The Odd Couple Saves DISD

In a modern version of The Odd Couple, ex-trustees Jack Lowe and Edwin Flores collaborated on an opinion piece which gives their version of what will save DISD.

Balance the school year: Move the start of school from its current date of the last Monday in August.

They don’t explain how this benefits kids; I guess it is supposed to be understood. I don’t disagree, however. There were no districts that lobbied for the late August start. The late start was a concession to the tourism industry, and if we all agree it’s a bad idea, let’s have SOPS supporter Jason Villalba introduce and push through legislation next year that gives back to districts the leeway to name their own start dates.

Increase voter participation: move elections to November.

A good start here would be a law limiting or even eliminating political contributions in non-partisan elections. The political action committees that have funded the campaigns of 8 of our 9 sitting trustees effectively discouraged the participation of candidates that were not their handpicked favorites. Mike Morath has found that private discussion with potential opponents has a similar chilling effect. The end result is that trustee races seem to be in the bag before the race is even started. And now these guys are complaining there is voter apathy?

There have been plenty of opportunities in the past, while the current trustees were in office, to use the law provided to change election dates to November, and a prod to our legislators can change the law again. It has happened before. Why would anyone care? Maybe the mayor, who would be left all alone on the May ballot? Again, Jason, are you taking notes?

All this discussion ignores the fact that bubbling in a random candidate on a November ballot may or may not indicate a thoughtful decision, but it is certainly participation!

Strengthen board accountability and public awareness.

This sounds good if you are new to the game. Jack and Ed want the district to publish an annual report to taxpayers on student achievement and by golly fire them sumbitches if the scores don’t go up! Excuse me, but the TEA already publishes those reports every year and isn’t student achievement the superintendent’s job?

If we think we have a contentious board now, wait until their job evaluation is based on last year’s scores. So much for stability and long term planning.

Then there’s a weak statement about term limits and recall. I agree, we’ve had enough of Nancy Bingham. Whatever it takes, I’m in.

Increased board diversity and skill sets.

At least Jack and Ed didn’t repeat Jason Villalba’s idea that trustees should have a college degree, but they certainly hint that they think the current trustees are a few bricks shy of a load. They use the words “critical skills”. Again, don’t we hire CFO’s and lawyers to do the critical thinking? A board with 6 stupid elected trustees and 3 smart appointed ones would have some interesting dynamics, don’t you think? Should we just tell the 6 stupid ones to stay home and call in their votes?

All in all, I give Jack and Ed a C for effort and a D- for content. Will they manage to convince some voters we need home rule? Maybe. Have they come up with a plan that will make a difference for our kids in DISD? I don’t think so.

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Posted in Chicken on a Soapbox, Giving Grades, Teachers Rule

Important Information for Teachers (Please Forward to Others!)

Item 1

By the end of the school day on April 7th, all teachers should have received a handout about a TELL Texas Survey.

This survey is truly anonymous because all teachers assigned to the same school log in with the same access code and the survey doesn’t need to be completed from a school computer.

The survey is designed to identify the school where you work and the leadership at that campus.

The survey can be completed starting April 7 and ending May 2nd.   If you do not receive the handout, you can call 1-800-310-2964 or contact helpdesk@telltexas.org.

Remember: Do NOT click on a link in an email to complete the TELL survey.  It’s best to use an off-campus computer and simply type in the address of the site.

Item 2

Before you notify DISD (via the Oracle link) about whether or not you intend to return next year, think through the possible consequences.

If you notify them that you do not intend to return, can the document be used to enforce your separation from the district if you change your mind?*

Can the document be used to remove you from your current assignment and school if you change your mind?*

Can the document cause you to be placed in a pool of unassigned teachers while someone else is hired for your current assignment?*

Do you have a signed, iron-clad contract with another employer at this time?

If you state that you intend to return and then change your mind, you will not suffer any negative effects as long as you notify DISD that you are leaving by the cut-off date (usually in the summer; check with TEA).

*Be sure to pose these questions in writing and be sure that you receive a reply in writing.   If you correspond via email, print off hard copies of the emails you send and receive.  Verbal responses to your questions are probably not trustworthy.

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Posted in Teachers Rule

Redesigning Schools – Part 1

The following article was originally published on the Dallas Friends of Public Education (DFPE) web site and is published here with permission.

“Redesigning Schools – Part 1″, by Rose Parker, Founder of Schools by Teachers

In-district charters allow a structural change in the role of teachers. They allow decision makers on campus to allocate resources in a way that meets the specific mission of the campus. They allow huge pushback against constant testing. They can stabilize campuses that have been in constant upheaval and chaos for decades.

In exchange for these blessings, the process of planning to redesign a campus or feeder pattern or traditionally low-performing high school will probably take a year. Some band of Utopians including at least half the teachers and half the parents on a campus must agree to the process and outcome before the plan is presented to the board.

So the pain of doing nothing has to be far greater than the hundreds of hours donated to the planning process. Redesigning a campus to operate much more effectively is time-consuming and hard, but the rewards could last the next decade.

Step 1: Before the vision thing ever kicks in, identify the pain points solved by redesigning the campus or feeder pattern. These pain points must be non-negotiable because you are about to go to war over them.

When some parents, teachers, and a former trustee met years ago to design The School of Entrepreneurship in the Arts and Technology, we were on the warpath over the fact that while 600 kids from Dallas schools didn’t make it through the annual audition process at Booker T. Washington, a third of the students who were successful were from zip codes outside of Dallas ISD. We knew the power of an arts intensive school, and we knew many of the students who were rejected had nowhere to go but the lowest rated high schools in the state. These low-rated high schools were also operating with about $2,000 less per student than BTW at that time. Today, the demographics at BTW are simply not discussed since 60% of the entering freshmen class were not enrolled in Dallas public schools last year.

Some parents and teachers and community leaders have simply given up on the pain points that anger them and keep students from attaining their full potential. We believe righteous anger is motivational and will keep a group of school re-designers working long and hard to rectify their list of identified pain points.
Your pain points might be lack of recess, over-testing, shoddy curriculum, lack of discipline, lack of supplies, poor campus leadership, constant teacher vacancies, or all of the above. The pain points have to be severe enough to motivate you through a year of extended planning for your vision of what your school could be.

Step 2: Mold a vision you can almost touch for your campus or feeder patter. Make it as real as possible. Give it details. Share it. Continue refining it. Add more features to it to make it a perfect fit for the students it will serve. They are unique. Ask for frequent student and parent input. Consult experts related to your vision of how a campus should operate.

Our vision for SEAT looks nothing like Booker T. Washington even though many of us are former teachers, parents, and students of that school and believe in the importance of BTW.

Our vision for SEAT looks more like the cover of the April Texas Monthly where Robert Rodriquez is described as transitioning from film maker to creator of a television empire. We think entertainment technologies and computer science should be a big part of an arts curriculum along with models of entrepreneurship for creating content and platforms. Our vehicle, a Subchapter D Open Enrollment charter, doesn’t allow us to filter students based on grades, attendance, or standardized test scores, and we see no reason to do so.

Because we want our students to have as much time as possible to work as producers of their own products and performances, we will run a year-round campus and extended school day to give students time and materials they need to work designing real products for real audiences.

Other in-district charters will plan around a traditional school calendar and day. The vision of the school determines the tactics used to make the vision a reality and each in-district charter will be different.

Step 3: Find out early in the process how much money per student you will be able to move to your campus budget. Senate Bill 2 indicates it may be more than the district is currently budgeting for your campus. Read the details of SB2 when it implies that district spending per student follows the student to the campus after leaving enough to cover the cost of the superintendent and governance. All Title monies must follow students to an in-district charter.

We strongly suggest you plan on moving all functions that are traditionally left up to Ross Avenue to your campus. That means principal and teacher hiring, termination, appraisal, compensation, and training. That means all special education services. That means the level of testing you intend to use. That means the curriculum you choose. Cut as many strings as possible to central administration or you will be dragged right back into all the obstacles that lessen your ability to increase student achievement.

All in-district charters must meet state accountability standards. You cannot remove any state mandated testing. If planning a high school campus, consult House Bill 5 on developing endorsements. All special needs students– LEP, special education, handicapped–must have equal access to your programs.

As we will describe in the next article, your planning group is on the way to developing a contract that will be in effect for 10 years between your future campus leadership and the Dallas ISD trustees. You must be able to document how your way of administering the campus increases student learning, attendance, and post-secondary success if you are at that level. You are being given autonomy in exchange for improving student outcomes and must earn acceptable ratings from the state for three out of every five years as well as providing an annual audit of campus expenses.

For the nonbelievers, this is state law. It was intended to introduce innovation into public schools. The legislators who wrote it knew superintendents would not be happy at a loss of control and micromanagement, so they strengthened the autonomy given varieties of in-district charters against incursions by superintendents and central staff.

It’s a new day, and rather than removing democracy from school board elections, it’s time to use the tools given us for authentic school reform.

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Posted in Guest Posts

The Conversation We Need to Have

The following article was originally published on the Dallas Friends of Public Education (DFPE) web site and is published here with permission.

“The Conversation We Need to Have”, by Rose Parker, Founder of Schools by Teachers

A little over a month ago, the structure of an innovative in-district charter school was presented to the Dallas Board of Trustees in an afternoon board briefing. The proposal included the first teacher-governed middle and high school in Texas along with a new twist on talented and gifted education, an innovative approach aligned with the state mission of giving students the time and resources to be creative producers in their talent areas.

Readers of this article probably never heard a word about this board briefing and the chance for trustees to approve a new middle and high school with a career focus on the visual and performing arts, a focus that adds a film school and gaming cluster to the traditional fine arts program. The teacher-designed innovative program combines a magnet-quality visual and performing arts program with Career and Technical Education (CTE) and tech entrepreneurship.

The proposed school, the School of Entrepreneurship in the Arts and Technology, would use a campus operating board made up of the nonprofit, Schools by Teachers, whose chairperson would report directly to the Board of Trustees. At almost no additional taxpayer expense, 730 students would have access to a year-round program in the arts and technology, led by some of the state’s best teacher talent, by this summer. Dallas ISD would get the bonus of a new literacy model that could be ported to any other secondary campus where reading and writing scores need improvement.

All of this, along with a teacher-designed truly interdisciplinary curriculum focusing on student talents and interests, is possible with the choices granted by Senate Bill 2. Many more innovative, locally controlled Dallas schools are possible with existing legislation and the existing, democratically elected school board.

The only required tsunami of change is one of attitude that all Dallas schools must use the same curriculum, the same methodology, and the same layers of teacher management. The democratically elected Dallas school trustees already have the legislative approval to grant a variety of in-district charters, each using a different curriculum, different staffing formulas, and different methodologies than those mandated by the superintendent and central administrators at this time. There are no Texas Education Agency requirements in these areas other than meeting the needs of special populations, and those include gifted and talented learners who are artistic creators. State accountability standards stay in place, but the methods and curriculum used to meet those standards would be the choice of parents and teachers who write in-district charters for specific campuses. And yes, appraisal instruments and methods can be defined in the in-district charter proposals. Nothing is off the table as long as student achievement improves.

A Home Rule Charter is not necessary for grass roots campus innovation. A Home Rule Charter does nothing in itself to reformulate the delivery of education at the campus level. The paradigm shift that is needed is a change from a factory model of standardized inputs and processes to a portfolio of different options for teachers, students, and parents. This is already possible in the choices provided in Senate Bill 2.

Authentic school reform only happens at the campus level. No urban district has ever forced top-down, cookie cutter reform with good results. Dallas ISD is no different, but with each incoming superintendent, greeted like Caesar, Dallas citizens get a promise that is never fulfilled.

Innovation is driven by teachers in collaboration with parents and communities to solve problems of specific campuses. This was the original promise of charter schools. Educators will have increased accountability when they create plans in-district charters, but they are granted increased autonomy in determining how they choose to meet campus achievement goals. Teachers continue their participation in TRS and retain Chapter 21 rights.

Senate Bill 2 has been state law since June, 2013. So why hasn’t it been used?

Dallas media and the business community, the two groups who usually jump on reform led by superintendent or Eli Broad, either are ignorant of the potential of Senate Bill 2 and House Bill 5, or they want to lead the charge to micromanage change from the top in structures that ignore educators, research, and the needs of students and parents.

It’s time for teachers to have a conversation with parents about what they want in their schools. Not allowing that conversation is a violation of Senate Bill 2.

Senate Bill 2 clearly states that the Board of Trustees shall hear proposals for in-district charters when a majority of teachers and parents on a campus want change. The only way proposals get written is for parents and teachers to unite in their common goal of improved schools.

Senate Bill 2 doesn’t ask the superintendent for approval for in-district charters. Senate Bill 2 doesn’t require the permission of the existing campus principal in order to plan a complete redo of a campus. Parents and teachers ultimately need sturdy plans and the five votes of existing trustees.

If more than 15% of campuses bring valid proposals, the Texas legislature meets again in January, 2015. These state representatives look favorably on changes that improve public schools. If in-district charters become popular, accessible methods of urban school reform, it is doubtful a cap would remain on their numbers.

The next in this series of articles will explain what the conversations between teachers and parents might include in order to begin the planning process for in-district charters. Planning an entire redo of a school takes time, but the rewards to the community of learners could be permanent under new legislation. No longer will superintendents be able to eat away at the autonomy granted these schools.

Those who believe school reform can pushed from the top down have had decades to prove their approaches. It’s time for communities to use Senate Bill 2 to improve campuses in a meaningful way, one that only occurs school by school, not in secretive meetings held by non-educators.

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Will Miles Hold Principals Accountable to Protect DISD Students?

trickle-downRecently, a teacher at a DISD school received a 1.0 on at least one part of a spot observation.

If my own child had this teacher, I would be concerned, but I wouldn’t blame the teacher.

I would want to know why, with the school year almost over, the principal had not managed to ensure that my child’s teachers are performing better.  If the principal came from the Fellows Academy, I’d be especially concerned.

The principal is supposed to be the instructional leader.  Schools are even staffed with expensive instructional coaches.  So why are all DISD teachers not receiving top scores (3.0) on all parts of all spot observations this late in the year?

If all teachers at a school are not performing at the level of a 3 by spring break, we need to replace the principal because the principal has clearly failed.

A bad teacher in August is no one’s fault; a 1.0 teacher in March is the principal’s fault.  Period.

No one disagrees that a teacher—even a first-year teacher—should have mastered classroom management and effective instruction by spring break.  If not, that teacher should be replaced and there’s no doubt that many first-year and veteran teachers will be non-renewed.  Inexperience or length of time on the job will not be taken into account or excused.

The same principle must apply to principals: if they have not mastered the ability to lead every teacher to a 3 by spring break despite having complete authority over professional development, how instructional coaches spend their time and how campus resources are spent, then the principal has to go, even if it’s their first year as a principal and especially if it’s not.

It’s been said before:  “Behind every ineffective teacher is a principal with the authority to non-renew”.  Truer words, as any teacher will tell you, have rarely been spoken.

Miles must move now to protect the students of DISD from bad instruction; he must remove the principals who have failed to eradicate weak instruction from their campuses after 7 full months of receiving their paychecks (and, no, they don’t get to blame the assistant principals or the instructional coaches).  The buck stops with the campus leader.

No excuses, Miles.  For the children.  Let’s see you walk the walk, starting with principals.

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Posted in Giving Grades, Teachers Rule
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(1) DISD Fall 2013 Climate Survey (223 page, 4.5 Mb PDF)

(2) Public Education Grant (PEG) List of 57 Failing DISD Schools

(3) View school master schedules. Fall 2013. Sort by teacher, class, grade, etc.

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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."

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

Superintendent Mike Miles
milesfm@dallasisd.org

Lew Blackburn, 1st Vice President
District 5
Term Expires 2016
lblackburn@dallasisd.org
(972) 925-3718
Oak Lawn, West Dallas, Wilmer, Hutchins and portions of East Oak Cliff

Miguel Solis
District 8
Term Expires 2014
miguelsolis@dallasisd.org
(972) 925-3721
Love Field, Northwest Dallas, and Central Dallas

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

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

Elizabeth Jones
District 1
Term Expires 2015
elizabethjones@dallasisd.org
(972) 925-3722
Northwest Dallas, including North Dallas, Addison, parts of Carrollton and Farmers Branch

Mike Morath
District 2
Term Expires 2014
mmorath@dallasisd.org
(972) 925-3721
North and Near East Dallas

Dan Micciche, Board Secretary
District 3
Term Expires 2015
danmicciche@dallasisd.org
(972) 925-3722
Northeast Dallas

Carla Ranger, 2nd Vice President
District 6
Term Expires 2014
cranger@dallasisd.org
(972) 925-3722
Southwest Dallas

Bernadette Nutall
District 9
Term Expires 2015
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

Open Mike Community Meetings 6:00 pm – 7:00 pm
DATE LOCATION • ADDRESS
Monday,

May 12
Seagoville High School • 15920 Seagoville Rd., 75253