The attempted charter takeover of the nation’s 14th-largest district is underway. Wealthy backers of the hostile takeover attempt have gathered enough signatures to force the anti-democratic maneuver onto the November ballot. I first discussed the attempted takeover of Dallas in the post Beware: A Hostile Takeover of ALL Dallas Public Schools is Underway. I also visited Dallas on the invitation of several community groups to discuss the Home Rule report and takeover. The nation must pay attention to this because this approach, if successful, may become the “reformers” next attack tactic of choice.
Notably, it appears that supporters of the takeover plan do not appear to be following the decades old Texas law that empowers them to takeover the Dallas district. The Dallas Morning News reported that
Dallas teachers group Alliance-AFT filed a lawsuit Wednesday against Dallas ISD, claiming that the district’s process to appoint a home-rule charter commission violates state law.
The lawsuit filed in Dallas County District Court argues that Dallas ISD has not followed the 1995 Texas law that outlines how districts appoint a home-rule charter commission. District trustees are in the middle of appointing 15 members to a home-rule commission to draft a new constitution for the district.
Alliance-AFT claims that DISD hasn’t followed the part of the law that outlines how the 15 members are appointed. By law, a quarter of the 15 members, or four members, must be classroom teachers selected by professionals on the district advisory committee.
Texas law says that the professionals on a district advisory committee must be elected. But Alliance-AFT claims that DISD’s members were appointed.
Alliance-AFT included an affidavit from DISD teacher and committee member Jimmy Guilllory, who said that he was not elected to the district advisory committee.
Dallas mayor Mike Rawlings, former Pizza Hut CEO, has been publicly supportive of the charter takeover (what he apparently says in private is for another day). Which is a familiar story in Chicago, New York and elsewhere.
Currently, the upper crust of Dallas and Houston are in the process of spending hundreds of thousands of dollars to deliver a Home Rule takeover. In response to being panned by many in the Dallas community. Mayor Rawlings has suggested to the media that a conversation around Home Rule be framed around four questions. I have addressed each of his questions in brief using empirical data and research.
What are the true DISD performance numbers?
There are of course many measures of performance that can be considered when evaluating the success of hundreds of schools and thousands of educators. As discussed in a previous Op-Ed in the DMN, in a prior policy brief entitled Digging into Data and Evidence, we conducted simple statistical analyses of Dallas ISD STAAR data for 3rd, 8th, and Math and English I Reading End of Course (EOC) to sample student performance across elementary, middle and high school levels in DISD. The analyses show a mixed bag in Dallas. While there was progress in middle school, overall elementary and high school performance on the STAAR and EOC are not statistically significant for most groups in Dallas ISD. Of note, there was significant blowback related to these analyses as evidenced by this.
Are there ways to improve the governance structure?
In a recent policy brief entitled Home Rule Takeover Q&A, we addressed the governance changes allowed by Home Rule. We noted that “everything not specifically stipulated in the law is fair game, including the splitting of Dallas ISD into several smaller districts, as well as turning the district over to mayoral control, a voucher system, or the control of a private, for-profit corporation.” In the case of mayoral control, we discussed Chicago, which has had an appointed school board for several decades. Has the governance change increased the success of students? The short answer is: No. For an analysis of the impact of mayoral control, an appointed school board and school closures in Chicago, please read the research briefs authored by CReATE, a volunteer group of Chicago-area education researchers.
What tools could the superintendent be given that he doesn’t currently have because of state mandates?
We also discuss alternatives to a Home Rule takeover in our policy brief. One tool that Mayor Rawlings could deliver for Dallas is the approach championed by Mayor Julian Castro in San Antonio— full-day universal Pre-K. There are very few gold standard reforms in the research literature. However, Pre-K is one of the educational policies with demonstrative evidence supporting its implementation, full-day showing more impact than half-day. For Latino/as and African Americans, Pre-K is shown to be especially promising for closing the achievement gap.
How can the district retain the best teachers possible?
The state already allows for increased pay and incentive pay above the minimum salaries. So the only reason that Dallas ISD would need a Home Rule exemption from the teacher salary schedules would be to pay educators less than the minimum ($27,320 for a first year teacher), or to cut the salaries of experienced teachers. Neither idea is likely to attract droves of high-quality teachers to Dallas ISD. The opposite actually is true in peer-reviewed research examining other urban districts. A study conducted at Stanford University by Professor Susanna Loeb shows that a salary increase can improve a school district’s attractiveness within their local teacher labor market and increase both the size and quality of the teacher applicant pool.
Rawlings appears to be looking for a recipe to make Dallas ISD schools great. It turns out that Dallas does not necessarily need a Home Rule takeover, an experimental and unproven recipe. Data and research have already been introduced into the public space to address each of the Mayor’s questions. It is up to Mayor Rawlings to support Dallas ISD reforms that are linked to evidence rather than experimental and unproven recipes.
In conclusion, there are other very important questions to be asked and answered besides those posed by Mayor Rawlings. Our society’s primary question should be what investments need to be made for low-income children to break the cycle of poverty and contribute to a vibrant democracy? Instead of moving around the chairs at the top, and turning over a $1 billion budget to a non-elected body, the Mayor should ponder what new financial investments the city can make in partnership Dallas ISD and the broader community to support low-SES students in their pursuit of life long learning to navigate a complex and rapidly changing world.
See also Diane Ravitch address Home Rule and privatization on Bill Moyers:https://twitter.com/professorjvh/status/449674564939702272
For all of Cloaking Inequity’s post on Dallas click here.
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p.s. How has the charter recovery district approach worked out in New Orleans? Go here.
Please blame Siri for any typos.