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Making Dallas Even Better

Guest Column: Todd Williams on Why STAAR Scores Are Stagnant, and What Must Be Done to Improve

Todd Williams is one of the leading education advocates in Dallas. He runs a nonprofit, Commit, that works with Dallas County schools to find data-driven solutions to tough education problems. He is the mayor’s advisor on education policy. And he is one of the smartest people in Texas on education matters in general. He’s asked that Learning Curve publish the guest column below, which takes an in-depth look at the core issues behind stagnant test scores in Dallas County and Texas — and which makes recommendations for improving these scores.

Todd’s column is below:

There’s been much recent discussion on why 2015 STAAR scores were once again stagnant, both at the state and local level within Dallas ISD, continuing a trend over the past four years. The questions raised were consistent. “Is it the assessment? Do we have the wrong standards? Why aren’t we making progress?”

My immediate reaction was to simply ask, “What have we really done to expect anything other than what we’re seeing?”

In some ways, […]

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Why It’s Dangerous to Judge School Districts on Personnel Decisions

I’ve been avoiding writing about this kerfuffle for weeks. The one about three principals — Joy Morris at Wilmer-Hutchins Elementary, Dinnah Escanilla at North Dallas High, and Anna Brining at Rosemont middle and elementary schools – whose contract non-renewals were overturned by trustees but who were then fired by Mike Miles. I’ve avoided it because it involves personnel decisions at Dallas ISD, which means it involves people’s careers. Because the personnel files of most Chapter 21 employees (i.e., most educators) are confidential, I don’t like having to take someone’s word on what is contained therein. And unlike, say, Brett Shipp, I don’t like suggesting I know someone’s motivation just because it fits my narrative.

So I’m not going to be able to tell you what I think I know about Mike Miles’ decision to terminate three principals after the board of trustees had seemingly saved their jobs by declining to non-renew their contracts. (I’ll explain the difference soon.)

But I do want to explain the process that is going on here, because I find that most people don’t understand the issues that skew reporting on personnel matters. And almost nobody seems to know the difference between […]

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Do Flat STAAR Tests Mean DISD Was Better Under Hinojosa? Of Course Not.

I got sidetracked on school finance, but I want to come back to something I promised last week: Looking at how the newspaper’s editorial writers fail to put school testing results in context. Since I just asked you to slog through 2K words on bridge plans and general operating funds, I will try to keep this as short and sweet as possible.

Recall I had problems with the way the DMN characterized the incomplete STAAR results. If you haven’t read Jeffrey Weiss’s excellent responses in the comments, please do so. He says that even if the paper should have been clearer about not including Spanish language STAAR results in its headline/analysis, the results when they’re included still are mixed-to-poor. I don’t disagree with him – I say in fact that I’m not defending DISD’s STAAR performance, I’m criticizing how incomplete data sets are presented to the public.

In any case, that DMN story begat three editorial board posts: […]

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Brett Shipp and Some Trustees Get an “F” In School Finance

Brett Shipp needs help. Actually, he may be beyond help. But I’m going to try to explain school finance to him one more time, since he seems determined to pretend to report on DISD. His latest example of journalistic malfeasance can be found here.

So, what you should do to prep for this post is watch the video above, cued to the 1:46 mark, for about 10 and a half minutes. (For some reason, I can’t get embeds to work right. If it cues to the wrong spot, just click this link.) It’s from this past Thursday’s board meeting, and it features DISD CFO Jim Terry, trustee Joyce Foreman, trustee Bernadette Nutall, and trustee Mike Morath talking budget stuff. Watch until Foreman gives my favorite quote of the year: “I don’t like being corrected when I know I’m right.” This segment will give you the background you need to read this primer, which will explain why Shipp’s story that DISD is in some sort of financial straights is complete bulsh.

(As an aside, a similar DMN story also quoted ignorant trustees about the same issue, but at least it added the correct information at story’s end.)

In fact, Brett Shipp’s fantasy segment has so much wrong with it, we’re going to have to break the first part of it down piece by piece. Let’s do this: […]

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Why Did the DMN Largely Ignore 35 Percent of DISD Test-takers?

Hey, I’m back! What did I miss?

[Checks Dallas Morning News, sees a three-byline story on STAAR results, sees three blog posts by editorial board members excoriating Mike Miles for said results, sees a guest column saying that Mike Miles and reformers are bad but Aldine ISD is good.]

Good sweet heavens. It’s like I came back on Christmas. So much silliness to digest, it’s going to take three posts to do so properly.

Let’s start with […]

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Guest Column: Kevin Malonson on the tension between reform, teachers, and kids

Home Rule Commissioner Kevin Malonson and I have struck up a weird friendship. We both see the need for better educational opportunities for Dallas ISD kids — especially poor kids — and we often have 180-degree views on how to achieve this. But Malonson is open-minded and sincere, an engaged DISD volunteer and parent. I think his opinions are very worthy of discussion. Here is his second guest column for Learning Curve. Treat him well in the comments folks; he’s a civilian. […]

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We Need Another Hero: Why Miles’ Fate is in the Hands of Dan Micciche and Eric Cowan

To: Eric Cowan and Dan Micciche
From: Eric Celeste
Re: Your vote later today

Eric and Dan:

I know you both think you need to fire Mike Miles today. I know you each think you should do this because a) you hear from a lot of angry people in your district who want him fired, and b) you believe he has made severe management mistakes. I understand. But let’s talk for a minute about why this is a terrible idea for each of you, for your districts, for the city, and for the kids in DISD.

Let’s start with […]

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The Best Data Available to Evaluate DISD Are Being Ignored

Jim Schutze has a good post on Unfair Park about how everything is Mike Miles’ fault, according to his critics. Even things like firing investigators who don’t work for him. But I want to highlight the first comment on that post from “MindingtheStore,” because it gives us a good place to start discussing how parents, teachers, some trustees, and other interested parties take data and frame it to suit their desired narrative.

MTS says several interesting things that are pretty easily refutable, but let’s just concentrate on the first graph (I fixed a few typos): […]

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Update: DISD Responds to Robberson Piece

If you missed my last post and the reply that came from Robberson, you can read Jim Schutze’s take here.

Yesterday evening, DISD responded to Robberson’s response with the e-mail below. I think between’s Jim’s piece and the response below, you’re up-to-date.

To note: Robberson has this thing where he doesn’t mention D or D blogs in his pieces because of course he doesn’t. But he does so in his initial e-mail to DISD (which is the last item in the thread below). To be fair, I included my response (which is the first thing you’ll read), just to show you that I can’t leave well enough alone and that I have the emotional maturity of an 8-year-old. Enjoy: […]

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Another Week, Another DISD Story That Is Just Silly

I mean, seriously — how many times do I have to do this? Forever? Is it forever? Just let me know if it’s forever, so I can change a few plans.

Let’s get right to it: a blog post by Tod Robberson about Mike Miles that sets up a straw man to knock over.

Okay, here’s the column, if you’re looking for a reason to headdesk yourself today. But if not, all you really need are the first three graphs: […]

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Incredibly Dumb Claim Made Against DISD Found to Be Incredibly Dumb

I’m irritated and I’m stumped. Irritated because I had a lot of stuff on the ol’ to-do list yesterday, and instead I was pulled into a debate between a bunch of idiots and a very confused Dallas ISD administration and board. Stumped because the allegations that necessitated this debate are so wrong-headed, so silly, so baseless, I am at a loss how to address them. It’s like trying to explain to a sane person why the crazy person claims the moon is made of barbecue spare ribs. I mean, where do you start?

Everywhere, I guess. So here is a scattershot rebuttal of the claims made by [cue the never-ending sigh] Bill Betzen and friends in their complaint about DISD’s supposedly inequitable funding system. […]

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