Toyota Didn’t Want Its Kids in Dallas ISD Schools. So What Do We Do About It?

How about we play Moneyball?

Mayor Mike Rawlings blamed Dallas ISD for the city missing out on the car company’s relocation during an interview with KERA yesterday afternoon:

“The big elephant in the room is we don’t get Toyota in Dallas because of the school system,” Rawlings said. “We’ve talked to them and they want to be in Plano. And 7-Eleven left.”

The mayor’s comments came during an hour-long discussion of the pros and cons of the controversial home-rule school proposal on KERA’s “Think” Tuesday afternoon. Rawlings and Dallas ISD school board member Bernadette Nutall discussed home-rule.

Rawlings elaborated to the Morning News later in the day:

“In listening to (Toyota’s) real estate advisors, one of the main criteria is K-12 schools. It was clear that the Plano situation offered a better situation,” he said.

Rawlings said that Dallas has a “strong hand” when it pitches companies to relocate to the city. But it has a “weak card” in Dallas ISD, he said.

“It shouldn’t be a big surprise that one of our barriers to recruiting a large corporation is our neighborhoods and our schools,” he said. “The CEO of 7-Eleven told me this very clearly.”

You’ll remember that 7-11 recently announced it’s fleeing to Irving. So DISD schools don’t have a great reputation, and they aren’t graduating anywhere near the number of college-ready students that they should be. There have been a lot of big ideas to fix the district tossed about: the home-rule charter proposal, splitting the district up into smaller districts, make every school a charter school, hand out vouchers, or trust “Miracle” Mike Miles to heal what ails us.

In the May issue of D Magazine, Eric Celeste writes about a more-focused, data-driven, Moneyball-style approach spearheaded by the organization Commit!. In looking at school performance, Commit noticed that not all schools in neighborhoods with high poverty levels did equally poorly in testing. They set out to determine what’s different about the better-performing schools.

Commit talked to administrators, principals, and teachers directly. They picked the elementary schools within two feeder patterns, South Oak Cliff and Molina high schools, to examine, because they had high poverty and were large enough to provide meaningful answers. (Together, those two feeder patterns have about 8,500 students in 14 elementary schools, or more than 90 percent of school districts in the state.)

The DISD administrators over those feeder patterns welcomed Commit’s help in identifying what differentiated great schools from average ones. (Such magnanimity is uncommon in a corporate culture and should not go unnoticed.) After they surveyed each school, they looked at what good schools had that the others didn’t. One answer stood out: leveled libraries.

If you’ve seen an elementary school library where books are separated by alphabetical labels, chances are it was leveled. Students identified as C-level readers read C books, M-level readers read M books (or N books, but never B books). The system matches comprehension level with an appropriate book. Commit found that none of the schools doing poorly had leveled libraries. They went to the district, which found money to fix the problem.

No, we don’t know yet whether this change will have any significant impact, but it does seem smart to closely examine the attributes of the more successful of DISD’s campuses and to attempt to replicate those models, however small the adjustments might seem.

It’s worked pretty well for Moneyball‘s Oakland A’s—even if they’ve still never won the Series. I think just being a regular playoff contender would be enough to satisfy the Toyotas of the world.


  • Anonymous

    They are fleeing California to get away from Democrat One-Party rule. Why in the world would they go to a city where they would end up with the same Democrat One-Party rule?

    — Phelps

    • AeroRazavi

      Certainly not all one-party rule is that bad, right? If all one-party rule governments are bad, why hasn’t Toyota fled Japan?

  • AeroRazavi

    Certainly DISD has its fair share of problems, but we are quick to overlook the fact that Toyota is leaving one suburb, Torrance, for another, Plano.

    We are also overlooking the fact that the corporate campus is dead. Toyota’s new headquarters will be built on the grave a corporate campus. Plano cannot annex more land. It will literally have to grow up instead of out.

    • Eric Celeste

      Thank you.

  • Anne Vee

    Before trusting Mayor Mike’s agenda-driven comments, will you please ask D Magazine’s pals, Ray Hunt and Jones Lang LaSalle, about the reasons Toyota chose Plano? Ray help lead the “sale” to Toyota and JLL

    I believe the schools were a factor, but I do not believe the primary (or even a top 3) factor given Toyota’s requirements for a campus-style location and access to affordable housing.

  • Math nerd

    I think when analyzing DISD’s shallow level of success at the top, it’s important to note that the academic “upper level” of kids within DISD are siphoned off by private and magnet schools. Not judging, just fact.

    If you were to graph the levels of achievement of all kids within the district (who attend all schools), it would fall within the general form of a bell curve. When you remove a large number of the students whose (intelligence, parental support, great early teachers, whatever) would place them in the “successful half” of the bell curve, the remaining population’s bell curve would be distorted. Which is what you have with the current DISD. It makes their curve appear bottom heavy, when in fact they are dealing with a population that has been altered.

    Further, when you compare the distorted bell curve of DISD to a district like Plano’s, where private schools draw fewer students (and there are fewer magnets to offer to the student population), then it really looks bad.

  • Alexander

    I don’t believe Rawlings about Toyota (7-11 maybe, but not Toyota). Toyota was never going to relocate to an office tower. Where would a suburban campus even go in the city? Far Northeast Dallas? (that’s Richardson schools anyway) The “inland port” that’s a million miles from the airport? Come on. They wanted a sprawling campus and they went and got one. Dallas wasn’t Plano’s competition it was likely Round Rock or The Woodlands. I’m glad Plano got it, I bet at least some of those 4,000 employees will live in Dallas.

  • Eric Celeste

    I haven’t talked to Ray in hours, but I think you’re on the money-ish.

  • Eric Celeste

    Yes yes yes.

  • GHB

    I don’t believe 7-Eleven left Dallas primarily b/c of DISD. How about their sweetheart real estate deal at One Arts Plaza that was set to expire? Also, they are notoriously cheap.

  • James the P3

    I’m not calling the mayor a liar, but he’s lying.

    Toyota wanted a suburban campus, just like they have now in California. DISD almost certainly played little-to-no role in their decision. Had they moved to Downtown Dallas, it’s not as though the upper management’s kids would be going to Kimball or SOC–they’d be going to Highland Park or Woodrow or TAG/S&E/Arts Magnets or St. Mark’s or Jesuit. The performance of Kimball would have absolutely no effect on their evaluation, and Rawlings’ statement to the contrary is strictly an attempt to deflect blame.

    As to 7-11, they’ve never liked their new building, and they don’t really like Downtown. All of their employees live north of Downtown, and many of them need to regularly go to the airport for business travel. And for her part, Lucy Billingsley doesn’t really like having 7-11 in One Arts. They eat up a lot of floor space and pay an effective rate of $12/sqft. She can move 7-11 into another one of her developments outside of Downtown (but still in Dallas) and release the space they’re vacating in One Arts for $35/sqft. Sounds like a win-win for all involved (including the City of Dallas), so I don’t know why Rawlings would be griping about it.

    Here’s the real question–why does the mayor and the city staff (i.e., Theresa O’Donnell) think it’s appropriate publicly to demean and slander the city’s public school system?

  • GHB

    Here’s another question. Maybe a rhetorical one. Is it any wonder that so many Dallasites do not trust City Hall, our mayors or certain Dallas media? All the recent “Big Ideas” – 1998/2006 bonds, Tollway referendum, the Omni and now SOPS – are sold to us, at best, under confusing pretenses. At worst, they are outright lies. Why can’t our leaders sell things at face value?

  • Paul

    The new CEO of American didn’t move to Southlake. I bet that a lot of Toyota’s HQ personnel will be found not in Plano, but near the best private schools which are all in North Dallas.

  • mr_lakewood

    Mayor Rawlings praised some schools in an April 23rd Dallas Morning News column:
    “…great schools like Woodrow Wilson High School, Thomas C. Marsh Middle School, and Lakewood and Rosemont elementary schools keep getting better every year’

  • kk.

    7-11 moved to Irving because Irving ISD is awesome?

    • jasonheid

      Their new office space will actually sit within Coppell ISD boundaries.

  • Anonymous

    Why doesn’t Rawlings run for the DISD school board then? He’s wanted to make these big changes to DISD–even ran on it. But he could make a larger impact from within the board than he could as mayor. Running as mayor and talking about DISD as if he runs it indicates he’s using both schoolchildren and the city as pulpit for higher office.