Sunday, October 31, 2010

Dangerous omission from the "21st Century City Conference" at Dallas City Hall on 11/12/10

The plans for the 21st Century City Conference, on November 12, 2010 at Dallas City Hall, paint a wonderful view of our city, but leave out our schools!

As you search online and read the press releases for the conference, they build on the statement on the Conference web site: "The 21st Century City Conference addresses the enormous shift taking place in the way we build out our cities. We seek a more humane city, one that allows for the complexities of diverse lifestyles while offering serene and quiet places that feed the soul. We want a city that is vibrant and alive and we want, once again, to learn from nature."

That sounds great, but how do we prepare the people who will be our citizens for most of the 21st Century?

An atmosphere for planning the next century within which such an omission of public education happens may help explain why less than 50% of the full Dallas ISD 9th grade enrollment are ever represented in the number of diplomas given out four years later. This atmosphere is not new.  This graduation rate has been below 50% well over 20 years! The good news is that in spite of it the percentage of those graduating DISD schools is improving! It almost broke 50% with the Class of 2010, and will break that 20+ year old barrier with the Class of 2011!

While improvement is good to see, we still have a major crisis. It is a complex crisis that at least needs to be mentioned at any "21st Century City Conference" about Dallas.  These students, and the many who drop out of school, are the future taxpayers, workers, inmates, and leaders in Dallas. We need fewer inmates and more workers and leaders.

Remember, only a small fraction of that minority who actually graduate DISD high schools are prepared for college work. We have a long way to go.  We must make education more of a central part of life in Dallas for everyone. It should be an identified part of any conference planning for the next century. 

Any discussion of the future design and architecture of Dallas that does not include at least a mention of school design in the conference plans is missing what is probably THE major building block for the future. Attention must be given to having school buildings that are centrally located in their communities, well designed, and built following the highest standards of sustainability. Dallas should never again have newly built schools with leaking roofs within 10 years!

The 21st Century City Conference plans speak about seeking "a more humane city."   Such advances for Dallas will never happen if public schools are not included in the search!

Saturday, October 30, 2010

Any potential stirred by “Waiting for Superman” dies without school transparency.

On 10-28-10 State Representative Eric Johnson of Dallas, Big Brothers Big Sisters, and Big Thought, along with many others concerned about our Dallas schools, sponsored a showing of “Waiting for Superman.”

It was a very good evening. The most critical reality that emerged that evening, after the obvious that "something must be done," was that before any long lasting progress happens in our schools they all must provide complete public transparency related to student enrollments by grade, demographics of all children served, and monies spent.

Such data must be easy to locate on every school and school district web site. It must include information that is already easily available in every schools' records. It only needs to be made public. It should include student enrollment by grade, including graduation numbers. Such data must be reported annually and go into one large spreadsheet covering a minimum of 10 years of history. Four measurements of the graduation rate and student movement should be calculated on the spreadsheet and then graphed annually to illustrate progress, as reflected in this graph for Dallas ISD:

Once school culture becomes aware that such numbers will be made public, changes in priorities will evolve. More work will happen to motivate students to stay in school and succeed.

Such transparency will be a central tool for the supermen and women who are already working to save our schools. With it they will be able to assess how bad things are, create solutions, like the School Archive Project, and then follow the progress year by year as things improve, or as design changes are needed in any project.

Hopefully here in Texas, due to the data already publically available on the Texas Education Agency web site, we can have much of this information more quickly available for every school and school district.  The major thing missing on the TEA web site is a simple multi-year spreadsheet for every school and school district.  If all goes well, a legislative remedy will be possible within the year.

Wednesday, October 20, 2010

Encouraging early voting in Dallas - with a message for our students.

 This photo was taken 4:30 PM, 10-20-10, at Clarendon/Westmoreland intersection in Dallas. The sign directs people to Martin Weiss Recreation Center for early voting.

It is never right for a teacher to tell their students for whom they themselves are voting. However, such questions are a priceless opportunity for a teacher to speak of the power of the vote.  This is a time to talk of the absolute necessity that people in positions of authority never try to influence those over whom they have authority regarding such a precious right. It is also a time to speak of the absolute necessity for every adult citizen to vote and be involved in the decisions made in our democracy. 

This afternoon many of my students saw me with the above sign as I worked about two miles from our school to encourage Dallas citizens in voting early.  This work was near the closest early voting location in our area, a location that is not marked from the nearby 6-lane road.

Hopefully these efforts during Dallas early voting will send the right message.  Free choice is priceless! We must educate ourselves to best preserve our ability to choose.  We must vote based on reasoned choices for our democracy to work!

(Note: this effort resulted in a 40% increase in the early votes cast at Weiss Recreation Center nearby that was being pointed to with the sign.)

Sunday, October 17, 2010

Professor Kwame Anthony Appiah & question to anticipate: “What were we thinking?”

Professor Kwame Anthony Appiah wrote a powerful article, originally printed in the Washington Post, that was re-printed today in the Dallas Morning News: "Accepted now, unforgivable later."

He asked a critical question for the future as we will look back on what we are now allowing to happen: "What were we thinking?"  We need to be asking such questions now. Much suffering could be avoided!

While Professor Appiah listed four "contenders for future moral condemnation," he left out our nation's high school dropout rate.  The scandalous reality is that in 2010 less than 70% of our U.S. students are finishing high school within 4 years?  This disaster certainly merits being a contender for future moral condemnation. In too many urban school districts the graduation percentage is even less than 50%! 

In 20 years hopefully graduation rates will significantly improve so we can be looking back at current numbers and exclaim: “What were we thinking!”

It is such a “What were we thinking?” question that is at the heart of the most successful dropout prevention efforts. In 2005 the School Archive Project was started at a Dallas ISD middle school. It started with the bolting of a 350-pound vault to the school lobby floor to function as a time capsule. It holds letters parents write to their child about their dreams for their child, and a second letter written by that student to themselves about their own dreams and goals. Both these letters are placed by the student into one self-addressed envelope that will be retrieved at the class 10-year reunion. Students know that at this same reunion they will be invited to speak to the then current 8th grade students about their recommendations for success. They are warned to be prepared for questions such as “What would you do differently if you were 13 again?”

As Professor Appiah says: “… we'll be better off for anticipating the question.” 

That has been proven in the School Archive Project.

The first high school that began getting most of the School Archive Project students in 2005 had averaged a 34% graduation rate from 2000 through 2007. Then the graduation rate began to go up! By the time the Class of 2010 graduated the graduation rate had risen to over 60% due to this future focus and other improvements!

The Archive Project began to spread in 2009 due to the results being seen, and the negligible cost since such letter writing fits easily within normal lesson plans. Now six larger, 500-pound vaults have been bolted to the lobby floors in 6 more Dallas ISD schools. Such a vault in a place of honor, with hundreds of letters being archived each year in it, and passed many times every day by all students, sends a constant reminder of the need to work and plan for the future. Ten-year class reunion planning changes the student perspective about the passing of time.

The power of focusing on the future, and questions of accountability, will change our culture more than anything money can buy. That is the power of preparing every child to answer, 10 years after middle school, that priceless question:  
What would you do differently if you were 13 again?”

Thursday, October 14, 2010

9th grade bulge is disappearing from Dallas ISD enrollment, and the number of boys compared to girls is more balanced

Beginning with the Dallas ISD enrollment for 2005/2006 the 9th grade enrollment bulge began to go down.

For the decade ending with the 2005/2006 school year the 9th grade enrollment had averaged over 14,700 students. Meanwhile the average 8th grade enrollment had only been 11,025.  This made the "9th grade bulge rate" to be 33.3% more students than were in the average 8th grade class for DISD during these years. This was caused by students being poorly prepared for high school who then repeated the 9th grade in exceptionally large numbers. The bar chart below illustrates this pattern in Dallas ISD, a pattern repeated in most school districts in Texas. For all of Texas, from 1997 to 2008, the average "9th grade bulge rate" was 18%.

The above bar chart illustrates the 9th grade bubble/bulge which is now less than half as severe as the above graph indicates.  With the Dallas ISD enrollment as of 10-14-10, taken from, the "33.3% bulge" of the decade prior to 2005/2006, has been lowered to below 12% with the current 20010/2011 enrollment!  This is a significant reflection of the reasons our dropout rates are going down!  Below is the graph showing this progress by year:

Ninth grade bulge history in Dallas ISD
 In the process of the above documented progress, the number of girls related to the number of boys has also become significantly more balanced combined with the lowering of the dropout rate.

The 9th grade enrollment for Dallas ISD in 2004-2005, as reflected in the TEA data base online, shows that  52.7% of 9th grade enrollment was male.  This was probably mostly due to the higher retention rate for boys. That was 6 years ago. As of 10-14-2010 the current Dallas ISD enrollment indicates that only 51.7% of the 9th grade enrollment is male. This represents a 41% improvement.  The 5.4 percentage point difference between the male and female numbers in 2004/2005 is now lowered 41%, to a 3.2 percentage point difference as of the 10-14-2010 enrollment.

The 12th grade enrollment change is even more significant. In 2004/2005 the 12th grade enrollment was only 45.9% male in Dallas ISD. Since then the male 12th grade enrollment has grown to 48.2% of the senior class enrollment as of 10-14-2010. Thus the 8.2 percentage point spread between male and female senior class enrollment from the years before 2005/2006 has shrunk 61% within the past 5 years to a spread of only 3.6%. This 61% improvement within 5 years, in equalizing the balance between the number of boys and girls, is significant progress! 

The dropout rate progress in Dallas ISD is positively affecting many factors in the lives of our students, and in the life in our city.  The many positive results from lowering the DISD dropout rate will be much more valuable to our city that any other single civic improvement that is possible.

(Since the above post it was discovered that progress in Dallas ISD is now moving it in front of the average schools in the state of Texas relative to the 9th grade bulge. See )

Thursday, October 7, 2010

Rosine Smith Sammons Lecture In Media Ethics: Jim Lehrer

Last night at SMU was fascinating!  Jim Lehrer spoke about history in Dallas and many events directly related to media ethics.  All seats in Caruth Auditorium were taken with chairs on the stage for the overflow!  His covering of Dr. Martin Luther King's trip to Dallas in 1968 was exceptionally instructive.

However, just as amazing was to survey online media and blogs this morning and to find only one short tweet about last nights lecture: 'Final words: "I am not in the entertainment business" Jim Lehrer#sammons'

Why is so little online coverage/discussion given to this powerful snapshot of Dallas History? It appears that the sometimes painful exploration of history may have failed while other "entertainment" wins.