Many DISD Principals Try to Game the Survey

Last week, DISD teachers and staff received a link for the Spring Climate Survey.

Since the Fall Climate Survey results for individual campuses were never released in the DMN, we can use our trusty inferencing skills to conclude that the results must have been bad, especially at campuses Miles wants to protect from scrutiny.

We can also infer that the scores were bad based on the actions of many DISD principals in anticipation of this spring’s survey. Their actions have ranged from subtle manipulation to lies to outright threats.

As I wrote in other posts about this subject, one way principals try to mislead teachers is by referring to the survey as “our” results. They’ll say things like, “’We’ scored low on this section,” or “’Our campus’ needs to improve on this section.”

There is no “we” or “our.” That is a lie and a thinly veiled threat. The results evaluate the principal and only the principal.  Questions about instructional teams are likely just filler questions, as are many of the other questions.

We can also infer the results were bad because after Winter Break, many principals forced teachers to sit through meetings where the principal went over some (or all) of the questions from the fall survey and provided “clarification” about the questions, as if teachers misunderstood them.  Teachers from multiple campuses report that this happened.

No, teachers did not misunderstand the truly important questions about campus moral, the direction of the campus, the direction of the district and the discipline problems. Those questions (actually statements) were quite clearly worded and are probably the only ones the district really looks at (again, the others are likely filler).

Creating committees to “fix” the campus problems seems to be another common (but useless) ploy of many DISD principals. Committees are a stall tactic because they require even more teacher time, they are not anonymous and the principal still has veto power over whatever the committees come up with. This makes the committee idea pointless and a waste of time.

Finally, I’m reading that principals are attempting to mislead teachers by giving conflicting information about the Neutral choice. Are Neutrals counted as positives or negatives?

The truth is this: No one knows and it doesn’t matter anyway. Principals should stop worrying about the Neutral count and get busy addressing the number of Disagree responses.

For example, I’m certain a principal whose survey result is ranked 1 or 2 out of his/her category isn’t obsessing over the Neutrals. When there are overwhelming percentages of positive responses, the principals don’t need to drag teachers down the rabbit trail of examining the Neutrals.

The level of nonsense surrounding this spring survey is exhausting. It demeans the principals and diminishes their credibility. We teachers are not the oblivious, easily manipulated cows many principals (and Miles) must believe us to be.  Principals can stop trying to influence us.

Effective principals simply listen to their teachers, even when the teachers’ solutions contradict Mike Miles (whose “leadership” has increased the number of IR schools).

Effective principals (or principals who want to be effective) are the ones who put a locked box in the teachers’ lounge and ask teachers to drop anonymous comments, concerns, complaints and questions into it. And then they act on what they read.

IMHO, anything other than a system to collect anonymous comments, complaints, concerns or questions from teachers on their campus is a fake effort on the part of a principal to improve campus conditions.

Failing principals will not take this simple, direct step, which is why they will continue to fail.

DISD teachers should answer the survey statements honestly, without any concern about the Neutrals or how the answers make “the campus” look or if they were offered the exciting opportunity to waste more time meeting with some committee. DISD teachers should not worry that they are misunderstanding a question, because the important questions are impossible to misunderstand.

Teacher feedback matters. If it didn’t matter, the results of the fall survey would have been released in a public forum like the newspaper, detailing the scores at every DISD campus. So, since the results obviously matter, Dallas citizens need all DISD teachers to complete the surveys to let taxpayers know what’s going on in the schools.

Posted in Teachers Rule

You Want Data? Read It and Weep

As expected by everyone but perhaps Mayor Rawlings and Todd Williams, 5th and 8th grade Reading scores are out, and they are even worse than last year’s scores…which were worse than the year before.

DISD 5th graders performed much worse than the rest of the 5th graders in the state, especially after the attempt to mislead stakeholders by mixing in the result of Spanish reading scores was revealed and the scores were adjusted.

And it’s no wonder the district tried to mix the 2 kinds of scores.  5th grade DISD students have dropped 13 points BELOW the rest of the state!  Shocking.  Even I did not expect this much of a drop in 1 year. To add insult to injury, not only did DISD’s scores for 5th grade drop, the rest of the state’s scores went up.

8th grade scores are no better. 2 years ago, DISD kids were down about 7 points from the state average and last year that gap increased to 9 points.

This year, 8th graders are 11 points BELOW the state.

Student achievement is suffering under Miles. Teachers know it and all of 3700 Ross Avenue knows it.

Things are getting worse, much worse. There is no positive way to spin these numbers, though I see that over on the DMN, Todd! is already trying. I see that he wrote, “But this is just two years worth of data and does not make for a trend.  This school year and next school year will provide the real verdict on these reforms.”  Two years?

Right. Whatever. We have THREE years of scores, Todd!, and they’re going in the wrong direction. Somehow, a tiny uptick in 1 section of the Climate Survey is a positive trend, but THREE YEARS OF DECLINING READING SCORES is not a trend?

Todd! also says, “I’d encourage all to wait.”  As a commenter on the DMN said, I bet he wouldn’t encourage patience and waiting if his 5th or 8th grader failed the STAAR.  And Bill McKenzie sure didn’t waste anytime taking his kids of of DISD, away from Mike Miles, and choppering them to safety at a very expensive private school.

Of course, none of this matters because, sadly, for Miles’ supporters, the data indicts them. Their ideas are failures and they are causing innocent children to fail and fall further behind other students in the state.

Teachers get about 10 Spot Obs a year to ensure that we are complying with the MRS/DOL format. Teachers are required to bring proof that they’re doing DOLs to meetings. We’ve done all of the nonsensical Core Belief exercises we’re told to do. Kids are eating breakfast in the classroom. Instructional coaches roam the halls of every campus.  Doors are open, crayons are banned, Fellows are everywhere.

Teachers are doing what they are told to do and the scores are FALLING.

Let’s get data-driven, shall we Mr. Miles?  If you need some DISD math teachers to help you figure out the data, please just let me know.

Posted in Teachers Rule

This DISD Teacher Remembers Jim Jones

drink-koolaidIf you’ve ever wondered where the phrase “drinking the kool-aid” comes from, it comes from a horrific event several decades ago.

In 1978, Jim Jones was the leader of a cult. In November of that year, Jones decreed that it was time for everyone in the cult to die. He instructed the members of the cult, which included hundreds of children and hundreds more adults (approximately 1,000 people total), to drink kool-aid laced with cyanide. Many willingly drank it, while others had to be coerced once they figured out what was going on.

Jim Jones, a weirdo since childhood according to people who knew him, then committed suicide.

Sadly, back in 1978, most Americans didn’t have a very thorough understanding of cults, cult leaders and the incremental changes that take a person from a normal life to drinking cyanide-laced kool-aid in the middle of Guyana in the span of a few years.

The understanding of cults and their behaviors is much better today, and I recently (and completely unexpectedly) had the good fortune to speak to someone who studies cults. My source directed me to the book Collective Violence by Steven E. Barkan and Lynne Snowden (2nd edition, published 2008). I think the title says it all, by the way.

In the book, the authors cite 3 characteristics of cults and describe them:

1.  Cults are ideologically exclusive, where leadership perpetuates the idea that only they have the answer to salvation or whatever other truth the group may be seeking.

2.  Cults create a self-conceived elite where the core help show the lower ranks that there is no one that might challenge the leadership or sway membership from obeying commands of the chief. Members cannot progress into the cult’s inner core until they buy into the belief system totally.

3.  Cult beliefs are maintained through tight internal control where the leadership may be charismatic and/or a hierarchy, but all members are charged with controlling each other.

Sound familiar?

The authors also state that,

“In the real world, people get both positive and negative feedback, thus getting a multidimensional view of their success and failures. Cults…often elect to screen out all negative feedback from members because of their desire to prevent the loss of recruits and resources. Cults also wish to protect the charismatic leader from any potential criticism from the members as well, since the “cure” that the cult is offering is often connected to the members’ identification with the charismatic leader and their continued belief that he, and only he, can solve their problems. By screening out negative feedback, the cult’s problems usually continue to grow to the point that the drastic solutions or further withdrawal from society are necessary to solve them.”

I am grateful to the source who pointed out the parallel between DISD, reformers and cults because it explains so much about what is going on in DISD.

Those of us who work on DISD campuses know that negative feedback, no matter how accurate or well meaning or protective of students, is not only not tolerated, but results in retaliation and punishment as well.

For the most recent example (among dozens), look at what happened to the Rosemont principal after parents offered hour after hour of what could be perceived as “negative feedback”  about Miles’ ACP plan (others would consider it parent engagement). The principal, who led a “met standard” campus comprised of 9 grade levels (!), was non-renewed. Not reassigned or referred for training, but fired. Fired, despite her campus ranking of met standard.

Likewise, many campus principals also go to great lengths to either screen out or altogether silence any negative feedback. Remember the Dealey parent meeting where the principal allotted about 5-10 minutes at the very end of her “heart and vision” meeting for parents to speak up? Parents barely had time to ask questions or voice concerns before the principal scurried away to attend a student performance which was, conveniently, scheduled a mere hour after the parent meeting began.

Silencing parents is but one goal of DISD. Teachers across the district report working for principals who silence teacher dissent by retaliating against vocal teachers, going after strong teaching teams, lying by omission when presenting campus information, accusing teachers of dwelling on the “negative” and simply ignoring any data (including climate survey results) that clearly indicates the principal’s failure.

And what better way could there be to stop negative feedback than for the school board trustees to refuse to hold the vote that would likely result in the firing of Mike Miles?

But as Barkan and Snowden point out, even when a cult silences negative feedback, its problems still continue to grow “to the point that drastic solutions or further withdrawal from society are necessary to solve them.”

Jim Jones may have moved his cult to Guyana to escape the increasing cascade of negative feedback, but that’s a luxury DISD doesn’t have.

The negative feedback DISD wishes it could escape or silence is not going to end. One person (Mike Miles) or one group of people (the “reform” community) obviously does not have the truth or the solutions the children of this school district need. Things are not getting better. The retaliation and dysfunction are becoming impossible to explain away or defend.

I, for one, will not drink the kool-aid being shoved at me in a flimsy paper cup and neither should you.






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Is Dallas ISD Really Learning From Charter Schools?

“If you can’t beat ‘em, join ‘em.”

This seems to be the approach being taken by Dallas ISD concerning the competition from charter schools popping up within the district boundaries. Education reformers often say that traditional public schools have many things to learn from charter schools.

Charter schools are well known for employing inexperienced and uncertified teachers, requiring them to work excessive hours which contributes to high percentages of teacher churn. This creates instability on the campuses, as there is no consistent faculty core to carry out the vision of the school.

Families are often required to sign contracts with the school and agree to volunteer a specific number of hours each month, to donate supplies, and/or to assist with fundraising. There are contracts regarding student behavior and homework assignments as well. The instructional day is extended and Saturday school is common.

This all sounds very similar to the plan proposed for the six ACE (Accelerating Campus Excellence) campuses in Dallas ISD. The faculty will be mostly new to the school, with new principals, some of whom have no prior experience as a principal. The school day will be longer, and the parents must sign a contract agreeing that their student will do at least 90 minutes of homework per night. Those who cannot agree to the contract must choose another school.

We would do well to look to the experience in Denver, where KIPP took over a failing middle school (Cole Middle School) and then closed it after three years. Jay Matthews, an ardent KIPP supporter, stated, “KIPP’s one attempt to turnaround an existing public school, in Denver, was a failure. KIPP said at the time they could not find a school leader up to the challenge, which is another way of admitting such a job may be beyond mere mortals.”

KIPP acknowledges that they do best when they can start a school from scratch, rather than taking over an existing school. It seems that the problem with Cole College Preparatory, as it was renamed under KIPP leadership, was that they “agreed to take care of the existing Cole kids.”

It seems as though this mistake of taking care of the existing students by KIPP has been considered in the planning for the ACE schools. The district appears to be attempting to make these schools approximate a “start from scratch” school as much as possible by requiring parent contracts and shipping off non-compliers on the front end, much like charters do.

Can the ACE schools really be considered a model to scale up district-wide if this is the approach to be used? Where will the children of all the families who cannot or will not sign the contract be warehoused? Will all of those schools be doomed to failure as the best teachers are moved to the ACE schools which get more money, better teachers and committed students and families? What about special needs children, children with learning differences, and children with IEP’s? Are they going to be allowed at the ACE schools? Will they be forced to other schools as well?

It seems inherently unfair to force children out of their neighborhood schools. This approach is very different from students applying to attend magnet or choice schools.  Other major urban districts, such as Chicago, have tried forcing kids out of their neighborhood schools and reconstituting them into charters without any proof of success. Surely, Dallas can learn from the mistakes of other cities instead of blindly repeating them.

Posted in Teachers Rule Tagged with: , , , , , ,

Why I Wouldn’t Transfer to a DISD ACE School

dtr-eligible-teachers-disdThree years after Mike Miles arrived, DISD is still glutted with low-performing schools. In fact, the number of low-performing (or Improvement Required) schools has gone up under Miles.

So, because the “disruptive change” and expensive “reforms” didn’t work out as Miles had promised (and as we’ve predicted all along), DISD is attempting to distract taxpayers with Plan B, also known as the ACE initiative. Under the ACE initiative, teachers will be paid a bonus to move to low-performing schools where the students will stay later at school and be expected to complete up to 90 minutes of homework a night.

The ACE initiative is nothing more than a tired rehash of ideas that don’t work. They don’t work because the premise on which they are based is, frankly, wrong. The premise is as wrong as a doctor attempting to treat cancer with leeches.

The premise, of course, is that schools filled with low-income children who perform poorly on standardized tests are the fault of the teachers. The teachers must be “bad” or the students would perform on level, right?

Acting upon this flawed premise, DISD has invited a few hundred teachers deemed The Best by an equally flawed, completely subjective TEI system to move to ACE schools for a bonus.

Personally, I wouldn’t touch the ACE deal with a 10-foot pole.

First of all, I have big questions about the pay scheme. A recent DMN editorial supporting the ACE plan (what a surprise—DMN hearts Miles) stated that the bonus would be up to $12,000, depending on the teacher’s final evaluation.

Whoa! That’s new fine print. Do teachers considering a move realize that this wording means that a $2,000 bonus instead of a $12,000 bonus is possible? Do teachers realize that a $12,000 bonus is not guaranteed?

So when will teachers be told the exact amount of their bonus? Before or after they agree to move? And once determined, will the bonus be paid in a lump sum, over 12 months or over 60 months? (The thought of a 60-month payment plan isn’t as crazy as it sounds because teachers were told in TEI trainings that there was a limit on how much of any raise they could receive in a year. In other words, a teacher might be due $10K based on TEI, but that $10K would need to be paid out over time for budget reasons.  We could ask Milan Sevak to clarify this, but he quit).

Then there’s the issue of base salary. If, under TEI, the teacher gets a base-salary raise, will they get an additional base-salary raise to compensate for the extra hours they will work, as well as a bonus?

In my opinion, no teacher should transfer schools unless they receive a TEI raise and an additional-hours raise and a $12,000 bonus, but good luck with that. There was plenty of money to pay off Carmen Darville, of course, but don’t expect the same treatment if you’re a teacher.

I also wouldn’t move to an ACE school because DISD has a really bad track record of sticking with any initiative for more than a year or two. I don’t have the space or energy to list all of the promises, products, plans, fixes, new directions, reorgs, superintendents, requirements, schemes and scandals DISD has been through in the past 10 years, but the number approaches the mathematic concept of infinity.

Any teacher who moves to an ACE school must be certain that’s where they want to stay for the rest of their DISD career even after the pay raise and the bonus goes away. Once at one of those schools, it will be difficult and time-consuming to move back out if you’re mostly there for the money.

I also have multiple questions and uncertainties about some of the principals already selected to lead ACE schools. Why would Miles, who supposedly believes in his own TEI system, appoint principals his own system has deemed as only Progressing? What am I missing?

Would a soccer/football/basketball coach, after deciding that a player is not Proficient but merely Progressing, then choose that player to start in the upcoming playoff game? Shouldn’t Miles, if he believes in the validity of his own system, insist that only principals with the highest rating possible be chosen to lead the ACE schools?

Will it be a surprise if, 6 weeks into the year, the principal is floundering and immediately removed by Miles? And do I want to be in the middle of all of that? (My answers: No and No).

Finally, I wouldn’t go to an ACE school simply because I know better. I know that as long as Miles’ mandated LO/MRS/DOL system, the complete refusal to address discipline issues and a bloated, overpaid bureaucracy are in place, no true progress can be made. I know that the real problems start with Miles, the mayor and the “reform” community who ignore all the data we do have regarding Miles’ failures in the past 3 years.

I would not move to an ACE school and I implore any DISD teacher considering it to separate the flattery and the hype from the bottom line. Ask tough questions, use common sense and remember that Miles’ past performance is the best indicator we have of his future performance.

Posted in Teachers Rule Tagged with: , , , ,

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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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