Is Dallas ISD a Better School District Than Highland Park ISD?

How are your feathers? Do you like them ruffled?

For a while now, I’ve been following a local Twitter account called I’m not smart enough to get the reference, but the bio reads: “Cities, Data, Mapping, Urbanism, Transit. And fashion!!!!!!” Pretty much describes me.

Anyway, the guy behind the account revealed himself to me today when he linked to something he’d written on Medium. I invite you to read this essay by Robert Mundinger, the title of which I stole for this post: “Is DISD a Better School District Than Highland Park?” You think that’s a ludicrous question? As Mundinger (God, I hope he’s married to a woman named Mandy) points out:

“Most people see a good ‘school’ as a school with a bunch of high achieving kids. But this is a bit like judging the quality of the food in a restaurant based on who’s eating it.”

Take a few minutes to read the whole thing — especially if you happen to work at Amazon.


  • Paul

    What the article fails to note is that the few affluent white students in the DISD are jammed into two or three elementary schools and a few high schools that are far superior to the rest of DISD. Even those have significant issues. I lived around the corner from Dealey and they couldn’t even keep the grass mowed. Yeah, I’m pretty sure that HPISD is better.

    • Rob Shearer

      Far superior by what measure? The district has done a great job in recent years identifying the most effective teachers (who were disproportionately found at magnet schools and neighborhood schools with lower poverty rates) and offering them bonuses to move to the schools that need them the most. And you know what? Those ‘far superior’ schools you reference had roughly the same student achievement. Which just reinforces the articles point – when kids come in with an inherent advantage, the output required to optimize test scores for those kids is far less than at other schools in the district. Measuring growth of a group of students over a period of time controls for the impact of poverty and produces data that challenges the assumptions we make about school quality.

    • topham

      Mr. Mundinger was up front that an apples-to-apples comparison is only available for a narrow slice of the DISD population. For that slice, it’s useful to know whether it’s “better” to live in, say, Lakewood and send your kids to Woodrow or buy into 75205/75225, and send your kids to HPHS. Statistics suggest HPISD won’t do any better job with those particular kids than DISD, which certainly is not the message HPISD tries to perpetuate.

  • Robert Mundinger

    No woman will have me, but would happily welcome a set up with any and all available Mandys to make that happen

    • A Molly would also be acceptable.

      • Robert Mundinger

        May have to realistically stick with anything that ends in y (or begins with m), whichever there are more of

  • Mavdog

    A very interesting approach to comparing these schools, a bit of an “apples to apples” perspective that does result in DISD faring much better than the general impression has been.

    Thanks to Mr. Mundinger, as well as to others who have provided the public with clearer information on our public schools. The more analysis such as this we have the better the public, and the schools, will be able to understand what works in fulfilling their educational mission.

  • dallasboiler

    I like the analytical approach. It would be interesting to see what percentage of the subset of DISD used for this analysis are in accelerated or honors classes vs. those at HPISD. If you put kids interested in learning with a good teacher, there are going to be good learning outcomes no matter what school system you live in. DISD has the national accolades to prove that its magnet and accelerated programs and as good as they come.
    But, what about the kids of more average academic capability … lets say a comparison of ‘B’/’C’ students at Woodrow vs. HPHS who are not on lunch programs … how do their STAAR scores compare? How do their ACT/SAT scores compare?
    I know a lot of HPISD parents that would choose DISD in a heartbeat if they knew that their kids would qualify for a magnet school or be in enriched/honors classes surrounded by other kids to are eager/driven to learn.
    I went to a school system with a ~50/50 mix of affluent and lower income families. I took a mix of honors and regular classes. In the honors classes I actually learned the subject matter being taught because 100% of our time was dedicated to it. In the regular classes, I just had to tread water as the teacher tried to keep the peace among the students in class, administer discipline, stop petty crime, etc. … we were lucky to get through 30% of the material that we were supposed to .

    • Los_Politico

      STAAR tracks what’s called “master grade level”, kids who are more than just proficient in a subject, but on track to be college ready.

      51% of white HP students are at master level for all subjects, at Woodrow it’s 52%

      The white HP 4-year graduation rate is 96.8%, at Woodrow it’s 97.5%.

      The dual credit rate at HP is 90.6%, at Woodrow it’s 88.4%, though more Woodrow underclassman receive dual credit.

      There are all sorts of data points you can go back and forth on. HP and Woodrow are very close; TAG, Booker T, and SEM blow HP out of the water. If you wanted to spend $1.7M on a house, you should spend it on Lakewood Blvd.

      There are almost as many white kids enrolled in Kindergarten in east Dallas as HP, so maybe parents have figured this out without even knowing it.

      • dallasboiler

        Great stats. I’m not familiar with the details of STAAR and “master grade level”, but I would guess that it’s mainly comprised of 3.0-4.0 GPA students in the regular, enriched, and honors programs. The data probably is not easily accessible, but it would be enlightening to see how kids who are not in honors programs with 2.0-3.5 GPAs compare in terms of STAAR and SAT/ACT results.
        It’d be great to see that both equally prepare a ~2.5 GPA kid to succeed in a 4-year college program. Agree with you 100% that DISD magnets blow away any other program in HPISD and suburbs (and likely private schools too).

        • Los_Politico

          My understanding is that master grade level is based off of how a student tests on STAAR– those are the highest testing students. I don’t think data is available that’s as nuanced as you’re looking for. I know Commit has college graduation data, but what they make available doesn’t break down by race, so you can’t compare apples to apples.

          Seems like your hunch is that if you have a below average kid, you think HP does a better job (or private), but that if you have an above average kid DISD is the way to go. That’s always been my impression. People are paying because they’re worried what will happen to junior in a “regular” math class in a DISD school. But they would never admit to that, of course.

  • Diane George

    @jane. This is so very true. We also had a year in HPISD and hated every moment of it. Happily graduating from PISD in June!