In the Fight Over Mike Miles, One Critic Can't Take the Heat, Flees the Kitchen

Categories: Schutze

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Kind of a hilarious war of words going on right now between me, Dallas political activist Rene Martinez and a UT Austin Education School professor named Julian Vasquez Heilig. Heilig has threatened to call the cops if Martinez emails him again. I think Heilig might do better calling his mom.

heilig_ravitch.jpg
dianeravitch.com
Professor Heilig and born-again anti-school-reform crusader Diane Ravitch
Heilig is one of several academics retired Dallas business executive Don Williams hired to write "studies" of the regime of Dallas school Superintendent Mike Miles. I put quote marks around it, because the end product of Williams' paid campaign was a thin gruel of anti-school-reform propaganda.

When Miles came to town a year and a half ago from Colorado, he wasn't interested in some ideas Williams offered him for school reform, mainly involving a program Williams would run. Williams has been out to get Miles ever since in what has become an ever more pointedly personal vendetta. The "studies," which appeared in print days before the school board was to vote whether to fire Miles, were the most recent salvo.

I took Heilig to task for his contribution last week , saying his paper fell in lockstep with local critics here who have cooked up a theory that Miles skews district-wide test scores by discouraging minority kids and low-scorers from taking the tests. In fact the anti-Miles set claims he deliberately pushed low-scoring test takers and their families all the way out of the school district he headed in Colorado. Now they say he may be doing it here.

See also: What the Numbers Say (and What Critics Won't) about Mike Miles' Tenure in Colorado

The main man behind this theory, Bill Betzen, is a retired Dallas school teacher. When I asked Betzen for proof -- any proof at all -- for his suggestion that Miles deliberately ran his own low-scoring students out of town in Colorado, Betzen told me he was "guessing" and that his theory was based on second-hand allegations.

Betzen is a self-taught numbers guy who did some really brilliant work on local political redistricting two years ago. What he does have now is a set of numbers to show that senior class enrollment in Harrison, Colorado, where Miles was superintendent, fell off precipitously over the course of Miles' tenure. And he has numbers to show that the number of black and Latino students taking SAT and ACT college preparedness tests here in Dallas fell off during Miles' first year as superintendent.

What he wants us to conclude from his numbers is that Miles was "pushing out kids that were lower scoring" in Colorado, as he put it to me. In fact, he said, "Principals were allegedly told to push out such kids." I asked him how he knew that. He said, "I only have that second hand. It is only allegations."

What about the suggestion that Miles has been deliberately stopping black and Latino Dallas students from taking the SAT and ACT tests? Jon Dahlander, spokesman for Dallas schools, told me he's been challenging Betzen for some time to bring forward anything at all to show an active role by Miles in the decreased number of minority test takers. And Betzen has produced nothing.

The problem is that an almost infinite number of factors could have produced smaller senior classes in Colorado or the fall-off in minority SAT and ACT takers here. The driver in Colorado could have been something regional and economic or internal to the school district, like a tougher policy on social promotion, but not aimed deliberately at a manipulation of test scores.

Without examining any of these, Betzen leaps to the worst-case scenario, suggesting it must have been Miles breaking the law to game the system. And then he admits he's guessing.

Miles, meanwhile, has successfully persuaded the Dallas school board to fund universal SAT testing for all high school seniors next year. That means he is deliberately and knowingly bringing down on his own head seriously lower average SAT scores for next year. He's doing it anyway in the belief that knowing where all seniors stand in terms of college-readiness is the only way to know what the end-product is for a 12-year DISD education.

That move alone would seem to put the lie to the unproved allegation that Miles deliberately steers minority kids out of college preparedness exams. It has done nothing, however, to slow Betzen down in making just that allegation. Heilig, meanwhile, a member of the faculty at UT-Austin, wrote a hired-gun article at the behest of the anti-Miles Rumpelstiltskin, Williams, in which he cited Betzen as one of his authorities.

In my piece last week, I said both Heilig and Betzen had neglected to look at the core data on Miles' tenure in Colorado from the Colorado Department of Education. I did look at it, and it makes Miles look like a major success in bringing up student achievement there, especially for black and Hispanic students.

Now, since then everything with me and Heilig and Betzen has descended into one of those typical, blogospheric mud-rasslin' fights, which I admit is where I live a lot of the time. I think it is very much not where Heilig lives, and not too far into it he clearly wanted out. "Remind me not to respond to you again," he told me, "because it's clearly not productive."

Sure. But you may have to remind me to remind you.

He also got into it with Rene Martinez, District 3 director of the League of United Latin American Citizens, who had been telling him that Latinos here have Miles' back. Heilig emailed Martinez: "I would appreciate if you would refrain from emailing or contacting me further. Thank you."

Martinez emailed him back, "You are a joke. Hope you don't ever set your face in our community. Que Dios te Bendiga." (God bless you).

Heilig wrote him back: "I have asked nicely previously. Please do not send me another threatening email, or I will refer this matter to the police."

So Martinez sent him another email: "Julian again, que Dios te Bendiga and hope you have a good day. If you are ever in Dallas I will buy you coffee. Will not bother you any more young man."

Martinez is a much nicer man than I am. That's the point at which I would have suggested to Heilig that he call his mom, and, while he was at it, maybe the FBI. That was a few days ago, and since then there has been radio silence from the good professor. He should be safe now, assuming he gave instructions to Rumpelstiltskin to leave him alone from here on out as well.


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31 comments
mcdallas
mcdallas

Need a cure for insomnia?  Start reading a Betzen/Schutze online argument about numbers.  I started reading it and.asdk;agja;

asdk;agl

duh_jim
duh_jim

This article explains exactly why Bill Betzen and his theories are more respectable than you and yours. He is very straightforward about the fact that he is simply presenting his own best interpretation of several pieces of data based on years of experience in education. More and more your articles seem to directly contradict the points that you attempt to make.

duh_jim
duh_jim

The part that makes Bill Betzen and his theories more respectable than you and yours is just that - he is willing to admit that he is guessing. 

bbetzen
bbetzen

Jim, enrollment data cannot be ignored.  When attrition soars you need to looks for the cause.  The Cumulative Promotion Index dropped 15 percentage points in Harrison School District Two under Miles during the same years it was rising 24 percentage points in DISD.  Miles was very public about students not being passed to the next grade unless they were doing the work.  With such criteria seriously interpreted, and enforced, you are naturally going to be pushing out the low scoring students.   Is that unusual?  Then scores like the SAT and ACT will rise with fewer students who are better prepared.  The others are gone.   This is not rocket science.  Is that what you want to happen in DISD?   It has already started.  This years 12th grade enrollment is over 500 students less than last years.   Is that what you want?  

bbetzen
bbetzen

It seems that Mike Miles has a relatively simple strategy. He has noticed that student attrition is not watched. It exploded in Harrison on his watch and nobody watched. Nobody noticed that the Cumulative Promotion Index fell 15 percentage points during his 6 years. A total of 26% of the high school enrollment disappeared over those 6 years. He simply only allowed kids with passing grades to pass to the next grade and that was very seriously interpreted. What happened? Only the best students remained and grades went up and he was a hero! Senior enrollment dropped 33 percentage points and nobody noticed.

He then got a high dollar job in Dallas where he started to do the same thing. But it got harder. Folks were watching student attrition in Dallas. They were celebrating 6 years during which their CPI went up 24 percentage points. Then what happened, the first full year Miles was in Dallas the CPI went down for the first time in 7 years, and went down two percentage points! For the first time in 7 years the size of the senior class went down, and went down by over 500 students, amounting to over a 5.5% drop.

But don’t worry Mike Miles. Jim Schutze says this proves nothing. You have no reason to worry.

RevZafod
RevZafod

Hope Helig doesn't use stevia in his coffee.

bmarvel
bmarvel topcommenter

No group on earth, Jim, has thinner skin than the professoriate. 

That said, I remain ambivalent about Miles. His basic approach seems better suited to a widget factory-- or an Army platoon -- than  a school. Nothing in this column convinced me otherwise and in  fact I think you giide over several troubling aspects of Miles' tenure in Colorado. If smaller senior classes and a fall-off in minority SAT and ACT takers there produced higher scores for Miles, then we can scarcely credit him, can we? 

I'm willing to wait and see what improvements he produces here.

Finally your very ignorant slap at Diane Ravitch does you no credit. (I take it you read her recent essay in The New York Review of Books, but then perhaps not; I fully expected you to write about it.) I've been reading her books on American public schools for decades. I've never found her less than sensible and sound.    

eastdallascam
eastdallascam

Jim,

I am still waiting to hear your responses to the questions I left on your previous article, "What the Numbers Say (and What Critics Won't) about Mike Miles' Tenure in Colorado." Even more so after reading this line from today's article: "I did look at it, and it makes Miles look like a major success in bringing up student achievement there, especially for black and Hispanic students."

I genuinely look forward to your responses.

1)"I'm not arguing that annual achievement tests are the end of any story about education."

- Just after reading this I wondered to myself, "What is Jim arguing here?" The answer remains unclear to me, as the rest of the article primarily focused on said set of data.

2) "The state data paint a picture of unmistakable and even dramatic success in Harrison on Miles' watch."

- Leading up to this quote in the article, your writing seems to lambaste Betzen and Helig for not being able to provide concrete connections between DISD data and any or one of Miles' directives or actions. The remainder of your article lauded the successes of the Harrison district under Miles as evidenced in the CO state data; however, the article does not mention one action or directive from Miles' suggesting such improvements are the result of his leadership. I found this contradiction seriously confusing. Perhaps you can make sense of it for your readers.

3) From where does the data come from for Helig's and Betzen's "labored and unfocused statistical smoke shows?" Is there a reason their source or sources are less reliable or credible than CO state data? I ask because the your writing in this article makes it sound this way.

Keep up the good work.

animas
animas

Excellent, fully detailed article.  Schutze is the Olympic champion blogospheric mud-rassler, in my opinion.

observist
observist topcommenter

"Austin Education School professor named Julian Vasquez Heilig. Heilig has threatened to call the cops if Martinez emails him again."

Why is it not surprising that an Ed. school prof can't figure out how to use the rules and filters on his email client?

James080
James080

Publish Mr. Heilig's email address. We should all drop him a quick note. Something to the effect of "if your going to take as a hired gun, you had better learn to dodge bullets."

Ricky_Hollywood
Ricky_Hollywood

@bbetzen I would rather have students promoted on merit where they have a chance of learning responsibility and accountability instead of encouraging a culture of everyone gets a trophy no matter what.  If someone does not know the material, why should they be promoted?  Just to make them feel better?  Just to get more funds?  What about our responsibility to provide a decent education?  The coddling and hand-holding has already proven ineffective.  Sure maybe graduation rates go up, but if the student didn't actually learn anything, what does it matter?

JimSX
JimSX topcommenter

@bbetzen 

The guy in El Paso who really did do the things you accuse Miles of got ratted out, of course, and is now headed to or already in the Big House.  The kind of complicated conspiracy you are fantasizing here would require, in real life, some serious logistical mobilization, which means a lot of people are involved, which means you get ratted out. Betzen, why are you unable to provide even an iota of evidence  to show that Miles is engaged in such a conspiracy? You're like somebody who demonstrates that there are fewer Cambodians in Dallas now than there were 15 years ago, so the mayor must be anti-Cambodian. Do you not even get the missing link problem here?

As for the other Bill here tonight, Mr. Marvel, you are impressed with Ravitch's liberal intellectual cred, I see, and you suppose that Miles is a soulless widget maker, I know not why. Certain irony here: the position that  Ravitch champions is called the Widget Factor in school reform talk, because she and the teachers unions she sides with want teachers to continue being paid like widget makers in a factory, based strictly on seniority, while school reformers like Miles want them to be measured and compensated as if they were professionals, based on their competence and the outcomes of their work. All of the individualism is on the Miles side, and it's Ravitch who thinks teachers should be appraised and managed as if they were assembly-line workers.

The trick in the school reform issue, Bill, is that it flips people around the compass a lot on the question of who's a liberal, what's a liberal, same for conservatives and conservative. The Ravitch position, which is very Occupy, very anti-one-percenters, winds up being deterministically class-bound and does nothing to lift children off the cradle-to-prison pipeline that is urban public education today, while the no-child-left-behinders like Margaret Spellings associated with George W.  are the ones who believe that children are born equal no matter their class and therefore all possess the same ability to learn to read and write by the end of the third grade.

eastdallascam
eastdallascam

@bbetzen 

I am very curious, and still waiting, to hear Jim's answer regarding why the data you provide means nothing but the data he provides proves excellence.

JimSX
JimSX topcommenter

@eastdallascam 

Sorry, it;s late, and your questions are inchoate and unanswerable.

P1Gunter
P1Gunter

That happens when you write 300,000 columns on the same damn topic. You end up an expert simply because it would be unethical to cut and paste.

MichaelMacNaughton
MichaelMacNaughton

@Ricky_Hollywood @bbetzen 

This subject is where the rubber meets the road, so to speak.  Let's say a teacher gets a 6th grader who only reads at the 3rd grade level (this is more common in large urban districts because of widespread poverty and incoming immigrant populations).  How long should the district keep that child in 6th grade?  One year, three years?  Parents REALLY don't like to see older students - say a 13 year old teenager - in the same classroom with their 10 year old.  Social promotion - as you referenced in your comment - had been the norm for years. It still happens more than anyone admits but has become less of a problem as students self-select out of the school environment.  12,000 kids enroll in 9th grade at DISD every year and only 7,500 or so make it to 12th grade (and only 6,300 or so get a diploma). Historically there are more opportunities for kids to stay in school because of punitive truancy laws. To lose an additional 500 seniors - as district data shows - is a big deal with many, many ripple effects.

bmarvel
bmarvel topcommenter

@JimSX "The trick in the school reform issue, Bill, is that it flips people around the compass a lot on the question of who's a liberal, what's a liberal, same for conservatives and conservativ"

I haven't believed the liberal-conservative dualism is a meaningful analysis of American politics for some time now, and your comment convinces me that I've been right all along.The compass needle spins continuously for most of us, Jim, and people find themselves at various points depending on many issues, not just school reform.

(Talk about compass swings: How is it the lock-step no-child-left-behind forces have become allies of the privatization -- charter school -- movement?)

Diane Ravitch -- her latest book is in my "to read" stack --  was an early enthusiast for testing until she saw that it did not, could not solve the problem. In every other respect, despite Eric's claim here in another comment, she has been consistent over the years. She believes the American public school system is the cradle of our democracy and that whatever it's failures they are not primarily the failure of teachers. Deeper, systemic problems are at work that are beyond the reach of drills and tests. I am skeptical that Miles' brand of educational Taylorism will fix them, either. His record in Colorado is not at all clear. 

Nevertheless, I'm thinking, he's here now. He claims he can fix things. Okay, give him a couple years and see how it goes. It can't be any worse than tying the system in knots while we argue about it.           

  

MichaelMacNaughton
MichaelMacNaughton

@JimSX @bbetzen 

Jim,

Take a look at Lorenzo Garcia again.  Mike Moses brought him here to Dallas from the Spring Branch Independent School District in Houston (my HS alma mater- Go Mustangs!) where he became the assistant superintendent just as DISD was instituting massive curriculum changes that aligned the content being taught at all of the schools. An alignment that I believed lowered the academic bar in order to make sure all kids scored well on State tests in order to avoid (or at least delay) the  increased State oversight that came with low performing campuses - curriculum is a serious discussion that has been successfully avoided.

At the same time the district was deep into an evaluation/pay system that rewarded teachers based on student achievement using an algorithm called the Classroom Effectiveness Index (CEI). The authors of the algorithm said the CEI should NOT be used to fire teachers but that was what the district tried to do.  The pressure on administrators and teachers to score a high ranking CEI became more important than teaching kids - the same thing we are seeing today in other districts.

Lorenzo was promoted to the Superintendent position in El Paso where his own pay, as well as the pay of his administration and teachers, was based on student performance metrics.  It was a simple matter to just let kids fail (and be removed from the classroom) to raise test scores.  Lorenzo is indeed in prison now.  So where did he learn how to manipulate the system?  Houston? Dallas?  Did he think it up himself in El Paso?  All of this would be a moot point if the same manipulation of student populations to increase test scores hadn't also happened in Atlanta, Washington D.C., St. Louis, Detroit, NYC - to name but a few - and that is not counting the outright cheating on tests.

In this light, do Mr. Betzen's questions deserve at least a look-see?  A drop in the CPI might indeed be a blip.  Those 500 seniors who are no longer at DISD may have some innocent statistical or social anthropological cause for leaving the district.  Correlation does not prove causation...oh, but you know that already.

bbetzen
bbetzen

@JimSX @bbetzen I get your point Jim.  A 26% drop in high school enrollment means nothing while families are moving into the district and elementary enrollment is going up over 20%.  A 33% drop in senior enrollment means nothing.  What counts is that the ACT score averages were going up.  The two are unrelated.   Do I have that correct?

Yes, I do respect Dr. Ravitch, but anyone in education with strong opinions never agrees 100% with anyone else in education once they set down to talk.   The big difference for me is that you cannot ignore student performance.  How you measure it is a big issue, but there must be some measurements.   Teachers with students who never learn and move forward must be dealt with.  That cannot be ignored.  The issue is how big a role such measurements have in teacher evaluations. Consistent low CEI scores are a big issue!

I understand the need to simplify these complex issues. Don't loose the students in the process.  Yes, school reform  "flips people around the compass a lot on the question of who's a liberal, what's a liberal, same for conservatives and conservative."   The problem is that BOTH sides seem ready to do things to students and for students with less emphasis on students doing things for themselves, planning their own futures and exploring their own histories.  Until students, especially at the high school level, take a more direct role in their own planning for the future, we will not see progress.   You and I can only do so much.   We can set up systems for accountability and feedback but beyond that we are observers.  The future is in their hands.  Once we admit that, and back up, we may observe progress.  Students must own their futures, and know it.

P1Gunter
P1Gunter

@JimSX @bbetzen You really could have used a better example than Cambodians, Jim. You live in East Dallas. Just about every independent liquor store on this side of town and into downtown is owned by Cambodians. Mike's on Mockingbird, Andrew's on Ross, Scott's on Lamar, Lone Star on Skillman, Cindy's on Skillman,  it goes on and on. If my memory serves, there was a Christian church over off Mockingbird that paid to bring them all over and they ended up running a bunch of liquor stores. They are super nice people however, next time you're in Mike's at Mockingbird/Abrams tell Kanary you know me and you'll probably get a nice discount, or at least a free bag of ice.

bbetzen
bbetzen

@eastdallascam @bbetzen Data I use is simply public enrollment data available on both district and state education agency web sites.

TheCredibleHulk
TheCredibleHulk topcommenter

@MichaelMacNaughton @TheCredibleHulk 

What must we all have been thinking all this time, acting as if schools had anything to do with educating children instead of acting as a convenient repository for them while we are otherwise occupied and a huge jobs program for teachers and education bureaucrats.

TheCredibleHulk
TheCredibleHulk topcommenter

@MichaelMacNaughton @Ricky_Hollywood @bbetzen 

Dallas Independent Student Daycare

Let's just cut the charade then and call it what it is.

bbetzen
bbetzen

@ChristianY @bbetzen @eastdallascam I respect Ravitch.  I think it is positive that both Heilig and I generally agree about her work.   It would be fascinating to have her in Dallas to debate issues with Mike Miles at a public forum.

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