There are many great things about this home rule discussion the city is having, and several of them were on display Saturday at the first public hearing held by the Home Rule Commission. (Recall, I couldn’t make the second meeting because of a funeral, and the audio is not yet up online. I heard it was very similar to the first meeting, even to the point that some of the public speakers were the same, even though HRC chief Bob Weiss asked people not to make multiple appearances. File under: smdh.)
Here are few of the highlights:
• I was very glad that most of the speakers talked about how glad they were that home rule had forced the city into a deep conversation about outcomes for kids, about education reform, about long-range policy for large urban districts. I agree. (Well, it has forced many of us into that discussion. Not everyone. Did you see any news media coverage of the day’s home rule discussions? Perhaps I just missed them.)
• One of the interesting takeaways for me was the support of Mike Miles from almost every speaker except those who are part of the same old crowd of naysayers. There were people who were staunchly against the idea of a home rule charter who said that we should “double down” on Mike Miles and his reform efforts (to borrow one phrase I particularly liked). There were people clearly in favor of the chance afforded the city by home rule, people who advocated specific home rule charter suggestions, who said that Mike Miles needs this sort of governance change to be effective. Then there were folks we all know (anti-reform advocates, #TalkDISD mainstays, Juanita Wallace from the NAACP) who said that the administration was the problem, not our governance model. Not drawing any massive conclusions from this — I suspect there will be more anti-Miles sentiment expressed as the discussions moves to poorer districts — but I found it noteworthy nonetheless.
• A local director for Leadership for Educational Equity brought up an idea I find fascinating: Equity Impact Assessments. It’s similar to the idea of an environmental impact assessment for a development. In other words, every decision made by a school district — at the trustee level, at the administration level, at the feeder level, at the campus level — would be analyzed in terms of its effect on the district’s goal to provide an equitable education. (Given the disparity of student outcomes for rich versus poor kids, this would assuredly equate to the district’s central mission: to increase student outcomes for all.) The school system in Minneapolis is doing this right now. See the video at the top of this page for a great backgrounder on the program. And here’s a detailed look at what such equity assessments can do, and why they’re necessary on all levels of government. I think the assessment they are using in Minneapolis is a little too high-level, touchy-feel for my taste, and I wonder if it can be combined with the advanced educational opportunity mapping being done by the Kirwan Institute in places like Austin to come up with a more rigorous assessment procedure. (I’ll follow up on this.) But, man, that’s a great idea for discussion. I’m sure anyone interested in racial and educational equity would agree.
• WRONG! Local NAACP president Juanita Wallace, a recent failed school board candidate herself, implored the HRC to not write a charter, then name-checked the Constitution, the Civil Rights Act, oppression of the state, and so forth. Instead, she said we should “put our resources into making DISD better.” Okay, then. Sounds like a strategy with a vice-lock grip on the details.
• Several former teachers spoke. You should know I don’t think teaching gives anyone more insight in how to a run school system than reporting gives a journalist insight in how to run a newspaper. Perhaps I’m biased, because most journalists’ ideas for re-imagining our profession are the equivalent of using cat-poster sayings as governing principles. That said: The suggestions from most of the teaches and former teachers were quite solid. The subjects they addressed ranged from board accountability (releasing trustee scorecards every two years) to increasing voter turnout (moving elections to November, as we’ve discussed) to adding one or two at-large board members to the idea of splitting the superintendent’s position into two jobs (once CEO who handles administrative oversight, one who is an educator/innovator who helps board and district set and execute long-range reform planning). I was especially intrigued by this last idea. Worth researching.
• One former DISD teacher said she left the district because of its bureaucracy, but noted that she has seen improvements under Miles. She said that’s one reason her granddaughter is currently in a DISD montessori program. But she warned against a home rule charter, saying it would not improve outcomes. I disagree with her argument, but it’s a reasonable one. She’s effectively saying, “Miles needs more time, and home rule won’t help his reform efforts.” This is I’m sure Miles’ own position. (Contrast this with the mental contortion that many anti-Miles types must undergo: “Miles has broken the district, but we don’t need home rule reform — or any reform, really — to fix it.”) Of course, there is another possibility, which is no carpenter would go into a renovation project with only one tool. It’s wise to find all the good tools we can to improve student outcomes. But I digress.
• Perhaps some of you recognize the name David Lee from his comments on this blog. David is a local AFT executive, but even though he and I disagree on a lot — home rule, the role of trustees, whether or not he made a huge mistake deciding to back Aston Villa instead of a wonderful team like Tottenham — he’s someone to take seriously. He’s a parent, he’s informed, and he is obviously smart enough to ignore the indefensible anti-Miles sentiments and concentrate on arguing legitimate policy differences. He pointed out that those of us who advocate for governance change (spoiler alert: ME!) are simply put off by the messiness of democracy. “Have you seen Congress?” he asked. “Have you seen the city council? I understand that people don’t like debate, or how it looks.” I’m glad he said this, because it gets to the difference between a school board and a city council. It gets to the heart of why I can be aligned with anti-Miles forces in so many other political arenas — kill the Trinity River toll road, anyone? — but why I differ with them in terms of what is needed to improve outcomes for kids in DISD. It’s also at the heart of why school reform brings together such strange bedfellows, as I mentioned earlier. I’ll get that post up this week.