Find a back issue

Status-Quo Trustees Look to Disrupt Tomorrow’s Board Meeting Any Way They Can

Yesterday, a person whom I know only through social media recognized me at a restaurant. He told me how much he, as a DISD parent, appreciated Learning Curve. I thanked him. He made a parting joke, something along the lines of, “We’re just glad you have to attend the board meetings and we don’t.”

Looking over the agenda for tomorrow’s board of trustees meeting, and, my goodness, was he spot-on. Because, based on the posted agenda, tomorrow’s meeting will offer two things: [...]

Full Story

Three KERA Stories Worth Reading: On Refugees, Homeless Students, and Pre-K

Preparing to go back to school this afternoon — which, weirdly, terrifies me — so there won’t be a new post until tomorrow. In the meantime, here’s a reminder that Bill Zeeble and the folks at KERA do a great job covering education. You should check out these three stories:

• Zeeble on homeless students in DISD. (There are nearly 3000 homeless kids in the district; including about 100 at North Dallas High alone.)

• Doualy Xaykaothao on the first day of pre-K in Fort Worth.

• Stella Chavez on what the first day of school is like for refugee families.

Full Story

A New DISD Dad Offers Thoughts on How to Recruit More Parents

Last week I received an email from a new DISD parent, whose son is starting at Kramer Elementary today. He brought up many points I thought were worth sharing. His email is reprinted with permission below, with a few minor editing changes and notes inserted from me.


[Obligatory introduction about how awesome I am. People who don't know me often start emails this way.]

My wife and I are excited about enrolling our oldest in kindergarten at Kramer Elementary in the dual language program. We had to transfer to get into this program (our feeder school doesn’t offer it). We’ve been met by great skepticism by friends when we mention DISD. We certainly have our own reservations, but we’re willing to give it a go. I don’t have many solutions to the tough issues [...]

Full Story

First Day of School! Except Where Kids Have Already Had 100 Hours of Instruction.

It’s the first day of school in North Texas! Well, it is for public schools, since by law in Texas school can’t start until the fourth Monday of August. But that’s not true for charters and private schools, which are allowed to set their own schedule. This is a key point that the Home Rule Commission should discuss, because starting this late in the summer absolutely hurts student outcomes.

For private schools with wealthy kids, the summer-learning gap is not great, so they don’t have to worry as much about how many days their kids are in school compared to large, poor urban districts like DISD. For districts filled with poor kids, every hour of instruction counts. As well, state tests are given to public/charter kids at the same time, so having as much time to prepare for these tests is crucial.

That’s why the best charter schools start school much earlier [...]

Full Story

Why the “Taxation Without Representation” Claim Against Home Rule is Bogus

There’s been a lot of debate about home rule for Dallas ISD since the idea was launched in February. Much of it has been silly — I don’t like THOSE people, so I don’t like home rule, consarn it — rather than substantive discussion of policy. But one of the more interesting arguments that I’ve heard on occasion is this: home rule can lead to taxation without representation.

First time I heard that argument, I raised an eyebrow. (Very different from raising two.) I’ve heard it several times now, and it still strikes me as ludicrous. Lemme ‘splain. [...]

Full Story

Why DMN is Wrong to Say DISD’s Teacher Excellence Initiative Was Rushed

A week ago, Rodger Jones at the Dallas Morning News put up a blog post that suggested three things:

1. The teacher excellence initiative (TEI) that DISD is implementing is being rushed in comparison to the state, which is taking its time evaluating a teacher evaluation system.

2. Dallas is rushing it because Mike Miles, hired to be a change agent, needs to implement said changes quickly. In other words, it’s a political consideration.

3. This is unfortunate, because the analysis of “value-added models” (in essence, looking at how a student’s test scores compare to previous years, and to his classmates’ scores) suggests teacher evaluations shouldn’t be based on VAMs.

Jones summarizes: [...]

Full Story

Suggestions for Home Rule Commission No. 3: Impeachment

I talked about board accountability at some length yesterday. (And by “at some length” I mean, in the immortal words of Bart’s girlfriend, “Do you ever think anything you DON’T say?”) The gist of it was suggesting that we should want our system of school governance to focus on improving student outcomes, and that’s not what is happening currently. That’s why creating a mechanism in the charter so that our trustees do have a good reason to keep focused on student achievement seems like solid plan to me.

But even that device comes with limitations. What if you have a board member who should be held accountable not just to voters, but to state law?

I’m not talking about someone with political views like Carla Ranger, who differed in her policy recommendations from everybody else. We have a diverse city with diverse interest groups, and it’s foolish to expect everybody to agree on what needs to be done to help our kids. We should encourage open and honest debate focused on solving problems for kids.

But what if you have a board member who isn’t interested in open and honest debate? What if that trustee breaks laws? [...]

Full Story

Suggestions for Home Rule Commission No. 2: Board Accountability

Last week, I shared with you one idea for the Home Rule Commission to consider in a new charter for Dallas ISD. Since the HRC’s most-selfish, status-quo member keeps monopolizing the discussion by advocating the commission do nothing, I’ll keep throwing up ideas suggested by forward-thinking educators, in North Texas and elsewhere. Even if the commissioners abdicate their legal duties, somebody’s got to present some options to help our students. So how bout this whopper for consideration:

Idea No. 2: board accountability.

We talk a lot about holding our elected officials accountable. What does that mean, especially in a public school context? What are we holding them accountable for? This gets to a truly fundamental question that we don’t often ask: What is the goal of the school board?

The answer seems obvious: [...]

Full Story

DISD Board Recap: How to Undermine Your District and Run Off Good People

The first board briefing of the 2014-15 school year was pretty great for a lot of reasons I’ll outline below, but the bottom line is there was a lot of data and strategy discussed that should have been catnip for any edu-wonk. The concerns from the recent state report card for the district were analyzed; ERG Analytics went over some of the surprising (in a good way) DISD data we told you about back in June; Superintendent Mike Miles addressed the new key programs, as well as the funding concerns, I wrote about yesterday; and an HR plan to accelerate new teacher hires (which Miles mentioned in his end-of-the-year speech back in May) was proven successful. In all, there was a lot of high-level, big-picture, where-are-we-and-where-are-we-headed data and analysis for the board to consider.

And many of them did just that. Then again, a few of them — the same ones as always, of course — did everything they could to undermine any suggestion that the administrators in charge could possibly know what they’re doing. In that way, they continued their textbook example of how to be horrible board members who do active harm to the district, and thereby hurt the very children they bring up at every turn. And I’m going to go about it at length, because it is important you know how this particular evil manifests itself.

To the bullet points: [...]

Full Story

Suggestions for Home Rule Commission No. 1: Student Trustee

Since the Home Rule Commission is going to take its sweet time figuring out what a home rule charter should contain (or if the status quo is hunky-dory with them), I figure I’d offer some suggestions. I offer these as intellectual fodder, in the hopes that someone will go to a home rule commission public hearing and offer an idea that could ultimately help kids instead of espousing the paranoid-fantasy beat-down of the status-quo crowd. So, here’s the first in an occasional series.

Idea No. 1: a student trustee.

There are several school systems around the country that have a student position designated on the governing board. I know. Seems weird, right? You imagine some sideways-hat-wearing Bieber fan asking Elizabeth Jones for dap and begging Mike Morath to finish his math homework. But just because YOU were a waste of space in high school doesn’t mean all the kids are. In fact, smart kids have some say in how we serve them in several cities. For example [...]

Full Story

Story of the School Year: Does the Tax Man Cometh For DISD?

Prepping for the school board briefing today — always a last-minute studier — and I came across something that made me say whoa, Neo-style.

It wasn’t that the agenda now has suggested time-limits for discussion topics. That’s nice, but that’s not big news. It’s not that someone is going to present ERG data on the district’s surprising 2013-14 improvement in student outcomes (when you normalize for poverty). That will be instructive, but it’s not news (as, you see from the previous link, I already wrote about it). No, what made me go all Keanu was a chart in the “Programs and Facilities” PDF for Destination 2020.

Open that up, the one that says “Programs and Facilities,” and you’ll see that it talks about three key elements of Mike Miles’ updated Destination 2020 plan: [...]

Full Story

Home Rule Meeting Recap: Serious Work, Good Questions, and Marcus Ranger

Back from vacation and finally able to watch last week’s Home Rule Commission meeting. And, man, was it ever zzzzzzzzzz.

Kidding, kidding. Actually, the debate about setting the commission’s meeting schedule — how often it would meet, how many community meetings would there be, how often will it hold data-gathering sessions, would Marcus Ranger’s grandstanding lead to its own party game (every time Marcus Ranger says “radical,” we do a shot!) – was enlightening. As well, the Q&A with legal counsel about what the commission can/can’t/should/won’t/ do helped clarify for me who is at taking this job seriously (everyone except Ranger) and who is not (Ranger). To the bullet points!

Full Story

A Slight Kick in the Ass to the Home Rule Commission

OF COURSE the home rule commission is going to meet on Monday, because I’ll be in San Francisco on vacation. (LC will return the following week, with an update of said meeting.) That said, if the agenda is any indication, I won’t be missing much. Besides some time in executive session, here is what I won’t see live:

• General discussion of future meeting dates, times, and presenters for both commission meetings and public meetings.

• General discussion about Chapter 12 of the Texas Education Code.

• General discussion about the commission’s budget.

As the random parade float Mongolian warrior notes in Animal House: Hey, those guys are coming pretty fast!

Sorry, but the idea that this is REALLY going to take a full year to debate is beyond me. Let me help.

See, what you guys need to be focusing on is school board governance: [...]

Full Story

SAGA Pod/Learning Curve: Jim Schutze on JWP, inland ports, DISD, Miles, and reform

A JWP-heavy edition of the SAGA Pod. First, we talk to Dallas Observer columnist Jim Schutze about the biggest news story in Dallas in 2014: the indictment of County Commissioner John Wiley Price. Jim, who has covered JWP for three decades, talks about how JWP went from being a “ray of sunshine,” and “a very brave guy” — someone who “taught courage” to southern Dallas — to a county official under indictment. Jim tells great stories, from covering Price in the ’80s (the one about how Price would intentionally sweat on editors at the Dallas Times Herald is gold). He discusses how the money for votes has always traveled form north to south, and how Price wanted his cut from the minster networks. Jim tells about the time Price told him the reason “Our Man Downtown” always aligned with downtown interests vs. progressive, East Dallas interests. (“Because you’re a bunch of hippies.”)

For the last half of the show, we discuss all things DISD from this summer: We look at [...]

Full Story

Programming Note

Slow summer vacation time here. In school myself this week, learnin’ about school finance in Texas — complicated and math-y! — and getting ready to take off next week for some R&R. In the meantime, Jim Schutze and I are about to record a pod (JWP, DISD), which I’ll put up tomorrow. And then I suppose I may have to revisit the suspended investigator situation before I go, if (as I suspect will happen) the DMN writes an editorial about it. Triple sigh.

In the meantime, wanna discuss Title 1 funds?

Full Story