Can We Pump the Brakes Before We Send Yet Another Dallas ISD Superintendent Packing?

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In terms of the way we treat school superintendents in Dallas, we're kind of like the spoiled rich lady who fires her housekeepers one after another, then asks, "What on earth is wrong with the housekeepers of this world?"

I can't even count how many times in the last month I have heard somebody say, "The problem with the school system is that every single superintendent we hire around here turns out to be no good." Yeah. That's a problem. But are we sure it's a problem with the schools system?

Hey, let me put my hand up and nominate myself as a part of the problem. In the late 1990s I practically made my mortgage payments with stories about prison-bound and/or wacko Dallas superintendents. I confess to a certain disappointment when one of them, Mike Moses, came to town in 2001 and failed to exhibit any obvious or outward signs of dementia, alcoholism or sex addiction. He didn't even wear weird clothes.

mikemiles_markgraham.jpg
Mark Graham
See also:
Mike Miles versus The World

There comes a point, however, when the community has to take a long pause, look hard into the mirror, and ask, "What if it's us?" What are the odds, after all, that every single school superintendent who shows up here winds up sporting some kind of enormous mental, moral or criminal defect of character? What if we're the ones with the defect?

The drumbeat is picking up right now on Mike Miles, our current super. It turns out he's got a guy on staff -- or had one until the guy resigned yesterday -- who expects to be indicted in an FBI corruption probe in Atlanta where he used to work. Board member Lew Blackburn is talking to the daily paper about too many high-level departures, executive sessions, curtailing Miles' authority to hire his own staff, slapping him down, in other words so maybe he'll leave.

Sure. Wait. Remember. Blackburn is part of the caucus on the school board who want to kick Miles' ass over school reform and the fact that he just fired a couple of politically wired school principals. Listen. I'm not taking sides on that at the moment. Just remember who's talking.

Some of the other recent departures appear to be part of the same thing: school reform. Miles said from the beginning he was going to do some house-cleaning in order to reform the schools. So he's house-cleaning. Unless you're a crazy wacked-out rich lady yourself, you don't fire the cleaning lady because she's cleaning.

Miles' chief financial officer quit last month after only a few months on the job to return to a former employer. The anti-Miles claque is rolling that one up in the same ball of wax with everybody else who has left. They want to show that Miles can't hold on to his staff. OK, if we're going to use that one against him, let's be sure to go back and take it apart first to see what really happened.

For example, a persistent story I am hearing about that departure is that a major factor in that guy's decision to bail was the school board, not the superintendent. Think about it. He's the top money guy. What would give the top money guy the serious heebie-jeebies worse than the realization that school trustees intend to call him night and day and lean on him to do funky stuff with the money?

Before we add that departure to Miles' list of character flaws, I for one would like to see a serious public attempt to investigate what really happened. That one is interesting. It's the money. I'm sort of glad Blackburn and the others may want to put that one back on the stove. Good. Let's cook.

Everybody also goes back to the departure last January of Jennifer Sprague, the media-spinner whom Miles brought with him from Colorado. The story was that he paid her way too much money. The head-shots used for the stories about her salary were glamour shots from a few years back that made her look like a sorority pledge. By the time she quit, more recent pictures depicted a professional woman with family.

I think I may have written something at the time about Miles riding out of town on a rail. Remember: This was the same period when Miles was hit with an audit painting him as an out-of-control nutcase crook. When I first heard about that audit, I thought, "Well, thank goodness, finally things are getting back to normal."

The audit was leaked to The Dallas Morning News before it was even complete. Miles said he thought it was a witch hunt. I thought he was toast at that point, because what kind of CEO whines about a bad audit and calls it a witch hunt?

Then I got my hands on the audit. OMG! It was a witch hunt!

In fact, as sort of a connoisseur of witch hunts myself, I read it and thought, "This is even a crappy witch hunt." It seemed to me somebody needed to take that witch's broom away from her.

I'm not saying Miles should be considered immune in any way from criticism, review, skepticism, oversight, any of it. And look, I've already told you, if the guy steps in front of the cameras next week with one hand in his coat and a Napoleon hat, I'm a happy man. In some ways. Not so happy where the city, the schools, the children and the future of humankind are concerned, but a really good wacko school superintendent story is worth a couple bucks to me, and sometimes you can't have it all.

People want to roll all of this up in one ball so they can get rid of the dude because they are pissed off at him for firing their friends. Just keep that in mind. I'm not saying it's wrong to look at this stuff, but make them unroll it. Unroll the ball of wax. Let's look at this thoughtfully, one instance at a time. Pay attention to everybody's agenda. Make every single card player put his and her hands up on top of the table.

The rich lady wonders why the gods on high refuse to send her a good housekeeper. Fair question. But maybe the answer is that the gods don't like her. Talk about a whole new ball of wax.


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44 comments
Flabbergasted
Flabbergasted

What is your hard-on for this guy?

You are blind, dude. Blinded by your hatred of J W P to see what is really happening. And that is a shame.

hopeangel_97
hopeangel_97

Very disappointed in this article. You are seeing this whole situation the wrong way. Rather than seeing this in the eyes of the people who are going through this movement, you're seeing it in the eyes of the people controlling the school board. The people who are outrageously over paid and don't really care for the students, but rather the profits they make.

bbetzen
bbetzen

If the DISD Board had more properly vetted Mike Miles by studying the enrollment by grade numbers for the Harrison 2 School District, they would have seen reason for caution. They would have seen a constant loss of upper grade high school enrollment!

1. High school enrollment dropped over 26% while total Harrison Two District enrollment was constant with K-7 grade enrollment growing 26%. The question to ask is “Were students with poor test grades being pushed out as they neared SAT/ACT testing?”

2. The Promotion Rate dropped over 31 percentage points in Harrison, while in Dallas that same measurement went up over 14 percentage points.

3. The percentage of 9th grade enrollment not reflected in 12th grade enrollment 3 years later, exploded over 500% in Harrison, while in Dallas that same measurement was shrinking!

4. The Cumulative Promotion Index, the most precise, timely, and predictive of the graduation rate measurements, fell 16 percentage points in Harrison Two while that same measurements rose over 20 percentage points in Dallas ISD to the highest, most positive level on record.

5. If you look at the Harrison enrollment in 2005/06 and then compare the current 2012/13 enrollment with those numbers, you see class sizes decrease 7.2% in the 8th grade, 16.2% in 9th grade, 22.7% in the 10th grade, 22.3% in 11th and 33.2% in the 12th grade. Why would this pattern of student loss exist outside of students leaving to avoid something, like SAT/ACT tests? Which students were most likely to be feeling such pressure, those getting high test grades or those getting low test grades?

It is bad if the DISD Board did not know these facts and ask these questions. If they knew these facts, and still hired Mike Miles, that is inexcusable! Have these questions still not been asked?
====================================
The above is a reposting of something on this page already but updated with another 5th set of data along with other clarifications. It is from http://schoolarchiveproject.blogspot.com/2013/05/damage-by-mike-miles-in-colorado.html where you can find more details and data sources. The goal is to be as clear and as correct as is possible.

bkennedytx1
bkennedytx1

Wow Jim, I am shocked at how out of touch you are on this one!  You sound like a DMN clone.  Have you talked to any parents, teachers or principals?  Read the DISD blog?  The plan sounds good, but the execution strategy is completely wrong and shows the incompetence of this Superintendent.  He has essentially committed mass career genocide on DISD teachers and principals in order to weed out the few bad apples.  All the good teachers who can have left or are planning to leave DISD and this little Stalin.  But the real issue is the Board.  They are the ones who hired this guy in spite of all the warning signs and questionable performance in Harrison.  Until we get a competent BOT, nothing will ever change.  Market based reforms in education have been tried and failed.  High stakes testing and teach to the test has failed.  

BO105
BO105

Yo an' dere iz distrust in muh administration. ah be surprised, frankly, at da amount o' distrust dat exists. an' ah'm sorry it's da case, an' ah'll werk hard ta try ta elevate it.

Threeboys
Threeboys

I say get rid of the f..er because the system has historically worked so well that anything going wrong now must be his fault.

johnq23
johnq23

Hey writer. Look up DB(LOCAL) and ask yourself should recently resigned Chief Olberton have lived inside the Dallas ISD school boundaries? Hiring soon to be felons does not spell reform but disaster. The great experiment must end. I'm sure that once the finger is removed that the dam will burst. Others will be outed. Denial is what addicts do. Quit your addiction to FMM and help find positive change we can believe in.

johnq23
johnq23

This is a very weak story. Please take your blinders off and quit sniffing FMM's ear wax. Miles speaks of reform adroitly but his actions are unskilled and wreak of incompetence. Quit defending and open your eyes. People are abandoning ship because the captain has poor directional skills. Where I'm from a skunk and a pole cat have one very noticeable quality--- both stink. Wake up Dallas. Dallas ISD was improving and we all want better schools. Leadership should unite us behind a common cause but we are now a city divided. This is not reform. This is chaos. Save our kids!!! Let FMM go back to consulting somewhere else. His slide show presentations have run out of substance and time.

johnq23
johnq23

This is a very weak story. Please take your blinders off and quit sniffing FMM's ear wax. Miles speaks of reform adroitly but his actions are unskilled and wreak of incompetence. Quit defending and open your eyes. People are abandoning ship because the captain has poor directional skills. Where I'm from a skunk and a pole cat have one very noticeable quality--- both stink. Wake up Dallas. Dallas ISD was improving and we all want better schools. Leadership should unite us behind a common cause but we are now a city divided. This is not reform. This is chaos. Save our kids!!! Let FMM go back to consulting somewhere else. His slide show presentations have run out of substance and time.

johnq23
johnq23

This is a very weak story. Please take your blinders off and quit sniffing FMM's ear wax. Miles speaks of reform adroitly but his actions are unskilled and wreak of incompetence. Quit defending and open your eyes. People are abandoning ship because the captain has poor directional skills. Where I'm from a skunk and a pole cat have one very noticeable quality--- both stink. Wake up Dallas. Dallas ISD was improving and we all want better schools. Leadership should unite us behind a common cause but we are now a city divided. This is not reform. This is chaos. Save our kids!!! Let FMM go back to consulting somewhere else. His slide show presentations have run out of substance and time.

johnq23
johnq23

This is a very weak story. Please take your blinders off and quit sniffing FMM's ear wax. Miles speaks of reform adroitly but his actions are unskilled and wreak of incompetence. Quit defending and open your eyes. People are abandoning ship because the captain has poor directional skills. Where I'm from a skunk and a pole cat have one very noticeable quality--- both stink. Wake up Dallas. Dallas ISD was improving and we all want better schools. Leadership should unite us behind a common cause but we are now a city divided. This is not reform. This is chaos. Save our kids!!! Let FMM go back to consulting somewhere else. His slide show presentations have run out of substance and time.

kduble
kduble

Jim has a thoughtful, well-balanced opinion. Even so, when I get out my checkbook to pay my DISD property tax this fall, I'll be thinking of Jennifer Sprague and the other over-paid hires Miles paid with my money.

EastDallasDad
EastDallasDad

The CFO left because Miles and the board are playing games with budgeted teacher vacancies to free up funds for their pet projects. He recommended budgeting for 100% occupancy as an industry standard and the board ignored him.

Miles ran off Alan King because King would not simply sign checks unless the proper paperwork had been completed. King is too classy of a guy to say what really happened but some of the people at 3700 Ross Avenue know what happened.

Cliffhanger
Cliffhanger

The problem has always been the bidness men who control the school board. They only care about bidness, not education.

Callie
Callie

What if, after hiring your latest housekeeper, you find out that when working for her previous clients that she made their houses DIRTIER rather than CLEANER?  Would you keep the housekeeper then?

But, but, but what if she says she is busy implementing a new cleaning method that WILL work?  However, this method has never worked for her before.  How long do you keep her on? 

What if she keeps blaming it on the cleaning agents?  They are not what they claim to be.  They are supposed to be TOP NOTCH!  So she keeps buying new cleaning products.  But, still, house gets dirtier...

ThePosterFormerlyKnownasPaul
ThePosterFormerlyKnownasPaul topcommenter

Jim, how about using the term "juiced in" instead of "politically connected"?  It seems to more aptly describe the situation.

TheCredibleHulk
TheCredibleHulk topcommenter

You know that the board will never show their hole-cards. You can't very well slip the ace up your sleeve into a game of showdown.

MikeWestEast
MikeWestEast

I know what pumping the brakes used to mean though unless you drive Chevys in Cuba, I do not think it works anymore.  I am clueless on how you pump breaks.

everlastingphelps
everlastingphelps topcommenter

I don't find that a bunch of people quit that alarming at all.  In fact, it's a relief.  When a real reformer shows up, all the crooks usually quit to go head to more crime-friendly venues.

holmantx
holmantx topcommenter

"Father McKenzie, wiping the dirt from his hands as he walks from the grave.  No one was saved." 

The reformer is not on trial.  Nor was the last one.  Or the one before that.  It’s the system that has been on trial.  And it is the system that must be fired if they cannot hang on to this one. 

The state legislature several years ago looked at busting up the DISD into five districts in order to cure the intractable graduation percentage of ninth graders.  Over half were not graduating four years later.  So DISD changed the definitions and we are now doing much better (ha!).  The symption is the quality of the product.  The problem is systemic – DISD is too big. 

Bottom line: if they fire Miles or otherwise wear him out and run him off, the state needs to land on them with both feet. 

Either that or sue them.  There is a new movement in the country regarding bloated bonehead local education systems in the big metros that essentially have devolved into low-end jobs programs.  Former students are filing class-action lawsuits over the denial of a basic education sufficient to function in a modern society. 

A quality education is the primary reason why people out-migrated from Dallas to the suburbs (led by the black family unit) and the town did not benefit from the Grapes of Wrath the rest of the Metroplex, and Texas, enjoyed over the last census period.  

And if we don’t fix it, we will repeat this demographic shift performance. 

Blow up DISD.

bealotcoolerifyoudid
bealotcoolerifyoudid

If California can have Arnold Schwarzenegger as governor, why can't DISD have Deion Sanders as superintendent?  It makes about as much senes right?

MisterMean
MisterMean

@Threeboys worked so well!   What have you been smoking.   The DISD has had a continual line of failures for superintendents.  

JimSX
JimSX topcommenter

@Callie 

You can't roll it all up into one big ball if none of the individual elements holds water. Show me the particulars. 

JimSX
JimSX topcommenter

@MikeWestEast 

tippety-tap-tap-tap to keep the car from sliding on snow, back before automatic anti-lock brakes.  By the way, that was not my headline. Must have been some other really old person.

RobertStinson
RobertStinson

@holmantx I wholeheartedly agree. There is too much money, too many stakeholders and too much size for DISD to be successful. The so-called economies-of-scale for DISD are mitigated by an organization that is too slow to change and cannot give its kids a fighting chance to be successful in life. 

 Another vote for breaking up DISD.

EastDallasDad
EastDallasDad

@JimSX @Callie Don't forget the only accomplishments Miles can brag about in Colorado are very small gains on SAT and ACT scores. 

Callie
Callie

@JimSX @Callie Forgive the cut and paste from a poster on another blog, but this sums it up nicely.  I think, anyway.  You may not agree.

We should have started more rigorous vetting over a year ago! If the DISD Board had properly vetted Mike Miles they would have looked at the enrollment by grade numbers for the Harrison 2 School District and seen the following changes that happened during Mike Miles time as superintendent:


 1. High school enrollment dropped over 26% while total Harrison Two District enrollment was constant, The question to ask is “Were students with poor test grades being pushed out?”
2. The Promotion Rate dropped over 31 percentage points in Harrison, while in Dallas that same measurement improved over 14 percentage points.
3. The percentage of 9th grade enrollment not reflected in 12th grade enrollment 3 years later, exploded over 500% in Harrison, while in Dallas that same measurement was shrinking!
4. The Cumulative Promotion Index, the most precise, timely, and predictive of the graduation rate measurements, fell 16 percentage points in Harrison Two while that same measurements rose over 20 percentage points in Dallas ISD to the highest, most positive level on record.

Details and sources for this data are at
http://schoolarchiveproject.blogspot.com/2013/05/damage-by-mike-miles-in-colorado.html

BillBetzen at www.disdblog.com

MikeWestEast
MikeWestEast

@JimSX @MikeWestEast Tapping brakes is different than pumping brakes.  Pumping brakes dates from period when hydraulic pressure control on brake lines was not as sophisticated.  Beside Anti-Lock features, the other innovation since then is using engine HP to keep pressure up in line so it was there when needed.  Pumping brakes is a way to keep pressure in the line and on the pads.  Actually research shows with modern tech that true pumping, rapidly moving pedal full travel up and down, is very dangerous because it messes up the signals received by engine unit maintaining pressure.  It could have the exact opposite effect and leave brakes useless.  Yes, I have spent years driving in real snow in the God's Country part of Michigan, across the Bridge and as far as you can be from Detroit while remaining instate.

holmantx
holmantx topcommenter

@RobertStinson @holmantx And it's alive.  It is only protecting itself by loosening multiple torpedoes at the one who threatens the system.

bealotcoolerifyoudid
bealotcoolerifyoudid

@markmelton @Callie @JimSX When did Miles start in Colorado?  It looks like the 2007 numbers are better than 2005, so did he bring these metrics up before they fell off?

Also, having taught in DISD and Austin ISD, I was always sickened by the number of students that get passed on to the next grade regardless of performance/ability/doing a damn thing.  So you are kind of reinforcing his "Reformer" image. 

I admit I only have very surface level knowledge of the ongoings at DISD,  but you need to drill down on these stats more to make your argument.

markmelton
markmelton

@Callie @JimSX Go look at that data.  You'll see the elementary and middle school age kids went up by the same amount.  So why did the younger grades go up and only the highschool age group go down?  Those statistics may be accurate, but they don't really give us any meaningful information from which to draw conclusions.

CogitoErgoSum
CogitoErgoSum

@Callie @JimSX I'm curious to see if Jim addresses this data in his next article. It looks pretty grim, but I'd like to hear some analysis from some unbiased experts.

Threeboys
Threeboys

What right minded person puts their kids in DISD schools if he can afford otherwise? I don't.

RobertStinson
RobertStinson

@holmantx @RobertStinson If North Dallas civic and political leaders are REALLY invested in DISD, let's see them put their kids in DISD (and not just in elementary school). Simply throwing money at the problem or building another feel-good program does nothing to change this cog in Dallas' messed up political & money machine.

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