Tuesday, January 31, 2012

Ignoring Finnish Lessons, Relationships, & Seamless Transitions

"When shown successful reform models elsewhere in the world, educators and lawmakers (in the U.S.) often scoff that there are no lessons for America."

This is the opening sentence of the "Lessons Ignored" article posted 1-30-12 on the Atlanta Journal-Constitution. The article goes over the strategies used by too many in the US to ignore what is happening in Finnish schools.

The final sentence in this article is painfully true about the U.S. educational system: “We keep making minor changes to an education system that is 100 years out of date. It is not that the United States has a bad system. We have no system.”

The educational system in Finland has multiple unifying factors.  Probably the most central is a dedication to minimizing transition trauma between grades and maximazing personal relationships by students with teachers. It leads to a system with no separate middle schools.  The elementary school years (grades 1-6) and the middle school years (7-9) are all spent in the same school. 

The middle school debate has raged within the United States for 50 years.  Middle schools were started without reasoning based in university research.  They were simply considered a good idea.  Now all over the US school systems are closing separate middle schools and moving back to the K-8 model.   Google "separate middle schools" and read the reports.  If you study the first 50 hits you will find a very few school systems who are opening middle schools.  Those are moving against the crowd.   Over 1,000 of the 9,000+ U.S. middle schools that existed in 2005 have closed or changed into k-8 schools. ( http://educationnext.org/the-middle-school-mess/ )  Now we have Finland that reinforces this change.  We should end using separate middle schools so that our students avoid unnecessary transition trauma.

Due to the value the Finnish educational system places on personal relationships and the minimizing of transition, most of the time one teacher stays with the same class of students from first through 6th grades.  The goal is to make the first 9 years of education as seamless as possible, all in one school, with as few teachers as possible involved with each student.  That is a priceless goal!

Monday, January 30, 2012

Texas Education Crisis in Dallas

This week has been tragic for parents, students, and teachers in Dallas ISD.

The crisis started when at the Thursday Board meeting 11 schools were voted to be closed down. That same night the DISD Board voted to force teachers to work on the clock for 45 more minutes each day. This was done with little public information or discussion. Then, due to this vote, a young teacher who was the main income earner for 6 children was placed on leave for writing a critical letter to a board member. This past weekend the blogs exploded as is clearly visible by looking at comments at each of the above three linked news articles.  Within the past 24 hours a "sickout" has emerged for Leap Day as a form of protest. Here is the organization web site for the quickly formed Teachers for Change. There were many more such articles written every hour!

The instigator of all this tension was last year's legislative session when relatively few ever went to Austin to protest what was happening.  Only 13,000 showed up for the largest demonstration. That amounted to about one demonstrator for every 5 jobs lost combined with every 350 students pushed into more crowded classrooms. Ultimately over $5 billion was cut from the Texas education budget. This trauma in Dallas is the fallout, with some peripheral damage, from those tragic decisions.

Anyone angry about what is happening to our students, parents, and teachers, and the future of Texas, must contact their legislators!

The legislators who voted “Yea” to Senate Bill 1 (SB1) are responsible for starting this process rolling. We must focus on those who voted to pass SB1 which was the budget bill that cut the educational budget. Generally speaking "Yea" votes for SB1 were along party lines, but that is not always true.  Here is a list of all Dallas area State Legislators and the votes they made on SB1:

Dallas Area State Legislators 2011
and votes on Senate Bill 1
(Right-click to enlarge chart and print.)
SB1 was passed 6-28-11 in special session. The final votes, as recorded above, are also recorded online. Go to the SB1 actions page at http://www.legis.state.tx.us/BillLookup/Actions.aspx?LegSess=821&Bill=SB1 and click on the most recent votes tabs for both the House and Senate, each at the top of the page. You will see the names of those legislators responsible, the "Yea" votes. We need to be calling their offices now asking for the reasoning behind their votes. Thank the legislators who voted "Nay."  Then get ready for the next election, attend campaign gatherings, and ask questions. Our children need advocates to stand up for them! 
You may also find your legislators and their contact information at http://www.legis.state.tx.us/ .

Sunday, January 29, 2012

Exorcise Ghost of Separate but Equal from Dallas

Today's Dallas Morning News editorial is titled: "Wanted: an innovator to nudge DISD out of its comfort zone."   It lists qualities needed by a superintendent for Dallas ISD. 

The editorial was credible and tempting until it said the new DISD superintendent should, "move more quickly on worthy ideas such as creating in-district charter schools ..."

This is a reminder that too many of the efforts to improve DISD go toward some students having educational resources made available to them separate from other students: magnet schools, charter schools, etc...

Such "separate but equal" practices appear to be critical in the Dallas comfort zone.

What would happen if the foundation for Dallas ISD were to become absolute equity among all schools for all students, at least through the 9th grade?

That has been the increasingly firm foundation in Finland for the past 40 years.  Since 2000 Finland has had the highest student performance in the world! Every student in Finland does well.

Finland has a higher proportion of immigrants than 18 states in the US. Immigrants excel quickly in Finland.

The newest book on education in Finland, "Finnish Lessons" by Dr. Pasi Sahlberg, was published in November 2011. It is already sold out on Amazon. New copies are selling for as much as $450.00!

Dr. Sahlberg has a 2009 DMN article by Jim Landers on his web site that summarizes Finnish Education: http://www.pasisahlberg.com/downloads/Texas%20school%20reformers%20in%20Finland.pdf .

Dallas ISD students will continue to fall below students in Finland for as long as any DISD students are treated differently. The days of separate but equal must be gone in Dallas!

Is the Dallas Morning News willing to be pushed out of its own comfort zone and lead the charge for total educational equity?

Friday, January 27, 2012

Dallas ISD and the Texas Education Budget Cuts

When the largest demonstration against $5 billion in education cuts during the 2011 Texas Legislative session only drew 13,000 demonstrators, the Texas Legislators saw little danger in making the cuts. Thus, for each one of those 13,000 demonstrators about 5 teachers and other staff lost their jobs, and 350 students were moved into more crowded classrooms all across Texas.  The bill that did this was SB1, Senate Bill 1.
One small example of the results of these cuts was acted out at last night's Dallas ISD Board meeting.  Eleven schools are being closed.  That decision was combined with other negative decisions.  The progress in DISD since 2006 is in danger:
DISD Enrollment & Graduation History 1996 through 2011
(Right click on the above chart to enlarge.)

The red cells in the chart above indicate graduation rate measurements going down from the previous year.  That has not happened in Dallas ISD in years!  But we will probably see these measurements begin to go down next year, or else the following year.  Here we are only looking at the numbers.  Think of the children they represent.  

The CPI measured graduation rate in Dallas has improved by over 23 percentage points since the Class of 2006!  Think of one of those percentage points as about 50 more Dallas children with diplomas.

Following is a list of Dallas area state legislators and their vote on SB1.  While the voting was generally along party lines, that is not always true.  Please print this out and join us in working to restore educational funding in the 2013 Legislative Session.
Dallas Area State Legislators 2011
(Right-click on the above chart to enlarge for printing.)
You may find more detailed information on the Texas Legislative Web site.  Be certain your legislators know your thoughts on this issue.

Wednesday, January 25, 2012

Dallas ISD: one of the most improved graduation rates in all of Dallas County.

Dallas ISD must continue the progress!
Graduation Rate Measurement History for Dallas County Texas Schools
(Right click on above chart to enlarge and/or print.)
This chart clearly documents the dramatic progress in Dallas ISD graduation rates, especially when compared to the other 12 large school districts in Dallas County.

What this chart does not show is that DISD had an 8 percentage point improvement during the two years just before the first year shown, and another percentage point increase last year, also not shown on this chart.  These numbers are shown in the chart below. 

From 2006 through 2011 the CPI graduation rate for DISD has gone up a total of 23.8 percentage points!  DISD is one of the most improved, if not the most improved, urban districts in all of the United States.  It certainly is the most improved in Dallas County!

Dallas ISD is going in the right direction!  We must not slow down!
Dallas ISD Enrollment & Graduation History 1996-2011
(Right-click on above image to enlarge.)
The red squares in the chart above are years in which that graduation rate measurement went down. It appears such red squares may be in the DISD future again if we cannot change the way DISD teachers are treated.   If you see ANY errors in the above please email bbetzen@aol.com .

Sunday, January 22, 2012

Texas Public School Enrollment & Graduation Rate History

From 2006 through 2010 Texas public schools made tremendous progress in the major dropout rate measurements.  That is demonstrated on the following two charts that can be enlarged and studied in detail.
Texas Graduation Rate Progress 2006 through 2010
(Right click on above image to enlarge.)
The chart below presents over a decade of Texas graduation rate history.  As is clear in the chart below, these past 4 years have set new records for progress in Texas. The chart above has been left blank for the years through 2016. It is predicted that the over 5 billion dollars in education cuts inflicted by the Texas Legislature the spring of 2011 will leave their mark on these measurements.  Graduation rates may suffer unless we can somehow convince our students how critical their success in school is for their own futures, no matter what the state budget is!
Texas Public School Enrollment by Grade & diplomas, 1997-2011
& 4 graduation rate measurements
(Right click on above image to enlarge.)

Friday, January 20, 2012

Middle school progress needed

(The following letter to the editor was printed in the Dallas Morning News on Friday, Jan. 20, 2012 and is online at http://letterstotheeditorblog.dallasnews.com/archives/2012/01/middle-school-p.html.)

Re: "DISD's Strengths -- Next superintendent will have assets going in," Sunday Editorials.

The most priceless sentences in Sunday's editorial serve as a summary of the problems a new superintendent will face: "Beyond the magnets, many neighborhood elementary schools reflect solid academics, but too often they feed into middle or high schools where achievement drops off sharply. The challenge for the next superintendent is to find out why and pursue policies to change that."

Anyone who studies the 15-year DISD enrollment and graduation spreadsheet will quickly see the significant improvements that have happened since 2005. But they are not enough. They must continue and accelerate. For that to happen, the mystery of why student performance drops starting in middle school must be uncovered.

What is it like being a sixth-grader in DISD? You struggle to establish yourself in a new social setting. You may have nobody in your home who has ever graduated high school. Nobody can tell you what it's like.

Some high schools, like Sunset, and the middle schools feeding into Sunset, appear to be making progress. Students are being intentionally focused onto their own futures -- repeatedly!

If every DISD high school had made the same progress since 2007 as Sunset, over a thousand more students would be graduating with the Class of 2012. How would a thousand more DISD graduates affect the Dallas economy? Taxes? Crime rate? The future of Dallas?

Bill Betzen, Dallas/Oak Cliff

Wednesday, January 18, 2012

Dallas ISD High School Enrollment 1-18-12 & dropout rate indicators

The following chart was created from the enrollment figures that were posted onto the official DISD enrollment web site at https://mydata.dallasisd.org/SL/SD/ENROLLMENT/Enrollment.jsp?SLN=1000  as of 4:37 AM today, 1-18-12. 

When a person concerned about dropout rates looks at school enrollment, the first thing you want to compare are freshman and senior enrollment numbers.  The smaller the senior enrollment numbers compared to the freshman enrollment numbers, the greater the dropout rate with very rare exceptions.  As a school makes progress in lowering their dropout rate, their senior enrollment becomes an ever greater percentage of their freshman class enrollment.   This has happened at Sunset and Pinkston High Schools, both high schools who have received Archive Project students since 2006, and then started their own High School level Archive Projects in the years since.   See the chart below:
Non-magnet Dallas High School Enrollment as of 1-18-12
One indication of graduation rate standings.
(Right click on above image to enlarge or print.)
Sunset, which received the largest majority of Archive Project Students, stands out significantly above the other DISD non-magnet high schools as having one of the highest graduation rates in Dallas ISD.  Five years ago Sunset had one of the lowest graduation rates and highest dropout rates in all of DISD.  Only 6 schools were worse, and one of them was Pinkston.  Now they both are well above the DISD average shown in the chart above.  Sunset now has one of the highest graduation rates and one of the lowest dropout rates for all Dallas ISD non-magnet high schools.

Thursday, January 12, 2012

Dallas ISD Enrollment & Graduation Rate History

The following chart was turned in at a meeting 1-11-12 at the Dallas ISD headquarters.  It was a meeting accepting input as to the qualities the Dallas ISD Superintendant to be hired must have.  It was recommended all finalists be given a large copy of the following chart, and 15 minutes alone, to study and interpret it:

Right click on the above image to enlarge and/or download.
 The applicants would then have to talk about the major achievements and challenges facing DISD as reflected in the spreadsheet.  Questions would be asked: What does the chart document about Dallas ISD history?  What does it document that must be improved?  What improvements now happening must continue?  What do you notice on the chart that most administrators would not notice?  (On 1-18-12 a posting was made that focuses on the high school that is more responsible than any other in DISD for the graduation rate improvements shown in this chart.)

Any qualified applicant must be able to quickly read and interpret a spreadsheet if decisions within DISD are to truly be data driven.  It is a trend that must continue to spread, and be more visible to the public.  It is also a trend that must be cautious in dealing with data sets that are too often too narrow, often dangerously narrow!

Sunday, January 8, 2012

Dallas ISD History & Progress 1971-2011

The following chart tracks DISD enrollment and graduation patterns from 1971 to 2011. It documents one view of the civil rights agony in Dallas that is still too close to objectively access. However, graduation rate progress these past 5 years is clearly documented.  DISD graduation rates are going up. They are now the highest they have been in over 25 years!
Dallas ISD Enrollment & Graduation History from 1971 to 2011
(Right click on above chart to download and/or enlarge.)
This progress must continue, and accelerate!

Thoughts about the above chart are welcome, especially from those who lived through this dramatic history.  bbetzen@aol.com