The Dallas School Board has set in motion the machinery for selecting a superintendent to replace Nolan Estes. If school officials have their way, that machinery will grind quietly along until the proper selection is made – and announced. There will be little fanfare. And with luck, no serious questions will be raised.

It’s the Dallas way. Our public school system is a mess. So the best thing to do is not to talk about it.


Our public school system is a mess because we have given in to a philosophy of education that doesn’t work. We have abdicated responsibility to the bureaucrats – with their bright and hopeful talk of innovation and excitement in the classroom, with their flip-charts and socio-grams. Only recently have we realized that the graphs on the flip-charts reflect only downward trends.

Item: The New Republic reports that since 1963 the national average on the verbal Scholastic Aptitude Test has dropped 29 points, while the math average has dropped 32 points.

Item: In March, the National Association of Secondary School Principals somewhat sheepishly released a report showing that 32 schools where students had continued to excel on SAT scores “relied on tough academic standards and showed an unwillingness to subscribe to educational fads …”

What about the Dallas schools?

We don’t know. The DISD has never bothered to gather, record, or correlate SAT scores from its high schools. Like a good bureaucracy, the DISD has an aversion to any measurement of performance. All I can report is that no Dallas school ranked among the 32 whose students consistently excelled.

Nolan Estes, our superintendent, is known as one of the nation’s leaders in innovative educational techiques.

But since Estes became superintendent in 1968, total DISD enrollment has dropped from 159,527 to a 1977 figure of 136,547. and during the same period, as the student population has decreased, the total DISD budget has risen from $76,420,000 to a total in 1977-1978 of $266,208,000.

Some of these funds are federal, some are state, some are local. Whatever the source, however, they come from taxes, and citizens ought to know how tripling the cost of handling fewer students has improved the education of students in the DISD. So far, Nolan Estes hasn’t delivered a convincing answer. I suspect when the answer finally does come, it won’t come from Estes – and it won’t be pleasant.

Because a citizen’s allegiance should be to the city’s school children, and not to a self-protective bureaucracy, we need a public debate on the choice of Nolan Estes’ successor: A vigorous, tough-minded, and exhaustively critical debate.

So far there has been none. And so far the school board seems only to drift with the bureaucracy.

It hired a selection committee whose job it was to hire another selection committee, whose job it will be to select the candidates for superintendent. As we go to press, the final committee has been chosen “pending acceptance by each of the invitees.”

The nominees include three professors of education, a former public school superintendent who is now a consultant in Washington, a former public school administrator who is now a university administrator, and an attorney who has served as president of the Austin School Board. One of the professors of education happens to be Larry Haskew. Nolan Estes happens to be taking over Haskew’s job at the University of Texas when he leaves the DISD. Ten years ago, Haskew was among the group who pushed for the appointment of- who else? – Nolan Estes as the new superintendent for Dallas.

The committee’s coziness is symptomatic of the educational crisis in America today.

Education has become an industry, and since the early Sixties it has out-performed the Fortune 500. Not in earnings, of course. Earnings are results, and this industry shies away from any measurement of results (for good reason). But in growth of total expenditures, the education industry has no equal. And the massive outpouring of public money into education has created a new managerial class. Their business is education, but that doesn’t make them educators. For lack of a better word, call them educationalists.

Each of the people on the selection committee, with the exception of the Austin attorney, has made his living as a member of the new managerial class. There is not one serious scholar among them: no one whose life or professional work has been associated with the traditional scholarly disciplines. We have delivered the future of the Dallas public schools into the hands of a group of professional educationalists. These are the people whose theories and experiments have helped create the crises we are trying to get out of.

As individuals. I am sure they are professional in training and outlook. I am sure they will want to approach their task as objectively as they can. The bad news is. no matter how intellectually honest they believe themselves to be, objectivity will escape them. Because to select and recruit the kind of superintendent Dallas needs today, this group will have to discard the cliches of educational experimentation that have been the dogma of the industry that spawned them.

If we want the Dallas schools to survive as anything more than a public babysitting service, we need a superintendent with the vision to undertake a program of radical reform – to take education back to its roots. “Back to basics” is more than a slogan to be trotted out by Nolan Estes when he senses that the natives are getting restless. We need a selection committee which has the scholarly credentials to look beyond education as business.

Most of all, we need a school board with the intelligence – and the guts – to stop the drift, to change course, and set our schools in a new direction.

How likely is that? Judging by past performance, not very.

We are pleased to announce thatD Magazine was recently selected as a finalist in ColumbiaUniversity’s National Magazine Awards.The nomination resulted from our publication of “A Case of Rape,” by senioreditor Jim Atkinson, in October 1977.The National Magazine Award is by farthe most prestigious in the field of magazine journalism, and we’re proud to beamong the handful of city and regionalpublications ever to be nominated. Wetake the honor as a sign of encouragement by our national colleagues to continue producing the highest quality magazine we can.


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