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Making Dallas Even Better

SAGA Pod: Jim Schutze on DISD, Racial Politics, and Scott Griggs

We go deep on education in this one, as Jim Schutze and I talk about DISD, merit pay for teachers, and how politics and race figured into the bond election. We also discuss the city attorney deciding to leave his job in the wake of the failed attempt to get councilman Scott Griggs indicted. Also, Jim likes the fact a house got destroyed. Never forget he is evil. You can subscribe or download from iTunes here (there’s usually a few hours of delay before it goes up), or listen to the link below. As always, please listen with your ears.

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Lessons From DISD’s Merit Pay: Finding Great Teachers Takes More Than a Calendar

Over the weekend, I had beers with a Dallas ISD middle school teacher. Longtime teacher, moved here from another state just this year. Good guy, smart guy, has a master’s degree, etc. We finally got around to talking about DISD’s merit pay system, which I wrote about a little last week. (And which Jim Schutze wrote about yesterday, covering some of that ground and some of the ground I’m about to cover. You should read it.)

“So, are you a fan of TEI, or do you hate it?”

“Hate it?” he asked.

“You know, hate the evaluations, and all the work that goes into the standardized lesson plans, hate getting evaluated by students – all the complaints I hear in the comment sections.”

He looked at me like I was an idiot. “TEI is why I came here.”

This teacher’s point:

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Lessons From DISD’s New Merit Pay System: Bad Teachers Go Bye-Bye

Nearly a month ago, the Dallas ISD board was given a briefing on the impact of the district’s revolutionary Teacher Excellence Initiative (TEI), the evaluation and scoring system that determines a teacher’s effectiveness and pay. I didn’t write about the briefing then because I was knee-deep in covering the DISD bond. Now that the bond passed, I want to tell you the important takeaways from the TEI data, because the findings and results are pretty amazing.

That’s not to say that there aren’t ongoing bugs and glitches in the system – important ones that need to be addressed. (I wrote about some concerns last year, and these were largely addressed.) I’ll write about those soon. First I want to talk about the big lessons from the TEI data that should change the way we think about public education and could change the way districts operate.

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Reason No. 3 to Vote for the DISD bond: Because Hope is a Good Thing

Last night, I was checking my Twitter before going to bed, and I noticed I’d been mentioned in a Tweet by a status quo type. This person suggested I was wrong to be for the bond because [insert made-up complaint about DISD here].

Normally, late at night, when I get on the social media, I like to engage trolls with annoying behavior. (Ask anyone who knows me: I may be the most stubborn person alive, especially if my goal is to infuriate you.) But when I read this, I was just sad, so I didn’t respond.

This person – no need to name her; doesn’t matter – has been complaining about DISD for more than a quarter century. She files open records request that amount to nothing, she calls journalists with elaborate theories of evildoing by DISD officials, teachers, or trustees. She spends much of her time railing against any effort at district improvement because she feels like someone, somewhere, is running a scam against the citizens of Dallas, and only she will be there to protect us. So she rants and raves against everyone who dares disagree with her because they can’t see the conspiracy that she sees.

This makes me sad because I know people like this in my own family.

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The League of Women Voters of Dallas Is Officially a Joke

Have a peek at who the League of Women Voters of Dallas — ostensibly, a nonprofit that educates voters — has made its director of education issues.

I would write HAHAHAHAHA for about 10 lines if it weren’t so serious. I mean, Bill Freaking Betzen, the chief online troll and puppet for every status quo clown in the city. A person who wants DISD to go back to the days when we had feeder patterns where 1 percent of young black men graduated college ready. They may as well have made #TalkDISD the League’s official hashtag. No wonder the League’s “fact sheet” was so riddled with obvious errors, red herrings, and lies. C’mon, League. Pull yourself together. You used to be a respectable organization. Do you want to be more irrelevant to the next generation?

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Reason No. 2 to Vote for the DISD Bond: It’s Fiscally Sound

This is going to be about half as long as it was going to be (lucky you), because Sharon Grigsby at the DMN covered a lot of the things I was going to say in this post. You should read her reasons to vote yes on the bond.

But I do want to quickly give you a takeaway about how the bond makes fiscal sense.

I’ve heard some legitimate concerns from conscientious voters about the bond. (Vote tomorrow, people.) The concern is usually expressed something like this: “Eric, I pay a lot of taxes to DISD, and I don’t even send my kids there. They haven’t proven they know what to do with the money they have. Why should I give them more?”

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Turn and Talks Podcast: Why a Former DISD Teacher Voted For the Bond

Correction: a commenter pointed out that John Hill left DISD last semester. She’s right! I thought he was still a teacher when I recorded the podcast. His co-writer on the blog is still a DISD teacher. Carry on.

Former DISD teacher John Hill co-runs a great education blog called Turn and Talks. Yesterday he taped his Dallas Education Podcast with me at the Meddlesome Moth, a podcast in which we discussed all things DISD bond. (You need to vote tomorrow. Make plans now.) I think the most interesting part of the discussion is when Hill says critics of my education writing say I focus too much on numbers and not enough on the history of racial inequity in DISD. If you’re still on the fence about whether to vote for the bond, I hope this helps.

You can find the podcast here for direct listen. As well, there are links for iTunes, Stitcher, and Soundcloud on his site. As always, please listen with your ears.

P.s., I mention the anti-reform groups and their standard “Trojan horse” argument. Background on this can be found in this post from this past December.

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Reason No. 1 to Vote For the DISD Bond: It Helps Kids

Today is the last day to early vote, so I’m going to give you the best reason to vote for the $1.6 billion DISD bond, in hopes it will inspire you to get off your butt and go vote. The reason: It helps kids all over the city. That may seem obvious, but I think it’s important to remember.

The bond is good for kids for several reasons:

First, this bond is equitable, in that it helps schools all over the district. Take a look at the full Google Maps list pictured above to see the distribution.

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Why DISD’s Anti-Everything Critics Are Wrong on School Boundaries

Before I got vote yes on the DISD bond at lunch – tomorrow is the last day to early vote, slackers; get to it – I wanted to address a particularly silly reason anti-bond goofballs are suggesting you vote no.

It has to do with attendance boundaries. The Dallas Morning News did a pretty darn good story on it this week, wherein they quote said goofballs as well as more thoughtful members of the community who rightly point out the goofiness of said complaint.

What is the complaint, and why is it hogwash?

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Why Is Hinojosa Already Talking About NOT Asking for More Pre-K Money?

I heard some disturbing news last week and called up DISD Superintendent Michael Hinojosa, who confirmed it. He says he’s been telling people within the district that unless the Nov. 3 bond election passes with a 60 percent or greater margin, he doesn’t recommend going back to voters anytime soon to pass a tax ratification election. This is important, because the bond only allows the district to pay for buildings, not the programmatic changes needed to continue meaningful reforms — specifically, expanding and improving pre-K, furthering the school choice initiative, and investing heavily in career and technical education for those students who are not going to traditional four-year colleges. To do that, we’ll need to approve a TRE, a tax increase that will add to DISD’s already very low tax rate.

I understand we are getting ahead of ourselves. There is no guarantee the bond will pass next week. I think it will, but who knows?

But to me it doesn’t matter if it passes.

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Don’t Kid Yourself: The DISD Bond Fails, You Probably Won’t Get a 2nd Chance To Help Kids

Between now and the Dallas ISD bond election Nov. 3, I’m going to write often about why you should support the bond and why the honking clown show of anti-bond folks are wrong on nearly every claim they make. But today, let’s look one more time at the DMN bond story from this weekend, and the quote from it that addresses what will happen if the clowns carry the day.

Here is a quote from DISD school board president Eric Cowan at the article’s end:

“It is the voters who are going to tell us if they support these projects or they want us to go back to the drawing table,” he said. “We’re asking the public.”

Cowan is, I like to say, moderate to the extreme. He is calm, takes all opinions seriously (no matter how ludicrous), and believes reasonable people can disagree. (And that everyone is for the most part reasonable.) He is an optimist. He has much more faith in people than I do. Which is why he truly believes that, if this bond doesn’t pass, well, we’ll just go back and try to get a better one through.

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The DMN’s look at the DISD Bond Was Fundamentally Flawed

As expected, the Dallas Morning News ran its package of stories on the DISD bond. (Early vote now, you lazy good-for-nothings!) The central piece was this one, which tried to frame this vote as one where you’re deciding whether to pay for new schools or to fix old ones. I found that a silly suggestion, one that the paper tried hard to make stick. In doing so, it buttressed its premise with a few fundamentally flawed notions.

From the article:

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Why I’m Hopeful the DMN Is Ending Its False Balance on DISD Stories

On Monday, I told you that the coverage of Joyce Foreman’s wrongheaded rants against the DISD bond (or anything related to the district, really) generally gives you a false impression: Most sensible people don’t believe what she believes, because what she believes is wrong.

Here’s another example I came across that explains what I mean. See her quote in this story from July, which I’ve pulled out here:

“Why would we move forward talking about new schools when we haven’t talked about attendance zones to determine if some of these children could be moved to other schools?” trustee Joyce Foreman asked.

This went unchallenged. A problem, since it’s not true and easily verifiable. Clicking the June 25 Future Facilities Task Force Draft – Facilities Matrix, you see 23-page document noting recommendations by high school feeder pattern.

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Susan Hawk, Joyce Foreman, and Houston Envy — It’s the SAGA Pod

Jim Schutze of the Dallas Observer breaks a little news — or at least breaks a rumor that is news-y — about DA Susan Hawk at the beginning of the SAGA Pod this week. We discuss whether the district attorney’s actions are raising any red flags. Then we talk education — why the state of Texas is making it harder to teach poor kids, and why Joyce Foreman is doing the same. We wonder why the politics of urban education make for strange bedfellows — Clinton Democrats and business leaders on one side, far left-wingers and far right-winger on the other. And we ask why Houston is kicking our ass when it comes to urban planning. I also reveal how I, on a reporter’s salary, am able to buy a townhouse in central Dallas. (Hint: My looks have something to do with it.)

You can listen below/on the jump, or subscribe on iTunes. (Takes a few hours to show up on iTunes.) As always, please listen with your ears.

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Why Would a School Board Member Lie to Us?

If you’ve read any articles about the proposed bond program on the ballot this November, you have undoubtedly read a quote or two from School Board Trustee Joyce Foreman. She has been very vocal in her opposition to the bond, and she always gets quoted. This is because the media want to “cover both sides” of the issue, and she is the most vocal opponent of the DISD bond.

Actually, that’s not accurate: Joyce Foreman is the ONLY vocal opponent to the DISD bond, at least among elected officials in Dallas.

This sort of reporting – “… but opponents disagree [quotes only vocal opponent]” – is often called false equivalence, but it’s really false balance. It suggests there are a fairly equal number of proponents and opponents on either end of the perfectly weighted seesaw. This is not true. Again, we have Foreman high in the air on one end, alone, yelling at the entire city on the other end.

What we’re lacking is an examination of just why she is all alone, howling at imaginary demons. Perhaps she is a Looper who has traveled back in time to warn us of that which we cannot know. I think, though, she is what she appears to be: someone willing to lie to derail any positive reform in DISD, so that she can maintain her status as some sort of brave populist and continue to win elections in a broken governance system that we’re too cowardly to fix.

Let’s do some fact-checking to see if I’m right.

From Facebook, posted Sept 28:

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