Tuesday, July 1, 2014

Petitions regarding efforts to extend DISD Superintendents' 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