Disruptive Change: Mike Miles Should Follow His Plan

capt-miles-goes-downA petition is being circulated by Stand for Children that calls for extending Superintendent Mike Miles’s contract. Reading through the comments on the Change.org petition, one constant thread emerges-the district needs stability to make progress in the schools.

This from one of the few signers who claimed to be a DISD parent:

The district cannot handle the distraction of finding a new Super, and will not attract quality Supers if they do not support the current one.

And these:

Consistency of leadership is proven to be so important for student success we need to keep Mike Miles here and focused.

We are making progress at DISD, and we need continuity at the leadership level.

Give the man time to continue to implement changes that are needed. We can’t change leadership every year and accomplish anything necessary.

Umm, yes, other than the statement about “making progress at DISD” you are all correct. Stability in leadership is important.

Perhaps these petition signers can let us know if they think the same rules apply to the rest of the administration. Is it OK that out of all of Miles’s original cabinet level appointees, only one remains, and she has changed positions?

During the first two years of Mike Miles’s leadership, the revolving door at 3700 Ross has become something of a joke. Some of Miles’s hires not only did not last a year, some jumped ship before they even set sail.

What about principals? Is stability at that level important? When Miles first came to Dallas, he told principals to “look to your left, look to your right, one of you won’t be here next year.” And he was right.

Principal turnover has approached forty percent.

The last two years have seen thousands of veteran teachers leave the district. Some have been non-renewed, but most have left voluntarily, tired of fighting an administration that doesn’t value the skills and experience they bring to the profession.

Is stability in the classroom important?

A recent op-ed in the DMN spotlighted a principal in training at a southeast Dallas campus. She talked of the struggles the students in that neighborhood face, the gangs, the drugs, poverty and discrimination that face these “desperate human beings.”

Jennifer Madding, the author, defines the time she gets to spend working with these children. 45 minutes a day for 180 days. She breaks up fights, leads discussions on resolving conflicts, and does her best to keep her students engaged and interested.

Too bad she won’t be there next year.

As one of the SMU/ Teaching Trust Ed-Leaders, she will move to another school next year as she continues her pursuit of a M.Ed. degree and completes her required residency as an administrator. Like Leslie Austin, a DISD Leadership principal in training at the same school and whose picture accompanies the article, she has done her classroom time and is moving on.

45 minutes a day for 180 days. Is that all this new breed of leadership can give to children? Whatever happened to 45 minutes a day for 180 days for 20 years? Whatever happened to enough time to get to know families and communities? Whatever happened to teachers who have taught not just for two or three years and have maybe learned the names of a few dozen kids, but teachers who know the names of hundreds of kids, their brothers and sisters, their cousins and uncles, their soccer coaches, the summer jobs, the fathers who are in prison, the family struggles and the family successes?

Miguel Solis, in his first speech as Board president, told a story of how he attended graduation at WT White High school this past year, hoping to be there to congratulate a student he had mentored at Marsh Middle School as a Teach for America hire. Only the student never appeared in the long list of graduates.

If Miguel Solis had continued on as a teacher and had been there to continue supporting this student might he have walked the stage? Will Jennifer Madding ever know if her advice on getting along without fighting had a lasting effect on students at Ann Richards Middle School?

For many Dallas students, school is the only stability they know. It is the only safe place they know. A revolving door of teachers and principals is not what they need.

Mike Miles is a hypocrite to call for extending his own contract while he institutionalizes a continual turnover of teachers and principals through Teach for America, principal replacement programs that do not support developing and supporting existing administrators and disruptive programs and policies that drive experienced veterans away from Dallas classrooms.

Maybe it is time for disruptive change at the top. After all, don’t superintendents peak at three years like Miles claims teachers do?

Let Dallas ISD trustees know you want disruptive change. Sign and send this letter: today.

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Posted in Chicken on a Soapbox, Teachers Rule

Mike Miles and the Promised Land: Bonds, Taxes, and Moolah

humpty-milesLater this month, the Dallas ISD board will meet to consider whether to extend Superintendent Mike Miles’ contract, giving him a raise, adding perks that allow him to spend more time working for his consulting business Focal Point and fully vesting his stake in the state retirement system.

Dallas Regional Chamber of Commerce executives penned a letter outlining their position, with the expected glowing endorsements of achievements and initiatives. Dallas Friends of Public Education launched an email campaign to trustees outlining their stand on extending Miles’ contract, only to be countered by a Change.org petition campaign sponsored by Mile’s ally Stand For Children.

So sorry, trustees, as your inbox is flooded by random emails from Utah, North Carolina, and New York. In the Change.org world Mike Miles is a stranded whale or an Idaho wolf, and somebody somewhere thinks he deserves a chance.

The Dallas Morning News has added their endorsement and, despite some reasoned opposition and calls for more deliberation from DMN readers, it appears a contract extension for Mike Miles is a slam dunk.

It is no secret the business community, and the media that counts on their support for financial survival, really has one goal in mind. Bonds, taxes, moolah, and more of it.

Miles is their spokesman, front man, puppet, johnny on the spot and man of the moment. It has taken two years and a parade of public relations appointees to finally mold Mike Miles into the figurehead who will bring them into the Promised Land of Bond Projects and Tax Ratification Elections. Once the bumbling fool who ranted on about paper plates and melatonin, Miles now presents a fairly credible presence as he speaks of the need for public support of expanded pre-K programs and teacher preparation academies, and the high cost of scraping chewing gum off the sidewalks at the district’s dilapidated schools.

Only there are two problems with this scenario.

The first is home rule. If the rogue effort to turn Dallas ISD into a home rule charter district continues on for its allotted year time frame or even if it is successful this fall, there is no doubt the district will be thrown into chaos, as every aspect of its legality will be open to question and challenge. Lawsuits are not a possibility, they are a certainty. At a forum on home rule sponsored by the Coalition for an Accountable System of Education (CASE), Texas Education Agency chief counsel David Anderson termed DISD a “test case.” And we all know what that means.

Fat chance passing a bond issue when the community is throwing stink bombs at each other, with the school district in the big middle of the mess.

Last month, forty rabble rousers singing songs and carrying signs protested the charterization of Dallas public schools as eight busses loaded with the nation’s mayors rolled by, here for Mayor Rawlings’ Look At Us Conference of Mayors.

Look at us indeed. A city that can’t even agree on how to educate kids without arguing.

The irony of the business community’s support of Mike Miles is that no matter what image he presents in public, home rule or not, the wizards behind the curtain pulling his strings don’t give a rat’s ass whether TXI sells concrete, Chase Bank makes contractor loans, or about any of the myriad companies competing for management contracts, brick sales, painting contracts or window installations.

The agenda Mike Miles is working toward is bigger than BIG, the Dallas Visitors and Convention Bureau’s ad gimmick, and bigger than Dallas. The Miles’ administration has been infiltrated by national reform groups, including the Broad Foundation, Stand for Children, and Teach for America, all with avowed agendas to disrupt public education and turn the teacher appraisal, recruitment, and certification business upside down.

These groups are backed up by legislative lobbying groups like Texans for Education Reform, whose director Julie Linn testified at an Education Committee hearing in Austin in April 2014 that the “grassroots” home rule effort in Dallas needed legislative relief to lower the obstacles to home rule implementation. She termed it the state’s duty to lower the voter turnout threshold, because, you know, Dallas ISD wants to close the achievement gap and home rule is the only way.

There have been many articles, blog posts, and white papers written in criticism of these groups and their influence on both local school districts and state and national policy. One on the disruptive change Broad superintendents bring can be found here. A critique of Dallas’s own Mike Miles and his disruptive ”Broad” management style can be found here. Former members of Teach for America who have become disillusioned and are critical of the group’s purpose and results have spoken publicly in opposition. A Stand for Children staffer offers up this blog, titled Stand Sucks. This article reviews Stand’s involvement in the Boston mayoral race. Boston is a home rule school, run by the mayor, and has been held up as a model for Dallas by Support our Public Schools home rule backers.

In the coming weeks, this blog plans to look more closely at the national reform agenda and how it is affecting both state and local policy and, more importantly, the students we claim to care about.

In the meantime, as the board debates extending Mike Miles’ contract, everyone with skin in this game should be aware of what they have to gain or lose in keeping Mike Miles around and bolstering his reputation and standing by giving him a raise and allowing him consulting privileges.

Bond projects are sold to the public in an atmosphere of trust and collaboration. You know, all together now!

The trust and collaboration the community presents is at best a façade, bolstered by facebook pages and websites showing young professionals drinking beer in support of public education and planting trees with cute school kids. Meanwhile, citizens are watching as closed schools are vandalized and their friends and neighbors are fleeing district schools for surrounding suburbs.

And it is not just the parents who are leaving, but friends who have taught in DISD schools for years are also fleeing the district, like rats escaping the sinking ship.

There is no one who can say Mike Miles has made a notable difference for the kids. Some will say his initiatives haven’t had enough time. Others will say that the reforms initiated at the Imagine 2020 feeder patterns, extra tutoring time and increased social services, should have made an immediate, substantial impact on achievement.

There are many who think Mike Miles is their ticket to public approval of a bond project, a tax rate increase, or a removal of the school homestead exemption.

It may be that they are wrong. Public perception of Mike Miles and a school district that appears to be in constant turmoil may not lead us to the Promised Land of Public Money for Private Interests.

Time to hedge your bets, maybe?

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Posted in Rotten in Denmark, Teachers Rule

As the Home Rule Turns, A Dallas ISD Saga Continues

home-ruleAs the Dallas Home Rule Charter Commission prepares to meet for the first time, and begins what may be months of work writing a home rule charter that will transform Dallas ISD into a charter school district, it may be a good time to look back on a previous news article to see where we stand now relative to what we knew then.

It is widely agreed that Mike Morath and Mayor Mike Rawlings worked behind the scenes for months (weeks? days?) before the Support Our Public Schools rollout in March 2014 to garner support from the community, well at least the business and politico community. Nobody asked this chicken, but they never do.

Last March, the Dallas Morning News’ Matthew Haag got some deep throat information from three unidentified sources concerning the efforts behind the home rule rollout. It is worth rereading the entire article, but here are some excerpts:

“The three people, who agreed to speak to The Dallas Morning News on the condition of anonymity, said that in recent conversations, Morath and Rawlings mentioned replacing the district’s publicly elected board with appointed members.

“It is orchestrated. I hate to see stuff that’s not grass roots being portrayed as it is,” said a former city official whom the mayor recruited unsuccessfully to endorse the effort. “They should be straightforward that they are coming after the trustees.”

But the former city official said the mayor’s spokesman, Sam Merten, called several weeks ago and spoke bluntly about the effort.

“He said that the mayor would run DISD or oversee it. You wouldn’t have trustees. If you did, they wouldn’t be making decisions,” the former official said.”

Sam Merten told Haag he didn’t recall telling anyone the mayor would run the schools and only mentioned it as a possibility.

Further in the article, in a discussion of the process needed to write a charter, including appointment of the members by DISD trustees, Haag writes:

Because district trustees would appoint the commissioners, the process suggests that outside forces couldn’t control the outcome. However, according to the former city official, Merten said the group’s backers had recruited people to be on the commission and believed a majority of DISD trustees would vote them in.

“He said he would propose a slate of people for the charter that they knew would put in place the charter they would want. They would have enough votes on the DISD board to get that passed,” the person said. “You’d have the folks in place already who are committed no matter the public outpouring or opposition.”

Merten also denied saying that and made this statement:

“That’s completely inaccurate. There has not been one conversation about who would serve on this potential commission,” he said.

SOPS backed off the mayoral control proposal pretty quickly, as apparently the specter of Mayor Mike running the schools scared off as many folks as it attracted. But more importantly, any governance change might involve litigation and the Department of Justice and lots of men in suits, thus slowing the process down such that the charter would miss placement on the November ballot, a goal SOPS seems determined to achieve.

What about the statement that the group had recruited commission members and had the trustees who were willing to vote them in?

Obviously there are a few plants in the group, certainly Mike Morath’s appointee Edwin Flores. And yes, this is the “we pay for 8 hours we are getting 8 hours” ex-trustee whose idea of wielding the power of his elected position means forwarding to DISD administration emails from teachers who happen to disagree with him.

But I wouldn’t expect Morath to appoint someone who disagreed with the mission.

Who knows about the rest of them? Most of them have had personal acquaintance with their appointees, some more personal than others, but I’m not saying that’s a bad thing. Just curious.

At least one or two appointees seem to be the real thing, but maybe I’m naïve.

The teachers were appointed by a District Advisory Committee that has been ruled illegally constituted, and were part of a larger body that, in retrospect, actually appears to have been formed for the express purpose of signing off on the Teacher Excellence Initiative.

A District Advisory Committee that includes Stand for Children’s Stacey Hodge, Teaching Trust’s Ellen Wood, and Ken Barth’s right hand woman Melissa Higginbotham was obviously formed with some intent in mind, so one would also expect a sprinkling of Stand for Children’s Texas Educator Network members to be included. Isaac Freeman is at least one that appears to be involved in the organization that is referred to in some circles as Stand On Children. He has also testified in Austin as a Teaching Trust Ed-Policy Fellow in support of performance based teacher evaluations.

To be clear, and nothing’s been clear so far with home rule, the aforementioned members did not participate in commission member selection, with the exception of Isaac Freeman.

The makeup of the DAC, coupled with the fact the DAC selected two of their own members as commission members, plants a seed of doubt in my mind as to the true nature of the teacher appointees. Ron Oliver, both a DAC member and a teacher appointee, testified at the AFT vs DISD hearing that the second round of the selection process included a question asking applicants their views on home rule. That makes me wonder even more. What was the answer this group was looking for?

At their first meeting, the commission, as one of their first agenda items, will vote yea or nay to adopt a resolution that includes the following statement:

WHEREAS, the Commission has the sole discretion and authority to determine that no Home-Rule School District Charter need be adopted.

Maybe this is the vote that will tell us where the commission members stand. Are they principled individuals who will ignore efforts to influence them with threats, cajoling or lobbying and instead find a way to give Dallas students, parents, and taxpayers the local control and input SOPS has promised them but has yet to deliver?

Will they hold public meetings and ask for teacher and student input? Will they understand and take seriously their duty to the students and taxpayers?

Or will they do as they are told?

Or go along to get along, which is just as bad.

I guess we’ll just have to wait and see.

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Posted in Chicken on a Soapbox, SOPS

Miles Asks for a Raise While DISD Taxpayers and Teachers Prepare for 2,000 Needy Children

raise-v-poor-kidsOn Monday, DISD teachers learned that the district has offered to absorb and educate 2,000 students from Central America.

DISD Superintendent Mike Miles, in response to Clay Jenkins’ announcement that he intends to bring the children to Dallas, stated, “If they are in our district come August, we will want to help educate them. I don’t know if that’s a role we will be asked to play, but that is my commitment.”

Let’s be clear: by “we” Miles actually means “the teachers.” Most teachers would agree that Miles does very little—if anything—to “help educate” any children and that his “commitment” seems to be largely to himself. In fact, we generally have to work around him and his minions’ ineffective (per the data) ideas.

DISD teachers, of course, will rise to the challenge if asked, just as we did when the Katrina students arrived. Many of us added extra tutoring times to our afterschool schedules solely for the Katrina refugees; we did it because we wanted to help them catch up academically.

In this instance, DISD teachers would again add chairs and tutoring times; we would figure out how to make a broken-down set of textbooks without covers stretch for an additional 2,000 children. We would do all of this knowing that, even as additional federal and state money is given to the district, none of the money will go to teachers for extra classroom supplies.

We also realize that the addition of 2,000 students who don’t speak English and who probably have very low academic skills will stretch the resources of everyone in the district (and in the city), which will in turn affect our abilities to keep our jobs under the new Pay for Performance plan Miles insisted upon.

And yet, we will do our best to do right by these kids regardless of the personal cost.

Meanwhile, Mike Miles wants a contract extension and a raise. His board president (a man who is not married to anyone with ties to our community, who has no children in DISD, and who only lived in Dallas long enough to complete his TFA commitment before he left for the Harvard program that seems to accept a huge number of former TFA’ers), supports this extra obligation for the taxpayers!

Surely being brought back to Dallas after his 1 year in the Harvard post-TFA program to work for Mike Miles has nothing whatsoever to do with his support for Miles’ extra cash and perks.

That would be sickening, especially now in light of the tremendous food, housing, supervision, medical, dental and educational needs the taxpayers will want to provide for 2,000 innocent minors.

These 2,000 need and deserve safe housing and education and, if asked, Dallas teachers will welcome them with open arms and open hearts.  We will fit them in even as we continue to be harassed by ineffective and failing (per the data) mandates and bureaucrats.

I’d like to see Mike Miles put his money where his mouth is; I’d like to see Miles withdraw his request for more money and more perks at this time to show his true commitment to the Central American children so that more can be spent on them instead of him.  I’d like Miles to withdraw his request as a show of commitment to the taxpayers of Dallas who already bear such heavy financial burdens.

The teachers are willing to do more without extra; is Miles?

Posted in Teachers Rule

Dallas ISD and the Border Children Crisis

border-kidsDallas County Judge Clay Jenkins recently announced that Dallas County will “house and care for as many as 2,000 children who crossed the Mexico-U.S. border alone.” Dallas ISD superintendent Mike Miles has offered three of the district’s vacant schools for the county to use to care for the children. Miles also stated that “the district would be ready to educate the children if they are within DISD boundaries when school starts in August.”

While the political storm rages over the issue of these children being in the United States in the first place, we have a reality to deal with: there are children here without parents who are in desperate need of immediate care. Dallas County has offered to help, and we need to figure out how best to accomplish this without jeopardizing the needs of the current DISD students.

There are many things which need to be considered very quickly in order to be ready to receive as many as 2,000 children by late July. The first and most important is where to house them. Mike Miles has offered three vacant school buildings: Harllee Elementary, Billy Earle Dade Annex, and Hulcy Middle School. Unfortunately, these buildings have fallen into significant disrepair since being vacated by the district. Trustee Lew Blackburn was quoted as estimating the cost to repair Harllee at $800,000. However, the recent Parsons Facility Report listed the 2013 deficiencies of each school as:

  • Billy Earle Dade: $10 million
  • Harllee Elementary: $4.5 million
  • Hulcy Middle School: $20 million

How quickly can these schools be refurbished in order to safely house children? Where will the money come from: the county, the state, the federal government, the school district? Remember, we are not just refurbishing schools, we are creating living quarters for children and the staff that will care for them. Will the facilities need additional work after this crisis to return them to their original purpose?

Whether or not Dallas ISD provides buildings to house these children, they will certainly be involved in providing educational services. Where will DISD find the teachers to staff these newly opened schools, whether at district facilities or elsewhere? We already have a shortage of bilingual and ESL certified teachers. Will teachers be pulled from existing schools to meet this new need? Will DISD be able to supply the vitally important psychological and social services required by the refugee children, who have no parents with them to help ease the transition to a new country, a new language, and doubtless, very strange living accommodations?

Unfortunately, due to the massive teacher and staff turnover in the last two years, there are few left who remember how the district accommodated the Katrina refugees. The Katrina situation differed in that most of the children spoke English, had been in American schools prior to the evacuation, and many had parents with them. DISD will be starting from scratch, with little institutional memory of what worked or didn’t work with the Katrina refugees. Miles’ methods have left DISD in a very poor position to respond to this crisis.

An idea which should be explored, and quickly, is that of establishing a “Special Purpose School District” (SPSD) as provided for under the Texas Education Code, Sect. 11.352:

Sec. 11.351. AUTHORITY TO ESTABLISH SPECIAL-PURPOSE SCHOOL DISTRICT. (a) On the recommendation of the commissioner and after consulting with the school districts involved and obtaining the approval of a majority of those districts in each affected county in which a proposed school district is located, the State Board of Education may establish a special-purpose school district for the education of students in special situations whose educational needs are not adequately met by regular school districts. The board may impose duties or limitations on the school district as necessary for the special purpose of the district. The board shall exercise the powers as provided by this section relating to the districts established under this section.
(b) The State Board of Education shall grant to the districts the right to share in the available school fund apportionment and other privileges as are granted to independent and common school districts.
Added by Acts 1995, 74th Leg., ch. 260, Sec. 1, eff. May 30, 1995.

There are currently only six SPSDs in Texas: Lackland ISD, Randolph Field ISD, Fort Sam Houston ISD, Boys Ranch ISD, The University of Texas High School Program, and the Texas Tech University High School Program. The funding for these schools falls under three different categories:

  1.  The military base ISDs receive state aid, based on a student attendance formula and federal impact aid in lieu of tax funding because none of the land within the district is taxable.
  2. The university programs receive funding through tuition and fees charged.
  3. The Boys Ranch ISDs are funded through contributions made to Cal Farley’s organization, and state and federal funds as provided to any ISD in Texas.

A new SPSD created in order to house and educate these refugee students would best receive funding according to the military base model. Whether or not this would include money to refurbish the vacant schools in disrepair is questionable. However, this is the only plan which would provide the finances for the vast array of social services and educational specialties required for this situation, without siphoning off money needed to educate the 160,000 students already in Dallas ISD.

A clear division between the two sets of students is needed ensure the best outcomes for both the border children, current DISD children, and the teachers who will serve them both.

Let’s be an example to the rest of the nation, as some communities have already shut their doors. But let’s make sure we do it the best way possible.

We hope that Dallas County, Dallas ISD, and state officials will take this proposal seriously, and establish an SPSD quickly so that Dallas County will indeed be well prepared to hit the ground running as soon as these children arrive, which could be as early as the end July. That doesn’t give us much time.

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

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

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

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

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

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
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Superintendent Mike Miles

Lew Blackburn, 1st Vice President
District 5
Term Expires 2016
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Miguel Solis, Board President
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email coming
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"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