What Orwellian Means in Dallas ISD

Recently I saw a short film on TedTalk by Noah Tavlin, which explained the meaning of Orwellian, and I immediately made the connection between 1984’s Newspeak and “reformspeak,” particularly the language spoken by Dallas journalists and some of our BOT members. According to Tavlin, Orwellian doesn’t mean “authoritarian,” as so many people believe: it means deliberately using language to distort the truth and thus convey distorted messages to the public that soon become equated with fact. Think about that for a moment as we consider the arguments of the reformers that sprang up post No Child Left Behind.

As one premise of NCLB was to point out (brand) schools that failed to meet Adequate Yearly Progress as “failing schools,” the “obliging” test-makers developed tests in states that would “raise the bar” on what students must achieve on standardized tests. Urban school districts all over the country were soon branded as “failing,” and draconian measures were called for to remediate students and get them on track. Entire industries sprang up to support these “failing” schools: after school programs; parent involvement groups; remediation testing companies; extra school positions to “support” teachers(Instructional Coaches, Academic Facilitators) and finally “pay for performance” (TEI). In the meantime, school class-sizes grew and teachers had to teach heavier class-loads (185 to 200 students became the high-school norm). Most of the school year became devoted to pre-testing, benchmark testing, ACP testing and practicing for the TAKS and then STARR tests. Some progress was made in DISD but not fast enough for the “reformers,” who clamored for a leader who would “disrupt” the old-guard teachers and principals who were “allegedly” standing in the way of REAL progress.

That disruptor was Floyd Mike Miles, who disrupted everything in DISD. Yet his policies not only produced no gains but actually produced declining scores, particularly at the ACE schools that received extra funds (in the form of more managers of teachers rather than smaller class sizes). Miles was supported all along by a group of reformers who are Orwellian to the core. Anyone who spoke against Miles’ disruption policies and techniques was “more concerned about adults than children,” they said. This “Newspeak” or saying the opposite of the truth has been hurled at Carla Ranger, Bernadette Nutall, and then Joyce Foreman by Jim Schutze of the Observer, Eric Celeste of D Magazine, and the ever-present Todd Williams, who regularly appears in the Dallas Morning News, claiming that people who oppose Dallas’ brand of school reform are “status-quoers more concerned with adult issues than children’s education.” See how Orwellian language masks the truth in DISD? Anyone who questions churning of teachers and principals in favor of hiring brand new, inexperienced folks to run and man the classrooms of DISD is a pariah according to the reformers. Just forget, Mr. and Mrs. John Q. Public, that scores have dropped, new teachers are resigning daily, classroom sizes continue to rise, and administrative positions grow exponentially. Just forget that no other school district in the U. S. uses Miles’ MRS DOLLO as the mandated way of teaching. Just forget, DISD parents, that MRS DOLLO is a very low-level way to assess that learning is taking place and is totally disconnected from the higher order thinking skills required by the STARR tests. In other words, “the beatings will continue until scores improve.”

In addition to the afore-mentioned reformers, we have the words of Solis, Morath, Cowan, Bingham and Flores to remind us that “reform” agenda dissenters are “more concerned with adults than children” and that we don’t need to change anything about the Miles’ agenda. Dissenters are now branded as “those who don’t care about kids” when they oppose spending so much money for “personalized learning, choice schools or a massive expansion of pre-K.” Middle and high school students will be asked to pay the price so that the above programs can flourish. When their scores drop because of reduced spending and continuous churn, the public will probably be told that urban middle and high schools no longer work, and it is time to experiment with “in district charters.”

Note that the DISD “reform” regime reports little to nothing about gains in test scores or improvement in college and/or career readiness because that is NOT occurring. Let me repeat that over the Orwellian din. Miles’ continuing programs are STILL NOT WORKING despite the “reformspeak” of journalists, advisors to the mayor, and BOT members. War is not peace; freedom is not slavery, and DISD’s reform is not working.

Let the new year bring this understanding to the public. Let this understanding bring calls for fewer ancillary administrative positions, fewer DISD departments, lower class sizes for students and teachers, the dissolution of MRS DOLLO, and more financial oversight.

Let us throw out this faux reform and its total focus on flawed, standardized testing. Let us begin to educate our students with real, research-based best practices rather than made-up strategies that have never worked anywhere. Let us begin anew.

Posted in Teachers Rule

Dr. Michael A Dryden Weighs in on TEI with Six Major Concerns

There seems to be a recent push to validate the TEI through the media and not research with some dubious claims that are not supported by proper data analysis. Therefore I want to recommend some data concerns and how to possibly test them. A grossly inaccurate merit system will destroy DISD as some superior teachers will either exit voluntarily or through non-renewal while some incompetent teachers will be rewarded and this pattern will accumulate over the years.

TEI Data Concern #1: The claim is the best teachers are retained and the worst exit. The merit pay system in Harrison 2, according to the Colorado state data, made the teacher turnover rate explode and lowered the years of teacher experience. As a result discipline issues skyrocketed, and the AP program collapsed. Unfortunately, DISD is starting to mirror this trend. I am most concerned about losing the best and would look at changes in STAAR scale score converted to percentile ranks within a school and see what happened to the lowest and highest growth performing teachers within a school.

TEI Data Concern #2: The most critical claim is that the TEI is accurate in identifying teacher effectiveness. The main student achievement criteria for teachers in the DISD merit pay scheme is not the CEI but either absolute scores or a gain model called the Colorado Student Median Percentile Growth Model. That growth model does not adjust for any factors outside the school and uses only four wide achievement bands as pretest classification. It has a high likelihood of making teachers at high performing schools look good in large part due to parental influence, not teacher effectiveness. Look at Holly Hacker’s recent list at the DMN. The magnets are at the top. That might be correct but I would like to make sure the achievement portion of the TEI does not correlate to emphasis of education in the home or economic status of the parents, which I suspect does.

TEI Data Concern #3: There is a claim the district has a robust measurement model. The district lost an appeal and the AG made them release the item level data on the ACP. The district now creates 255 tests per year without the time or expertise to write and analyze them properly. I was sent that data file and analyzed a few tests. Each had too many errors to justify use for merit pay. One ACP, 5th grade ELA in fall 2014, was so bad 90 percent of the items had 90 percent of the students answering correctly and the other 10% of the items were so poorly written they confused the brightest kids. How can teachers be judged on a test almost everyone scores high and the remaining items are invalid? The poorly designed tests were never used as predictors in the old CEI model unless they met the criteria of a good predictor and few did. Now they are forced to be predictors in at least the student median growth model. I would use the TEI algorithms to develop simulations ranking teachers on the achievement portion of TEI in 2013, 2014, and 2015 to make sure the TEI is measuring something besides noise after controlling for poverty. A few years ago I took teachers with three years of CEI, ranked them and put the data in a 3-D rotational Excel plot. The plot almost mimicked a random number generator.

TEI Data Concern #4: There is a claim that teacher experience and education are negatively correlated to student achievement: I have seen a dissertation with a retrospective analysis where those DISD students who earned a 4 year college degree significantly had more experienced and educated teachers after controlling or prior achievement. Of course most students do not earn a degree so I would like to see a properly designed study that controls for factors like prior achievement when looking at a predictive model. I would define experience as time teaching the subject that the teacher is qualified to teach. We all know teachers are forced to teach outside their expertise.

TEI Data Concern #5: There is an assumption that spot observations are valid and reliable. Teachers are reporting fall spot observations as artificially lower than spring observations to feign growth and that scores are dependent on compliance to an unknown theory of education. Having observations time dependent, and thus problematic, would be easy to show. Also, there are advanced statistical techniques that would use the analytical scores of each rater to measure agreement upon the structure of the observation space and the placement of a teacher in that structure space by the various raters. If the different raters agree on the final score of a teacher but for different underlying reasons the validity of the observation has to be questioned. Think of wine testers. There are universal experts who agree on what is a good wine and they agree for the same reasons. Now you have novice wine raters and you want to know how close they are to the experts and do they have similar reasons. The TEI has never established the set of expert ratings to emulate nor has it analyzed any underlying structure of the observations. Do not equate this to inter-rater reliability where everyone agrees to a summative rating, often to show conformity.

TEI Data Concern #6: There is a claim that student surveys can accurately indicate teacher effectiveness. Most of us remember the teachers who pushed us and we disliked the most turning out to be the ones later in life we respected the most. Analysis of past student surveys in DISD indicate a significant portion of students may not have even read the questions but merely filled down in a global manner. Since no reversely worded items exist to check this, I would do a structural analysis of the survey of good versus poor readers and see if the same underlying structures and scales exist for both groups. If not, teacher ratings may be a function of reading ability or attitude of the student and not true teacher effectiveness.

Dr. Michael A Dryden LLC, is a retired 20 year evaluator of DISD. He evaluated most of the recent DISD reform programs such as the Learning Centers, School Centered Education, Urban Systemic Initiative in math and science, and Edison Schools Project. Dr. Dryden has a doctorate in research and evaluation with an emphasis on math and science education. He taught in New York, Australia, Samoa, and Indonesia. He evaluated state (AZ), national (US), and international educational systems, now called TIMSS. Despite official retirement, Dr. Dryden continues to learn and do research in his spare time.

Posted in Administrative Policies, Baloney Meter, Belo Expectations, Chicken on a Soapbox, Teachers Rule

2 Steps in the Right Direction

Now that the bond has passed and I’m no longer in any danger of being fired or sued or harassed for getting between bond beneficiaries and their Benjamin’s, let’s get back to the serious business of rooting out the idiocy and greed that, disguised as “reform,” threatens the education of innocent children.

Surprisingly, the district took 2 steps in the right direction recently.

First, teachers received a link to a TEI survey. Quite honestly, I could not have come up with better questions myself. In a nutshell, teachers were directly asked, among many other things, if they got a raise under TEI, if they thought TEI was a good way to retain teachers and if they felt TEI recognized their efforts.

Next, a survey link was sent out so teachers could give input on the calendar and professional development for next year. The survey even had spaces for comments. While I don’t think that Hinojosa is going to sit down and personally read the all of the comments, I do believe he’ll be made aware of the general gist of them.

But even if the surveys were a sham, designed to give the public the illusion that the district is backing away from its sociopathic obsession with making students’ and teachers’ lives miserable, it’s a start.

No school, and certainly no school district, can attract and retain excellent teachers if the teachers are treated like serfs or disrespected inferiors. Not only is it morally wrong to treat teachers (or anyone else) badly, in education it’s especially counterproductive because students suffer first and most when good teachers abandon ship.

Obviously, Hinojosa understands this and is at the very least going through the motions of true leadership. After what we’ve endured for the past several years, this is progress.

When teachers determine policies and procedures at schools, and when administrators serve teachers, schools perform well. Children benefit. Reformers don’t benefit, but children do. And that’s why DISD exists.

Posted in Administrative Policies, Baloney Meter, Giving Grades, Teachers Rule Tagged with:

The Dallas ISD Bond – Our students deserve a better plan. Voters should demand one.

The Dallas ISD $1.6 Billion bond proposal appears to have more opposition than the 2002 and 2008 bonds. Proponents say that the bond program was recommended by a respected consortium called the Future Facilities Task Force, has “no tax increase” and will be “paid back in 20, not 30, years”. Opponents say the bond program lacks public input, the projects are poorly defined, and the advertised financing plan is disingenuous.

This bond proposal differs from previous proposals. The DISD board of trustees did not vote to accept a formal construction package but opted, instead, for a less specific range of projects sorted by categories. At the October 13th bond information meeting in north Dallas Trustee Edwin Flores stated, “Anybody who has done any kind of construction know…that you can have a plan for a renovation and what happens the first time you break open a wall is that your plan changes…which is why you really don’t want to set a very hard number to some kind of work because you just don’t know [what you are going to find]”. That is true of most construction projects but the lack of specificity on these public projects and their costs should be troubling to voters.

The pro-bond advertising says “No tax increase” but that is not exactly correct. DISD’s payback schedule assumes a 21.47% increase in tax revenue from 2016 through 2020 based on property valuation. Taxable values increased 8% in 2014 and 14% in 2015 but sustaining that growth may be difficult and an increase in taxable values means we are paying increased taxes already.

What about a tax rate increase? The ballot language gives the school board the right to raise your tax rate. Trustee Lew Blackburn stated, “We cannot guarantee, even on paper, that your tax rate will not increase in 20 years. You are also allowing us to increase the tax rates to pay the bill.”

At the October 13, bond information meeting in north Dallas Trustee Edwin Flores admitted that the ability to raise future bond money to take care of unmet needs, once we spend the $1.6 billion, will be greatly constrained, “Yes within our existing tax rate the bond capacity will be constrained. That doesn’t mean at some future time we won’t come back to the taxpayers and say ‘taxpayers, we need more money.’ Will the school district need to increase the tax rate sometime in the future? Probably.”

What should the district do? Here are a few recommendations:

  • 1. Shift attendance boundary lines moving students from overcrowded to underutilized schools, saving a portion of the planned $600 million earmarked for additional classrooms for a student population that is 3,000 students fewer than predicted this year.
  • 2. Utilize former kindergarten classrooms instead of building new pre-K classrooms. Kindergarten enrollment is down 1,100 students since 2015.
  • 3. Rethink plans for Pinkston H.S. Current plans for Pinkston represent almost 10% of the total bond package. ($130 Million)
  • 4. Eliminate the new middle school planned for West Dallas. Existing schools in the area are underutilized. ($65 Million)
  • 5. Eliminate Destination 2020 programs sponsored by former superintendent Miles. The bond should support the new superintendent’s goals. ($93 Million)
  • 6. Shift funding saved from the above recommendations (an estimated $250 Million) to repair the 7 schools that would still be rated in poor condition, according to the Parsons report, after the proposed bond work is complete.

Our students deserve a better plan.  Voters should demand one.

Michael S. MacNaughton,
Chair, Dallas Friends of Public Education.
Member DISD Citizen’s Budget Review Committee.
Mike@DFPE.org
214-564-5316

Posted in Baloney Meter, Belo Expectations, Teachers Rule Tagged with: , ,

A Pig in a Poke and a Bond Election: DISD Does it Again

Complete with typos and misspellings, bold italics added, here is the text of the Notice of Bond Election, called by Dallas ISD trustees for November 3, 2015.

PROPOSITION NO. 1
“SHALL THE BOARD OF TRUSTEES OF DALLAS INDEPENDENT SCHOOL DISTRICT (THE “DISTRICT”)BE AUTHORIZED TO ISSUE AND SELL AT ANY PRICE OR PRICES THE BONDS OF THE DISTRICT IN THE AMOUNT OF $1,600,000,000 FOR THE PURPOSE OF CONSTRUCTING, IMPROVING, RENOVATING AND EQUIPPING SCHOOL BUILDINGS OF THE DISTRICT AND ACQUIRING REAL PROPERTY THEREFOR, WHICH BONDS MAY BE ISSUED IN VARIOUS ISSUES OR SERIES, SHALL MATURE SERIALLY OR OTHERWISE NOT MORE THAN 40 YEARS FROM THEIR DATE, AND SHALL BEAR INTEREST AT SUCH RATE OR RATES, NOT TO EXCEED THE MAXIMUM RATE NOW OR HEREAFTER AUTHORIZED BY LAW, AS SHALL BE DETERMINED BY THE BOARD OF TRUSTEES OF THE DISTRICT WITHIN THE DISCRETION OF THE BOARD AT THE TIME OF ISSUANCE; AND SHALL THE BOARD OF TRUSTEES BE AUTHORIZED TO LEVY AND PLEDGE, AND CAUSE TO BE IMPOSED, ASSESSED AND COLLECTED, ANNUAL AD VALOREM TAXES ON ALL TAXABLE PROPERTY IN THE DISTRICT SUFFICIENT, WITHOUT LIMIT AS TO RATE OR AMOUNT, TO PAY THE PRINCIPAL OF AND INTEREST ON SAID BONDS AND THE COSTS OF ANY CREDIT AGREEMENTS EXECUTED OR AUTHORIZED IN ANTICIPATION OF, IN RELATION TO, OR IN CONNECTION WITH THE BONDS; SAID BONDS TO BE ISSUED AND SAID TAXES TO BE LEVIED, PLEDGED, ASSESSED, AND COLLECTED UNDER THE CONSTITUTION AND LAWS OF THE STATE OF TEXAS INCLUDING THE TEXAS EDUCATION CODE?”

The random question mark at the end of this text mirrors my feelings when reading this notice.

Voters are not just approving the sale of bonds, they are approving the tax rate necessary to pay off the bonds.

The bond election is being sold to voters on the promise that taxes will not be raised to retire the debt incurred with the sale of these bonds, all $1.6 billion of them. But what is not said is that if Dallas ISD CFO Jim Terry’s calculations on property valuations and future tax collections are off, the trustees can up the ante.

Tax rates levied by school districts are currently limited by law to $1.50 per $100 valuation. Dallas ISD has a current tax rate of $1.282. This tax rate is composed of a Maintenance and Operations assessment, currently $1.04 per $100, and a debt service rate, currently $.242 per $100.

Dallas ISD can, without any further voter approval, raise tax rates by $.22 per $100 if needed to pay off future bond debt if the proposition on the ballot November 3 passes. (Correction, a tax rate raise of $.258 is possible with the $.50 limit) Surprise, surprise, who thinks this will not happen? That’s an extra $660 a year for a $300,000 home.

Do you think voters realize that? No doubt mailboxes will be flooded in the coming weeks with fancy flyers featuring adorable schoolchildren, all asking for your vote, promising new buildings and technology, and all at no cost to you!

As of a year ago, Dallas ISD taxpayers were indebted to the tune of over $4.3 billion, with almost $2 billion of that debt interest. If approved, the $1.6 billion bond proposition will position Dallas ISD as the most in debt public entity in the state of Texas.

The promise of no new taxes will be meaningless after the election. We aren’t voting to approve a promise; our vote will give Dallas ISD trustees the authority to funnel $1.6 billion plus interest to the construction industry and investors and raise taxes to pay for it if needed.

Which is not necessarily bad. The most disturbing aspect of this particular bond issue is that the specific proposals to be funded by the bond have never been approved by the Board. A draft proposal has been drawn up, but nothing is certain and everything is subject to change.

So unlike Allen ISD voters, who willingly approved funds for their mega football stadium, Dallas voters are basically handing Dallas ISD a check written for $1.6 billion dollars with nothing in the subject line, and promising to foot the repayment bills for it in the future.

The tax bill you get from the school district will go up, that’s a guarantee. It may come in the form of higher appraisals or it may be higher tax rates, or probably both. But don’t believe the claim that we can spend $1.6 billion at no cost to taxpayers. It simply can’t happen.

Enrollment in Dallas schools is not only stagnant, it is dropping. Many of the line items in the draft bond proposal are former superintendent Mike Miles’ vanity projects that the community neither asked for nor demonstrated any need for. We have shuttered buildings and empty classrooms. Maybe we should rethink this whole thing before saddling our children with an enormous debt burden.

Maybe this bond idea is a pig in a poke, a common theme in Dallas ISD. Voters should look a little closer before making their decision on Election Day.

Yes, the kids are counting on us. What is in their best interests? It deserves some thought.

Posted in Baloney Meter Tagged with:

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We know words are powerful and ideas even more so. Profanity isn't really necessary for emphasis or a substitute for passion here. Thank you.

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 [Mike Miles] lacks the pedagogical, leadership and integrity qualities necessary to lead Dallas ISD and recommend the Board terminate his contract."

Citizens wanting to speak at regular board meetings and briefings must sign up by calling Board Services at (972) 925-3720 no later than 5 p.m. on the day before the meeting.

Contact the Superintendent and Trustees:
3700 Ross Avenue, Box 1
Dallas, TX 75204

Interim Superintendent Mike Hinojosa
Email coming soon

Lew Blackburn, 2nd Vice President
District 5
Term Expires May 2016
lblackburn@dallasisd.org
(972) 925-3718
Oak Lawn, West Dallas, Wilmer, Hutchins and portions of East Oak Cliff

Miguel Solis, 1st Vice President
District 8
Term Expires 2017
miguelsolis@dallasisd.org
(972) 925-3721
Love Field, Northwest Dallas, and Central Dallas

Eric Cowan, President
District 7
Term Expires May 2016
ecowan@dallasisd.org
(972) 925-3721
North Central Oak Cliff and parts of West Dallas

Nancy Bingham, Secretary
District 4
Term Expires May 2016
nbingham@dallasisd.org
(972) 925-3722
Southeast Dallas, Seagoville, Balch Springs

Edwin Flores
District 1
Term Expires 2018
edwinflores@dallasisd.org
(972) 925-3722
Northwest Dallas, including North Dallas, Addison, parts of Carrollton and Farmers Branch

Mike Morath
District 2
Term Expired Dec 2015
(972) 925-3721
North and Near East Dallas

Dan Micciche
District 3
Term Expires 2018
danmicciche@dallasisd.org
(972) 925-3722
Northeast Dallas

Joyce Foreman
District 6
Term Expires 2017
joyceforeman@dallasisd.org
(972) 925-3722
Southwest Dallas

Bernadette Nutall
District 9
Term Expires 2018
benutall@dallasisd.org
(972) 925-3721
South Dallas and parts of Downtown Dallas, Pleasant Grove, Deep Ellum, Uptown, and East Dallas

"Republics are created by the virtue, public spirit and intelligence of the citizens. They fall when the wise are banished from the public councils because they dare to be honest and the profligate are rewarded because they flatter the people in order to betray them." --Joseph Story, Commentaries on the Constitution, 1833