THE BUREAUCRAT: The Kingdom and the Power

AFTER YEARS OF INCREASING expenditures and decreasing test scores, there is ample evidence that Dallas teachers, parents, School Superintendent Linus Wright, and even some trustees of the school board have had enough of the liberal concepts of “educational experimentation.”

Their common cry is “back to basics” and, as often as not, their common target is a division they see as emblematic of the problems in the Dallas Independent School District system.

The Accountability and Development Division, presided over by 39-year-old William Webster, an associate superintendent, is a huge (382 employees), expensive ($9.3 million 1981 budget) bureaucracy which some say is totally out of touch with classroom realities. Critics say Webster’s division spews out stacks of reports, yards high, that almost no one in the school system either reads or understands. “They are a thousand monkeys with a thousand typewriters,” says Bob Baker, a former social studies teacher at Justin F. Kimball High School and now president of the Classroom Teachers of Dallas.

The story of this burgeoning bureaucracy began nine years ago when Webster came to the school district and organized its first research program. He became Director of System-wide Evaluation, with a mandate: Determine how badly children were learning to read, write, and do arithmetic.

He began to amass power the next year when then-Superintendent Nolan Estes put him in charge of all research and evaluation projects for the district. With Estes’ support and protection, Webster was to help find solutions to the riddle of why kids couldn’t learn. He added some 85 people to his staff, including 21 Ph.D.’s.

He took on more responsibilities three years later. Placed in charge of planning and data processing, he added still another 200 people to his staff. He had then-and has today-one of the largest research groups among major city school systems in the U.S.

With this army of researchers, Webster probed, jabbed, dissected, and diagramed the psyches of the district’s students.

He and his staff were to be heros; they were to find the breakthroughs in learning.

Now nine years and not a single major solution later, everyone from schoolteachers to Superintendent Linus Wright is saying that Webster, his staff, and their cockamamie notions are a principal part of the problems of the DISD. And they want his empire reined in, if not completely dismantled.

Webster’s curriculum section, they say, formulates course work giving teachers little or no chance for input, and then pushes the curriculum into the schools where the teachers reject it out of hand. His curriculum input has not appreciably altered the district’s low test scores.

His federal programs section continues to apply for and obtain grants for more experimental research programs, even though there isn’t enough time in the school day to use all the tricks teachers already have in their educational bags.

“There’s a whole lot of chicanery in research that doesn’t reflect what is going on in the classroom,” says school trustee Jerry Bartos. “I think that department is using blue smoke in mirrors.”

“When you have creative and capable people and you allow them to develop their own direction,” Supt. Wright says, taking a swipe at Webster and Estes, “imbalance is the inevitable result.”

Bill Webster says he and his division are misunderstood.

“I never was in a position to win a popularity contest,” he said, sitting on the floor in front of his living room sofa, a serious expression fixed under his bushy moustache. “I just report data.”

Webster says he and his division have a black eye mostly because of the system-wide testing program which he helped develop and which, to the district’s credit, is one of the most accurate in the country.

What local critics don’t realize, he says, is that he has one of the finest stables of researchers in the country working to provide the most comprehensive data available to any school system.

What the critics also don’t realize, Webster adds, is that he has made some changes. In the past, teachers weren’t included in the development of curriculum, but Webster says he has changed that. And now the curriculum department is pioneering programs to use computers and theater-like scripts for teaching kids.

The federal programs department still is highly successful in helping other divisions get federal and state aid. and already has $22 million in government money lined up for the coming school year.

It was Bill Webster’s fortune to be looking for a career just when the federal government was beginning to spend millions on education and needed people in the local school districts to monitor the spending.

“There was a great push at the time from the federal government for evaluators and there wasn’t anyone to do it,” Webster says. “That was at the beginning of all the federal programs for education in the late Sixties.” Bill Webster, after graduating from the Michigan State research program with a Ph.D. in 1969, wanted to do it. And he found he was a natural. Last year he became Associate Superintendent for Accountability and Administration, succeeding Rogers Barton, who retired.

Ironically, Webster is a bit hesitant about being a top administrator. He says he would rather be back poring over numbers, but important research requires a director who understands what is involved.

“One of the things that has been a problem elsewhere in research and evaluation projects is that the people who have run them have not had research and evaluation background,” he says.

Webster’s research background, his credentials, and those of his colleagues are about the only thing in his division that haven’t come under fire. Even his staunchest critics acknowledge his department’s work is scholarly and professional.

“This research and evaluation team is not in the pocket of the instructional people as they are in most districts.” says one ranking administrator. “In most districts, research and evaluation is a one- or two-man team actively working to report data in the most favorable way to the school system.”

But credentials have come to mean less and less as Webster and his team are continually unable to help produce significantly better results in the classroom.

Teachers and administrators say Webster’s division has too many people doing too many things, including needless busy work. The division, with its 382 people for 142.000 students, is one of the ten largest in the nation. By contrast, the Baltimore school system will employ 159 people to do a similar job for 165,000 students. and San Diego will use 143 people for 112,000 students.

There are five departments in Webster’s Accountability and Development Division. In the Research and Evaluation department alone, there are six sections employing 125 people. The sections are:

-Applied Research, which experiments with curriculum in two schools.

-System-wide Testing, which takes three standardized tests to the schools, helps administer them, and studies everything from the test content and how it relates to the curriculum to the error rate of the test-grading machines.

-System-wide Evaluation, which analyzes standardized test results and studies attendance and enrollment trends.

-Test Development and Management Research, which makes up tests and figures out what the teachers ought to teach and how they should teach it.

-Accountability and Program Evaluation, which evaluates different programs in the schools.

-Federal Program Evaluation, which evaluates the district’s 90-odd federal and state programs.

In another of the division’s five departments, 54 people work in the Curriculum Development Department, drawing up textbook material for courses where there either are no textbooks or they feel the textbooks are inadequate. Curriculum specialists are currently working on a special course for eleventh grade students who haven’t yet passed the district’s literacy test, courses for the new communications magnet school, and a sex education course. They are also working on computer programs for micro-computers which teach children.

Webster says he took over curriculum development just two years ago: “The reason it is in the Research and Development Division, and not under the other divisions, is that we felt we needed to get data more intimately involved.”

Webster says that curriculum writers hadn’t involved his department at all until four years ago. So they were short on information about what had been successful in other school districts and what could be. “We got some programs that had no chance of working.” Webster says. “There was no consistency.”

Another 28 people work in the Multi-Cultural Education Department developing curricula for minority studies.

Still another 39 people work in a department which fills out hundreds of pages of application forms for federal and state programs and makes sure the forms get to the right government officials.

Approximately 60 federal and state aid programs have already been approved for the coming school year, and officials are waiting to hear about 30 more.

Finally, the computer department employs 131 people who keep track of student grades, score the system-wide tests, teach students how to use the computer, and take care of the district’s business operations.

“They’ve just got too many people doing too many things that aren’t worthwhile.” says Graham Clarke, a fifth and sixth grade teacher at Obadiah Knight Elementary School.

The problem is more than just too many people, though. Baker says. So much of what research and evaluation does, like making reports, has no relevance to the classroom.

He lifted a stack of reports off the shelf of the association’s storeroom and started pawing through them, looking for one he thought a teacher might have found useful.

He tossed a report entitled “Initial Implementation and Technical Description of the Basic Objectives Assessment Tests” to the floor, then a report entitled “An Analysis of Test Administrative Procedures During System-wide Group Testing, 1978-79.” Similar reports followed those to the floor until the entire one-foot high stack lay rejected around his feet like discarded sections of a newspaper.

“I taught in secondary school,” Baker says, “and there was little 1 saw over the years that was relevant, that helped me as a teacher. It might be of interest to other research groups, but as far as we are concerned we can see no practical application.”

Superintendent Wright has a similar reaction. During an interview in his office he picked up the list of 144 different planned reports to be written and issued during the coming school year, scanned through it and shrugged:

“This is what I mean when I say there is a problem. There are things on the list we can get along without.

“One of the concerns I had when I looked at the division was the reports the Research and Evaluation Department did.” Wright said. “I found there was little or no use of them being made by the people they were being produced for.

“The reports I get.” he continues, “are voluminous and. since 1 get them at one time, they are almost unmanageable.”

And judging from what Napoleon Mitchell, a senior evaluator in the Research and Evaluation Department, says, Wright and many others in the district don’t even see all the reports.

For the federal reading program he evaluated last year. Mitchell says that in addition to the one final published report which everyone saw, he actually did 25 other interim and informal reports and one formal report that no one asked him to do.

“If we had left out the extra report,” Mitchell says, “they probably wouldn’t have said anything, but it makes our work complete and we try not to have any loose ends.”

Clarke says, “The teachers see Research and Evaluation as wasted money. Here they are busting their butts and taking money from their pockets to buy paper, and here are Bill Webster’s people spending millions for some guy to come around with a clipboard (to do research for a report) and to do something that the teachers see no purpose in.”

“A lot of the same research,” Clarke says, “can be done just as well by a university.”

A member of Webster’s data processing staff, who asked not to be identified, admits, “There is probably some overkill in the area of evaluation, but unfortunately the problem is that federal programs, by which we get quite a bit of money, require testing.”

Still, like Wright and Baker, the data processor says, “You could cut the Research and Evaluation budget in half and the effectiveness of the school system wouldn’t be affected.”

The data processor zeros in on Research and Evaluation’s testing program as another problem. “Some teachers don’t believe in standardized tests and I happen to agree with them,” says the data processor. “There is only one benefit to the standardized tests and that is it makes money for the testing company

June Boswell, a teacher at Acadia Park Elementary, speaks for many of her peers when she says, “The problem with Research and Evaluation is they have devised way too many tests that are required, more or less, even though they say they are optional.

“A teacher has got to use judgment as to whether a test is good, whether it fits her class, or whether it fits some children and not others,” Miss Boswell says.

“The point is,” she goes on, “there is just way too much testing required. In the third grade I had to give a BOAT test and the Iowa Achievement Test and then I had a whole booklet of handwriting, a printed booklet for reading, a printed math booklet, and a printed social studies booklet.

“In math,” Miss Boswell says, “we have 36 weeks of school and 39 tests in that math booklet. You need more than one week to introduce a skill and reinforce it and drill it. The problem is the research department is grinding out too many tests.

“I think the overkill in testing has soured the teachers on Research and Development,” Miss Boswell says. “If a child has been saturated he just puts his head down or tells me he has a stomachache or plays games because he is tired and he is just not going to take the test. I saw that. That is when it started griping me.”

Teachers also complain about many of the federal programs. Baker says, “Under the Estes regime, we bought everything that was packaged. We had so many special programs that in some schools they basically took all the time for the instructional program.”

The experimental programs have been cut back in the past year, but Wright says they ought to be cut out completely.

“We get 20 to 25 programs a year whose purpose is to prove or disprove an educational theory. And, in practice, it’s good to have research except that it involves students’ and teachers’ time and distracts from what the regular program is doing.

“I feel we need to call a halt to pilot programs in the future.” Wright says, “and not give the schools an excuse not to teach. It’s programs like this that use up instructional time and contribute to underachieving.”

Still another area of complaint is curriculum. Miss Boswell says the curriculum that reaches her classroom gets short shrift.

“The problem is we have a jam-packed curriculum already. They come along and throw their things on my desk. So you are trying desperately to keep up with the regular work which is more than you can do. and here come these extra units.”

Wright says that ’ ’curriculum is sometimes developed separate and apart from the people, teachers, who use it. They haven’t put in any input, and we find that it is not accepted in the classroom. It’s somebody else’s program. There is no pride of ownership.

’ ’Teachers are still the most competent curriculum specialists,” Wright says. “They should be used in the process.”

Then there is just plain nonspecific visceral teacher distrust of Webster and his people. “They are trying to take all the creativeness and imagination out of teaching.” Miss Boswell says. “We are not able to more or less do our own thing anymore. They are afraid to allow it.”

Clarke says, “Those people that work in research don’t have any teaching experience. I don’t know where they are coming from.”

Where they are coming from, ranking administrators say, is from a different, conflicting philosophy on how to teach kids- behaviorist vs. humanist.

Webster’s department is the behaviorist camp: They believe that teaching can be reduced to a codified, almost computerized, system. All a teacher has to do is read from a script, like a play. The child answers back at the appropriate places.

From the behaviorist’s point of view, the script can be so refined that the teacher need not even be a person. A computer, like the one the curriculum department has and continues to develop, can substitute for and at times be better than the teacher. The computer can be programmed to talk to the child, flash lessons on a video screen, and let the child answer back by using a typewriter keyboard.

Humanists are on the other side. The humanist view is the view of the classroom teacher. What counts here is personal contact with the kids, encouraging them, cajoling them, complimenting them when they have success. In short, kids learn because of what goes on between the child and the teacher.

“Many of the programs Webster’s people are promoting are purely behavioristic.” says Al Granowsky. director of reading. “They have a scientific approach to instruction. That’s the philosophy they are into.

“It’s fair to say that one of the issues here is to get Research and Evaluation and the teaching people in balance so that one doesn’t own the other. Research and Evaluation says you can’t do it unless you figure out whether we are right, and they still haven’t decided on a lot of things. Well, do you wait for them to decide? Can’t you do some teaching in the meantime?” Granowsky asks.

Webster has heard most of the criticism before. Yet he is still sanguine as he rests his lizard cowboy boots on a chair in his office and defends himself.

“If you test it, they teach it,” Webster says. “How else are you going to know what is going on in the classroom? Ten years ago there were seven people in the research program. Nine years ago the district first published profiles on all its schools. Before that we didn’t talk about the other schools besides W.T. White. The test scores were a real eye opener.”

Webster says the Research and Evaluation Department is selective about what it studies, turning down some 15 to 20 topics this year alone. “If others in the system don’t use the information,” Webster says, “then we don’t evaluate anymore.”

The research department has no choice about doing some of its tasks. The federal government, for instance, requires annual reports as a condition for the district’s receiving most of the federal money it gets, Webster says. The state and the school board mandate two of the other system-wide tests.

“I certainly agree there is a lot of room for improvement in the district.” Webster says. “I think the test scores over the last seven to eight years have borne that out. But the test scores bottomed out in 1976.

“The teachers say we deliberately test to make them look bad,” Webster says, “but the testing we do is more realistic and more reliable. The scores mean more.

“One of the first steps in problem solving is to be aware there is a problem.” Webster says, “and traditionally public education has not owned up to there being a problem.

“Remember what I told you before.” Webster says. “The division was never in a position to win a popularity contest. ’’

Can You Read This?

Associate Supt. William Webster’s Department of Research and Evaluation has been accused of turning out mountains of admittedly competent, but nevertheless meaningless, paperwork when put in the context of the classroom. The following is excerpted verbatim from an abstract entitled. “A Computer-Based System for Creating Student Skill Hierarchies. ’’ There are hundreds of other examples we could have reprinted.

Judge for yourself whether any of this will help teach your little Johnny to read or add:

“Purpose: This report describes a computer-based system of identifying skill structures that serves as an integral part of the current development of a model instructional accountability system by Applied Research (AR79-608-31-05). (As one of the model’s key components, this computer-based system was developed as a relatively quick and efficient way to identify hierarchical skill structures within the entire mathematics baseline for use in the setting of realistic student performance goals in instructional planning. I

“A primary advantage of this system, aside from the computers performance of this structuring task, lies in its ability to operate in a large scope. This system can deal with the entire K-6 (or even greater) mathematics baseline while allowing for the aggregation of input from many data sources on the skill structures themselves.

“Overview: The system, although designed for use with the mathematics baseline, was written in such a way as to be generalizable to other areas. This allows structural analysis of any grouping of items that approximates the form of baseline objectives.

“The basic principle underlying the work ings of this system involves pair-wise com parisons of objectives. This entails the comparison of each objective to every other objective and deciding (a) if the two are related and (b) if related, which objective is subordinate. In this manner an entire matrix can be derived through which a computer program can sort and thereby identify skill structures.”

Your Federal Dollars At, Uh, Work

One of the staples of any public school district-and the big bail-out for a floundering school district-is federal funding. When it comes to public education. Uncle Sam pulls out a generous pocketbook and doles out the dollars with a not-so-discriminating eye.

For the 1980-81 school year, the D1SD will be the beneficiary of a minimum of $22 million in Federal funds. Twenty-two million dollars. That, you would think, can buy a lot of education. Wrong. Twenty-two million can be spent on a lot of “’education.” but what it actually buys for the student is a different story. Below are listed just a few of the official descriptions for D1SD programs for which federal funds have been either requested or al located for 79-80 and 80-81 school years. The educationalese speaks for itself. Remember, these are your Federal tax dollars at work.

Model Accountability System for Goal Setting, Monitoring and Improving School Academic Achievement, ESEA, Title IV-C: Development of management information system for setting realistic student performance goals, monitoring of the classroom instructional delivery system, and specifying techniques for the remediation of identified classroom instructional process weaknesses ($85,971).

Project CARS: Computer-Assisted Instructional System for Higher Order Reading Skills, ESEA, Title IV-C: Development of a computer assisted instruction program in reading for fourth through sixth grade students. It will concentrate on high-interest and relevant instruction and will improve student inferential and interpretive strategies ($94,622).

Project TGT: Teams-Games-Tournaments, ESEA, Title IV-C: Design and implementation of TGT student team learning strategy incorporating teacher instruction, intrateam cooperation and interteam competition for Fundamentals of Mathematics 11 students ($71.105).

ESAA Pilot Project: Provides supplementary instruction to eligible students and develops new curriculum strategies ($1.014,758).

Nutrition Education Curriculum, Training, Assessment and Resources, Public Law (P.L.)95-166: Project will field test, analyze, and revise test items for nutrition education learner outcomes. The Procedures Guide based on DISD nutrition education program will be validated/revised/extended ($99,394).

Basic Educational Skills: A Head Start Research and Demonstration Initiative: Project will demonstrate and test effective educational strategies that help young children acquire and retain developmentally appropriate educational skills ($145,000).

Vocational Travel Allocation, P.L. 94-482: Reimbursement of travel expenses for teachers in vocational/skill development and useful homemaking programs ($236,985).

Dallas Evaluation, Dissemination and Assessment Center, ESEA, Title VII: Provides diverse complementary services to a wide range of agencies in the areas of assessment, dissemination and evaluation of instructional and evaluative materials ($852,851 ).

Bilingual Education, ESEA, Title VII: Provides bilingual CAI instruction for fifth grade students, development of bilingual curriculum materials and a parent awareness com-ponent ($491,629).

K-3 Citizenship Education: A Staff Development Model, ESEA, Title IV-C: Proposes to develop a staff training model consistent with the “Framework for the Social Studies K-12.” Purpose is to improve teacher knowledge and competency for teaching citizenship ($77,962).

A Performance Validated Staff Development Model for Critical Teaching Skills in Citizenship: Grades 4-8. ESEA, Title IV-C: Proposes to identify key instructional planning and management skills required of teachers for effective student learning of social studies concepts, concept relationships, and applications. Computer simulation techniques will be used to assist teacher instructional analysis ($96,415).

Model Instructional Accountability System for Goal-Setting, Monitoring, and Improving School Academic Achievement, ESEA, Title IV-C. Proposes to field test components developed in project year two and will incor-porate into the model advanced procedures for instructional trouble-shooting or program analysis within the framework of the state accreditation/accountability, system-wide longitudinal evaluation within a framework of needs assessment, and computer-generated criterion referenced assessment in the areas of basic skills problem solving and applications ($124,019).


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