Teachers Leaving DISD: How Do We Know When That's a Bad Thing?

Categories: Schutze

refugees2.jpg
Library of Congress
Matt Haag's story about teachers leaving DISD put me in mind of scenes like this.
Odd little contretemps in recent weeks on the pages of our city's only daily newspaper: On December 4, education writer Matt Haag had a story in the The Dallas Morning News under the headline, "Dallas ISD teachers left at high rate in Superintendent Mike Miles' first year," purporting to show that Dallas teachers have been fleeing the district en masse to escape Miles' tyranny.

The anti-Miles claque has been aggressively peddling the teacher turnover story for at least three months with no success, and they seemed thrilled to have found a taker in Haag. Gadfly Bill Betzen rushed forward with online compliments, saying, "...the record-setting loss of teachers during the first year Miles was in Dallas was a true disaster."

In all, the story and the comments conjured images of World War II refugees fleeing on foot and by bicycle with their belongings stuffed in pillowcases and their grandmothers in wheelbarrows, cowering beneath the shrubbery every time they think they hear the overhead roar of Mad Mike coming back for another strafing run.

But a week later The Morning News editorial page came back with its own headline: "DISD's teacher turnover rate needs deeper study." The editorial page pointed out that the turnover rates cited in Haag's story actually were pretty close to rates of other big districts around the state.

And, wait a minute: Why is turnover automatically a disaster? "A turnover rate that looks high isn't bad if it consists of a sizable number of underperforming teachers," the editorial page said.

Well, yeah. Think about it. Turnover is only bad if you're losing people you don't want to lose. It's good if you are losing people you do want to lose. At the end of October I told you about some new research into the merit pay system in place in the Washington, D.C., public school system in which researchers found that merit pay is doing an excellent job getting the worst teachers to quit. That's a good thing.

No, you don't want your good teacher, the top 20 percent sometimes called "the irreplaceables," to abandon ship. But you absolutely do want the worst teachers to take a hike. Some research suggests American public schools could catch up with Canada and Finland if we just replaced the bottom 8 to 12 percent of really bad teachers with teachers who only meet the Lake Wobegone standard of barely above average.

Imagine, just for grins, that you had a very high number of driver's education teachers who were addicted to meth and had no teeth. And Matt Haag did a story in The Morning News saying "Toothless meth-head driver's ed teachers left at high rate in Superintendent Mike Mile first year." Well, that should be sufficient cause for us to all go downtown and pin a medal on Miles' chest, right?

The Morning News editorial ended on what seemed like a very solid and sober note: "... the question is who is leaving and why," the editorial writers said. "It's hard to know the answers without more analysis of the data. And until we know the answers, it's impossible to tell whether the turnover rate is a sign of progress or a symptom of failure."

Here here! But, uh, where where were these questions when Haag was penning his story? Why does the editorial page have to ask all the Reporting 101 questions, and wouldn't it be more seemly to get this stuff done earlier in the process, before the actual publishing part?

Look, Haag's a great reporter, kicking ass right now with his stories about slimy land deals at the district, although I think he could expend a little more effort making it clear to readers that the deals in question did not occur on the watch of or have anything to do with the current superintendent. If anything, the cronyism uncovered by Haag illustrates the kind of rat's nest Miles walked into when he took the job in April 2012.

I'm just saying next time the Betzens and the teachers unions come calling with one of these birthday cakes in hand, it might be wise for Haag and Tawnell Hobbs, the other reporter on the schools beat, to pause before biting and maybe ask themselves a couple devil's advocate questions.

I think Haag is great. I just hate watching him take a hiding from the editorial page. In newspaper terms, it doesn't get much more ignominious than that, like being spanked by the school nurse. It's a circumstance worth avoiding at almost any cost.


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40 comments
bbetzen
bbetzen

Jim, I would be very happy if the only problem in DISD was the highest teacher turnover rate in over a decade!  Remember that the 17% turnover rate was caused in large part by 500+ reductions in staff.  The 20+% loss was 5 percentage points higher that the others on average.


The true disaster is what is happening to our high school students where enrollment is dropping, especially in the senior class, just as it did during the last four years Miles was in Colorado before coming to Dallas.  In the Colorado district Miles worked senior enrollment went down 32% the last four years he was there!  He lowered enrollment such that the remaining students had higher ACT scores on average.


Now in Dallas, after 6 years of constant growth in 12th grade enrollment, suddenly not only does 12th grade enrollment drop as of the official count made 11-1-13, but the enrollment has dropped over 530 students since last year for the greatest year to year drop in 12th grade enrollment in 29 years!   You know that time well.  1984/85 was the tail end of White flight as things were slowing down and we "only" lost 1,540 Anglo students that year.   DISD never lost that many again. 


Jim, are you really comfortable with DISD 12th grade enrollment going from 8,382 last year and falling below 7,850 this year?   Do you think this can be ignored?   ... especially since it is the same type enrollment loss that ended each of the last four years of Mike Miles in Colorado?


You investigative reporters should be asking questions about this 12th grade enrollment loss.   Go for it Jim!   Let us know what you find.

bvckvs
bvckvs topcommenter

I was there for the big layoff at Dallas ISD a few years ago - something like 500 teachers in one fell swoop.


Before the layoff, I avoided the teacher's lounges because there was always a little nest of Tea Party and Libertarian rats - complaining to everyone about how much they hated their jobs.


After the layoff, the lounges were much more pleasant places in which to be.  Suddenly, you could have a frank conversation about teaching - without that  garbage interrupting things up with their tantrums.

.

Cliffhanger
Cliffhanger

There was an interesting article not long ago in The Atlantic (IIRC) about a program that got exceptional results by offering teachers bonuses to teach at most underperforming high schools. The teachers that did the best were older and had about 14 years of experience on average.


But yeah, why think outside the box when we can just go with the merit pay paradigm that hasn't worked anywhere and speculate that hopefully it's making just bad teachers leave because maybe.

TheCredibleHulk
TheCredibleHulk topcommenter

Time is the only true test of the success of any reform.

Unfortunately, we are a highly political species that bristles with impatience over anything that takes more than a few hours to resolve.

d-may
d-may

It's not bad when teachers leave. It's bad when 20% of your workforce leaves because the next year you have to spend huge amounts of money on getting people up to speed with all kinds of things. DISD has something like 8000 teachers. Can you imagine the head ache of having to get 20% of them signed up for benefits every year. That's wasted money. It doesn't matter if it's happening everywhere, it just means that the problems with education are more systemic than simply DISD. Turn over should never be that high. 

hwy77
hwy77

About being spanked by a school nurse...

RoaminCadillac
RoaminCadillac

From what I have read, incentive pay may not be all what it is cracked up to be:



"(1) As long as the task involved only mechanical skill, bonuses worked as would be expected: the higher the pay, the better the performance. That makes sense. But here's what happened: once the test called for even rudimentary cognitive skill, a larger reward led to poorer performance! Now this is strange...a larger reward led to poorer performance. How can that possibly be? Now what's interesting about this is that the folks who did it are all economists – two at MIT, one at the University of Chicago, one at Carnegie Mellon – okay, the top tier of the economics profession, and they're reaching this conclusion that seems contrary to what most of us learned in economics, which is that the higher the reward, the better the performance. And they're saying, once you get above rudimentary cognitive skill, it's the other way around. The idea that these rewards don't work that way seems vaguely left wing and socialist, doesn't it? It's this weird, socialist conspiracy. For those of you who have those conspiracy theories, I want to point out the notoriously left-wing socialist group that financed the research: the Federal Reserve Bank – the most mainstream of the

mainstream coming to a conclusion that seems to defy the laws of behavioral physics! "  Dan Pink- What Motivates us


Honestly, I would love to figure out a way that would motivate students and parents as well as poor performing educators.  I remember working my tail off to get some students to work, but they did not get incentive from home or their local community.  Education was not a priority.  


Teaching is not a mechanical skill, it is an art and a science.  To be honest, the biggest incentive for me would be having an educational system that mirrors Finland's.  Of course, for that to happen, we would have to make sure that the kiddos did not come to school hungry, sick and had a place to go home once the day ended.  Carrots are best for soup.

holmantx
holmantx topcommenter

It's called reform.

ryan762
ryan762

Your point is absolutely correct, but I wouldn't be surprised if the analysis showed "good" teachers leaving. Miles has started to implement the "stick" part of the carrot system without having implemented any of the carrots.

Willie
Willie

Nice light Monday piece.  Actually, the piece was quite gracious considering that Little Haag's work is generally sophomoric, and if he is a tool, then he's an amateur one, so kudos for not raking him through the coals.  Perhaps he could right himself by getting ahold of the data and evaluating it.  If the data are categorized in a meaningful way, there are many analytical tools (no pun intended) available to understand what the turnovers mean.

whocareswhatithink
whocareswhatithink

Did we not also have lay offs and incentivized resignations during this period? (That was voted on before Miles got there.)

holmantx
holmantx topcommenter

These are strange times indeed at the ‘ol Dallas Morning News.  We get the “zeal to balance” by the opinion crafters and the opinions slugged in on the reporting side of the house.  (with a side dish of cherry-picking by the fact checkers).

It’s like walking through a slant room Fun House.

MichaelMacNaughton
MichaelMacNaughton

So, Jim, how does one identify whether a teacher who has left the districts employ was a keeper or not? 

oakclifftownie
oakclifftownie

Didn't they buy out a lot of Teaches at the end of the 2011/2012 school year ?

ozonelarryb
ozonelarryb

But wasn't it the editorial hierarchy that pushed him and Shipp after this "story" but didn't encourage actual research?

lebowski300
lebowski300

@d-may I'm pretty sure like everywhere else, DISD employees have to sign up for benefits every year, new hire or not. "Getting up to speed" for a public school teacher ought to be relatively easy compared to most professional gigs. Unless of course you mean by "getting up to speed" learning the completely-unrelated-to-education-or-compensation politics and backbiting infrastructure. Then again even for that, there really is no getting up to speed, only enduring it.

bvckvs
bvckvs topcommenter

@d-may

Hiring and firing employees isn't really a "headache".

And getting rid of bad employees is not a waste of money - but keeping them is.


The only ones suffering are the faith-based companies that were enjoying exclusive, no-bid contracts, failing to perform, and getting paid anyway.




JimSX
JimSX topcommenter

@hwy77 

I may have dreamed that.

lebowski300
lebowski300

@RoaminCadillac In what way(s) "Teaching is... an art..."? I think by saying this you have articulated effectively the key to understanding why the profession finds itself at odds with the public it serves. Believing such certainly explains the blanket resistance to be judged on merit.

bvckvs
bvckvs topcommenter

@ryan762

Actually, the stick that keeps the conservative wolves away IS the carrot for the teachers who want to teach.


They never ask for big raises, or massive bonus checks.  They just ask to be allowed to do their jobs - to get the equipment they need, and some students to teach.


Miles has done that VERY well.  Under his leadership, nearly every classroom is now equipped with a computer for every teacher, an overhead projector for the computers, and a suite of emergency services - including bullet proof doors to protect students from gun violence.


JimSX
JimSX topcommenter

@MichaelMacNaughton 

DISD is working on its teacher excellence initiative to address this very question. How would you do it?

JimSX
JimSX topcommenter

No, editorial board only rules editorial page and op ed page, separated from newsroom by church and state rule. Management expresses itself through the editorial page -- well, ownership does, really -- but the people on the editorial board are not management. They are writers, which is like wearing a shirt with your name on the pocket. Ownership says, "Write this ," they do it.

scottindallas
scottindallas topcommenter

@JimSX@hwy77 Jim, you shouldn't write another word about DISD until you find out how many teachers have been hired to replace the 20% that were encouraged to split for early retirement.  Is DISD relying on subs?  Subs don't have lesson plans, or the ability to jump in the lurch with the same effectiveness.  No, you'd rather gossip and opine.  Make a call, put some meat on the bone

ryan762
ryan762

@bvckvs@ryan762My wife is a teacher (though at a suburban district) with constantly high evaluations, and she would likely not be happy about a bunch of increased rules and restrictions (and even more required time at work) without any increase in pay  (or any opportunity to get incentive pay), especially if she could potentially go work in a different district (not every teacher who leaves DISD is going to quit teaching. Many will leave for other teaching opportunities).


And the year that my wife didn't get a bonus that all the other grade-level teachers got because the district decided she wasn't a classroom teacher (even though she has a classroom and teaches) because she's a special education teacher. It's not enough to make her quit, of course, but it didn't help her job satisfaction.


But if the incentive pay doesn't matter, then let's save taxpayer money and just not do it.

MichaelMacNaughton
MichaelMacNaughton

@JimSX


One more thing about the ongoing dialogue...many conversations, comments and opinions that you are so quick to jump on as "anti-reform" are more often about lousy management and horrible implementation of these needed changes. One can be pro-reform and still believe Mile's is a lousy change agent. 

MichaelMacNaughton
MichaelMacNaughton

@JimSX

Since you and I started visiting about the sad state of DISD five years ago my position has been exactly the same and it hasn't changed. 


I am in favor of a fair and equitable teacher evaluation system. 


When I met with Rep.Anchia, Edwin Flores, Jack Lowe and AFTs national president Randi Weingarten I said that if the union didn't help design such a system then the taxpayers would force one upon them. 


At the time the district was working on a substantial, and I believe far superior, system than Miles has in mind. 


You say, "Turnover is only bad if you're losing people you don't want to lose." But you have not answered the question I posed - and you cannot - because the cart has been placed before the horse.  There is no proven fair and equitable evaluation system in place...not yet.  All the district has to show so far is a net loss of 2,000 teachers, overcrowded classrooms, and "permanent" substitutes, most of whom are not certified in the subjects they teach. 


If this reform is truly "for the children" then I am doubly thrilled that I moved my son to a private high school three years ago.

ozonelarryb
ozonelarryb

So the ownwership/mgmt worldview has no influence on editors' decisions on reporters' assignments? Or their slat on a specific story?

Also, isn't Haag the son of longtime ch 8 mgr Marty Haag? Can you spell incestuous editorial connection? Or at least easy slide to dilution of journalistic principles?

ruddski
ruddski

Hmmm... In my newspaper experience (gannet and others), if ownership said "write this"' the entire editorial board would have walked. But this was the seventies, so maybe it's changed

RTGolden1
RTGolden1 topcommenter

@JimSX@MichaelMacNaughtonOr, at least, until we're too far into it to absorb the loss, or be able to get out of it without incurring an even greater loss???

RTGolden1
RTGolden1 topcommenter

@Montemalone@JimSX@MichaelMacNaughtonThe student's or parent's opinions, dare I say even every measurable performance standard, didn't seem to matter when they drummed Tovar out of Sunset.  What makes you think the opinions of students and teachers would matter to them now?

JimSX
JimSX topcommenter

@Montemalone @JimSX @MichaelMacNaughton 
Yes, that is a significant part of this initiative they are working on. They are going to survey students. They will also do multiple classroom observations. And they are going to look at student achievement. Part of this process of developing the measurements also involves meeting with teachers and asking them what they think the best measurements are of teacher effectiveness.

I asked McNaughton, because I am curious if he will come  back with the teachers union line, which is that teacher effectiveness cannot be measured in any way and all efforts to do so are just about a bunch of crazy conservative sons of bitches trying to take over our schools (to which I always ask, "Why would anyone want to take over our schools?"

JimSX
JimSX topcommenter

@bmarvel @ozonelarryb 

What you every day, at some newspapers, is writers who knew which side their bread is buttered on. They never need to be told.

bmarvel
bmarvel topcommenter

@ozonelarryb"So the ownwership/mgmt worldview has no influence on editors' decisions on reporters' assignments? Or their slat on a specific story?"

No, though with some nuance. 

I've seen newsside writers bravely -- and successfully -- fight off ownership attempt  to impose a story (and its interpretation). I've also seen writers cave under pressure. Not at all an everyday thing. Happened maybe three times during my 20-year career at DMN.

P1Gunter
P1Gunter

At Belo it does, that's part of the problem. Between channel 8 and their newspapers they control a big chunk of media in this market. And you will find very similar narratives in all their local properties as opposed to other sources.

sos0
sos0

@ruddski In the 70's there was a thriving newspaper business model, not the case today. People need their jobs for as long as its going to last. 

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