There Are Two Dallas ISD Trustees Who Won't Let TFA Deal Sail Through Without a Fight

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On the eve of the final school board meeting of the year, I had a long talk with Dallas Independent School District board president Lew Blackburn, who expects tonight's adios to 2011 will be a lengthy one: "We've got a long list of people who want to speak about the possible school closings," he warned. That, and two days ago trustees Carla Ranger and Eric Cowan pulled from the consent agenda the item that renews Teach for America's contract with the district for five years, at a max cost of $3 million spread over the length of the deal to help bring up to 100 TFA corps members into the district each school year. One hundred, out of the more than 10,000 teachers in the district.

Blackburn's a fan of TFA; so too are most of the trustees, who've looked at the results and listened to principals who, if they've had TFA members in their schools, go on and on about how corps members transform students and teachers alike. As Kyle Richardson, ex of Marsh and now of Woodrow, told Joe last month: "They had a great impact on our school -- an amazing impact." But Ranger's never much liked TFA and the fact teachers only commit for two years; and now Alliance-AFT, a teachers' association, is insisting the language of the contract protects TFA teachers from being fired, which Blackburn says is not true. And so, tonight, grown-ups will do what they do best: argue.

"We have one or two board members dead-set against it, and I am not naive enough to say we'll always agree," Blackburn says. "They say: Why commit ourselves to five years? Why not one, two, three? But I am not concerned about a five-year commitment. If their reputation starts to change, we'll tell TFA: 'Your shining star is getting dull.' And then we'll move on.

"But I see us using TFA as a recruitment opportunity, and the people they bring to us -- and, granted, over the last couple of years it hasn't been a lot -- but the ones we have are quite effective. Principals talk about them being very enthusiastic. I even ask them: 'But they're only committed for two years.' They tell me, 'If I can get an enthusiastic teacher for two years versus a dull teacher for life, give me an enthusiastic teacher. And two years later I will find another enthusiastic teacher for two more years.'"
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Litlebee18
Litlebee18

Now since its recruitment wouldn't the 3m go to the agency and they pay the teachers out of their money? or is the 3m the salary for those teachers split up?

 Also as a graduate of DISD in 2000 and having 2 kids getting ready to go to school in DISD.  I truly believe that it falls mostly on the student and parents when it comes to failing.  You can lead a horse to water but you cant make it drink.  You can tell a kid about a subject but you cant make him study when he is home, you cant make his parents check on him about homework....  Many kids I know when I was in school were from homes that were broken and either had kids themselves, were drug dealers(or did drugs), worked to support family, or plain just didnt care.  I was one of those kids that didn't care and I never should have graduated but I did.  I had awesome teachers that actually cared about me and my class but did I? NO.  So to blame it on the teachers is just crazy and you have either never attended a disd school or if you did then you graduated a long time ago(well before me) or attended one of the nicer richer ones.   

I will say this though, we are coming from Oklahoma and Texas(DISD) is ahead of this state when it comes to academics.  I am actually moving there for this semester so my kids can get caught up in school(kinda funny if you ask me).  SO DISD is not all bad even if they have their problems and have to close schools because even if they do have their faults they are better then a lot of other districts.   

Diane Birdwell
Diane Birdwell

Hey, "primi-timpano"----

You obviously do not understand a thing about what it means to be a failing school. School ratings are based on TAKS, which is divided into four subjects and by two grades--in high school, that is. EXAMPLE: 10th grade math, or 11th grade science. If a school has, say, 7 too many black kids fail the 10th grade math test, the WHOLE SCHOOL---are you reading this---the WHOLE school is listed as failing. Does not matter if we were acceptable in science, or exemplary in Social Studies. That rating is like saying that your kid sucks totally because he failed his French II class. ONe minor component ina subgroup population can sink an entire school.

So, please get off the "failing school" wagon and try to get it through your head what is really going on with millions of tax dollars. Maybe you don't live in Dallas, but I do, and they are wasting our money to pay for what is an overpriced and unneeded headhunting agency.

primi_timpano
primi_timpano

So you say the ways failing schools are measured is a joke, that TFA is a waste of money, etc, etc.  Apparently the graduation rate for DISD high schools is less than 50%.  I'm sure there is something wrong with this metric, too.  http://www.nbcdfw.com/news/loc...So it's nobody's fault? 

As for TFA, I'm impressed that new graduates will put their careers on hold for two years and do something meaningful, and with enthusiasm.  I'll restate my point--they are extremely cost effective.

I read a lot of excuses but see no accountability.

DISD Teacher
DISD Teacher

I'm all for TFA, but I'm not all for paying them $3 million dollars.

Why is TFA reaching into the pockets of DISD children--poor kids--for money?  Can't they get the $3mill from true-believer donors?

Why stop with TFA if we're going to just spend money no matter what?Let's buy every child a laptop, an Iphone (learning apps!), and home in the suburbs.  

Sure, keep TFA, but cut their fee.  DISD kids cannot afford it and TFA shouldn't take it.  Who takes money from poor kids?

primi_timpano
primi_timpano

How much would you pay?  How much are you paid.  At $6k per year they are taking a lot less money from DISD kids than traditional DISD teachers.  Quite the bargain, actually.  Is that a problem, replacing bad expensive teachers with inexpensive new ones?

DISD Teacher
DISD Teacher

How much is TFA paying you?

You're such the big believer that all non-TFA teachers in DISD are crap; why don't you just pay the $3 million and let the kids have the rest for toilet paper, paper towels, an extra art teacher, maybe a librarian....

Tell the kids without a librarian what a bargain they're getting.

Michael MacNaughton
Michael MacNaughton

The vote on the proposed TFA contract is not about TFA or "employee pipelines" it is about the way DISD spends our taxpayer dollars.  

DISD must cut a minimum of $30M from the budget in the the 2012-2013 school year.  Do you know how the administration has proposed to do that?  $12M will come from closing (consolidating) 11 schools and firing 171 teachers and $18M will come from increasing the student/teacher ratio at the elementary school level resulting in the firing of 300 elementary school teachers...the very teachers, by the way, that the contract proposes we pay TFA to hire.  So now we have to find an additional $3M to pay for TFA? Hmmmm, at $60,000 average DISD salary we would have to fire another 50 teachers to pay for the TFA headhunting service.  No thanks.  

The $3M fee paid to TFA to recruit teachers is a waste of taxpayer monies as it duplicates DISDs own recruitment efforts.  93% of the TFA teachers in Dallas come from the same schools we already recruit from: Lamar, UNT, SMU, etc.  To top it off, the majority of TFA teachers here are uncertified beginning teachers. Now everyone wants to use data to drive decisions - OK, how about this one.  The NAEP test results were released last week and are being highly touted by the district. Do you know what the data revealed?  At DISD in both reading and math, at both grade 4 and grade 8, students whose teachers hold master's degrees have scored higher than their peers whose teachers hold bachelor's degrees in every assessment since 2005. So it is clear that if we really wanted to put students first that we need to recruit and hire teachers with advanced degrees not beginner general education teachers.  

If TFA proponents or DISD supporters really believe that outside recruitment firms are a necessity to hire general education teachers in the future then the cost should be carried by a third party organization or grant,  - not the taxpayer. Perhaps this could be a project for the newly minted "Commit!" group.  But don't tell me we need to spend $3M to hire the very teachers that DISD is firing in order to balance the budget.   

Cliffhanger
Cliffhanger

Michael, did we ever get any hard data on where those TFA teachers were being assigned? I know there were rumors of them being concentrated at already high-performing schools like magnets, but I don't know if those were ever confirmed. TFA teachers might actually be the real deal, but DISD still hasn't produced any meaningful proof to justify the contract. If they put up, I'll shut up. But all we've seen are CEIs. I could manipulate those CEIs to make my cat look like the Einstein of teaching.

Michael MacNaughton
Michael MacNaughton

http://www.dfpe.org/pdf/Curren... I am still looking for my FOIA request for additional information...candidate originating schools, gpa's, education concentrations, subjects taught at DISD but here is the current data on TFA: http://www.dfpe.org/pdf/Curren...

TFA kids are bright and enthusiastic. I've liked every single one I've met. But they aren't silver bullets. Statistics can be quoted by both sides to show both effectiveness and ineffectiveness. But the reality is that we need to find $30M. The administration is finding it by closing 11 schools and firing 471 teachers. There isn't another $3M in the budget so to pay for this the $3M has to come out of some other department or they have to fire another 50 teachers. That is the reality. And, by the way, $3M is NOT a "drop in the bucket".

Michael MacNaughton
Michael MacNaughton

I have spent the last three years advocating for the kids because my son was one of the kids. I believe there are massive deficiencies at DISD including curriculum ("managed instruction with earned empowerment" is a joke), a culture of fear and intimidation that makes teachers ineffective, cronyism and nepotism that would make a logger blush and a misapplication of funds on contracts and vendors that does nothing to move the needle on student achievement.

 My son is very bright and rather than ditch DISD for private schools in grade 3 I was encouraged to take a look at Travis TAG for grade 4.  It was a fantastic experience and I advocate for this type of program because it works for those students who can pass the entrance exams which are, by the way, very very lenient. But your simple question goes much deeper into the problems that face us all...not just education issues but the elephants in the room - and there are many but poverty and race run deep. 

Out of DISD's 157,000 students only 4.6% are white.  The white students are not exactly evenly distributed across the district schools and some argue that there are a disproportionate number of white students in the magnet programs.  Some see this as out and out racism.  Now, before anyone's blood pressure peaks, understand that the magnet schools are funded EXACTLY the same as comprehensive schools today.  It didn't always used to be that way but it is now.  And south Dallas Learning Centers (funded at 120% of comprehensive schools) - the bone the white north Dallas politicians threw to south Dallas African Americans in 2001 as an incentive to release DISD from oversight by Judge Barefoot Sanders in the TASBY desegregation suit - have all been dissolved and are also funded "equitably". 

So what is a parent supposed to do in DISD when they want the very best for their child? They want to find the "best school with the best teachers" and that usually means looking at state school rankings which can be very misleading as has been noted in other posts here - one student in one sub-group can literally tank a whole schools rating. What else do parents do?  They look at TAKS score results.  These scores are also terribly misleading and goes to the problem stated earlier...a child in grade 6 reading at grade 3 level will have a tough time with any test. 

The false assumption is that the child has been a product of the American education system and as a sub-set the DISD system since Kindergarten.  In fact, kids at DISD speak over 100 different languages and enter the system from other countries and cultures at all grade levels. Magnet programs look "elite" because the kids may have had "life circumstances" unrelated to race that are advantageous.  For example, resources like books at an early age or attendance in a pre-k program or parents who took the time to read to them. The magnets are a meritocracy.  Is that unfair?  Inequitable? 

Are there poorly trained teachers? Yes. Are there teachers who should find another occupation? Yes.  So why do some kids thrive and are successful at "bad" schools while others fail?  What makes you think that the teachers are the fundamental difference that make one school substantially better than another?  I know it's counter-intuitive and I said it last night at the board meeting and I'll say it again.  Take the majority of our teachers out of DISD and plop them into a private school and they will be treated like stars and they will perform as well or better than any other private school teacher. I personally know quite a few DISD teachers who have made the leap from DISD to other districts (for lower pay) and to the private schools (for MUCH lower pay) who are very successful and their success is shared by their students.I am not a union stooge nor an apologist for teachers. Education is a complex problem but "blame the teacher" is both wrong and wrong-headed.

Concerned Citizen
Concerned Citizen

These posts have an unfortunate, bitter tone, but I'm encouraged by your confidence in your ability to find 10k great DISD teachers. "I bet I can find [them]" sounds like an offer to do so, and I think the community would be very interested in seeing your list and how you define "very good" or "great". 

I'm guessing that the mainstream opinion on this issue isn't far from my own: That there are a lot of great teachers in DISD, but that one of the causes of underperforming results (see below) relates to some teachers falling below the standard of "good". 

Your history of PTA experience, advising magnet schools and advocating for DISD progress is -- by anyone's measure -- respectable, and I wish more people shared your dedication. 

...but if you are truly so confident that nearly all of DISD's teachers are great, why have you spent the last several years of your life so zealously advocating for improvement in DISD and promoting magnet schools, which self-select their students? 

Does your confidence in nearly all DISD teachers mean that you would let your kid go to ANY Dallas high school? Would you send your kid to Adams, Conrad, Roosevelt, Spruce, Hillcrest, Pinkston or any of the other DISD high schools that are "academically unacceptable" and have at least 50% of their students failing a core subject?  

Don't feel bad if you're reserved about sending your kid to these schools. It's natural and parents should advocate for their kids' education. But the fact that most families in Dallas don't have options and have to send their kids to these schools (the same schools that you and I would avoid) should be a crime. And your confidence implies that there's not a problem and that all Dallas families have access to great teachers. 

http://ritter.tea.state.tx.us/...

Michael MacNaughton
Michael MacNaughton

primi,I am not a teacher. I have a son who has spent 8 years in DISD with some great teachers and some middling teachers.  I got involved three years ago when DISD Trustees mismanaged the financials so badly that they found themselves $64M in debt; declared a fiscal emergency and fired 700 teachers to get back on track. I am a PTA member and former PTA officer and have had a seat on two SBDM committees.  I am chair of an education PAC,  www.DFPE.org. I am an appointed  member of the DISD Citizens Budget Review Commission, www.BudgetReview.org.  I sit on the Magnet Parents Advisory Committee.  I sit on the DISD Technology Review Committee.  I am an advisory member of Leadership DISD. I sit on the board of the TAG Foundation and I just got through speaking at tonights board meeting.  How about you? 

Let me ask you a serious question. Why do you think teachers are the ones responsible for "bad schools"?  In my experience with my son's schools the students struggled for lack of resources...not bad teachers.  No books in the library; no text books for each student; no computers that worked; intermittent access to the internet; no fancy technology tools; no air conditioning in the summer and blasting heat in the winter; toilets that overflowed and no toilet paper or hand soap; no writing paper; no working copy machines.  My son's school was ranked the best middle school and the best elementary school in the entire State of Texas! Why?  Because of his teachers...and not a single TFAer among them. My son also did not have to deal with the aching poverty or homelessness that can often manifest itself in behavioral problems.  He did not have to deal with gang bangers, knives and guns in school, AIDS, pregnancy, bullying, decrepit school buildings and a lack of after school programs like many schools in south and west Dallas.  DISD is continuing to balance the budget on the backs of the teachers, TFAers included...you reap what you sow.

DISD Teacher
DISD Teacher

You are nothing but a shill for TFA if you believe the many failed schools in DISD are due to the teachers instead of the parents of many of these kids.

Funny how every single low-income, run-down, single-parent, teen-parent urban district in this country has all the "bad" teachers.  

And the suburbs?  Their success has nothing to do with the number of stable, 2-parent homes.  Nothing to do with the absence of rampant drug abuse among adults, the absence of monthly moves to new apartments.  Nothing to do with the presence of college-degreed fathers.  Nope, it's because by some weird quirk, they ONLY have "good" teachers.

As for the bad teachers who do exist, behind every one of them is an incompetent, do-nothing principal avoiding conflict.  $3 million spent on TFA is not going to fix that.

Look at many of the principals at the failed schools.  Crony hire, nepotism hire, crony hire, etc.  

Taking $3 million from the kids to have a few enthusiastic teachers scattered around the district is a waste if you aren't going to FIRST fix the principals hired by friends and family.

primi_timpano
primi_timpano

According to my math, $3mm divided by 100 TFA teachers divided by 5 years equals $6000 per TFA teacher year.  Actually it should lower as in years 2 through 5 there will be 200 TFA teachers.  Don't forget to say "thank you" to TFA.

primi_timpano
primi_timpano

(1) Read the data cited in my previous text. Maybe you and other DISD teachers cannot agree on performance measurement criteria for yourselves--though you seem to be able to grade students just fine--but the UT Dallas came up with its own criteria.  Read the article from which the PDF is excerpted and you will see further empirical positive critiques of TFAs efforts.

(2) As for illiterate students you are forced to teach, how did the student become illiterate?  This is why bad teachers are so devastating: you take a year of education from a child's life and his ability to recover is severely compromised.

(3) I am blaming teachers, especially those who care more about bad mouthing TFA then teaching students.  I am also blaming the administrators and the trustees.  There is plenty to blame and teachers need to own up to their share.

(4) You have a very skewed view of a bell curve if you believe 90% of the DISD teachers are "very good."  If there are so many very good teachers why are there so many failed schools?

(5) So what responsibility do teachers have for the poor DISD schools?

Michael MacNaughton
Michael MacNaughton

And exactly how do you properly measure teacher performance? Requiring a teacher to move a kid in grade 6 to a grade 7 reading level when the kid enters grade 6 with a grade 3 reading level is impossible without abandoning the rest of the kids in the class. And 93% of the TFA teachers at DISD are NOT from the Ivy's but from UNT, Lamar, SMU, etc. Hiring the best teachers is of the utmost importance but the statistics on DISD TFA teacher performance are based on the CEIs which have been thoroughly discounted as worthless. The pervasive "blame the teacher" attitude is not only wrong but wrong-headed.  Yes there are bad teachers...but out of the 11,000 teachers at DISD I bet I can find 10,000 very good ones.

primi_timpano
primi_timpano

Maybe the outcomes have as more to do with the teaching skills of the teachers  rather than at what desk the teacher sits.

All of you DISD apparatchiks and poor performance apologists should open your eyes: there are now 43 failing schools in DISD.  TFA did not fail these children--the trustees, administrators and teachers have failed.  Your answer is (1) don't hire bright, energetic, Ivy League students praised by about everyone who has seen them at work, but to instead (2) bitch about TFA and the eleven schools needed to be closed and the poor teachers who are on the firing line instead of the TFA teachers.

By my math there are 32 more schools needing to be closed and every single under performing teacher in those 43 failing schools should bear responsibility for these failures. So what are your answers to 43 failing schools filled with uneducated children and incompetent teachers? Give some solutions besides your TFA trash talk.

Cliffhanger
Cliffhanger

You really don't think which campus a teacher is assigned to impacts the kind of student they get? Have you ever checked the achievement gaps among different DISD schools? Landing a teaching assignment at DESA or Lakewood makes a huge difference in your outcomes. Pretending it doesn't is disingenuous.

primi_timpano
primi_timpano

TFA teachers may not be silver bullets, but at least they are real bullets.  To my knowledge they have yet to "fail" an entire school, much less forty of them in a year.  I have to believe that in more than 40 failed schools there are quite a few teachers there who bear significant responsibility for this failing performance.  If you do not fire the lousy teachers and ineffective administrators these schools and others will continue to fail.

Quit worrying about whether TFA is getting an easy assignment, which seems like quite the canard since the TFA recruits their teacher for difficult environments, and worry about whether the DISD teachers are up to snuff, and if not, how to make them effective or get them out of the class room.

TFA is not the problem at DISD, business as usual is the problem at DISD.

primi_timpano
primi_timpano

You really don't get it.  The DO reported that more than 40 DISD schools have failed.  Not that they are substandard, or below average, or any other mealy mouthed obfuscation you may care to pitch.  Failed as in "it's so bad kids shouldn't have to go there but instead should switch schools."  The vehemence against TFA by the teacher apologists on this board is pathetic.  There is always some reason to trash TFA--they don't have a masters degree, they stick around for only a couple of years.  No, hiring TFA is not ideal, but it sure seems to be working better than anything else.

From everything I read here at UP there should a lot more regular firing of these teachers  with the failing schools, and a lot more hiring of TFA.

And quit whining about money and recruitment fees and start worrying more about how to teach this city's children.

Anon
Anon

Aren't masters degrees required at some point in Texas? As in, every teacher gets one eventually or can no longer hold a teaching certificate for public schools? If that's the case, the correlation between performance and having an advanced degree is in reality just a correlation between years on the job and performance. It is already well-demonstrated that your first couple years teaching are not great relative to 3-4 years in. Even teachers who start out above average get much better after a few years.

primi_timpano
primi_timpano

I don't know about the degree requirements for Texas schools, but I think it is clear that the average TFA teacher is no worse than average.  Considering their educational backgrounds this does not surprise me.  Frankly, a lot of the criticism leveled at TFA seems to be based in large part on envy of the TFA teachers' accomplishments.

I question whether advanced degrees in teaching are necessary for all students.  I can see the efficacy of teaching how to teach for relatively rudimentary subjects, but wonder if these skill sets translate to a secondary pre-college curriculum.

And yes, it may be "easier" to teach an affluent child but it would seem there would be enough data points to distinguish student aptitude from the teachers' abilities.  I fear too many of our teachers want to land the fruits of working at Lakewood, rather than accepting the challenges of teaching in poor schools, a challenge TFA kids are more than willing to take on.

These terrible teachers and failing schools are destroying our city's youth and their futures.  I wish more teachers would care as much about the quality of their students' education and less about assignments, TFA and the other irrelevancies constantly dredged up to demean their "opponents."

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