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:
First, let’s all acknowledge that trumpeting graduation rates is a dicey game, because they are somewhat meaningless. Why? Because it’s the most easily manipulated metric in education. Quick example: The biggest jump in graduation rate in DISD between 2007-2012 was from 2010-2011, when it jumped 4.4 percent. This is the year the state added another year of math and science to the “recommended requirement” degree program. This change increased the number of DISD kids graduating with the “minimum requirement” from 798 to 1152. An increase of … 4.4 percent.
Also: schools are funded by attendance, so it is in their best interest to count as many kids that quit school as “leavers” instead of “dropouts.” It’s something like saying people who stop looking for work are no longer unemployed. A leaver doesn’t count against the graduation rate, but a dropout does. (This has been covered by Frontline and CBS News; it’s a nationwide problem. Frontline also shows how private schools help artificially lower dropout numbers.)
Fun sub-point! If you want to see the folly of just using graduation data to do your superintendent evaluations, look no farther than everyone’s favorite “First!” commenter on all posts DISD, Bill Betzen. He’s been beating a NEVER-ENDING drum for years that the 2008-2012 DISD graduation rates showed how amazing DISD was BEFORE Miles got here. Now that Miles’ hit an astounding 84 percent? He writes that graduation rates are bunk (scroll down)! Too easily manipulated!
What is less easy to manipulate? Financial solvency (spearheaded by CFO Jim Terry, a guy I’ve been told “is worth tens of millions to DISD”), which you have to give the Super some credit for as well for choosing him. Also, achievement numbers that are less easy to manipulate and that normalize for poverty — i.e., the ERG data they mention (and which we first told you about).
So, yes, Miles has some legitimate wins. The column acknowledges but glosses over his losses, but they shouldn’t, because those losses were significant. No, I’m not talking about b.s. audits. I’m talking about stubborn intractability in the face of scrutiny that — deserved or not — you’ve got to expect when you’re in this sort of high-profile job. Heck, that’s WHY you’re paid as much as you are.
But from everyone I’ve talked to, Miles has really worked on his arrogance problem. More important, he’s surrounded himself with people who aren’t kiss-asses, who will tell him when he needs to stand firm, when he needs to fall on his sword.
Because — and this is the crucial point to me — he’s trying to reform a hugely complex beast, in every way. DISD is trying to teach kids this city neglects, fire bad teachers, keep good teachers, meet ever-changing state-mandated benchmarks, establish its own benchmarks, implement radical systems for teacher pay, on and and on and on — all under intense public scrutiny, all with a political backdrop that makes City Hall look like a dinner party. And when you’re trying to do that, and you don’t have the support of the very board that hired you to do just that, then you’re a dead man walking. He knows it. We all know it. That’s why the average DISD superintendent tenure in the past two decades is 2.3 years.
That’s ultimately why he needs a show of support going into this school year. You can bitch and moan and holler that he should wait two more months, and to that I say, why? The board knows what it’s going to do. They know that, relative to the other superintendents in the top 15 districts of the state, Miles is arguably underpaid. (The’ve been shown the data.) And they know that he has leverage, because the city wants to see you give a reformer the chance for said reforms to take root.
NOW. That one small problem I have.
It’s the consulting part.
I think Miles is getting greedy there. (I’m not the only one — even some board members who support him think so, too.)
When I first heard that request, I thought, well, Miles is just asking for the moon, they’ll negotiate, and he’ll get 80 percent of what he wants. That’s fine.
But I spent almost four hours with a DISD teacher this week. This teacher is the smartest person I’ve ever talked to in DISD — way smarter than I am, way smarter then most board members, way smarter than most people who make it their job to comment on these matters. This teacher is not a fan of the monied interests who back Miles, nor does this teacher have kinds things to say about the Miles-must-go crowd. This teacher is in favor of TEI but sees huge implementation problems ahead. This teacher is for getting rid of horrible teachers but says great ones are indeed leaving too often. Finally, this person does not in theory begrudge Mike Miles a contract extension and a pay raise.
But this teacher was FURIOUS when it was leaked that Miles wants to consult on the side.
See, this is the sort of thing you (or I) don’t understand until you talk to rational teachers who are in the middle of it. The ones who are smart and committed and free-thinking. They get how tough Miles’ job is, they understand there will be pain as DISD tries to right itself. But to those people, seemingly small things like this one little perk –“Hey, in my free time, I’d like to make some extra cash” — carry great significance.
Because this teacher detailed for me how much work is REQUIRED of DISD teachers in their free time. This teacher broke down the weekly in-class and admin-requested requirements of teachers for me, showing me how laughable it is that any teacher could possibly get his work done during planning periods. Related: Another teacher reached out to me this week and broke down how she spends $1000 a year on supplies just so the kids will have the minimum tools to meet their goals. That number has since been confirmed to me by multiple teachers at all grade levels of DISD.
So the idea that Miles has TIME to do something besides work on DISD, when none of his employees do? So that he can earn EXTRA money, when they’re using salary to buy supplies for students? That is seen as a blow to the troops.
Miles needs the extension, not because of graduation rates but because of meaningful data and reform efforts. It needs to stop being a distraction for the board and the district. He deserves more money, both in terms of market value and performance (although there’s nothing wrong with tying some of that money to meeting certain goals). But Miles should drop the consulting request. Then I’m hopeful the board will move quickly, limit the political grandstanding, and we can get on with the serious business at hand — turning the district over to the oligarchy, as was my plan all along.