Class Size Waiver Redux and the Dallas ISD

SardinesThe statistics in Dallas ISD are all too familiar by now:

  • Almost 160,000 students, mostly minority (70% Hispanic, 24% African American, 5% White, 1% Asian), with 89% of families earning less than 130% of the federal government’s defined poverty level ($30,600/year for a family of 4).
  • The number of schools in DISD designated by the state of Texas as “IR,” or Improvement Required, grew this year from 34 to 43. Almost one out of every 5 DISD schools is an IR school, or 19% of the 224 schools in the district.
  • Initial state testing results for 2013-2014 did not show any significant improvement, and in fact, revealed decreases in 18 out of 22 comparisons for AA students and 14 out of 22 comparisons for Hispanic and Economically Disadvantaged students.
  • This year, 42.1% of district high school students are in the position of having failed one or more of the tests required to graduate.

It is no wonder that many citizens of Dallas feel an urgency to do something to turn things around quickly. Unfortunately, history has proven that there is no magic bullet in education- no single program or reform will cause student achievement to skyrocket.

However, there is one time-tested and proven strategy which can and should be employed by Dallas ISD to benefit the youngest learners: smaller class sizes with experienced teachers. A definitive review article was published by the National Education Policy Center in February 2014 by Diane Whitmore Schanzenbach of Northwestern University titled “Does Class Size Matter?” which reviewed all of the research to date on class size and made the following policy recommendations:

1) Class size is an important determinant of student outcomes, and one that can be directly determined by policy. All else being equal, increasing class sizes will harm student outcomes.

2) The evidence suggests that increasing class size will harm not only children’s test scores in the short run, but also their long-run human capital formation. Money saved today by increasing class sizes will result in more substantial social and educational costs in the future.

3) The payoff from class-size reduction is greater for low-income and minority children, while any increases in class size will likely be most harmful to these populations.

4) Policymakers should carefully weigh the efficacy of class-size policy against other potential uses of funds. While lower class size has a demonstrable cost, it may prove the more cost-effective policy overall.

It is crucial that Dallas ISD does everything in its power to provide the best education for its students so that each student can achieve their potential in life. A reasonable start, backed by excellent research, is the simple step of ensuring that every Kindergarten through 4th grade class in DISD adheres to the state law of 22 students or less per class (not an average of 22).

A short history of the use of class size waiver requests in Dallas ISD is in order.

In 2009, Dr. Hinojosa “lost” $64 million in the budget. This resulted in a reduction in force (RIF) along with the need to request 38 class size waivers.

In 2011, the Texas state legislature cut public school funding by $5.4 billion, which resulted in a DISD budget cut of $76.9 million and a staff reduction of 1,442 employees. Many districts, including DISD, were forced at that time to request record numbers of Class Size Waivers from the Texas Education Agency (TEA). In 2011, DISD requested 45 Class Size Waivers.

Enter the era of Superintendent Mike Miles. Miles was given carte blanche by the Board of Trustees to hire his chosen administrators with no restrictions on salaries. He expanded the number of administrative positions and increased salaries. The reserve fund grew due to a savings of $20 million through budgeted teacher vacancies.

Miles requested a record number of 435 Class Size Waivers in 2012. The TEA eventually granted 212 waivers for DISD that year. In 2013, Miles requested 130 Class Size Waivers, despite the fact that the district received $50 million more from the state. In the 2013-2014 school year, Miles overspent the transportation budget by at least $10 million due to increasing the number of bus routes for his Imagine 2020 plan by allowing the schools to vary their start and dismissal times. This did not prove to increase student achievement in the I-2020 schools despite the large investment.

Many school districts have recovered significantly this year. DISD boasts a reserve fund of at least $300 million. It would seem that the need for Class Size Waiver Requests should be much lower as a result. Indeed, this is the case across North Texas: According to a recent article in the Dallas Morning News, the Plano, Allen, and McKinney ISDs are not requesting ANY Class Size Waivers this year, and Richardson ISD, despite explosive growth, has reduced its class size waiver requests from 22 last year to only one this school year.

Unfortunately, Dallas ISD is the glaring exception: Miles has requested 156 Class Size Waivers this year, as compared to 130 last year.

As stated earlier, “All else being equal, increasing class sizes will harm student outcomes.”

Why is the district doing something which is known to harm students, when it is no longer necessary due to financial constraints? This year, the district lists “lack of qualified teachers, especially bilingual” as their justification for requesting 156 waivers. Surely, not all 156 are bilingual teachers. The district had been warned multiple times in the past NOT to decrease the bilingual stipend for fear of losing these teachers to surrounding districts. The district decreased the bilingual stipend in 2011-2012 from $4000/ yr to $1500/yr. It remained at that low level until the 2013-2014 school year, when it was increased to $2000-3000/year, where it remains today. In contrast, athletic coaches and assistant coaches receive a stipend of $4000-6000/year. Surrounding districts offer the same or more stipend, but with a higher base salary rate. Where are our priorities?

Eleven of the “met standards” schools which had class size waivers in the 2012-2013 are now listed as “Improvement Required” schools. Five schools were already “IR” in 2012-2013 and had Class Size Waivers, and remained “IR” for 2013-2014. Twenty-eight percent of the requests this year are for class sizes of 25 or greater and 15% will have class sizes over 26 per class. This is a far cry from other ISD’s, which will hire extra teachers rather than put more than 2 extra children per classroom.

DISD could apply the same solution as other surrounding districts do for classrooms which currently are slated to have 25 or more students. This would require 17 more teachers at approximately $53,000 per year (a high estimate, but some of these would be bilingual teachers), at a price tag of about $900,000. Adding a class would allow smaller class sizes of 18-21 students in each case. Where could they find the money? Well, DISD just paid about $760,000 to a vendor with whom they did not have a contract. They also had to pay back E-Rate funds of $423,000 because they had not followed the correct protocol. If they could straighten out their financial ship, they would save millions. They could re-work the transportation plans for the Imagine-2020 schools in order to use some of the $10 million for additional teachers to reduce the need for Class Size Waivers. This money would get more bang for the buck than spending it to alter the bus schedules to change school start/dismissal times by 15 minutes.

It is time for the trustees to require the superintendent to keep our K- 4 classrooms at or below the state maximum of 22 students. This is not only the law in Texas: it reflects best practices according to good research.

The trustees should direct the superintendent to hire additional teachers as suggested and deny approval of these waivers. If we want to truly be a data-driven district, then we need follow the recommendations from years of data collection which show that class size DOES matter. Dallas ISD needs to not only say that they have a commitment to educational excellence, they need to prove it through their actions to provide the best possible learning environment for all students.

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Posted in Teachers Rule

A Better Dallas ISD: Two Ideas We Can Use Today

Several years ago there was an outcry when a popular hiking trail in California was found to have been, apparently, torn up by mountain bikers. The public outcry over the damage done was quickly taken up by the local Sierra Club and used in their campaign to exclude bikes from area trails, reserving them solely for hikers and horses.

And then it was discovered the rogue bikers were in fact Sierra Club members, deliberately damaging trails to fan the flames of public outrage that ultimately closed the trails to bikes.

Could it be that the Dallas Morning News’ Rudolph Bush is the victim of a Sierra Club –like ambush? Or is he, like several other local white media types, so convinced he understands black Dallas that he accepts trash like the “flyer” he reprinted as the voice of the people?

Bush claims to know exactly “why” trustee Nutall came to Dade Middle School campus on Monday, (“to insert herself into its management”), even though there is no mention of an interview and this statement contradicts Nutall’s explanation of her presence on the campus of the school which just last week had its management and 10 teachers removed by superintendent Miles in an unprecedented house-cleaning. He readily assumes trustee Nutall is protesting the removal of a black principal with no justification for the claim other than his own racist bias. Why is that, I wonder? Convenient for his agenda?

It is almost laughable that he portrays Miles as the knight on a white horse, riding into Dade as its savior, when the sad state of affairs at Dade is completely Miles’ doing. It is his hand-picked administration, including 4 principals since Miles arrived in 2012, that is having the problems with discipline and control.

It is Miles’ doing that Dade has a teacher turnover rate which has resulted in more than 50% of Dade’s teachers having a year or less experience in Dallas ISD. Dade has had one of the district’s highest percentages of TFA trained teachers, ill- equipped to deal with kids in an urban setting, also Miles’ doing.

Bush writes:

“Hopefully, thanks to the changes Miles is bringing about, the writer will get the chance to learn what too many students at Dade are being denied thanks to an atmosphere lacking in discipline and seriousness.”

Does Bush know the reason kids are running wild at Dade, and at Marsh, and at many other DISD schools? Could it be because of policies Miles has imposed on the schools? Teachers and staff are hamstrung in their attempts at discipline. Word is that in-school suspension programs are staffed, but teachers are reluctant to refer students. They are told referrals will count against their evaluation.

Could it be that 12 and 13 year old students are fed up with overly structured and scripted classroom management policies that treat them like cogs in a wheel, not individuals? Could it be that being greeted at the door with a sign that says “You shall not” encourages these kids to do just that?

Bush claims to know it all; the reasons why and the answers to all questions. Like most of those who write about Dallas schools instead of teaching in them, he knows what’s best for “those” kids and their parents. He even knows how to correct their grammar.

“We have to demand the best for our students. We especially have to demand it in areas of poverty. The racism that defined our society for generations is too serious to be treated so cavalierly as this.”

I say, “Amen.” We do have to demand the best for our students. We do have to lift ourselves above the racism that threatens our city. I have two suggestions.

Mean spirited, inflammatory opinion pieces like this one by Rudolph Bush and others like it need to be put in the trash where they belong.

And Mike Miles needs to be fired. Today.

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Posted in Rotten in Denmark, Teachers Rule

Dade Middle School and the New Jim Crow

mike-miles-jim-crowWe have already alerted the public to the failed charter model put in place at Billy Earl Dade Middle School in South Dallas last year. Cramming Dade full of TFA novices and other inexperienced teachers was a disaster. Churning through multiple principals is pure Broad and completely destroys schools. But any attempt by DISD Trustee Nutall to hold Miles accountable for his poor leadership and instructional skills over the past year has been met by the brunt force of the local goon squad media boys, misogynists and racists, who are eating off the table of local SOPS leaders and their funders.

Superintendent Miles’ choice of an elementary education principal for a campus loaded with Teach for America and loads of other inexperienced teachers was a disaster last year, but Miles didn’t appear on campus like the New Sheriff in Town and intervene in any positive way. Nothing was said when test scores at Billy Earl Dade plummeted with the critical mass of TFA on campus. No blame was given the ridiculous decision by Miles to load a vulnerable middle school up with TFA and a principal with no secondary experience.

From what we hear, Miles’ sudden swoop into Dade a week ago had nothing to do with what Miles witnessed on the campus. It had to do with a phone call from Todd Williams, our Dallas faux education czar who is the Shadow CEO for Dallas schools. For those who believe that the elected school board is responsible to the taxpayers, here’s a 411 – a former Goldman Sachs partner and some other plutocrats who are accountable to no one are running the show. Seven of the nine board members report to Todd Williams and Ken Barth and the Regional Chamber. Parents, unless they are loaded with cash and influence, are completely ignored.

Apparently a clique of TFA novices decided to take out the principal of Dade because they disagreed with him on discipline and other issues. A TFA ringleader was embarrassed when a lack of classroom management skills backfired and a student the ringleader wanted disappeared was returned to her classroom.

Maybe the TFA ringleader at Dade needs to try employment at Uplift where kids can be permanently suspended.

The Dade principal rightfully refused to make the kid disappear. A covey of TFA threatened a walkout and then picked up the phone to Todd, their benefactor in so many ways.

As a result of the call from Todd, lapdogs Miles and Smisko went running to South Dallas to rescue the unhappy, inexperienced, TFA cronies. On their way into the building, Miles and entourage decided to hand out fashion advice to a Dade parent who promptly unloaded some colorful language their way.

So Miles dumped the principal, a graduate of Rice University with secondary experience, and once again inserted an elementary principal. But Miles decided to also supply what might be more experienced core teachers along with some other personnel support.

In the meantime, Trustee Nutall attempted to observe a meeting with administrators and staff held on the Dade campus, a campus in crisis, and was threatened with forceful removal by the police by Superintendent Miles.

Right out of the Broad playbook—neuter the school board, especially any women who might ask questions.

We only want to know if any other TFA novices are unhappy with campus conditions and want to call Daddy Todd to have a principal reassigned and then a Trustee escorted by 3 police officers off the campus, Liebbe style.

These little know nothings sure are powerful aren’t they? And they haven’t even picked up their tickets to grad school at Harvard yet via the COMMIT pipeline.

But this is the way of the New Jim Crow.

African American children are to be colonized while African American principals and teachers are considered suspect, but inexperienced, uncertified Teach for America novices—well they carry a big stick in Dallas schools.

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Posted in Rotten in Denmark

TFA, Dallas ISD, Colonial Cronyism and the New Jim Crow

susan-b-anthonyWithin a two-week period The Dallas Morning News reported a 30-year old new hire for Chief Innovation Officer for Dallas public schools, at $165,000 per year, while two school janitors were put on administrative leave for purchasing hazmat gear to clean several schools after an Ebola victim had contact with five DISD students. The price of the hazmat gear was $6 according to the News.

It’s strange how the world of corporate education reform works. The Innovation Chief’s only prior service in public education was as a Broad Institute resident at the Department of Education in Tennessee. There he was a Special Assistant to Commissioner Kevin Huffman who is the ex-husband of Michelle Rhee. The Special Assistant role in Dallas schools didn’t exist before the entrance of Broad-trained Mike Miles, but the patronage position has been occupied by a series of boys with no campus leadership experience since Miles’ arrival. One of the latest hires was promoted into a high level executive position with a $40,000 a year raise.

True, the new Innovation hire received an M.Ed from Harvard in education policy, but according to corporate reformers, no pay differential should be awarded teachers with graduate degrees, especially graduate degrees in education. A new teacher to Dallas schools with a doctorate in physics would earn $47,000 a year while a Broad Institute hire with no actual teaching experience or campus leadership experience receives the sum of almost four novice teachers who might hold content doctorates.

Those of us who are watching the train wreck created by Superintendent Mike Miles and his seven board votes hold no illusions about entrance requirements to the Harvard graduate school of education. Trustee Miguel Solis, former TFA for all of two years, removed any doubts we might have had about entrance requirements to the Harvard school of education when he successfully navigated the program.
Apparently the pipeline between TFA and Harvard and Broad is filled with wealthy patrons willing to pay the bills on a year at Harvard where former TFA novices can learn to read secondary research on urban schools at a safe distance from any real responsibility for low performing campuses. The actual responsibility will be shoved off on teachers like those in Dallas high schools and who now have 200 or more students on their daily class roles due to the siphoning of taxpayer money away from campuses.

What we see of the Harvard graduate program in education is a way of supplanting actual experience and a track record in education reform with a piece of paper that moves its holder to the front of the line. Nowhere has this become more apparent than in the crony colonial TFA hires of Miles where former TFA novices are given opportunities and compensation way beyond their experience or credentials.

The New Jim Crow cronyism is high dollar and creates an overseer class in urban public schools. The overseer class in Dallas public schools comes from a web of former Teach for America novices and Broad Institute novices who expect corporate executive salaries after two years of teaching experience or Broad residency when they have no track record and no certifications.

TFA and the Broad Institute are the wellsprings of the New Jim Crow Colonial Cronyism. White, privileged children are given a stiff upper lip in five weeks of training where they are trained to hold their noses through two years of ministering to the masses. After only two years, still in their twenties, Colonial Cronies will take their rightful place on the public dole, but at salaries that maintain a middle and upper income lifestyle gone from the true profession of public school teaching.

The Colonial Cronies in Dallas public schools will be handed assignments to redesign public schools for minority children since the Colonial Cronies are allowed to fail miserably while they experiment on the children of the poor. Bill Gates will fund the Colonials as they personalize learning that sends more public dollars to technocrats. The fact that not one suburb surrounding Dallas, Texas would allow a former TFA crony with only two years of teaching experience anywhere near a central administrative or school redesign role tells all. The suburbs and private schools of Dallas continue to brag about their veteran teachers and about the lengthy track records of their principals. They have schools that work.

The Colonial Cronies continually pervert the anguish and sacrifice of previous civil rights battles to their purposes. While holding their noses through two years of teaching, Colonial Cronies then feast off taxpayer dollars while ignoring the fact that their skin color and social class connections, along with a little green paid to Harvard University, are their only calling cards. They have no expertise in anything. Allusions to civil rights battles only make the Colonial Cronies appear more ridiculous and absurd.

We’re just waiting for the day when DISD Trustees sit slack-jawed and sleepy while Miles introduces his newest transformation department: Office of the White Man’s Burden to be staffed completely with TFA.

No doubt the seven votes will be there along with all the funding needed.

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Posted in Baloney Meter

Bond Election and Home Rule? Incompatible.

no-to-disd-bondsh/t to former State Representative Harryette Ehrhardt and her speech to the Dallas Assembly

An article in Dallas Morning News on Wednesday, Oct. 1, 2014, dropped a bombshell on the citizens of Dallas. However, it was quickly overshadowed by the frightening news that the first case of Ebola virus in the United States was diagnosed right here in Dallas. The Ebola virus will likely and hopefully affect only a handful of people here, whereas the other news has the potential to affect every taxpayer in DISD.

The first sentence of the article reads:

“Dallas ISD has launched a 25-member task force to analyze district facilities in preparation for a possible bond program or tax hike election.

The task force has already begun to meet and expects to finish their work by the end of the school year and make its recommendations for new facilities, school upgrades, and additional programs. This would be right in line with the time line the district has had for the goal of a bond election in 2016. The idea of a tax ratification election (TRE), or property tax increase, had not previously been acknowledged in such a public fashion.

This article will not address the merits of a bond program, tax increase, or the removal of the homestead exemption, which is an option readily available by trustee vote without voter approval. Those issues will be analyzed at a later time. Instead, this article will focus on the problems inherent for a district attempting to plan a bond and/or tax ratification election with the possibility of a Home Rule Charter District looming in the future.

What are the important factors to consider when planning a bond election?

First, the district must demonstrate credit worthiness to the voters. The district has just had two clean audits and expects that their bond rating may rise to AA from AA-. This would save the district millions in interest money when they go to actually sell the bonds to investors. The bonds for an independent school district are guaranteed by the Texas Permanent School Fund and therefore are very attractive to lenders. There is currently no such provision in the law to guarantee the bonds of a Home Rule Charter School District (HRCD). That fact alone may give investors pause.

What would be the credit rating for the new Home Rule School District? It would be a brand new legal entity, and it is doubtful that the credit rating of the old Dallas ISD would transfer to the new HRCD, which will effectively be a “business under new management.” Usually, it takes a start-up business several years to build a credit rating, especially if over a billion dollars of investment money is to be raised and it is already carrying the substantial debt of its predecessor. How long would it take for the new HRCD to establish a credit rating? How likely is it that the voters would approve a large bond package before they were confident that the financial management of the new HRCD was proven sound?

If a charter is written and goes before the voters, there are several more possibilities, none of which bode well for those who would like to see a bond package passed in 2016.

During the time between the charter being written (if one is to be written, it must be done by the deadline of June 19, 2015) and the charter going before the voters, there would be no point in holding a bond election. Why would voters approve a large bond package for the Dallas ISD, an entity which would be obliterated if the charter is passed by the voters? Why would they entrust this additional debt to the new HRCD, which has no history of financial competency? At $2.47 billion, Dallas ISD already has the highest debt among all the Texas school districts, and the new HRCD will inherit this debt. Why give it more debt when it is just getting started?

It is likely that the new HRCD would issue the bonds, and with no credit rating, who would buy the bonds and at what interest rate? There would be a “dead period” during which a bond election will not be attempted, lasting perhaps a year or more until the charter election was decided. A bond election could not feasibly be held at the same time as the proposal to adopt a charter.

There are different scenarios based on the outcome of a charter election.

If the voters vote down the charter, then it would be business as usual and it is presumed that a bond package could then be proposed and presented to the voters for approval, possibly as soon as 2017.

If, however, the voters approve the charter and vote to dissolve the Dallas ISD and replace it with an HRCD, the implications for the bond package are enormous. Not only do the issues of credit rating and bond guarantees come into play, but now the enormous roadblock of litigation raises its ugly head.

A Home Rule Charter School District is uncharted territory and has never been tried before. The law is vague and even education lawyers have varying interpretations of several important issues in the law. Many citizens groups have risen up against the idea of replacing the Dallas ISD with a Home Rule Charter, and it is certain that the charter will undergo legal challenge(s) instantly. That would throw the district into even more instability than the “disruptive change” it is experiencing currently.

Would the new HRCD go ahead and assume control of the district after the election, or not? There would be a period of instability while the changeover from the old Dallas ISD into the new HRCD occurred, which likely will take a year or more. There will have to be a secure transfer of systems, student information, employee information, check information, vendor contracts, etc. The re-hiring and re-contracting of the existing 20,000 employees, or recruiting new personnel to take their place, will be time-consuming. And if the charter did start the takeover, and the courts subsequently declared the HRCD illegal, what then? What if only parts of the charter were declared illegal? All of the processes might have to be done over again if the courts declared the charter illegal. This would come at great expense to the district. The voters would be unlikely to approve a large bond package during this time of instability, which will again push back the timing of a bond election still further.

During the time while the legality of the charter is tied up in the courts, it is highly unlikely that the voters would pass a bond package. Taxpayers would have reasonable doubts as to the financial and legal well-being of the district. Investors would be hesitant to buy bonds from an entity which might subsequently be declared illegal by the courts.

How long might the district be in “legal limbo?” Consider that the district was in litigation over the Tasby case from 1970- 2003. We did have successful bond packages during the process, but the legal legitimacy of the district was not in question at that time, as would be the case in the charter lawsuits.

Therefore, if a Home Rule Charter proposal is passed by the voters, it is unlikely that a bond election would be able to be successful for many years following the conversion of the Dallas ISD to the new Home Rule Charter School District. The best guess of the time frame of doubtful passage seems to be at a minimum 3 years from voter approval of the charter, to as many as 4-6 years or longer. This would mean that Dallas would be looking at 2018 at the very earliest for a new bond proposal (11 years after the last one) and, on the long side, 2021 or later. This would completely disrupt the current time frame planning on a November 2016 bond election.

Judging from these facts, it appears that the business community needs to carefully consider the current push to convert the Dallas ISD into a Home Rule Charter School District and look closely at the impact that campaign will have on any future bond proposal. Many in the business community have not taken a definite stand on the Home Rule issue. Support for Home Rule could prove to be a very unwise decision for the economy of the city of Dallas, not to mention the effect on the learning environment of the students of DISD.

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Posted in Teachers Rule
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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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Superintendent Mike Miles

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