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

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.