As the Dallas School Board Meets, Two Very Different Takes on What the Hell's Wrong

Categories: Schutze

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What a difference a Williams makes. This morning -- on the day Dallas school trustees are supposed to decide whether to pull the rug from under reform Superintendent Mike Miles -- I looked at two sets of reports on the school district, one from Don Williams, the retired real estate executive who wants Miles fired, and another from Todd Williams, the retired Goldman Sachs partner who says we can't afford to let him go.

hindy2.jpg
United States Navy
The way some people in the school district feel about testing is probably how the crew of the Hindenburg felt about gravity in those final moments.
The Don Williams reports are scathing and uniformly ideological, based on belief that school districts should be managed by cooperative committees and the only way to help students afflicted by poverty is to end poverty. These ideas, if we took them up now, would be a return to business as usual for the Dallas school system before Miles showed up a year and a half ago.

The Todd Williams reports, on the other hand, are uniformly data-driven and indicate the last thing Dallas should even think about now is business as usual. The Todd Williams data show Dallas schools lagging disastrously behind the other big Texas districts, offering strong evidence that Miles' tough reforms are just what the doctor ordered.

But first a word of context. Don Williams, the retired real estate guy, has been active in and committed to the betterment of minority neighborhoods in Southern Dallas for a decade. For whatever reason -- I really do not have a clue -- his primary vehicle for those efforts, the Foundation for Community Empowerment (FCE), seems to be dying on the vine.

In 2008, FCE had revenues of $4.7 million according to its available IRS declarations. In 2009 its income was $2.9 million; in 2010, $2 million; in 2011, $400,000. No reports are available yet online for last year, but the four-year arc is not good.

It's a decline so precipitous that one can't help wondering if that situation may be fueling some of Don Williams' very personal anger against Miles, who rebuffed Williams as a major adviser to the district soon after he arrived in town.

In recent weeks Don Williams, speaking from his estate in Santa Fe, has been calling for Miles' head. Three reports released this morning on the Day of Decapitation all echo the same battle cry -- Miles must go. All were all paid for by FCE, according to the footnotes.

The lead report published by Don Williams was authored by Decoteau J. Irby, an assistant professor at the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee, and Matthew Birkhold, executive director of the Brecht Forum, operators of the New York Marxist School in New York City.

Their report equates reform efforts implemented by strong superintendents with several business-oriented terms they use as pejoratives: "With a focus almost solely on the importance of training school leaders to comply with business concepts such as Total Quality Management, many so-called 'transformational' and 'innovative reform strategies' fail," the report states.

"They reduce school improvement to raising test scores of enough individual students to ensure a passing rate for a respective school -- the students who are targeted for improvement are often those just below the line of passing but who show promise for helping tip the school to an acceptable pass rate."

In a tough conclusion that may reflect poorly on the authors' own grasp of grammar, they say, "Those students who do not show such promise, they are disposable." They don't say how the poor things are disposed of. One shudders to think.

The Todd Williams data argue for a very different conclusion -- that nobody in DISD right now is in a very good position to whine about change. It might be different if Dallas schools were not doing so poorly with the same kids and the same money that challenge other urban school districts in Texas where results are startlingly better.

Just about everybody in education agrees that grade-level proficiency in reading at the start of fourth grade is the tell-all indicator for how well a kid will do in the rest of his school career. From K through three, kids learn to read. From four on they must read to learn.

The Todd Williams data, drawn from National Assessment for Education Progress (NAEP) test results, show that 32 percent of kids in Austin and 43 percent of kids in Houston enter the fourth grade unable to read at grade-level. In Dallas 54 percent of kids starting fourth grade can't read at grade-level.

Of the four biggest Texas districts, Dallas has the lowest percentage of reading competency among fourth-graders who are poor enough to qualify for school lunches. Dallas also has the lowest level among students who are not poor enough for school lunch.

Dallas has the lowest level for black kids. It has the lowest level for Latino kids. It has the lowest level for white kids. Of the four biggest urban districts in Texas, Dallas does far and away the worst job of enrolling kids in preschool programs.

So, forgive me. I normally don't rail against Marxists. When I was a student in Ann Arbor in the '60s, I actually kept a copy of Marx's The Difference between the Democritean and the Epicurean Philosophy of Nature next to my water bed. I don't think I ever cracked it open, but in those strange and distant times girls actually went for stuff like that. Little did I know most of them would wind up marrying dentists.

But, yeah, if you're a teacher or a principal who has been around DISD for any significant period of time and you're looking at test results like the ones Todd Williams cites, then I guess you're going to have a big old Marxist hate on for test results.

Maybe it's not about Marx at all. Maybe it's more Shakespearean. Like, "Out, damned test result, out I say!"

And I guess you're also going to hate those damned top-down leaders who are at the top and they, you know, lead. Some day I need to remember to ask where the other leaders lead from.

But here's the big reality: The test results in Dallas are not arguable. They are not subject to a hell of a lot of interpretation. The Dallas school system, measured against its closest peers in Texas, is in need of urgent reform and change. And, no, it's probably not going to be pretty every day.

But this is Mike Miles' fault? Did Miles put DISD in this position? Do we think this is going to get fixed by putting a better salesman in charge?

I'm hearing that around town a little lately. Miles can't sell it. Miles isn't a good enough pitchman for it. It's such a Dallas thing to say, as if all of life and every single challenge could be reduced to salesmanship. If the same thinking had prevailed in World War II, we would have fired Ike and put a super salesman in charge of the invasion of Normandy. In fact I made that remark to somebody at lunch recently, and he said, "I think in that case the super salesman was on the other side."

I still think Don Williams means well. But when you look at the Todd Williams data, all of Don Williams' stuff starts sounding like the crew of the Hindenburg speaking out angrily against gravity. Me, I'm for making a landing. Super quick.

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54 comments
scamsANDflams
scamsANDflams

Im pretty confident that anyone who defends DISD is on the payroll or benefiting directly from kickbacks/contracts.  How else could anyone defend this behemoth monstrosity of a ISD?

Rix1
Rix1

There's a marxist school in NYC? Who'd a thunk?

jheilig
jheilig

I suspect you didn't read the research report or note the inferential statistical analysis utilizing paired t-test of scale scores between years in Dallas ISD on the STAAR and EOC. I believe that would count as "data driven". Do your homework.

uptownguy1
uptownguy1

Despite what side a person is on in this case, it's obvious the superintendent is becoming less and less effective as each day passes.  All the controversy since his short tenure here is permanently attached to him.  In corporate America, executives with this amount of negative publicity are removed. This isn't "Hollywood" where there's no such thing as negative publicity.

The board has spent in excess of 12 hours in "private session" to discuss this man's fate.  I have a prediction I will keep to myself, but spending this much time in "private" indicates to me they are working out a plan to save face politically for all.

TheCredibleHulk
TheCredibleHulk topcommenter

I love Don Williams' version of Tulsa Time.

BettyC1
BettyC1

Fact of the matter is, where have these people been? Last Superintendent was here five years before the Board ran him off what happen to Road to Board? Don Williams is a fine man but he is being fed information by the same Negros that want Miles gone.It has nothing to do with course of study or what the three reports covered. Mike Miles did his job and it angered  some long time Black employees and that angered some Board member.I wish Mr. Miles would tell them to kiss his ----- go on back home.Nothing he does will satisfy certain members of that board and that's to much stress on a job. 

EastDallasDad
EastDallasDad

Why did you only address one of the papers critical of Miles? I found the arguments made by Dr. Julian Vasquez Heilig, Lindsey Redd and Dr. Ruth Vail in "Digging into Data and Evidence: Mike Miles, Dallas ISD, and Trickle-DownEducation Reform" to be much more convincing.  

Instead of addressing those issues, you latched on to the fact that Birkhold's organization operates a Marxist school. It's almost as if you are trying to distract your readers from the substantive arguments that Heilig, Redd and Vail make. 

I used to enjoy your writing but it is becoming increasingly apparent to me that you can't be trusted. I encourage everyone that cares about the kids in DISD to read all the reports for themselves and come to their own conclusions. 

ozonelarryb
ozonelarryb

Ya, school board is the quintessential committee that trise to design a horse, but takes 5 yrs and 3 personnel changes to come up with a 7 legged camel with 3 humps, no brain, big mouth, huge asshole, and they find someone else to blame.

Cliffhanger
Cliffhanger

Strange all this Difference should be

'Twixt Tweedle-dum and Tweedle-dee!

eastdallascam
eastdallascam

Jim, this article lends me to believe you question the credibility of the academic reports from FCE. Decoteau J. Irby, Ph.D authored one of the several reports. If you are not to believe (or even consider) an analysis of the situation from an expert (Ph.D) in the subject, from who would you find an analysis acceptable from?

everlastingphelps
everlastingphelps topcommenter

"They reduce school improvement to raising test scores of enough individual students to ensure a passing rate for a respective school -- the students who are targeted for improvement are often those just below the line of passing but who show promise for helping tip the school to an acceptable pass rate."

How is this different than triaging a school in crisis?  Is it somehow better to spend all the time and money on kids who are not going to figure out how to read anyways and ignore the kids who could be helped?  Getting back to Jim's "read by 3rd grade" standard, if you have 20 kids who can't read, and you could spend all your time on 5 kids and actually teach them to read, or split all the time with all 20 and not teach any of them to read, then what kind of cold hearted sumbitch dooms the five who weren't too far gone at that point?

animas
animas

Re: Don Williams -Santa Fe resident,Brecht forum, NYC, and Univ Wisc professor.

Q:What is the definition of an EXPERT?

A:  A man from out of town with a briefcase.

dallas_dude
dallas_dude

Any idea that doesn't start w/ mandatory pre school and mandatory parental involvement for at risk kids is a non-starter.  You're not going to fix kids that have spent their whole lives in a broken system. 

Start at pre-k and stop the bleeding.

Make all child tax credits conditional.  You're kid is screwing up in school, you pay more.  

Make birth control mandatory at 14 so we stop the cycle of shit kids having more shit kids.  In 10 years you would see massive improvement. 

oakclifftownie
oakclifftownie

The Don Williams reports are scathing and uniformly ideological, based on belief that school districts should be managed by cooperative committees and the only way to help students afflicted by poverty is to end poverty. These ideas, if we took them up now, would be a return to business as usual for the Dallas school system before Miles showed up a year and a half ago.

 Hey Don all solutions seem quite doable when someone is on the outside looking in . How about you run  for the board or even throw your Hat in the ring to be superintendent. Then we can watch you deal with the in place mechanics and see how quickly those well thought ideas and Concepts of reality  of yours die the slow deaths caused by Strategic Stupidy  Malicious Obedience or Exception Generation.

 


Obummer
Obummer

Yo bout time da queshun is asked: WHAT iz our chil'ns learning?

dallas_dude
dallas_dude

"the only way to help students afflicted by poverty is to end poverty"

What a crock of shit.

Am I to draw the conclusion that every smart kid is rich and every poor kid is dumb? 

Correlation is not causation. 

How about you travel the world a little bit and go to countries like India, Mexico, and China where people that we would consider poor go on to get a higher education?  Gee why do you think that is?  How is it that people who didn't grow up w/ fancy computers and had 50 and 60 students to a class and had to share text books grew up to read and write and become docotors and engineers....

Typical whitey solution to everything: Throw government money at the problem.  Lets not talk about these shit parents having shit kids.

MikeWestEast
MikeWestEast

Don Williams does not grasp that he cannot get his solution without Todd Williams getting his solution.  While we may make some marginal improvements with existing students, the real solution is for middle class families to return to Dallas City and DISD.  Not just to add a different group for test purposes, but for the well proven beneficial impact on existing students.  That will not happen as long as test scores are in the sewer.  We have to use TQM and any other benchmark improving technique to get people more comfortable with letting DISD educate their children.  If those people gain confidence in DISD, then they will return and benefit existing students.  If those people do not return, we are done.  We may get up to the awful rates for Austin et al, but that result is still bad.

It is why these ridiculous squabbles are so lethal to DISD's future.  No one is going to invest in a home and give up their child when it appears no one at DISD has a clue.  It is also why DISD needs to inflict max punishment on any admin violations.  Regardless of any poverty, parental participation, etc. issues, we at least ought to run the office with ZERO admin conflicts other than a few copier jams.  Yet we consistently show that DISD could not lead a German Shepherd to a cooked steak.

RHBlake
RHBlake

I just did my homework. The paper you co-authored is of very poor quality. It would be shredded in an unbiased peer review process. Even for an opinion paper, it has major problems. My guess is that you only contributed the STAAR and EOC analysis. It is a stretch to give Miles credit or criticism over his first year's data but since his supporter used it, it's fair game. Your paired t-test might be interesting but you were limited in statistical tools given only two years of data and it's aggregate - not student-level data. I could post an in-depth critique of all the problems in the report if you have interest.

RHBlake
RHBlake

@jheilig Too bad for your work - the report by Irby and Birkhold was on top. It's a challenge to put much stock into Irby's report and associated work (like yours) when the Executive Summary is written in first person and talks about the author's negative experience with Paul Vallas. Plus Irby tells everyone in the methodology section that he and his co-author "reviewed a summary of areas of concern and key questions prepared by the Foundation of Community Empowerment." 

Cliffhanger
Cliffhanger

@uptownguy1 I think the problem is that the Dallas Powers-That-Be thought Miles was a guy like Hinojosa who talked a good Broad plan but wouldn't actually do anything. And lo, Miles actually tries to implement solutions. The problem is his solutions are bad ones. But they're upsetting the apple carts and gravy trains that too many people in this town depend on.

TheCredibleHulk
TheCredibleHulk topcommenter

@uptownguy1 

" . . . We're all terribly sorry . . . we did everything we could, but . . . but, the patient was just too far gone . . . to save . . . "

*weeping*       *gnashing of teeth*

rusknative
rusknative

@EastDallasDad YOU ARE MERELY OVERCOME WITH YOUR OWN PREJUDICES AND OPINIONS.  BEING A DAD IN EAST DALLAS DOES NOT QUALIFY YOU TO JUDGE EDUCATION ANYMORE THAN BEING A BASKETBALL PLAYER MADE ARNE DUNCAN QUALIFIED AS SEC. OF EDUCATION.

rusknative
rusknative

@eastdallascam I CHALLENGE ANYONE TO FIND AN ACADEMIC PHd WHO HAS EVER COMPETENTLY MANAGED A DRAMATIC SCHOOL SYSTEM TURNAROUND FOR THE POSITIVE IN AN URBAN AREA WHICH HAS HAD MASSIVE SOCIAL AND POLITICAL ISSUES FOR GENERATIONS.

JimSX
JimSX topcommenter

@eastdallascam 

I don't get what you are saying. The guy's analysis is OK, but it's an argument, and it's based on a whole bunch of assumptions and social theory. So because the guy has a Ph.D., I can't disagree with his argument? Hey, why didn't you mention Don Williams's Marxist guy? If he has a Ph. D., do I have to buy all his stuff, too?

Guesty
Guesty

@eastdallascam Anyone can buy a report from a Ph.D. that says almost anything as long as he or she has the money to spend.  You simply select the Ph.D. who already has staked out a position you like (e.g. for or against certain types of school reform). On an issue this controversial, there are dozens of credible people on both sides.   FCE could easily have procured a report that reached exactly the opposite conclusions if it were so inclined.   

TheCredibleHulk
TheCredibleHulk topcommenter

@everlastingphelps

In teaching circles these students are known as "bubble" students. Early on in NCLB when testing and accountability measures were being instituted, teachers very soon realized that these were the make-or-break students that were going to determine their immediate futures as teachers, so they get all of the attention.

The idea goes like this: The students that area already performing well aren't going to have any trouble passing tests designed to the lowest common denominator, so they really don't need any particular attention. Likewise, the students at the bottom of the pile that aren't likely to pass regardless of what we do for them don't warrant our attention simply because helping them at the expense of helping the children that might pass puts our careers in jeopardy. So, then, all of the energy of teaching gets directed at the small percentage of students that will deliver the biggest bang for the buck, so the kids at the top and bottom suffer because of this dynamic.

I get why teachers hate this. Children aren't widgets and analyzing education with a business eye leads to metrics like boilerplate testing, which in turn leads to "bubble" students.

rusknative
rusknative

@everlastingphelps REMEDIATION SPECIAL CATCH UP CLASSES FOR THE UNDERPERFORMING....SEGREGATE BY ABILITY...ONLY RATIONAL APPROACH.

rusknative
rusknative

@dallas_dude OH YEAH...GET THE SUPREME COURT TO DICTATE SOCIAL ENGINEERING AND END SEGREGATION BY CHUNKING KIDS BY RACIAL QUOTAS INTO NOT DIVERSIFIED COHORT GROUPS AND WATCH HOW THE LAWS, RULES, AND COURTS ALL FIX EVERYTHING.....JUST GIVE OUT MONEY TO THE POOR AND FIX IT ALL...NEVER MIND CULTURAL AND SOCIETAL NORMALIZATION IMPOSSIBILITY IN THE SHORT TERM

everlastingphelps
everlastingphelps topcommenter

 @dallas_dude Are you talking about handing out free rubbers to kids who won't use them anyways, or are you talking forced implants?

James080
James080 topcommenter

@oakclifftownie  

Don likely won't want to leave his mountain retreat in New Mexico to sit of the DISD school board.  

As my dad used to say, "nothing is impossible for someone who doesn't actually have to do it."

rusknative
rusknative

@dallas_dude NO THE OBVIOUS SOLUTION IS TO MAKE ALL BLACK KIDS BECOME WHITE....HECK, MICHAEL JACKSON PAVED THE WAY TO THAT...AND LOOK HOW WELL THAT WORKED OUT.  


THE SOLUTION IS ALWAYS JUST CHANGE THE PLAYER'S COMPOSITION....NOT FIX THE UNDERLYING PROBLEM.  OUR PUBLIC SCHOOLS ARE RUN AND TAUGHT BY INCOMPETENT IDIOTS EXCEPT FOR A FEW EXTRAORDINARY ONES THAT ARE NOT QUALIFIED TO BE INCOMPETENT DUE TO THEIR ATTITUDES, VALUES, AND RESPONSIBLE MATURITY.

ThePosterFormerlyKnownasPaul
ThePosterFormerlyKnownasPaul topcommenter

@dallas_dude  

Well the current theory is that if you give someone the trappings of the middle class lifestyle they will suddenly acquire middle class values.

markzero
markzero

@MikeWestEastWe have to use TQM and any other benchmark improving technique to get people more comfortable with letting DISD educate their children.  If those people gain confidence in DISD, then they will return and benefit existing students.  If those people do not return, we are done.


Maybe we should just skip ahead and break up the district. Let the schools closest to RISD go to them, the Garland ones to them, etc. They all have better results with similar demographics, don't they? And breaking it up now means kids currently in the system won't fall through while we're waiting years for results.

rusknative
rusknative

@MikeWestEast DISD SCHOOL BOARD AND THE DALLAS COUNTY COMMISSIONERS MUST HAVE ALL HAD COMMON ANCESTORS AND IDENTICAL DNA.

jheilig
jheilig

@RHBlake Take your best shot RHBlake. Email it to jvh@austin.utexas.edu

Guesty
Guesty

@rusknative @EastDallasDadDude, I don't know if you noticed.  But it seems that there may be a defect in your keyboard.  The caps lock seems to be permanently stuck on.  I know these things can happen, so I thought I would point it out because this is an oversight that could be embarrassing to you and diminish the possible effectiveness of your responses in the future.  

dalmom
dalmom

@rusknative @EastDallasDad  I think that's why he is suggesting that "Everyone read the reports for themselves and come to their own conclusions. "

scamsANDflams
scamsANDflams

@everlastingphelps @dallas_dude how the hell do you know?  Abstinence is taught in High Schools which is ridiculous.  Sex education is nil, these kids should be shown pictures of the effects of gonorrhea, herpes, syphilis,  and told horror stories about hiv/aids & hepatitis.  Thats what my mom showed me and it scared the fuck out of me and Im 30 with no children born out of wedlock and no stds.

EastDallasDad
EastDallasDad

@dalmom @rusknative @EastDallasDad Read it for yourselves. Personally, even though I'm no longer a teacher, I still keep up with educational issues and read a lot on the subject. I'm just weird that way I guess. 

Also, dude, there is no need to yell. Use your caps lock key please. 

jheilig
jheilig

@RHBlake The teachers and Woodrow community would beg to differ with you. They have posted praise and fended off attacks on Ruth Vail and Woodrow here and elsewhere. I would trust their analysis relative to yours. Sorry.

RHBlake
RHBlake

Rusknative's comment is odd but here's some nitpicking on your response of Dr. Ruth Vail, or Ruth Vail as she was known during her 6 years at Woodrow. As noted in your report, page 8 of the full report, Woodrow was not in the turnaround category. It does not fit the stereotype of an impoverished urban school. It's in Lakewood, an area with poverty but also expensive real estate and tracts of upper middle class families, a fair number of which send their children to DISD schools. Limited English proficiency is in the teens. Qualifying for free/reduced lunch was about 50%. Woodrow had then and still does have a 300+ member PTA. So while Dr. Vail received many accolades for her time at Woodrow and many were saddened by her "abrupt" (according to the Advocate) resignation, it would be a stretch to give her credit for a turnaround at Woodrow. 

ThePosterFormerlyKnownasPaul
ThePosterFormerlyKnownasPaul topcommenter

@mavdog @EastDallasDad  

The point of the quote is the position that we have to solve poverty first prior to improving the education and ability of the students.

Which in my opinion is a load of horse hockey.

I have seen a number of  people who came from very poor backgrounds (It would have been a giant step up if they were merely poverty stricken) that became very well educated and successful by most any means.  The main forces in their success was their parent's teaching them that they could be better and their desire to improve their lives.

If the children in DISD are not being educated by their parents and the children in DISD have no greater ambitions than to hang out at the street corner, then there is not much of anything that anyone can do.


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