Today’s DISD Story: Another Example of Why Bernadette Nutall Is Awful

I know, I know. You read this story and this blog post — about a bullshit “investigation” into Tonya Grayson, an executive director of DISD HR and a misdemeanor she got because of a fight with her boyfriend 24 years ago — and thought, “This has nothing to do with Bernadette Nutall.” That’s where you’re wrong. It has everything to do with her and the Tammany Hall-style operation she runs for her friends in DISD.

Let’s deal first with these stories. [...]

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Miles’ Contract Extension Was the Right Move For DISD’s Board

Some quick thoughts on the 10-hour board meeting that saw Mike Miles get no raise, a two-year extension, and the chance to consult for money that will go to a nonprofit that raises money for DISD.

• First, I can’t argue with anything in this editorial, which praises the board for voting 7-2 to extend Miles’ contract. Well done.

• The board meeting went so long in closed session (9ish hours) because at least four board members wanted to wait until Miles’ evaluation, scheduled for August-September, was concluded. This makes sense on its face, but in reality was not a good enough reason to put off discussing his contract. [...]

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What Can We Learn From Charters? Same Thing We Can Learn From Magnets.

I went to a crappy public high school in Tulsa, Oklahoma. (Go Cardinals!) During those three years, I also held a full-time job, meaning I missed a lot of school to sleep. By the end of my senior year, I had been absent 101 days of 10th-12th grade. I’d missed so much school that the administrations threatened to withhold my degree. The problem: I had a GPA over 4.0. I was a manifestation of what we all knew to be true: My high school was easy, filled with well-meaning but poor instructors.

Mr. Owen taught philosophy, among other subjects. He was an outstanding instructor. One day, when I showed up as class was ending, he told me the following: I don’t care what your grades are. You miss one more day of my class, I’m flunking you, and I can do it by state law. I never missed another class of his. Sometimes I would wake up, come to his class, then go back home to sleep.

Mr. Owen had a tremendous influence on my education and life track. He was the reason I took philosophy courses in college, which helped make me a much better thinker, student, and person. He was the reason I tried to write plays, which led to my reviewing theater performances for my college paper, which led to my career in journalism. He was the only great high school instructor I had, but sometimes it takes only one.

This is to reiterate what we all intuitively believe: Quality of instruction is enormously important in determining how much kids learn, and whether they find within them the grit to overcome obstacles placed before them. And if one teacher can help a stubborn brat like me, what can a host of great teachers do? And can their behaviors be copied and taught to improve other schools? [...]

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Miles and Other Educators Talk About “Grit” — What is That, Exactly?

One of the arguments you hear status-quo educators in DISD make is that we can’t compare outcomes at public schools to those at charter schools, because charters have it easier: the kids aren’t as poor, they come from all over the district, etc. This is an important argument because it seeks to explain away vastly better outcomes for kids coming through the best charter programs vs. kids coming through even the best DISD schools.

I’ve spent some time putting together data to test that theory, and, spoiler alert, I don’t think it holds water. But it’s very complicated, involves lots of data, and I’m trying to gather it all together and present it in a meaningful way. (This is difficult, because I’m slow, in every way.) In the meantime, I want to share some of the things this gathering process is revealing. One thing: I’m getting a clearer idea of what Mike Miles and others mean when they say we need to teach “grit.” [...]

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Goin’ Fishin’! An Occasional Look at Open Records Requests at DISD.

I filed Learning Curve’s first Freedom of Information Act request to Dallas ISD last week. I asked the district for the following information:

Any and all draft audits and notes relating to the ongoing audit of the DISD procurement process. The ongoing audit of procurement has been mentioned in public DISD board meetings.

I should receive a response soon. I suspect, by the way, that the district will tell me they’ve asked the Attorney General to rule as to whether such audits can be released under the Open Records Act. I should also point out that I suspect the AG will say, “no.” But we’ll see. I’ll have more about this request as it works its way through the process.

I wanted to tell you this for two reasons. One, I want you to see how much information fishing goes on at DISD. (Zac Crain wrote about this for the magazine a few years ago, and most of what he said then holds true today.) Two, if I’m going to criticize others for sending staff on multiple wild goose chases every week, then I damn sure better let you know when I’m asking them to do the same thing, and why. [...]

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DISD Board Meeting about Miles’ Contract Moved So More Trustees Can Attend

The DISD board meeting to discuss revising Mike Miles’ contract has been moved from this Saturday to July 21. The reason, according to board president Miguel Solis: He wants all the board members there.

The meeting originally set for the 12th (Saturday), according to Solis, was likely to only see five board members present because of vacation and other commitments. Miles’ biggest critics — Bernadette Nutall, Joyce Foreman, and Lew Blackburn — would not have been present. He says he wanted to find a date that everyone could make, at least in theory.

“I asked folks if they could attend if they could attend a meeting then [on the 21st],” Solis says. “Some said they could, and some said they didn’t think July made sense, because they think we should not be discussing his contract until September. But they didn’t say that they could not attend.”


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Except for That Space-Time Disruption, First Home Rule Meeting Was Meh

Look, we’re all new to this thing. This is the first home rule commission in Texas history. So, when certain members of us saw the rather boring first-meeting agenda and therefore decided to just watch the streaming video (just like with a DISD board meeting), only to realize the commission meeting won’t be live-streamed … let’s just give those unnamed people a pass.

Luckily (for those previously described, unidentified idiots), as you can see from this video, the meeting are being recorded and then later put on YouTube. So I spent time the past day and half watching the meeting so you can have some hot sport takes on what it all means. Bottom line: Not much! But here are the bullets anyhoo:

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DISD Homework: Is Mike Miles Underpaid?

I enjoy myself a good Dilbert cartoon, like the one above. In fact, all the ones that come up under a search for “executive compensation” are pretty funny. (I’m going to start requesting a strong pony if I ever have enough leverage to be in a “salary negotiation” again.) But if we’re going to answer the question, “Is Mike Miles underpaid,” we need a few more market data points than number of stars users rated a particular Dogbert bit.

FWIW: When I’ve asked various interested parties in Dallas if Miles is underpaid, the answers ranged from “technically, of course,” to “he can straight-up go eff himself.” I’m no mathemagician, but I think there’s noise in that data set.

Let’s just look at his contract. Mike Miles makes $306,000 when you factor in his $6k annual gas reimbursement. There are other bonuses there for staying til 2017 (good luck!) and meeting some student achievement goals, but let’s stick to base for now. [...]

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Evil Zillionaire Overlords Back Miles’ Contract Extension BWAHAHAHAHA

In a column in today’s Dallas Morning News, three North Texas business leaders — Dr. Steve Mansfield, CEO of Methodist Health System; Terry Conner, managing partner of Haynes and Boone; and Torrence Robinson, president of the Flour Foundation — called for the DISD board of trustees to extend Mike Miles’ contract.

We’ve told you about this issue before. Now the board will soon discuss Miles’ floated list of contract requests, which include a contract extension beyond this year, more money, and the ability to consult in his free time. (Which he would probably do during his vacation time, unless he’s a Looper and he could just travel back, say, 30 years and blow everyone’s minds with his ideas on whole-child development or measuring college-readiness versus graduation rates, which would of course suggest that unlike in the movie Looper — I’m assuming Loopers are real, because they are — actions taken by time travelers do not change future outcomes — think 12 Monkeys instead of Back to the Future – because otherwise why wouldn’t he just go back, like, to the day before he accepted this job and convince his past self to NO NO NO DON’T TAKE THAT JOB, MIKEY, THEY DON’T REALLY WANT REFORM THEY ARE ALL BANANA-CAKES?)

Readers of this blog/my oligarch leaders probably think I agree with this column. And I do — to a point. I think Miles needs a contract extension for some of the reasons outlines in their column, but does not need one of the perks for which he’s lobbying.

Okay, what are the outlined reasons the Evil Troika of Overlords gives for Miles’ success? They were mostly contained in this graph:

Dallas ISD’s graduation rate has risen to 84.8 percent, one of the nation’s highest for major urban districts. The dropout rate has decreased significantly, and 85 percent of Dallas ISD schools “met standard” in the state’s accountability system — better than Houston, San Antonio and Fort Worth ISDs. Major operational and financial improvements have been made, including a stable $300 million reserve fund balance, completion of the largest fiber-optic network of any school district in the nation and unprecedented improvements in the hiring of quality educators and staff. The Education Research Group, the gold standard for analyzing school district metrics, reports substantial gains in six of seven student achievement areas in Dallas ISD, propelling it to a higher-ranked category.

This is mostly on point. But let’s unpack it a bit:

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Why Does It Cost So Much for a DISD Building to Get Built?

Really interesting post by Julieta Chiquillo at the DMN about a new study from the state’s comptroller office showing that DISD has some of the highest construction costs in the state, compared to other ISDs. My first thought was, well, that’s obvious: big city, old infrastructure, old buildings, more costs. But Chiquillo says the survey controlled for a whole host of factors so that it was comparing apples to apples.

It’s not as though DISD’s costs were way out of whack — they were less than San Antonio’s for example. But we spent way more on average than Houston, which is our nearest comp. I checked with someone I know who runs a construction company that primarily works with ISDs so he could give me some insight. Is Dallas just inefficient, or are their other factors at play here? And in any case, are their lessons to be taken in terms of cost-savings from Houston that can be applied? He said he wasn’t sure, since he’s on the down-channel (buzz term!) end of these projects, but that it doesn’t take much inefficiency (terrazzo tile at $12 a square vs. vinyl at $1.25, for example) to add up fast on projects of this size.

One note: The post says that many ISDs stonewalled the comptroller’s office and took forever to get the requested info submitted in a timely manner. According to the online data tool provided, though, it looks like Dallas ISD was one of the first to respond, about 12 days in. So we’ve got that going for us, which, when paired with a gold star, means we get a gold star.

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DISD Board Offers Something for Everyone, from Number-crunchers to God

I attended a Joyce Foreman spiritual revival last night that was quite enlightening. (It was billed as a DISD board meeting, but that didn’t break out until much later.) But once District 6 folks completed their hourlong touchdown celebration, some important board work took place: naming a new board president, giving teachers a 3 percent raise, 2014-15 budget approval, and issuing a guiding set of principals for the home-rule commission, which will hold its first meeting in mid-July. To the bullet points!

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DISD’s 2013 Looks Even Better When You Examine Financial Performance

In the comments of my last post, local anti-Miles professional Michael MacNaughton tries to catch me in a screw-up. He says the following:

The districts overall ranking in the 2-1 quartile continues a steady improvement as measured by the ERG for the last 5 years. But understand that the ranking is based on the districts combined academic and financial performance. In other words, the district provides a high relative academic performance at the lowest relative cost per student.

My response is below, but I wanted to point out the charts at the top of the page to drive the point home that a) MM is wrong, and what I was discussing was only an academic performance metric, and that b) if you include ERG’s financial and combined academic-financial performance metrics, the district had an impressive jump in all three. (It’s just that the jump in the other two was not as impressive as in the academic performance measure.)

MM, you’re confusing ERG’s District Productivity Index (which takes both academic and financial performance into account) with the District Performance Index, which only considers the academic performance measurements I describe in the post. (ERG also calculates a District Financial Index, separate from academic performance.) Here’s the webpage that shows the top 10 districts in each performance category to help you keep them separate in your head.

I know you’re not just trying to find damaging information about Mr. Miles, MM, and care only about what the data show. Honest mistake on your part.

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