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

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