Who Should You Hire?: Contrasted Superintendency Leadership— Trickle-Down vs. Pedagogical

What type of superintendent should your community hire? A Pedagogical leader/reformer or an Administrative leader/reformer? As discussed on Cloaking Inequity recently in the post Taylor v. Dewey: The 100-year Trickle-Down vs. Pedagogical Debate/Fight in Education Reform, there is a breed of educational policy leaders in the mold of Arne Duncan and Michelle Rhee that prioritize entering urban school district administrative positions to execute educational policies codified by No Child Left Behind (NCLB) and Race to the Top (RttT )that are centralized, top-down, and standardized. However, not all educational leaders are enamored with NCLB, RttT, and other top-down education reforms— some district leaders, such as Dr. Michael Hinojosa, focus on reforming curriculum and pedagogy to meet the needs of individual students rather than expecting administrative reforms to trickle down to success on the classroom level.

Table 1. Key Tenants of Administrative and Pedagogical Reform Philosophies

Pedagogical Reform (Student-Centered Education Reform) Administrative Reform (Trickle-Down Standardized Reform)
Purpose of Education Meet the individual needs and interests of a student to foster their cognitive growth. Ensure workplace and career readiness through the standardized approaches.
Characteristics Individualization— Focus on curriculum, instructional practices, pedagogy, and critical thinking to achieve student success Uniformity— Focus on administrative structures, managerial processes, curricular standardization, and to impact student success


A Pedagogical Leader/Reformer: The Case of Dr. Michael Hinojosa

The passage of NCLB delineated specific actions school districts had to take if school failed to meet AYP.[1]  By 2005, many schools in Dallas were already facing sanctions for failure to meet AYP. By 2007, Dallas ISD had 29 campuses in the Title I School Improvement Program including schools in Stage 1 (8), Stage 2 (7), Stage 3 (8), and Stage 4 (6). [2]  NCLB requires Stage 4 schools to draft a campus restructuring plan and to implement it if they miss AYP again and enter Stage 5 (five years of consecutively missing AYP targets). With the potential consequences of restructuring faced by campuses, Dallas ISD called for change.

Taking up the call, Superintendent Dr. Michael Hinojosa began to look at different models to reform the district.[3]  A plan to reinvigorate Dallas ISD came to fruition as numerous stakeholder organizations began to involve themselves in the plan to change the course of the school district. Dr. Michael Hinojosa was one of the conduits for the creation of a partnership with the business community known as Dallas Achieves.[4]  Their goal was to create a framework of reform or transformation plan to establish macro-goals known as “The Road to Broad.”[5]

The plan delineated by several macro goals. The first goal was to establish annual and five-year targets for student achievement in the areas of college readiness, advanced placement, SAT/ACT testing, graduation rates, and the five TAKS state assessments measuring reading, writing, math, science and social studies. This plan was presented at Dallas City Hall and the Mayor. A Dallas ISD news release on October 9, 2007 stated:

Today we celebrate three extraordinary gifts illustrating the community’s belief in and support for Dallas ISD, along with other significant gifts from Dallas individuals and institutions, some of whom began helping us almost two years ago,” said J. McDonald Williams, Co-Chair of the Dallas Achieves Commission and founder/chairman of the Foundation for Community Empowerment.[6]

Following the news release, the superintendent began to realign the goals for the plan by dissolving district offices and creating learning communities to address the needs of the district. The Dallas Morning News (DMN) reported that “under former Superintendent Dr. Michael Hinojosa, schools were clustered by grade levels and geography. For example, the district’s southeast elementary learning community included 22 elementary schools in the southeastern part of Dallas ISD.” [7]

During Dr. Michael Hinojosa’s superintendency, there was also a focus on high schools when he called for Request for Proposals (RFPs) from principals to submit plans to redesign curriculum on their campuses.[8]  The campuses were tasked with the challenge to equitably offer and provide access to rigorous programs such as offering individualized college-career pathways for students. Initially, RFPs were developed by high schools based on needs and input from teachers, parents and community.

The Dallas Friends of Public Education produced a frequently asked questions (FAQ) document. In this document, the philosophy behind high school redesign was stated as follows:

The nature and organization of the comprehensive high school model can create barriers to providing all students with equal access to and support for learning at high levels. Therefore, the Dallas ISD began looking at ways to add rigor, relevance and relationships in its comprehensive high schools. To that end, all Dallas ISD high schools are undergoing a reform initiative to improve the academic rigor of their high school experience, keep more students in high school, and prepare graduates for college and the workforce.[9]

By 2008, the budget crisis in Dallas ISD and sweeping the state of Texas and the nation made it almost impossible to implement the initiative focused on curriculum and pedagogy.[10] Many teachers were let go and it was hard to implement many of the academy models. The only funding available was School Improvement Funds for campuses that had been chronically low-performing and not meeting AYP.[11] Many Dallas ISD high schools were reconstituted (Oak Cliff, Samuell, etc.) to meet requirements of school turnaround under NCLB. The reconstitutions in Dallas ISD were plagued by principal turnover and a massive influx of inexperienced and uncertified teachers.[12]

Most of the reconstituted campuses attempted to implemented career academies, but the respective programs were slowly realized. Most of these campuses experienced a high turnover in both teachers and principals, coupled with the district’s reconstitution plans to replace teachers and principals, as part of their corrective action plans[13]. A few campuses (Hillcrest, Woodrow and W.T. White) were not in the turnaround category, but still opted to submit proposals to redesign under the district RFP Process.[14]  Notably, the redesign of these campuses focused on college-pathways and career pathways.[15]  While many Dallas ISD high schools did maintain a focus on career pathways,[16] one excellent example of curriculum reforms in Dallas ISD focused on college-pathways is Woodrow Wilson High School. It became the first IB World School in Dallas ISD during Hinojosa’s tenure.[17] In sum, Dr. Michael Hinojosa’s superintendency was clearly focused on reforming curriculum and pedagogy to meet the needs of individual students rather than expecting administrative reforms to trickle down to success on the classroom level. Dr. Hinojosa stepped down from Dallas ISD to accept another position in Georgia in 2011.


A Trickle-down Reformer: The Curious Case of Mike Miles

In 2012, Mike Miles was approved by the Dallas ISD board and hired as the new superintendent. Mike Miles came to Dallas ISD with a reputation of being a top-down reformer. He is the product of the Broad Superintendents Academy, a trickle-down reform mecca funded by the deep pockets of The Broad Foundation (see forthcoming section The Broad Foundation and Trickle-Down Reform Approach to Education Reform). Prior to arriving in Dallas ISD, he was the superintendent of Harrison, a very small district of a little more than 13,000 students in Colorado.

Miles hiring was supported[18] by Arne Duncan, himself a trickle-down reformer. Duncan believed that a “reform” minded superintendent was what Dallas needed.[19]  However, many were critical of the selection of Mike Miles. He had only completed a master’s degree and was not certified as a superintendent in Texas.[20] Moreover, Mike Miles was coming from Harrison Schools, a small Colorado district. Debate arose around whether his experience in a small-district was appropriate for a large, urban district serving tens of thousands of students. However, the Dallas ISD School Board and the Mayor were convinced— at the time— that Mike Miles could do the job that lay ahead.[21]

Destination 2020 in Dallas

Mike Miles began his efforts in Dallas ISD through a series of initiatives: Year 2020, Destination 2020, and Imagine 2020. Together these efforts comprise a plan aimed at guiding the reform process in Dallas ISD. The actions outlined in Destination 2020 and Imagine 2020 revolve around the Year 2020 goal that “Dallas ISD will have the highest college- and career-ready percentage of graduates of any large urban district in the nation.”  College- and career-readiness for the Year 2020 goal is further defined as 90% of Dallas ISD students graduating on time, 60% obtaining 21 or higher on the ACT or 990 on the SAT reading/math sections, 80% proficient on workplace readiness assessments, and 90% entering college, the military or career-ready jobs out of high school.[22]

To achieve his Year 2020 goal, Mike Miles presented Destination 2020 plan to the Dallas Board of Trustees in May 2012.[23]  The plan focuses primarily on improving principal and teacher quality in order to increase student achievement. The eight key targets are (1) ensure staff members understand the direction of the district and Core Beliefs, (2) improve the quality of instruction, (3) develop principals into effective instructional leaders, (4) ties teacher and principal evaluation to student achievement data, (5) create a professional and high-functioning central office team, (6) restructure the department of school leadership, (7) create a career-ready certificate, and (8) create the strategic feeder pattern (Imagine 2020). Within each of the above-mentioned Destination 2020 key targets, lie the sub-goals, action plans, and measurable outcomes that are the driving components behind the top-down educational reform process in Dallas ISD.

Implementation of Destination 2020 began with Mike Miles hiring a new cabinet and restructuring the central office.[24] Most of the people he brought in, were over paid in comparison to their past jobs and experience.[25] Some argued that this reform minded superintendent believed the less experience, the better. The next order of business the dismantling of the learning communities established under Dr. Michael Hinojosa[26] and creation of five administrative divisions. Each new administrative division served a specific feeder pattern. Miles believed that a new structure would create a “healthy competition among the groups.”[27] In addition, he hired twenty executive directors to each oversee a feeder pattern including a newly crafted principal evaluation plan.

The prized feature and top priority of Miles’ Destination 2020 plan was the Leadership Development Fellows Academy that began in the 2012-2013 school year.[28] Following an application process geared to seek out reform minded future leaders who aligned with the district’s core beliefs, “Fellows” were selected and paid a salary of $60,000 to shadow existing principals and participate in intensive leadership training. The training included an in-depth review of the Destination 2020 plan along with leadership professional development. Fellows reportedly cost $22,000 each to train. This yielded a year one price tag of $5.3 million for the program.[29] The expense of training the Fellows was tied to a two-year Dallas ISD service agreement, though reports have surfaced that some graduates of the program moved out of state for employment.[30]  At the end of the academy, Fellows were told that they would compete for vacant principal positions within the district. Miles believed that “struggling Dallas ISD principals would have to compete to keep their jobs” creating a cohort of Miles-grown principals would allow the district to “have high-quality principals.” He said, “My job is to forecast and have good vision and implement well, and I suspect we’ll have a higher quality principal corps in the 2013-14 school year. And if we don’t, you’ll get rid of me.”  Of the 57 graduates of the 2012-2013 Fellows Academy, Mile Miles reported to the board in May that 41 took positions as principals (20) and assistant principals (21).[31] A subsequent news report stated that 19 Fellows will hold principal positions for 2013-2014.[32]

The Fellows Academy came with a great deal of scrutiny on the grounds of cost and intent of the program. Carrying over a $5 million price tag, critics viewed this as a means to have taxpayers foot the bill to train outside principals rather than allocate funds to support existing principals. Moreover, the implementation of a new principal evaluation plan created the appearance of clearing the way for a cadre of Miles’ loyal principals. January 2013 marked the beginning of a new principal evaluation plan put in place by Mike Miles. The Principal Evaluation System increased site visits and oversight by Miles’ newly appointed executive directors, tied evaluation to school/feeder pattern State of Texas Assessments of Academic Readiness (STAAR) results, and put a comprehensive review in the hands of the newly appointed executive directors amongst other changes. The previous principal evaluation identified seven principals as needing an improvement plan whereas the new evaluation model placed 68 principals on “growth plans.”[33]

After only five months of implementation, the Dallas ISD Board of Trustees was presented with a list of potential principals on growth plans who had to improve or be fired.[34] Community members and groups rallied behind targeted principals because they believe they have not been given enough time under the new evaluation system.[35] The exact number of non-renewed principals following Mile’s new principal evaluation plan is publicly unknown, but 60 new principal positions were open for the 2013-2014 school year and reporters indicated at least 21 of these positions were the result of demotion or firing under Miles.[36] The results of the Principal Evaluation System paired with the community upheaval over principal firings at schools that “met standards,” led to threats by the board to non-renew Miles’ Fellows Academy. During the June 2013 board meeting, concerns about the program were expressed. The debate over funding the program was further complicated by the fact that Miles already sent out acceptance letters to 45 individuals for the 2013-2014 Fellows Academy. Eventually $4 million was approved for the continuation of the program, but critical attention has been pointed at the executive restructuring, principal evaluation system, and Fellows Academy within the Destination 2020 plan.

The disruptive restructuring, hiring, and Destination 2020 actions continued to gather public attention in the media. In only one year, Mike Miles had all but two of his original cabinet members leave the district.[37] The substantial number of resignations and vacancies caught the attention of the local media– a sense of Dallas ISD chaos was displayed to the public. Long time educators were given “walking papers.” Many of these issues appeared on blogs, such as the DISD Blog and DMN Blogs.[38] The southern schools seemed to be his main target. The majority of these schools served African American students.[39] Mike Miles believed that the failure of these schools was due to the principal’s leadership and teachers that were causing the schools to not move forward. IN response to the mass firings, many Black Leaders showed up to the school board meetings to voice their concerns. The speakers included pastors, students, parents, and community members of the Black community including Dallas NAACP President Juanita Wallace who called for Miles’ removal.[40]  These community members felt that Mike Miles was targeting primarily African American principals. After several disgruntled board meetings, the school board began to be split on issues regarding the leadership of the Miles as superintendent of Dallas ISD.[41] Board members who served the seemingly targeted communities of south Dallas questioned agenda items and principal growth plans. Despite criticism, Miles continued with his above mentioned evaluation plan that resulted in the dismissal of principals in south Dallas schools.[42]

Furthering the concept of targeting particular schools, Destination 2020 calls for a limited strategic feeder pattern initiative. Thematically named Imagine 2020, the strategic feeder pattern initiative will purportedly pilot teacher incentive pay, curriculum development, increased parental involvement, and extended school hours. The goal is raise the expectations while providing the resources to “accelerate student achievement and deepen student learning.”[43]  Interestingly, the selected schools for the feeder pattern initiative Madison, L.G. Pinkston, and Lincoln Magnet all had principals who were dismissed. Both Madison and Lincoln were classified as “met standard” by the state of Texas and are located in southern Dallas.[44]  Imagine 2020 is not yet implemented and is set to unfold over the 2013-2014 school year and the direction, and possible expansion, is uncertain.

Why type of superintendent do we want leading reform in the US? Pedagogical leaders/reformers? or Administrative leaders/reformers? Flexibility in student learning is not visible in the approaches of administrative leaders/reformers, as the model is solely top-down and standardized. For example, Mike Miles’ reform approach is heavily dependent an administrator collecting standardized data, versus a collective effort by teachers and administrators to improve instructional practices. Much research in this particular area (and the experience and results in high-flying international nations) has demonstrated extensively that effective schools’ practices are collective, reflective and purposeful.[56]

Who inspires, trains, networks, and leads the self-proclaimed “disruptive” and “unreasonable” administrative reformers? Well, among the most powerful is the Broad Foundation, yes, that same Broad Foundation that just awarded Houston ISD its second district prize. Coming soon to Cloaking Inequity: The Kings of “Distruptive” and “Unreasonable” Trickle-Down Reform: Broadies and The Broad Foundation.

This post was written in conjunction with Lindsay Redd and Dr. Ruth Vail and was excerpted from a report commissioned by the Foundation for Community Empowerment.

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Please blame Siri for any typos.

[12] Hamilton, M., Vasquez Heilig, J. & Pazey, B. (2013). A nostrum of school reform?: Turning around reconstituted urban Texas high schools. Urban Education.

[17] http://lakewood.advocatemag.com/2011/01/13/Dallas ISDs-redesigned-schools-will-accept-applications-beginning-this-month/

[18] http://www.scribd.com/doc/92100776/Dallas-Mayor-Mike-Rawlings-and-DALLAS ISD-Superintendent-Mike-Miles-to-discuss-improving-North-Texas-public-education

[20] http://dfw.cbslocal.com/2013/05/17/Dallas ISD-superintendent-lacks-state-superintendent-certification/

[22] http://www.dallasisd.org/Page/14381, Specific goals from the original lease of Destination 2020 were updated for the start of 2013-2014 school year. Above mentioned goals are most recent version of the goals.

[25] http://dfw.cbslocal.com/2012/05/16/Dallas ISD-announces-leadership-staff-restructuring/

[28] Also referred to as the School Leadership Academy Dallas. Modeled after the School Leadership Academy in New York.

[36] Unclear true impact of the growth plans with some principals choosing to retire or quit to avoid firing and/or demotion. http://educationblog.dallasnews.com/2013/08/dallas-isd-demoted-and-encouraged-principals-to-leave-how-did-their-schools-perform-in-state-ratings.html/

[38] http://www.Dallas ISDblog.com/2013/04/17/Dallas ISD-debacle-the-fellows-program/

[47] Bodilly, S. J., Glennan T. K., Kerr, K. A., & Galegher, J. R. (2004). Introduction: Framing the problem. In R. K. Glennan, S. J. Bodilly, J. R. Galegher, & K. A. Kerr (Eds.), Expanding the reach of education reforms: Perspectives from leaders in the scale-up of educational interventions (pp. 1-34). Santa Monica, CA: RAND.

[49] Wallace Foundation. (2010). The school turnaround field guide. Retrieved from http://www.wallacefoundation.org

[54] DuFour, R., & Eaker, R. (1998). Professional learning communities at work. Bloomington, IN: National Educational Service.

[55] Elmore, R. (2007). School reform from the inside out: Policy, practice and performance (4th ed.). Cambridge, MA. Harvard Education Press.

[56] Wallace Foundation. (2012, January). The school principal as leader: Guiding schools to better teaching and learning. Retrieved from http://www.wallacefoundation.org

Ravitz, J. (2010). Beyond changing culture in small high schools: Reform models and changing instruction with project-based learning. Peabody Journal of Education, 85(3), 290-312. doi:10.1080/0161956X.2010.491432


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  • Monty J. Thornburg, Ph.D.

    The Trickle-Down vs. Pedagogical leadership conflict in the context of a Horace Mann style “common public school systems” is a century old struggle. This conflict and the hegemonic single system(s) of choices which until the 80s was a choice between public schools or private/parochial schools in America but this is rapidly changing because of “privatization.”

    The public school model was true, even in the South, but with “segregation” and so called “separate but equal” until 1954. Particularly after1964 with the “War on Poverty” … and subsequent school related laws, Dixiecrat “Democrats” now “Republicans” and most of the country were for public education.

    Since 1964, and especially beginning in 1972 with Republicans and the Nixon strategy and later the Reagan Revolution, and the Dept. of Education under Wm. Bennett we have gradually seen the dismantling what they see as the hegemonic control of “public education” and toward ‘privatization.”

    Many “privatization” advocates claim to be on the “pedagogical leadership.” side. They claim to be opposed to what they see as “trickle-down leadership” in the form of (bureaucratic- -union driven- leadership) and for, innovation and “pedagogical leadership” through,TFA, Charter schools, vouchers, etc. They would claim they are on the side of “innovation and Pedagogical Leadership.’

    These shifts in thinking about education on a national scale and argued in the Presidential Election; Republicans v. Democrats; public v. privatized education confuses the “Trickle-Down vs. Pedagogical” leadership debate.


  • HISD just received Broad Award. All one has to do is read the houstonisdwatch.com blog to know what is really happening in that district.


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