Hey, Mayor Mike: The School Thing Is Way Worse than a Simple Question of Personalities

Categories: Schutze

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Dallas Mayor Mike Rawlings wants the Dallas school board to fish or cut bait on the school superintendent. "We need the school board to decide whether Mike Miles is going to be our superintendent of schools," Rawlings says in today's Dallas Morning News.
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Dallas Observer
Mike Rawlings is right to care about the school leadership crisis, wrong to think it's just a matter of personalities.

"If a majority says that we don't want him, we need to get somebody else in there and move on. If he is, then we all need to get behind him and focus on these kids."

Good thought. Good intentions. Bad analysis.

Rawlings told reporters, "I've looked at this pretty closely and I find this is heavily personality driven."

He's wrong.

Miles' personality is not at issue and is not what's driving the turmoil on the school board. And we don't get to just fire Miles and move on. Getting rid of Miles right now will be a fundamental failure, maybe even the fatal bullet for the school system as it exists today.

The real problem is way tougher than personality or public relations. Over the last several decades, an entrenched political patronage machinery, operating mainly through African-American clergy in southern Dallas, has taken on a shared ownership of the district, partnering with the mainly white old-line public works construction lobby. Why? Because somebody had to own it.

For decades, major decisions about who should be made principal of a certain school and who should get hired as a teacher have been made by "the community," meaning the patronage machine. The first objective of the school reform effort led by Miles was to pull the plug on that machine -- to hire, train and assign principals through a central academy run by the superintendent without input or influence from elected officials or the preachers.

When the machine finally saw that coming -- it took a while -- the machine went to war against Mike Miles. It's important to remember that some of Miles' most committed foes now on the school board were supporters of school reform earlier, before they perceived that school reform was going to pull the plug on the patronage machine.

Before Miles showed up, school trustee Bernadette Nutall, now his nemesis, was a staunch and courageous supporter of school reform, sometimes at bitter personal cost. In January 2012, three months before Miles was hired, people in the audience at a school board meeting shouted "Shame!" at her when Nutall nevertheless bravely voted to support the closing of several schools in her own district, an efficiency measure designed to improve quality in remaining schools.

That all changed later when Dallas County Commissioner John Wiley Price, king of the machine, signaled that Miles was persona non grata. In April of this year Price sent out an ultimatum in the form of a letter to southern Dallas ministers, telling them they were not to support Miles or even allow him to appear in their churches.

The black board members all got the message. Nutall, who is very close to Price (she asked him to conduct her swearing-in ceremony after her 2012 re-election to the board) turned on a dime against Miles. Board member Lew Blackburn had been a cautious supporter of Miles and the reform effort and was never especially close to Price. But after Price's preacher-letter went out, Blackburn too flipped and began fighting to slow or sabotage Miles' campaign to replace principals.

Black board member Carla Ranger had been a fiercely independent voice on the school board who often traded verbal blows with Blackburn and other black board members. But after Price declared Miles as Public Enemy No. 1, Ranger clicked her heels, saluted and fell into line.

The fight going on now about school reform is not about Miles. This is about a half century of accommodation and compromise by the old leadership of the entire city, in which white people and upwardly mobile minorities effectively told black southern Dallas it could have the school system, a $1.7 billion-a-year enterprise, as long as it didn't get in the way of the construction contracts.

The old city is not the new, but the old is not dead. In the last 30 years an entire new sophisticated, diverse, urban cosmopolitan culture has been overlaid on the old matrix. But the old matrix is still down there, and it still rules on issues like this one. In that old order, a longstanding culture of racial separatism is founded on the rock of school system patronage.

The question before us is whether that rock can be smote in pieces, the old patronage system destroyed and real reform achieved. Can it be done? Is the new culture strong enough, smart enough or sufficiently committed to the cause to take on the old and vanquish it?

It's a huge mistake for the new culture to take this is as a question of public relations and personality. That is the road to defeat. If Miles is tossed out, it means the patronage system cannot be defeated. Which is possible. Some people might say it's likely. Right now, please don't ask me to bet five bucks.

But if that happens -- if the John Wiley Price patronage machinery wins and succeeds in getting rid of Mike Miles -- then it will mean there is no plausible way to achieve school reform from within the school system. Hire all the new superintendents you want, sign up an army of P.R. consultants: None of that will even scratch the rock, let alone split it. And that fact alone -- that the machine governing the school system cannot be defeated -- will turn the public school system itself into the new city's Public Enemy No. 1.


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95 comments
Flabbergasted
Flabbergasted

Jim--- Oh, you stupid, stupid fool. They are SAYING they are quitting because of the trustees, so they can get another job! They are jumping ship to avoid the men in button down suits with guns and badges, the FBI, you nitwit.

Man, come on, get off the bash the blacks train, would ya? Come on, Viejo, when was the last time you saw a PROFESSIONAL person EVER write a resignation letter that was longer than three sentences? Name it.

And they needed a PUBLIC RELATIONS person to write it for them? Name it.


Again, you are embarrassing yourself. Will trying to link everything to J W P, because if you knew Ranger, the way most people do, you would know she personally does not like him or his antics. She would NEVER do any bidding of his.  

nichietx
nichietx

Everyone keeps talking about REFORMS. What reforms? Please explain. That should be your next article. Or have you written this article as of to date and I missed it? Please enlighten me. I would like to see a detail accounting of Mike Miles' reforms.

Obummer
Obummer

Yo race iz justz skinz deep.

phipho5490
phipho5490

Did anyone see Brett Shipp's piece last night ? Basically a five minute "Folks inside the DISD who hate Miles tell us he really bites". What a waste of bandwidth by a usually very solid reporter.

Obummer
Obummer

Yo race iz basically justz skinz deep.

Obummer
Obummer

Yo race iz basically justz skinz deep.

leftocenter
leftocenter

@JimSX If the king of the machine is gone, who fills the void?  What's next?  Will it make a difference?

ebailey75057
ebailey75057

DISD has been rampent with Cronyism for decades.  Politically motivated appointments.  Principals and teachers using credit cards for non school purchases, and the list can go on and on about the corruption in the system.  An outsider is hired (Miles) and wants to end all that, but the Cronies entrenched why?; because they have grown very fond of the kickbacks and favors they receive from the system they have setup, and want to oust Miles so that system can be maintained. 

Questions:  Has the curent DISD system been an oustanding system and a model for other ISD in the nation to follow? Hardly. 

Are students graduating from any DISD school fully prepared to take on the challenges this world has to offer?  not even close. 

So why in the world would anybody want to retain the current system in place?  

Disgusting.

Michael.MacNaughton
Michael.MacNaughton

As you say, Jim, DISD flows $1.25 billion in cash every year ( without having to earn it) and 80 percent of that goes to payroll (much more to the administration since Miles arrived) which leaves a quarter of a billion for the Superintendent to spread around to other adults and friendly contractors. Patronage isn't at work there. Why is the mayor backing off his rabid support? You said it already, on November 2011 DISD cashed in its last one billion dollar construction bond - no patronage there either. I believe there is a realization that Miles cannot successfully sell a new bond package when needed in the next 2-3 years. The next supe will be selected with that in mind. DISD is the second largest employer and the largest construction driver in Dallas county. It's never been about the kids. Miles will be gone by mid-October.

Warren Johnson
Warren Johnson

as dallas politics turn blue our education system degrades further

Rumpunch1
Rumpunch1

The mayor wants to be part of the DISD solution so much.  The simple truth is that he can be.  All the focus of DISD is what happens from 8am to 3pm.  The root of the problems are what happens outside of those hours.  Poverty, nutrition, crime and parenting have as much to do with a students success as do the teachers. 

Therefore Mike, it is time to focus on those other 17 hours in a students day where they are no longer the responsibility of DISD, but a citizen of your city that you were elected to lead.

whocareswhatithink
whocareswhatithink

DISD Poverty rate increases year after year, nearly 90% of students are on a free or reduced lunch....and yet we keeping talking about personalities at DISD, and what is a good, bad and dirty political gain, lets start with the parents and educating the public on the numbers. Stats are hard to argue and they are not a personal attack on anyone.

Stats are simple and effective when spoken about it, Stats can be manipulated, but lets try and not do it.

If the front page tomorrow read "141,445 thousand out of 157,162 school children at DISD are on free or reduced lunches and of that 57,992 students are living below the poverty line" some of the people who don't care and have no idea would actually start to care and have a idea - it might not be overwhelming numbers, but heck, its more than knew yesterday.

Start with the numbers, in the numbers lies the real problem - everything else is just a side show that has now gone on too long, it affects human lives

http://febp.newamerica.net/k12/tx/4816230/

EastDallasDad
EastDallasDad

Miles isn't an educator. He's a politician. His "reforms" in Harrison resulted in minimal increases in student achievement and decreased enrollment as students fled the district. An increasing amount of research is proving that paying teachers for high stakes, standardized test scores doesn't work and is counterproductive. Research is also proving that non-cognitive skills are equally important to student success as cognitive skills because many parents don't teach their children these skills at home. None of that means anything to Miles. He remains fixated on test scores as the single measure of teacher quality, doesn't see any value in collaboration and believes that if you ratchet up enough pressure, teachers will begin to perform better. He's stuck in a failed management system that both the military and the corporate world abandoned decades ago.

Instead of launching surgical strikes, Miles came in carpet bombing. Why should schools with a long, proven track record of success have to follow the same restrictive mandates as our worst schools? The same goes for teachers. If a teacher is successful and his or her students are learning, graduating and going on to college, should they be harassed until they quit or fired because they didn't follow Miles' system? I heard Miles say this when a student asked him if his successful Advanced Placement teacher had to teach the Miles way. What happened to hiring good people and then letting them do their job? If I hire a contractor and dictate every step of the process can I then be upset when I don't like the results? 

Miles has done some good things, but most, if not all, of his troubles are his own doing. Miles doesn't like listening to others. We get that, but like it or not, the DISD trustees are his bosses. When he gives incomplete answers, ignores them, disparages them and works to discredit them he should expect them to be unhappy. Miles' ability to identify, hire and retain talented staff members has been abysmal. He has done nothing to earn our trust and respect. 

Like all good fictions, your reporting contains some grains of truth, but there is no vast conspiracy against him. Miles has done this to himself. 

MikeWestEast
MikeWestEast

I do buy the part about the jobs machine.  Is there really that much construction going on to justify a machine?  I would expect that a lot of contracts are a mess.  What possessed Mr. Miles to come within 100 yards of that contract he touched is beyond me.  Advice to future superintendents:  Never personally become involved with any contract.  NEVER.  Always use a legal third party.  Like a Mafia capo that never uses a phone.

One thing about reform:  We have a failing system where 80+% of expenses are personnel yet no one grasps the idea that you have to change the people.  Somehow a Moses is supposed awaken the mass of sluggos filling chairs at DISD.  Even Moses did not do it with the people he had at the start.  He waited until everyone had died before he moved to the Promised Land.  You can't change people.  You get rid of them or wait till they die (retire) or enough of them so the new people work without them.  It was that way in 1100 BCE, it is that way in 2013.

JimSX
JimSX topcommenter

@Flabbergasted 

How would criticizing the board of directors in print ever help anyone get another job?

You ask why an executive would ask a public relations person to look at a letter that was obviously going to go public. Why on earth would he not do that?

The FBI? The FBI?

"Get off the bash the blacks train." It's really not a blacks train. It's a South Dallas/Citizens Council train. The suburbs are full of black people who are nowhere near that train. But nice try. 

eastdallascam
eastdallascam

@nichietx

An article such as this, written by Shutze, would have my full attention. Perhaps Shutze would be able to find the research supporting the "reforms" Miles mandates for the district that no other have been able to find. (hint: it doesn't exist, but research supporting the exact opposite, does.)

Flabbergasted
Flabbergasted

He is digging and digging..... finding more and more.

JimSX
JimSX topcommenter

@phipho5490 

Story was: Miles' top staff quitting because of trustees, not Miles.

Brett's take was: top staffer writes disrespectful letter about trustees. 

nichietx
nichietx

@ebailey75057 Name one teacher that used the P-card(credit card). Only principals had access to the P-cards.

EastDallasDad
EastDallasDad

@ebailey75057 You paint with too broad a brush. Some of the best schools, principals and teachers in the country are in DISD. Should we just chalk them up as collateral damage because many other schools in DISD are some of the worst in the country?

JimSX
JimSX topcommenter

One of the real reasons Smelker Left, I always suspected, was that he told the board it was doing a horrible job of maintaining the buildings it already owns and needed to catch up on deferred maintenance. The new school construction lobby doesn't want to hear that. look at the Adamson farce -- a brand new school wih the old one still standing.

markzero
markzero

@whocareswhatithink Don't many schools in Garland and Richardson have similar percentages, though? If poverty was the only issue, they would have similar graduation rates and test scores.

Assuming it's just about poverty or race actually does the kids a disservice, because it's making an excuse instead of looking for the real problem. It really is about politics if other people do it better for years on end, with similar starting populations.

MikeWestEast
MikeWestEast

@EastDallasDad How can people have "students are learning, graduating and going on to college" when only 5 per cent of DISD students are ready?  I suspect most of that 5% comes from the magnets meaning we have precious few elsewhere.  You do not launch surgical strikes when 95% are not ready.  You carpet bomb.  He does not a few bands of commandos causing trouble.  He faces the Mongol Army whose campfires lit the sky from one horizon to the other.  I do not know if Mr. Miles approach is right or wrong.  I do know whatever is going to work is going to be very painful and not many in old system will make it.  It is not an education thing.  Every system trying to go from massive failure to good performance sees exactly the same thing.  Our problem is we keep thinking DISD will skate by with Reform Lite, no fuss, no muss.  Not in this universe.

Rumpunch1
Rumpunch1

@EastDallasDad As a parent to 5 magnet kids, this is my problem with him.  We have had several supes who have tried to gut or weaken the magnets to prop up the low performing comprehensives.  We need to actually make the comprehensives better.

One might point out, that since my kids are getting top notch education from DISD, that I am resistant to change.  Not entirely true.  I truly want the District as a whole to improve.  Use the model of student and parent involvement present in the magnets and emulate it across the District.   The magnets have it figured out, and Miles needs to keep out of them with the exception of figuring out why they work.  If you think I am just protecting my own turf, I really don't give a shit, someone has to protect it.  

JimSX
JimSX topcommenter

@EastDallasDad 

So, below, I asked you why you don't tell us about all the great teaching you are doing, what the kids have learned from you and how we should measure it. What I see in  your answer here is "non-cognitive skills." My dog has non-cognitive skills. Hey, I wonder: do the kids get a choice? Which would you rather have, cognitive or non-cognitive skills? Excuse me now: I gotta go check Monster.com, see if there are any ads that say, "Non-cognitive skills required."

JimSX
JimSX topcommenter

@MikeWestEast

To understand the scope of contracting at DISD, go here:

http://dallasisd2008bond.org/images/uploads/docs/2013-01-01_Annual_Report_to_the_Superintendent_Year_2012_FINAL042513.pdf

Look for this line: “Bond funds in the amount of $1,366,078,334 are currently being comanaged by Construction Services and the Program Managers(‘PMs’).” That’s $1.36 billion, letter b as in boy. But that money has been on the books since 2008.

The bigger reason to have a machine is payroll. For that go here: http://ritter.tea.state.tx.us/perfreport/aeis/2012/district.srch.html. DISD’s annual payroll is $1.01 billion a year, b as in boy, so that would be roughly $5 billion since 2008.

Yeah. It’s worth having a machine for. Very worth it.

Flabbergasted
Flabbergasted

Okay, so you are saying that a public relations person, hired to HELP a guy as he LEAVES a job would ADVISE him to burn a bridge in a letter that he KNOWS is open to the public record?

How gullible or senile are you, Jim?

Honestly, would you ADVISE ANYONE TO DO THIS?

No, it is a bash the blacks train. You, of all people, should know the difference in the black vs. black contests in South Dallas, but recently, all  you do is lump them all together. Just like the emails of Mr. Martinez, where he lumps Foreman and Nutall together. One protested the other, come on.

And the FBI?

Just you wait 'enry 'iggins, just you wait. Mark my words... just you wait.

Rumpunch1
Rumpunch1

@JimSX @phipho5490 At least with Smelker, it does appear that is the case. I can't help but think that some of the attacks and question of staff by the trustees is a result of frustration with Miles personality.  Neither Miles or the board deserves 100% of the blame for the situation.  Therefore, I think we should take a comprehensive look at the entire governance structure of the district (Board and Miles) and decide who needs to stay or go.

Miles left too much low fruit as targets against him (i.e. hiring of cabinet) and now he is damaged.  I do not think he will ever be able to overcome that stigma in this District. 

Michael.MacNaughton
Michael.MacNaughton

Not only too broad a brush but ignores real reform efforts in place under Alan King for the 3 years prior to Miles. The district was well down the reform path. Miles came in and KEPT SIN with high praises...the queen of cronyism...miles didn't take the time to get a clue and is still clueless today...just look at Rene trying to position himself (and all ten LULAC members he represents) as the next king of the cronies! It's disgusting.

Michael.MacNaughton
Michael.MacNaughton

I agree. Two years ago I stood up at the public portion of a board meeting and suggested that the district reevaluate its plans for new building construction and to consider moving some funds to add new wings on some schools as the district retired the most rotten of the portables. I spoke at 6:00pm and was asked, by phone, at 10:30 that same evening by a friendly member of the lege if they had heard correctly that I was getting in between the Dallas construction industry and a billion in cash. I explained my position and was told, in no uncertain terms, that indeed I was in between and that I ought to rethink my position and perhaps move out of the way. I did.

JimSX
JimSX topcommenter

@markzero @whocareswhatithink 

There's a mountain of research -- some of the best of it assembled by George W.'s education people when he was our Gov., some of it from our own Cone Center in Dallas -- to show that you can take a kid whose mother is a crack whore, who has no hint of a father and has grown up seeing rape and death in the alleys, and teach him to read and write by the end of third grade, which changes his life forever, because now he knows what the hell school is other than a prison, and it changes our society forever, by pulling those kids out of a lifetime of serial incarceration and into the productive mainstream. The line that you have to cure poverty in order to teach poor kids is racism's last stand, because, guess what, you can't cure poverty. You can cure not knowing how to read and write and do numbers.  Then it's up to the kid. That won't be enough for some kids, but it will be a hell of a better shot for most of them. Beware pity! It is death.

EastDallasDad
EastDallasDad

@MikeWestEast @EastDallasDad You can't trust those college ready numbers. Miles' own definition of college ready has fluctuated since he arrived here and the colleges love putting kids in non-credit remedial classes. Just because a kid wasn't "college ready" doesn't mean they can't go to college. 

Rumpunch1
Rumpunch1

@MikeWestEast @EastDallasDad So the magnet kids should just be collateral damage in the carpet bombing?

If he would stay out of the magnets, the majority of the involved parents (including myself) might leave him alone.  I have some other problems with him, but I see they point he is trying to make in the comprehensives. 

If the magnets are excluded from his great experiment, I might give him a few years to try out his ideas.  At the comprehensives, we really can't get in worse shape.  The magnets are not broken, therefore they do not need fixing.  My telling Townview parents it was probably best that some of the teachers left tells me he wants everything his way.  If they do it his way, then he can claim personal credit for the magnets guaranteed success. 

nichietx
nichietx

@Rumpunch1 @EastDallasDad Magnets work because of the students. They are goal-driven and intrinsically motivated. You can't replicate that. But, there are some of the same students at the comprehensive high schools too.

Cliffhanger
Cliffhanger

@Rumpunch1 @EastDallasDad The numbers for gutting the magnets to raise test scores at the comprehensives have never added up anyway. It's kind of scary that so many people at 3700 Ross can't do the math on that.

The other thing is that, while the magnets are indeed great for some kids, the fact a lot of kids aren't that driven or focused as teenagers. They need the broader range of opportunities and activities a comprehensive offers to find what their strengths are. I have two kids at magnets, but I never could have hacked it at their schools. 

We are letting down all the students in DISD who need the comprehensive model to thrive and learn.

Flabbergasted
Flabbergasted

How were you measured by your teachers when you were in high school? How do they know you were ready for college? How did they know you had learned anything?

How many state mandated tests did you have to take?

The more they test, the less they learn.

EastDallasDad
EastDallasDad

You may not find any jobs that list non-cognitive skills as a prerequisite but I challenge you to find one where you can tell the interviewer "F#ck you I won't do what you tell me" and still get the job. How long will you keep your job if you don't show up on time, disappear during the work day for long stretches and don't actually work? Who will hire you if you show up for the interview dressed like a gangsta, put your feet on the interviewer's desk and take a personal phone call on your cell phone during the interview? 

None of these things are measured by test scores but they're important, no vital, to achieving success. Some of these kids may never score well on a test but if we can keep them out of prison and help them become productive members of society, isn't that worth something? It's sad that teachers have to try to do what parents should but many of our kids arrive at school woefully unprepared to peacefully coexist much less learn anything. If teachers don't teach them these things, who will?

MikeWestEast
MikeWestEast

@EastDallasDad @MikeWestEast What is the "straw"?  Students?  Because while DISD does not match HPISD in facilities and supplies, it makes my school in Upper Midwest look like an outhouse. 

Rumpunch1
Rumpunch1

Not exactly. Like I said yesterday, I don't think he was ever meant to last. I think that he was meant to take a bullet and let the opposition expose themselves. Now we bring in someone who can finish the job.

Sad part is, I don't think Miles realized he was been used. He thought he was qualified.

JimSX
JimSX topcommenter

@Rumpunch1 @JimSX @phipho5490 

Well, what that means is this: if you want to get rid of the new superintendent, just toss some crap up in the air, and whether there's anything to it or not, it's "stigma," so he has to go. The problem is that some board members and some elected leaders in the community will always want to get rid of anybody who comes in and tries to wrest the school district away from the patronage machine that has run it into the ground over the years. So if that's how Dallas does it every time, who gets that stigma? 

nichietx
nichietx

@phipho5490 @JimSX Those funds are being cut for those crucial years at the beginning of a child's education.

phipho5490
phipho5490

@JimSX Amen brother. If we put more funds into those first 5 years of school ( I'm counting pre-k and K along with 1-3) it would make a dramatic difference. Its some of the best spent money and yet we hold on to it so tightly. Penny wise and pound foolish.

Rumpunch1
Rumpunch1

@EastDallasDad @Rumpunch1 @MikeWestEast Sorry about that.  I sometimes get flustered when having to defend the magnets every year.  But that is my point, some things work and some things don't.  I think you will find it has more to do with parental involvement and student ambition than anything else.

Rumpunch1
Rumpunch1

It won't be 100% replicated I agree. However, involved parents and motivated students will always to better. The comprehensives do have many of these students and parents. Get the parents involved and the students motivated and scores will rise. Test are a measurement tool not a teaching tool.

Rumpunch1
Rumpunch1

@Cliffhanger @Rumpunch1 @EastDallasDad Agree, so my point is fix what is broken.  I considered sending a few of my kids to the comprehensives for a more rounded experience.  However, in the end, it wasn't worth the gamble.  I wasn't ready to run to the 'burbs, so the magnets let me split the difference.

desertfox73
desertfox73

@JimSX @EastDallasDad And it's how Zack de la Rocha made the first RATM record righteous.

JimSX
JimSX topcommenter

@EastDallasDad 

Good points, actually. Except that. "fuck you I won't do what you tell me" is how I got my first newspaper job.

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