Who’s Stupid?

dont-skip-schoolIt would be obscenely funny if the consequences were not so grim and real for so many Dallas high school students.

Caught violating state attendance laws by graduating seniors who were not present for a large chunk of class time, a former Dallas ISD administrator called the attendance laws, “stupid.” We can only wonder why this school administrator was so willing to take her high salary which was available through the only revenue stream available in Texas schools:  student attendance.

Not to be outdone, Trustee Mike Morath called attendance laws, “soul crushing” for high performing students. Trustee Solis chimed in with his approval of high levels of student truancy.

Yes, truancy.

As Trustee Morath is well aware, there is a whole menu of opportunities for high performing high school students. They can use Advanced Placement, International Baccalaureate, dual credit, and independent study in gifted and talented programs. Even our smartest kids would not be in danger of having their souls crushed with such a plethora of options. The whole debate over seat time is specious in terms of the consequences of truancy for urban, poor youth. If Morath actually had any experience in urban high schools, he would find out how unbelievably dangerous and idiotic his remarks are.

Skipping school is one of the most dangerous activities a teenager can indulge. For poor, minority children who are often years behind in their academic development, calling attendance at school an option is actually so irresponsible that it is akin to contributing to the delinquency of a minor.

Where were a quarter of the Dallas ISD seniors of 2013 during the time they were supposed to be in school?

According to Morath, these were all high achieving students bored with the classwork they had already mastered. They were so special, just like Morath, that seat time at school was a waste of their young lives.

Maybe middle and upper income white boys, fully entitled in every way, should have special permits to leave school whenever the whim hits. Maybe Superintendent Miles doesn’t know enough to actually raise the level of academic challenge for these high performing students.

For the rest of the students, the other 90% served by Dallas schools, truancy is a short gateway leading straight to prison, pregnancy, drugs, and very dangerous peer groups who gather in Skip Houses.

Once a student starts skipping school, it works just like a narcotic. These students fall behind in their classes and don’t want to return to school. Some of these students were actually high performers who were not sufficiently challenged by their classes. That lack of challenge has nothing to do with lax attendance policies that direct teenagers right on to the mean streets of Dallas, Texas.

Lack of academic challenge doesn’t make the streets of Dallas any safer for these teenagers, many of whom engage in delinquent behavior during their skip days.

Young girls are in danger of becoming young mothers who will generally have a second child before leaving their own teenage years.

Teachers know the scenario. There are teachers whose classes are not adequately differentiated for high performers. These teachers need assistance in increasing the options for students so that every student is not moved through academic standards at the same pace.

Of course, Superintendent Miles has done nothing to guarantee all classrooms have the computers and technology that aid in creating different instructional sequences for kids who need a faster pace or more challenge. And using differentiated techniques doesn’t fit Miles’ demands that teachers use his instructional template with its choral responses.

But back to those mean streets.

Suggesting teenagers can just opt out of being at school increases their chances of being arrested, failing school, becoming teenage parents, and meeting up with other dangerous characters whose life occupations include drug dealing, theft, and mindless wandering.

Calling strict attendance laws, “stupid” or “soul crushing” does nothing to eliminate the life-long consequences for truants. Just like dropouts, they are on a path to destitution.

For a former DISD central administrator and current Trustees to attempt to cover potential attendance fraud with words to dilute the impact of violations of state law should cause every taxpayer in Dallas to take a long look at the quality of the current Board.

Trustee Mike Morath also made false statements concerning most charter school practices. Charter schools don’t want truants. Charter schools keep the doors open through student attendance monies.

Trustee Morath’s insistence that he knows education research is once again proven false. Morath knows very little about public education and nothing about the needs of the majority of Dallas high school students.

Crossing the line into suggesting practices that violate the safety of thousands of Dallas high school students, however, is far more serious.

Parents, taxpayers, and the Texas Education Agency need an investigation not only into Dallas high school attendance violations, but into the message being conveyed by a Dallas school Trustee who is suggesting false attendance records are due to the boredom of high achieving students.

If this is Morath’s version of a Home Rule District, imperiling the safety of thousands of teenagers through risky behavior, it’s one more reason to say no to Home Rule.

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Posted in Baloney Meter

The New Dallas Miracle and the New Jim Crow

miles-txobserverYears ago, when Sandy Kress was the Dallas ISD School Board President, Dallas public school students were transformed in exactly the same way they are currently enjoying a transformation led by Todd  Williams, Trustee Mike Morath, and now, tag-along sock puppet Trustee Miguel Solis.

Decades ago, the public was told that Dallas ISD achievement had risen due to the miracle of standardized testing. In reality, Dallas public schools test scores were rising due to high dropout rates which were carefully hidden from public view.

Attrition works wonders for student achievement. Just ask any of the brand charters how they achieve such miraculous results. Most of the time, dumping low performers and behavior problems are the real reason behind charter school academic success.

The New Dallas Miracle is touted as rising graduation rates and efficiency in taxpayer dollars in Dallas public schools. While Matthew Haag’s story in The Dallas Morning News is a superb narrative of compromised high school principals willing to follow their Commander’s orders by violating state attendance laws, The New Dallas Miracle has been only partially unclothed.

Dramatically rising graduation rates in Dallas also rest on extremely high student attrition rates covered by certain Leaver Codes. These Leaver Codes are actually attached to dropouts, but once certain Leaver Codes are used, no one questions the disappearance of thousands of high school students in each cohort.

Yes, we said thousands. The current senior class of 2015 had over 1900 additional students their sophomore year. We don’t have the ability to track students individually through the data. It could be that attrition rates are much higher due to students moving into high-dropout neighborhood high schools and covering the trail of extreme student attrition by adding more students who are simply counted as part of the cohort.

How high school students can disappear off the books and not be counted as dropouts is simple. Students are given Leaver Codes of “Returning to Home Country” even though they are third-generation native Texans with Hispanic surnames. Other favorite Leaver Codes are “Attending Private School” and “Home School” and “Moved to Another State.”

For those unwilling to believe Dallas ISD principals would attach phony Leaver Codes to dropouts in order to increase their graduation rates, we suggest a re-read of the audit of the senior class of 2014.

The effects of high student attrition attached to the right Leaver Codes are the Dallas Miracle in action. Moving kids off the books increases the graduation rates by increasing the percentage of the cohort who walk across the stage. Only the students who were given actual dropout status in Leaver Codes lower the graduation rates.

But the Dallas Miracle is currently imperiled, and not one Trustee seems to be aware.

Added to the loss of almost 1,400 students from this year’s current senior class are the historically high failure rates on the five End of Course exams this year’s seniors must pass to graduate.

End of course failure rates of at least one test for the seniors of 2015 are 50% at South Oak Cliff, 35% at Seagoville, 34% at North Dallas, 44% at Carter, 38% at Conrad, and 37% at Pinkston. Aside from the Texas Education Agency stopping the practice of allowing one-third of many high school seniors in Dallas ISD to graduate after violating state attendance laws, attrition in the class of 2015 added to failure on EOC exams will certainly destroy The New Dallas Miracle. The number of DISD high schools on the unacceptable list will undoubtedly rise.

All of these issues, improper use of Leaver Codes, violation of state attendance laws, and extremely high failure rates on required End of Course exams may bring The Dallas Miracle to an end.

Did recent efficiency studies include the $5 million School Improvement Grants allotted Roosevelt, Wilmer Hutchins, Spruce, or North Dallas?  After all, when Roosevelt High School is now down to 79 seniors out of 169 sophomores in the same cohort, and those 79 seniors include at least 38% who have failed at least one End of Course Exam, how efficient is that?  North Dallas has already churned out 27% of its senior cohort. Another 34% have failed at least one EOC exam. Based on loss of students and EOC failure rates, North Dallas High School ranks right in the middle of the nine high schools identified as among the worst 5% in the state.

We are only asking because we need to enlighten Todd Williams, Eric Celeste, and Trustee Morath who ran around town spreading the word of the great Dallas Miracle led by Superintendent Mike Miles.

If we run the numbers on the attrition in Dallas high schools and subtract the endangered seniors who may not graduate because they can’t pass the required state tests, 16 out of 19 of our comprehensive high schools rate from 29% of the cohort graduating to around 66%. And that assumes seniors actually attend class this year.

Just as Sandy Kress’ Dallas Miracle had no substance, studies of efficiency in Dallas ISD schools need another formula, one that approximates the reality of the actual inputs and outcomes.

The New Jim Crow Dallas Miracle suffers the same delusions as the rest of the corporate reform movement. Data is misused to protect Superintendent Miles and the renewal of his contract.

Misuse of Leaver Codes in Dallas high schools allows 2,000 students to disappear without dinging the graduation rate while another quarter of the class has failed at least one test needed for graduation.

The actual consequences in lost income over a lifetime of the majority of Dallas ISD seniors who are either gone or in academic peril are permanent. The classroom to prison pipeline is still the reality.

There is no Dallas Miracle.

Posted in Baloney Meter, Rotten in Denmark

DISD’s Operation Overlord

operation-overlordIn his benevolence, our superintendent allowed us a single workday to prepare for an entire school year.

Since then, Floyd “Mike” Miles has visited some DISD schools and did not appreciate the results.

Was it the accidental penicillin factory at Casa View Elementary that displeased him (which could easily be found at almost any of the older schools in the district–schools where staff have given up hope of working in a mold, mildew, asbestos, and toxin-free environment)? No, spokesman Andre Riley has declared that no such giant Petri dish exists in DISD.

Was it the clear lack of classroom supplies and materials? After all, the district’s office supply budget is higher than the one for student and classroom supplies. Probably not, though, since teachers individually buy, borrow, find or salvage what their students need, even in times of a budget surplus for the district. (Some teachers even get to beg. See below for more information about teachers begging).

Was Miles cross at seeing an array of ancient (or a lack of) computers in most schools, which would seem incongruous with DISD’s now having the much-touted largest fiber optic network operated by a school district? Apparently not.

Frankly, I am not sure what specifically irked this man. One principal did not specify, but hinted at a MM classic peeve: the loathsome sight of a teacher in a chair. Do teachers not realize that students can not learn unless we are in a state of endless movement, exhibiting the youthful energy and “freshness” that is our superintendent’s ideal?

Isn’t this the same thing he was complaining about when he first got here a few years ago? Does he have any idea how rare it is to even have a moment to sit during a class? Does he realize that his photo ops with district children rarely show him looming over them? Since Miles himself assumes such bodily positions in staged visual scenarios, it seems unfair to obsess over teachers occasionally kneeling down or sitting for a second next to a student to demonstrate something for them. I recall this being a big deal for Miles when he first arrived. In the beginning of his first school year here, there were widespread rumors that he had ordered principals to remove all the teachers’ desks from the classrooms.

Based upon the fact that many principals are now issuing lists of mandatory classroom components, some reported to be as long as 18 items, it would seem that Miles has absurdly unrealistic expectations for what teachers in DISD can achieve when given a single day of physical preparation.

This disconnect, between setting expectations and providing teachers what is required to meet them, seems to be a trademark of Miles’ reign. Has anyone else tried to use the new Pearson product, Schoolnet? It has taken the place of other systems which seemed to be functioning well enough. How much did we pay Pearson for this, and was it needed? Could that budget have been used for technology teachers actually need for their students?

One small, seemingly primitive example: every classroom in DISD should have a projector attached to the ceiling, wired to the teacher’s computer or other equivalent device. With the expectation that we use Power Point and other digital forms of communication, can this not be achieved in a district that has the money to buy into Pearson’s latest systems?

Whatever Miles sampled this year apparently did not contain enough excellence juice. He tasted, declared it displeasing, and spat it back out at all of us in the form of the promised Return. Not only would Miles appear with his entourage at select school campuses, he would issue forth an armada of administrative human capital to ALL schools in the district.

On Monday, Septermber 15, Miles and his wave of minions will storm the campuses as though they are the beaches of Normandy. With credit to the bloggers on the DMN who had an exchange about whether or not September 15 is D-Day, I suggest we refer to this unnamed, undocumented military maneuver with the historically relevant term Operation Overlord.

What are the expectations? What are the consequences if these are not met? Where did he get all the people it is going to take to visit and assess several classrooms and a campus at over 200 locations on a single day? Is this some standard military technique used to break in new recruits? Will Todd! be brought in as a Guest Teacher to critique teachers?

No one is certain. There has been no formal, district-wide written communication regarding this date and what it entails. Everyone who will speak openly about it online seems to have heard that each teacher will either pass or fail an observation, and that even a single fail will cause the entire school to “fail.” There has been absolutely no communication on what the consequences of such a “fail” will be for that school (or the individual teachers.)

An escalation in the required quantity of Multiple Response Strategies (“techniques designed to elicit responses from most of the students in classroom numerous times during a class period”) seems to have preceded this quiet scream of an announcement. In the case of Greiner Middle School and Exploratory Arts Academy, a school with a proven record of success within DISD, the principal now requires 8-10 MRS’s per 50 minute lesson!  That leaves no time for learning, absorbing, processing.  Teachers at other campuses report similar requirements, generally less than Greiner’s but more than previous requirements.

So that’s what was wrong? That’s why we have so many failing schools? Not enough MRS’s? Must be, so better double the quotas!

Incidentally, other than DISD, no one else seems to mandate these MRS requirements. There are Checks for Understanding, but those are, apparently, a different animal from an MRS. If anything similar is used, it is not mandated in such a be-all, end-all manner. There is online evidence that something similar, “Active Engagement Strategies,” may be used in some parts of Georgia, but it is only for grades 1-5, while DISD demands the use of MRS for K-12, including magnet schools.

On the physical level, the classroom mandates and expectations are all over the place, spanning the realms of tragedy, comedy, and the Venn Diagram middle zone in which they intersect.

Here are some reports from individual teachers around the district:

“Today I was at training with my fellow Reading teachers and two of the presenters told us we should have a Reading Center with a carpet and if we didn’t have a carpet we should beg Home Depot and other stores. Sometimes they will give you things if you beg. So now DISD is asking us to beg for what they are asking us to have in our classrooms.”

“We are getting the big visit at our elem school. We have had the big meeting about it, complete with a tongue lashing. If one room fails, the whole school fails. We were given a “classroom checklist” as to how our room will look, complete with ‘Shelved materials sequenced : simple to complex, whole to part, concrete toward abstract.’ Huh?”

“Hope you’re ready to start tap dancing up the walls as well… Nobody was singing in the rain today when we received a list of no less than 18 ‘required classroom elements’ that must be on the wall before D-Day, the September 15 district-wide classroom invasion. Some standards, some ancient history and some stuff we’d never even heard of (that administration conveniently couldn’t clarify). Get out your staple-gun, but consider aiming it at your head.”

What have you been told about this Day of Infamy? Yes, I’m switching military history themes. Since when does any true leader declare war on his own troops and expect a successful outcome? What would a successful outcome even be, in this instance?

For those who make it through the battles, please comment here to share what happened at your school.

Posted in Teachers Rule

Dallas Home Rule: What on Earth are These People Thinking?

mmtThe Dallas Home Rule Charter Commission has begun its series of community input meetings they call a “listening tour.” The Commission is to be commended for soliciting input from stakeholders before writing (or not writing) a home-rule charter to be presented to voters. The community is invited to attend and make comments.

The Pro Home Rule support staff (Commit!? Morath? Allyn Media?) has developed and circulated their latest list of “Why We Need Home Rule” recommendations to be presented at these events.

If you make it to one of these meetings (and you certainly should!) you’ll hear these talking points over and over, delivered haltingly by Todd! shills who just had their speaking part handed to them minutes before.

Or maybe you won’t hear the same ones. Apparently there is an endless supply of obscure you would never think of that reasons for scrapping the Dallas Independent School District and replacing it with charter schools. I’m sure these 20 are only the tip of the iceberg.

Actually, I feel kind of silly for stooping to the level of these people, debating issues that we all know are NOT the reason Todd! and Company want to take over the district. But it’s fun, and maybe we’ll come up with some real suggestions for improvement in the commenting process. So here goes with one of the suggestions, taken at random from the list of 20 claimed to be authored by Home-Rule supporter and long- time Woodrow activist parent Susan Schuerger.

Create a more flexible minimum attendance standard (aka 90% rule) for students to receive credit for a class.


Opting out of the 90% attendance standard would leave discretion as to passing or failing a class to the teacher and administration.

• Students are required to attend 90% of all classes in order to get credit for those classes. Even if the student is making an A+ in the class, or if school approved field trips are the reason a student drops below the threshold, the principal must develop a bureaucratic and burdensome paperwork process to ensure the student has completed work or spent time to make up the shortfall.

• Students who miss class for no academic reasons are allowed to make up that time at Saturday school, often at 2:1, 3:1 and even 4:1 time-missed to hours-made-up ratios, which cannot possibly meet the standards of rigor and content coverage demanded during regular class time.

• No recognition is given to out-of-class time spent on educational endeavors, even if they are directly and substantively related to the content and activities of the class. This process encourages seat time to the detriment of content knowledge, whole world experience and creative instruction, while also increasing principal paperwork duties to no benefit of student achievement.

I can see the heads nodding in agreement. Why shouldn’t Johnny get school credit for a safari with Gramps? And Susie should get something for all that modeling work she does for JCPenney! Who made these silly rules anyway?

Actually this is a hypocritical rationale for abandoning attendance policy that accomplishes pretty much nothing. On the one hand, we are told teachers and administration should have discretion in deciding whether to pass or fail a student that has missed more than 90% of a class and then we are told that absence make-up schemes devised by these same teachers and administrators are shams that cannot possibly meet the standards of rigor and content coverage demanded during regular class time.

Um, didn’t you just say schools should have that flexibility and discretion? Or is it that you want discretion without that “burdensome” paper trail? When does approved “whole world experience” stop and goofing off begin?

Current Board policy clearly outlines the power principals have to approve absences for field trips and travel that has educational value. But apparently that is too restrictive for Home Rule supporters.

“No recognition given to out-of-class time spent on educational endeavors”? ‘Splain that to me, Lucy. Is this the new touchy-feely Dallas Home Rule District, where an endless parade of 160,000 students lines up outside the principal’s office to make their case for their three week educational tour of Florida? No messy paperwork, mind you, just tell me what you saw. Maybe throw in a few measurements of Mickey’s head and I’ll give you some Math credit.

How long before college recruiters get wind of the loosey goosey creative instruction and credit candy the Dallas Charter District is handing out? There are already plenty of jokes about DISD diplomas and necessary paper, we certainly don’t need any more. Prime Prep Charter Academy has shown us how to derail a promising athlete’s career with substandard classes, why would we consider doing the same and call it a “benefit?”

Certainly some kids have been caught up in the absence bureaucracy. Lengthy illness, elite level sports participation outside of the UIL , family emergencies; we all know of situations with consequences that sometimes seem to defy common sense.

Certainly we all know the attendance make-up schemes some principals have devised are as dicey as those foam blocks hanging from the rearview mirror.

Certainly kids should be encouraged to get out and go places and do things.

But scrapping attendance policy and replacing it with a free for all benefits no one. Most rules happen because someone somewhere abused the freedoms they had been given.

Where is the assurance from home rule folks that freedom from attendance rules will bring creativity and knowledge and not chaos?

I can be persuaded. Go for it.

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Posted in Baloney Meter, Teachers Rule

Philanthropists Should Shun DISD

30 years ago or so, all sorts of companies and investors did business in South Africa, which was led by the criminal, corrupt, apartheid government of South Africa. The South African government benefitted and the companies benefitted. American stock and shareholders benefitted.

But in every sense, those companies and investors and ordinary Americans were, penny by penny, enabling apartheid to flourish in South Africa.

We in the public knew this and so we had to pressure, protest and boycott until the companies and investors withdrew financial support from South Africa. It was only then that the apartheid regime collapsed.

The same must happen with DISD.

Philanthropists, both corporate and private, must shun DISD because of its current leadership’s mistreatment of students, parents, taxpayers and employees.

Simply put: any money given to DISD feeds and enables the constant corruption that blights the lives of low-income children.

Let me clarify that I am not calling for philanthropists to shun individual children.  Any entity or person that provides school supplies, donates books, funds field trips or sponsors any student activity is to be commended and is deeply appreciated.

No money, however, should be given at the district level, including any donations to fund things like Miles’ Narcissifest (aka the convocation).  Would Target donate gift cards if Stalin was holding a rally?  I should hope not.

The regime in Dallas that must be destroyed is the regime led by Mike Miles and his small (but politically powerful) number of supporters who call themselves “education reformers.” They reform nothing. They improve nothing. They are parasites and they will break any law and ruin any life in their quest to personally enrich themselves. They remind me of the pro-apartheid South African politicians.

And as with South Africa, any church, corporation or individual philanthropist who donates any time or money to DISD is actually supporting and nurturing this despicable regime.

The latest victim of DISD’s “education reformers” is Jeremy Liebbe, who was fired on a Friday (to lessen the public outcry). Liebbe’s firing appears to be the result of his blowing the whistle on an employee who lied about her criminal background and the HR people who failed to conduct a criminal background check on her, even as she continued to receive a 6-figure salary.

We have background checks in DISD for a reason: because we don’t want pedophiles to have unlimited, unrestrained access to children and children’s personal information. We don’t want the HR bureaucrat-du-jour waiving the requirement when it suits him/her. We don’t want people who lie on their applications given 6-figure salaries and then authorized to freely interact with our children. But in DISD, it’s the whistle-blower who gets fired after notifying Mike Miles of the scandal.

Silencing whistle-blowers, hiring cronies, overpaying bureaucrats at the expense of children, wasting millions of dollars on vanity projects like the Fellows Academy, and all of the innumerable acts of fraud and theft—this is what the current “education reformers” have inflicted on Dallas children, parents and taxpayers.

The only way to end it is to starve the parasites. The only way to truly help the children in DISD is for everyone, especially philanthropists, to financially shun the administration, the Board of Trustee members and the propaganda writers at the Dallas Morning News until the cancer is eradicated.

I am under no illusions that I can mount a campaign to boycott or publicly pressure the companies, churches and individual philanthropists to withdraw all support from DISD, but I wish I could. Such a campaign is what I would devote my days to if I were not working as a teacher with the students in DISD. I would devote my days to it because I feel that strongly about the evil a few very rich, very greedy people have visited on Dallas.

In the meantime, we must work together to spread the message: Philanthropy feeds the DISD cancer. Starve the cancer. Starve the corruption. Shun Mike Miles and anyone who supports him.

Let’s begin finding out who is enabling him so that we can ask them to stop.

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Posted in Administrative Policies
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Foundation for Empowerment (FCE) released 3 papers:

1. Disruptive Change: Mike Miles and the Crisis In Dallas ISD, which has been prepared with consultation by education academics, extensive research, review of data and education literature, and meetings and interviews with people of Dallas holding varying and sometimes conflicting points of view;

2. Digging Into Data and Evidence: Mike Miles, Dallas ISD, and Trickle-Down Education Report, by Dr. Julian Vasquez Helig, Lindsay Redd, M.A. and Dr. Ruth Vail; and

3. The Challenge of Disruptive Leadership in Dallas ISD, by Decoteau J. Irby, Ph.D. and Matthew Birkhold, M.A.

"You will see from these papers that, after much research and discussion, we believe the current Superintendent lacks the pedagogical, leadership and integrity qualities necessary to lead Dallas ISD and recommend the Board terminate his contract."

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