students daily of their parents’ letters, and their own plans.
For more details on this open-sourced, low budget, volunteer-based project, see, and the attached blog. Please share.

If you want to help another Dallas ISD school purchase a vault to start their Time Capsule Project, please send donations to: Time Capsule Project, c/o Lulac National Education Service Center, 345 S. Edgefield Ave., Dallas, Texas 75208. If you want to help a specific school, talk with that principal to see if they are willing to start at Time Capsule Project, and then specify which school you want your money used for.

You also may just buy a vault and bring it to the school, and help install the needed 10 shelves inside the vault.  This is a very flexible system!  Help your local schools!  Below is one large vault on sale until 12-17-17 for $775 from Costco, a large 770-pound 43 cu. ft. vault.

Any school can start a Time Capsule Project on their own with any modifications they may want.  We only ask that if you come up with what is considered a very successful improvement, that you share the details with us so more students can benefit.  The students are the only reason for this project. 

Sunday, January 22, 2017

What are your dreams for me?

A parent’s dreams for their child drive school achievement.
(This was also written up in the Dallas Morning News in October 2016 at
Due to ongoing improvements in student achievement in schools with active Time Capsule Projects, Dallas ISD is preparing to place the two letter writing lessons from the Time Capsule Project into the DISD Language Arts curriculum.  Beginning in the 3rd grade, and then annually through the 12th grade, all students will have these two connected letter writing lessons each year. A 10-year Time Capsule component may be seen as an additional alternative.

With these two lessons added to the writing curriculum, hopefully a core of volunteers will form at each school to help in the writing and collection of letters from students, and then the storing and returning of them to students a year later.  This will happen for all students except, of course, the students no longer at the school, the students who went on to middle school or high school the previous year. Those final year letters are not returned for a decade.  They must be stored for the reunions that volunteers help plan and coordinate in 10 years.  

This is exceptionally rewarding volunteer work! Observing students begin to become serious about planning their futures, and then the reunions, are all powerfully positive events. Volunteers see progress happen, and students who are proud of achievements.

The letter writing instructions change for students in their final year in their school before leaving for the next school in their educational process.  The letters written the last year in a school are written with plans and dreams focused 10 years into the future.  These final envelopes remain in the school time capsule vault, or are otherwise stored, for a decade, until the class 10-year reunion.  It is recommended the final letters be written during the last month in the school year. These letters will be documenting plans as they existed at the end of this time in the child's education in that elementary school, or middle school, or high school. 

Needless to say the complexity and quality of the letters will grow from year to year.

The first letter writing assignments are recommended for the start of each school year in all grades except the final grade in each school.  That final 10-year letter should be written toward the end of the school year.

The letter writing process starts with students writing one or more letters to their parents, and/or other important people in their lives. They write this letter to ask for a letter back about that person's dreams for them.  This "What are your dreams for me?" letter also requests one story from their family or cultural history to be included in the letter. It is a story that the person writing the letter considers so valuable they would like that story to be passed on someday to the student's children.

Such a story would strengthen a child's awareness of their own heritage, their roots, and their community history.  These letters will provide priceless connections, priceless records of family stories.  A different story should be told each year.

A note from the school is attached to each student’s letter written.  The note will reinforce details about the letter writing assignment. It recommends everyone writing a letter go over it with the student before the student brings the letter back to school. Priceless conversations will happen.
Back at school with the letter(s), the first thing students do is prepare a self-addressed envelope for all these letters.  The return address on the envelope should include their teacher's name, the date, and the school's return address. It will be addressed to them at their home address with email address and cell phone number also recorded on the envelope.

Students then write a letter to themselves about their goals and how they will achieve them.  This student letter may include other stories students want to remember. When finished, each student places their letter, and all their other letters from parents, relatives and others, into the self-addressed envelope they prepared. This completed envelope is then placed into the school’s time capsule, on the shelf dedicated to each student's class, or it is otherwise stored by the school.
Each year the previous year’s envelope is returned to each student before the next letter writing process. In their next request letter to each relative students include the letter written by that relative the year before. The year-old letters are read before new ones are written to update dreams and plans, and to see what was being thought about a year earlier. How has the writer of the letter seen the student change?  

Students may want to reclaim these older letters to have a file of them at home that will grow over the years.  It is a growing process. 

Students are reminded of it often if they are in a school with a 500-pound Time Capsule Vault bolted to the floor in the school lobby that they pass daily. They see the vault and maybe they are reminded of the letters that are in it from their family. Hopefully the vault is even under spotlights to increase visibility and reinforce the value of planning for the future.
This year will be the third 10-year reunion at Quintanilla Middle School. It will be in April or May of 2017 for the 8th grade class of 2007. It’s scheduled before Career Day to secure volunteers for Career Day from the students coming to the reunion to pick up their decade old letters. 

On Career Day 2017, these volunteers from the Class of 2007 will talk to current students about life after middle school, their employment and preparation for it, and what they would do differently if they were 12 again.
Such annual goal-focused letter writing is now moving into the elementary grades in several DISD elementary schools. Writing this letter to parents and other adults prepares a student to be more open to what they will receive back in the letters they will receive.  
It is never too early for a child to discuss their life plans with parents and others. 

As the years pass, with this letter writing between parent and child happening, the potential for parental involvement in school will grow.  Parents will improve in their understanding of what is happening in school. Their understanding of goals possible with education will improve. They will be more comfortable asking questions.

The School Effectiveness Indices for the involved schools will continue to rise, especially above schools with a less active Time Capsule Projects.   See some of the data and history of this project as it improved over the years. See

1-22-17 Bill Betzen,

Wednesday, January 18, 2017

Ten largest Texas ISD's & letter grades given in 2016

The people of Dallas can be very proud of recent progress in Dallas ISD! While the letter grading system has multiple issues, it also reflects some of the progress in DISD, the highest poverty large urban district in all of Texas! In spite of that poverty, DISD did well, including having the highest post secondary (college) readiness grade of all 10 districts!
Ten Largest Texas ISD's and letter grades given in 2016 by the Texas Education Agency 
Due to the significant poverty handicap that Dallas ISD endures it can be strongly argued that it is the highest achieving large urban school district in Texas.  Only 2 districts with a fraction of the DISD poverty rate are receiving higher ratings.

Sunday, January 8, 2017

KIPP has over 65% more revenue per child but is not spending that much more on Instruction!

There is a general pattern in charter schools having higher student turnover, (, a charter student dropout rate that is many times higher than ISD's, and a teacher turnover rate twice that of ISD's. The result is an average charter school teacher tenure that is less than half that of ISD's. (Verified at the blog at the last link below.)
Today I discovered that one of the more prominent charter schools systems, KIPP, also has an unusually large amount of money per student more than Dallas ISD, and KIPP is NOT spending correspondingly more on student instruction! While charter schools on average spend 5 percentage points less of their budget on Instruction, that number is usually about 40% of revenue. At KIPP that number is closer to 30%!
Texas Education Agency Snapshot data shows that the 2 KIPP schools in Dallas are both getting about 70% more per student in income (Item 73 shows $17,979 for KIPP vs $10,595 for DISD) than Dallas ISD. However, they are only spending about 25% more on instruction (Item 88 shows $6,000 for KIPP vs $4,801 for DISD. 2014 expenditures were almost equal between KIPP and DISD even though the income per students was almost as high as 2015!) It makes you wonder where the extra money goes, and wonder even more why the percentage of all students passing all tests (Item # 23) is only 2 percentage points higher for KIPP than DISD (67% vs 69%).
Given a more select student population (impossible to avoid when parents both select the school and must have resources to provide transportation to the school) KIPP should be doing much better. KIPP teacher turnover is almost double that at DISD, and average teacher tenure is only 2 years compared to 10 at DISD, so those are certainly factors. Higher teacher turnover is a very common pattern at charter schools. Look at the data at
Unless the charter schools are able to lessen transparency surrounding their operations, and keep parents quiet about what is happening to their children in school, the true public schools, ISD's, will win this war. Meanwhile what is the loss to students? See more data for the entire state of Texas for charter schools and ISD's, with a comparison to DISD, at

Monday, January 2, 2017

Building Self Respect

For fewer behavior problems and higher achievement in high poverty, urban schools

Children without life goals develop into adults without life goals. Behavior problems, teen pregnancies, and criminal behavior are all more common, while academic achievement is much more rare without life goals.
As students advance though school they have increasing ability to identify, document, and update life goals. Sadly, it is too rare that this growing ability is used for what should be a consistently recorded annual event in each student’s development, an event their parents or guardians should also be actively involved in so that they also can also identify their goals for their child. What are their goals as parents?  This project encourages parental involvement in the development of priceless parental goals for every student.
As both parents and students develop the ability to identify and update life goals, self-confidence and self-respect grows for all involved. With that growth, behavioral problems decrease and teen pregnancies will almost disappear. The best birth control in the world is self-control built on the foundation of a solid vision on one’s future life and goals. Negative behaviors lessen, and the potential for criminal behavior almost disappears, as a student’s grasp of future goals strengthens.
Such a future focused, life goal identification project called the Time Capsule Project, is now 12 years old in Dallas ISD. Quintanilla Middle School began a goal-focused project for student motivation in 2005. It started only with letters by 8th graders to themselves about their goals for 10 years into the future.  Those letters were to be opened after a decade in a huge vault bolted to the floor in the school lobby with 10 shelves inside for 10 years’ worth of letters.  The graduation rates at the high school most students attended immediately began to improve every year as discipline problems and other negative behaviors decreased.  
In 2009 parents and guardians were invited to join in with their own letters to their child about their dreams for their child. While only as many as 1/3 of parents wrote such valuable letters, that practice was encouraged as the evolving Time Capsule Project spread to 7 more middle schools.
All Time Capsule Project schools have seen their School Effectiveness Indices (SEI) measurements improve significantly faster than other DISD middle schools during the three academic years from 2013/14 through 2015/16. (See documentation in blogs at  The two oldest Time Capsule Project Schools have the highest three years average SEI of all 35 middle schools in Dallas ISD!  The remaining 5 schools had an average three year improvement of 6.7 points on their average SEI while the 24 remaining non-magnet middle schools in DISD had their annual SEI scores go down an average of 0.7 points.
In spite of this impressive increase in SEI scores for Time Capsule Project schools, the level of parental involvement by writing a letter to their child has rarely, if ever, gone above 30%. That changed in May of 2016 after the above SEI progress was documented. 
In the past, the request for this parental letter had always came from school staff in a letter sent home.  In May of 2016, Quintanilla changed the source of the request, and decided to have all three grades in the school to be involved.  The request for parents to write to their child about their dreams for their child now comes directly from that child in a letter the student writes in class to their parents.
Immediately the percentage of parents writing a letter to their child increased almost threefold to as much as 85%! When the request comes directly from their child, parents respond!
Remember, Quintanilla also stopped limiting involvement to only 8th graders. They expanded this priceless goal-centered letter writing between parent and child to all grades.
Due to the immediate success of these changes it is now recommended that Time Capsule Project schools have all students write one letter to each parent, and/or involved relative, each year asking them to write a letter back about their dreams for the student. Students in the fourth grade and above should also ask that one story from their family history be included in each letter, a story to be passed on to grandchildren. This strengthens a child's awareness of their family heritage, their roots, and provides priceless documentation of it.
A note from the school can be attached to each student’s letter sent home. It reinforces details about the Time Capsule Project. It recommends everyone writing a letter go over it with the student before the student brings it back it school.
At school, students then write a letter to themselves about their goals and how they will achieve them.  This letter includes stories students want to remember. When finished, each student places their letter, and all relative letters received, into the self-addressed envelope they should have addressed as the first thing to do in class, before writing their letters.  They use their complete home address with email and cell number placed in the second and third lines of the address above the street number and name on the envelope. The return address should have teachers name, the class, and the date the letter is written.  Addressing envelopes is critical so letters are not lost. The completed envelope is placed into the school’s time capsule, on the shelf dedicated to each student's class.
Each year the previous year’s envelopes are returned to students before the next letter writing process. In their request letter to each relative students include the letter written the year before. The year-old letters are read before new ones are written to update dreams and plans.
It is a growing process. Students are reminded of it as they see the 500-pound Time Capsule Vault often, passing it several times daily in the school lobby, where it should be centrally located under spotlights.
This process changes for students in their final year in their school before leaving for the next school in the educational process.  That last year letters are written with plans and dreams focused 10 years into the future.  These final envelopes remain in the time capsule for a decade, until the class 10-year reunion.
The third Quintanilla Middle School 10-year reunion to pick up letters will be in 2017 for the 8th grade class of 2007. It’s scheduled before Career Day to secure volunteers for Career Day. On Career Day, these volunteers talk to current students about life after middle school, their employment and preparation for it, and what they would do differently if they were 13 again.
Such annual goal-focused letter writing is now moving into the elementary grades in at least two DISD elementary schools. At what age could a child write such a powerful request to their parents in a letter? Writing the letter prepares the student to be more open to what their parents will write back.  
It is never too early for a child to discuss their life plans with parents. Nothing increases the potential for fewer behavioral problems than having an active vision of one’s future life, a vision that parents are involved with.
1-2-17 Bill Betzen,

Wednesday, December 14, 2016

DOI Presentation 12-14-16 before DISD School Board

Testimony for 12-14-16 Dallas ISD Board Meeting on planned study of District of Innovation alternatives for DISD:

President Micciche, Honorable Board, Dr. Hinojosa,

First, everything I say now is already posted, in much more detail with links to data, in the blog at (That is this blog you are now reading.)

Second, congratulations on the brilliant Highland Hills Library presentation of Dallas ISD to the community along with the International Leadership Texas schools, last night.  

Mr. Conger of ILT was brilliant and is formidable competition.  There was no Q and A. Therefore, after the presentations I went to Mr. Conger to ask about his 36% teacher turnover and teacher tenure of only 2.2 years.  When he heard my name he asked if I did an education blog.  I verified that.  He said he used the K-8 research I had collected in the February 2012 posting ( in designing his schools on the k-8 feeder pattern model.  He was very thankful.  

I wish DISD was more actively working toward a Pk-8 centered configuration for all feeder patterns such as ILT.  Without that, the Eddie Congers of the world will fragment and take over Dallas education, and students will not gain! (

I am here to speak against the District of Innovation model.  Please do not waste valuable board time in this consideration.  Mike Morath was correct when he said that not enough time is spent in board meetings discussing student achievement.  DOI is not an alternative that any research shows will help student achievement. (See more on this at and  DOI is only 18 months old! Even the two changes DISD is considering with this DOI proposal have no research to back them up.  Plus, they are changes to standards that all 1,200 districts in Texas are working under. If they are truly valuable changes, this needs research, and then a statewide legislative change.

Now to invest time on student achievement. You know I have been working for over 12 years with the Time Capsule Project.  The two oldest Time Capsule Project middle schools now have the highest SEI average over the past three years of all 31 DISD middle schools.  The next 5 Time Capsule Project schools over 3 years old have gained an average of 6.7 points in their SEI during those last three years. The remaining 24 middle schools in DISD have seen their average SEI fall 0.7 of a point during these same three years.   Are we a data-centered district?  

This project to date has cost DISD nothing beyond paper, pencil, and postage. The vaults were all donated. It is easy to find such donors.

We have struggled since 2009 trying to get parents to write a letter to their child about their dreams for them.  This has resulted in priceless letters, but they are written to only about 30% of students. This past May, instead of a letter from the principal, we experimented with students writing these request letters to their parents asking for that priceless letter back themselves about their parents dreams for them.  The results were dramatic!  In several classes as many as 85% of parents responded!  Numbers almost tripled!  Parents responded directly to their children!

(See documentation in recent blogs below.)

Since May it has been recommended to all 11 Time Capsule Project schools to expanded to all grades writing letters each year. Year old letters are returned each year to be read before new letters are written.  Only the letters written in the final grade of a school (5th, 8th or 12th) are letters planning 10 years into the future, and are the only letters that remain in the vault a decade. Now Time Capsule Projects are starting in elementary schools. 

With these improvements, and that significantly higher level of parental involvement annually, the SEI scores will rise much more rapidly at the 5 additional Time Capsule Project Schools now in development, as well as the 11 other already high performing Time Capsule Project Schools.   

This is how we need to spend more of our time at DISD Board meetings, not in discussing things like Home Rule and DOI!