Archives for category: Dallas

Corporate reformers don’t like democracy. They don’t like elected school boards. They like mayoral control, state takeovers, all-charter districts, emergency managers. Anything but democracy.

In Dallas, the corporate reformers had the idea that the way to by-pass democracy was to utilize an obscure state law that would turn the district into a “home rule” district. Billionaire John Arnold helped to fund a group called “Save Our Public Schools,” which collected signatures for a referendum to create a home rule district. No one knows how it would have worked, but its backers were hoping it would turn Dallas into an all-charter district like Néw Orleans.

Despite the money and activity, the proposal simply died. With Dan Patrick, a voucher advocate as Lt. Governor, it is likely to come back again.

“Last night in Dallas, the commission that could have completely redesigned the city’s school system—handed control to the mayor, done away with elected trustees or rewritten teacher contracts—voted instead to call off its school reform experiment entirely.

“It’s a quiet end to a dramatic reform drive that began almost a year ago, when a group called Support Our Public Schools announced its plans to make the state’s second-largest school system into its first “home-rule charter” district.”

Investigative journalist George Joseph called this reform the “Big Dallas Plunder.” he says the business community wanted to open the charter floodgates. All those poor kids with low test scores, they thought, need charters, not small classes.

A coalition of pastors in Dallas has issued a stirring call for public support of public schools.

This comes at a time when billionaire John Arnold has been organizing a campaign to turn Dallas into an all-charter district.

Leading pastors in Dallas–George Mason and Frederick Haynes, joined with four others–wrote an opinion piece, in which they said that public support for public schools is vital and that “choice” is illusory. .

They write:

Eighty-four percent of children in this country attend public schools. Slightly more than 60 percent (over 3 million of our 5 million Texas public school students) are identified as poor. These children in our public education system are our neighbors, and we are called to love them by providing a vibrant and thriving school system. That’s why Dallas-area pastors are calling on elected officials and leaders in the business, faith, parent, labor and neighborhood communities to support the public schools of greater Dallas…..

By investing in public education, we invest in the future of 5 million Texas schoolchildren. This basic investment is the key to a child’s future economic mobility, the financial stability of Texas families and the state’s long-term economic prosperity. Dallas residents know the direct correlation between education achievement and economic viability.

We must prioritize the adequate funding of our institutions of public education for the benefit of all Texans. The past two sessions of the Legislature have seen contentious fights over public education policy. Because public education is such a sound investment in our children’s future, one wonders: What’s the dispute?

There are two competing visions for public education: one weakens the public portion, and one strengthens it. On one side, there is a drive to defund public education, de-professionalize teaching, misuse test scores to declare schools as failing, and institute paths to privatize schools in the name of school reform. These privatization schemes take the form of private school vouchers, for-profit virtual schools, and corporate chain charter schools that do not serve all students equally.

The other vision, a vision which we embrace, is to provide adequate funding for all schools, raise the bar with higher standards and more respect for the teaching profession, focus on a rich instructional program instead of a narrow overemphasis on testing, and engage community partners in support for neighborhood schools and the children and families they serve.

Those advocating privatization have attacked the public school system and falsely labeled neighborhood schools failures. This arbitrary judgment has been exposed as a cynical strategy to divert public education money for private purposes, and has brought advocates like us to the fight against privatization and in support of initiatives that tell the true story about the value of our public schools.

The “choice” that corporate chain charters and private schools claim to offer parents and students is illusory. It is really these private operators who exercise their own freedom to choose which students they will recruit and retain and which students they will exclude or filter out. And the latter group will disproportionately include Hispanics, African-Americans, English language learners, students with disabilities and students who are at risk because of disciplinary or academic difficulties. These children are our neighbors, too.

We join with Dallas community leaders and parents who understand that we must keep our attention upon the real and pressing — and constitutionally mandated — need for full funding for public education. Dabbling in political diversions that are peripheral to the adequate education of all the children of Texas is dangerous and foolhardy. This is not the time to divert funding away from our neighborhood schools, which provide a place of refuge and support for all Texas children, no matter their background, situation or educational need. More important, it is the loving thing to do.

George Mason is senior pastor at Wilshire Baptist Church. Reach him at Frederick Haynes is senior pastor at Friendship-West Baptist Church. Reach him through the church at friendship

OPEN LETTER: Other signers
Joe Clifford, senior pastor, First Presbyterian Church, Dallas
Bryan Carter, senior pastor, Concord Baptist Church, Dallas
Joel Sanchez, preaching minister, Skillman Church of Christ, Dallas
Andy Stoker, senior minister, First United Methodist Church

Wow! Dallas Superintendent Mike Miles called the police to remove a school Board member from a school in her district.

Bernadette Nutall was escorted out of a middle school by three police officers. I guess Mike Miles forgot that he works for the board.

“Nutall said she showed up at the South Dallas school around 6:30 a.m. for an emergency staff meeting after Miles replaced the campus’ leadership team and 10 teachers on Friday. Nutall said that when Miles entered the building, he told her she couldn’t be at the school or at the staff meeting and asked her to leave.

“Nutall said she refused and left Miles to talk to staff, greet them and meet with teachers other floors of the campus. When she returned to the main entrance and asked Miles about his changes at Dade, he had three officers remove Nutall from school, she said.

“I have never ever experienced anything like this in my life. I cannot believe he did it,” Nutall said Monday. “I felt like how teachers and principals feel when Miles walks into a building.”

“She added: “This is a clear example of the consistent bullying tactics that we continue to hear about Miles exhibiting to staff. I have experienced it firsthand myself the abusive behavior of power…..”

Miles visited Dade last week and ordered massive changes at the academically low-performing campus. The principal is gone, as are two assistant principals. Ten teachers have been replaced with instructional coaches from other DISD campuses.

Nutall said the main reason for her visit Monday was to encourage staff. “It is a crisis there,” she said….

“Nutall said teachers are scared, worried about their jobs and concerned about how the sudden staffing changes will affect children. Nutall said she was escorted out of the building right after she questioned Miles and deputy superintendent Ann Smisko on the changes at Dade.

“Dade, which is rated “improvement required” by the state, has had four principals in 18 months. Miles hired Alecia Cobb to run Dade last year. He removed her during the summer and replaced her with Michael Jones, an assistant principal at Skyline High School. And on Friday, Miles brought in Hogg Elementary School principal Margarita Garcia…..”

In an in-depth article that appears in the journal “In These Times,” journalist George Joseph describes a campaign by business leaders to take advantage of an obscure provision in state law and use it to turn Dallas into a “home rule” district. This would be a prelude to turning Dallas into an all-charter district.

The business community already controls the school board. The campaign for “home rule” has the support of mostly unnamed funders, except for billionaire John Arnold, who lives in Houston, not Dallas. Arnold has causes about which he is passionate: public sector pensions (he is against them), charter schools (he is for them) and Teach for America (Joseph says he has given TFA more than $20 million). Arnold supports the leading advocacy group for “home rule,” which is ironically called SOPS–Support Our Public Schools.

Why the heavy-duty campaign for charter schools in Dallas? Joseph speculates that at bottom the campaign is about gentrification and real estate. The home-rule plan is not supported by Dallas’s black and Hispanic population. In a recent school board race, an opponent of home rule won overwhelmingly.

Jeffrey Weiss and Matthew Haag report in the Dallas Morning News about a cheating scandal at one of Dallas’s top-rated schools:

“Umphrey Lee Elementary was recognized as one of the best schools in Dallas, based primarily on the students’ STAAR results. But Dallas ISD officials concluded that was a sham, a distinction propped up by teachers feeding students answers on most of the 2012-13 state assessment tests.
Five teachers and an instructional coach resigned while under investigation last October. And by the end of the school 2013-14 school year, the students’ STAAR results had plummeted, dropping the school from the state’s top rating to as low as they go.”

Campbell’s Law strikes again. When test scores are made the measure and the goal, they distort the very thing being measured and incentivize unethical behavior.

When will we ever learn?

In Dallas, billionaire John Arnold is supporting an initiative to turn the whole district into a “home rule district” or a “charter district.”


The organization that is collecting signatures has a typical reformer name: “Support Our Public Schools.” When today’s reformers say they want to “support our public schools,” it usually means the opposite. Buyer beware.


But what is a home rule district?


Wade Crowder, a veteran Dallas teacher, explains that the goal is to remove the elected school board and replace it with an unaccountable appointed board. As is usual with today’s corporate reforms, the prelude to a sweeping plan for deregulation is claims of failure, failure, failure.


Actually, the supporters of the home rule district have been vague about their goals.


But Julian Vasquez Heilig says that what is happening is a “hostile corporate takeover.”


If you open the link in Julian’s blog, you will see the names of the extremely wealthy people who are behind “Support Our Public Schools.”


None of them has a record for having supported public schools in the past.


They have contributed to school board races, but not to Carla Ranger, who is the most outspoken supporter of public schools on the Dallas school board.


Early indications are that voters are suspicious of the motives of the monied clan that wants to control the public schools their children attend.


Julian writes:


“Home Rule is an emerging story currently flying under the radar in the national and statewide Texas media. Millionaires and billionaire(s) are quietly funding a “Home Rule” hostile takeover attempt of all public schools in Dallas, Texas. Yes, that’s right… ALL OF THEM.”


And he adds:


Who is Support our Public Schools?
Who are the behind-the-scenes players in the Home Rule takeover proposal?
Who is John Arnold?
What are the steps to the Home Rule takeover in state code?
What “rules” will Dallas not be “free” from as a Home Rule Charter District?
What “rules” will Dallas be “free” from after a Home Rule takeover?
Is the Home Rule takeover really necessary?
Is a charter district takeover more democracy and local control or less?
Have a politically appointed school board and mayoral control been a successful approach?
Have charters outperformed traditional public schools across Texas?
How does the Texas and Dallas investment in education compared to peers?
If not Home Rule, what reforms should DISD and SOPS commit to?
Some of the questions addressed in the brief are more specific to the Dallas community. However, several have import for the state of Texas and public education nationally such as: Who is John Arnold? and… Have a politically appointed school board and mayoral control been a successful approach?


Keeping up with the billionaires and millionaires’ education privatization hobby is a lot of work. Maybe we could suggest to them that they get a regular hobby like N-scale model trains or do more snow skiing?”



Mayor Mike Rawlings of Dallas is working hard to convince the public that the Dallas Independent School District should be turned into a “home rule” district. What this means is that Mayor Rawlings and his rich pals called (ironically) Supporters of Public Schools want to eliminate public education and turn the whole district into an all-charter district.

The shadowy group behind the “home rule” idea is led by ex-Enron billionaire John Arnold, who advocates for privately managed charters, not public schools. Arnold, no friend of public schools, leads the Support Our Public Schools group.

Thus far, Mayor Rawlings is having a hard time convincing black and Hispanic citizens that he and his billionaire buddies can be trusted.

Wouldn’t it be great if reformers would call themselves what they are, instead of using names that disguise their goal of privatization?

The most impressive member of the Dallas school board, outgoing member Carla Ranger, described what is really going on. She wrote:

“This is all about politics, power and money — not education.

“With Mayor Mike Rawlings’ constant unethical meddling into Dallas ISD affairs and Superintendent Mike Miles doing more harm than good, the result is a Dallas ISD teaching staff that appears to be more broken in spirit than I have seen in the 8 years I have served as a Trustee.

“Authoritarians always want all power.

“They never want to share it.”

The blog that reported Carla Ranger’s prescient comments proceeded to mock her, but what she said fits the national pattern. Destroying public education in Dallas fits with the movement’s plans in many other cities. The billionaires will say whatever they must and do whatever they can and spend whatever they need to, just so long as they can put an end to public education.

Carla Ranger is right. The people of Dallas should listen to her.

When I went to Austin for the Save Texas Schools rally, I also participated in a panel discussion about school reform at the LBJ School of Public Policy at the University of Texas. There I met Carla Ranger, a member of the Dallas school board.

As I listened to her speak, I was overwhelmed with admiration for this independent, smart, wise, courageous, and principled supporter of public education and children. At some point in the discussion, I said out loud, “Carla Ranger, I just met you and I love you..”

Dallas has a Broad-trained superintendent, who put a young TFA alum in charge of human resources. The superintendent is ex-military and is big on setting goals and giving orders. Carla has her hands full.

Today I add her to our honor roll. Please visit her website.

The new Broad leader in Dallas has hired a communications director and a PR team to craft a list of “power words” and “power phrases” that teachers and principals are supposed to use when communicating with the public.

Dallas principals and teachers: Please take care to say what you are told. Memorize your lines. If you say the wrong thing, you are in trouble. Let the superintendent and his PR team do your thinking for you. Just do as you are told.

Here is a sample:

If a parent asks about the new administration, a principal might reply, “District leaders are student-focused in their decision making.”

Or: “The superintendent’s plan brings stability and a clear direction to the district.”

Or perhaps: “Destination 2020 will take five to eight years to achieve, but we will make significant progress in one year.”

Or even: “We are all about improving student performance and the quality of instruction; that is the expectation.”

Diana Senechal is a brilliant writer. She wrote a fascinating book titled “Republic of Noise.”

She teaches in the summer at the Dallas Institute of Culture and the Humanities. Who knew that Dallas has a vibrant learning center where teachers read the great books? I did, because I visited a couple of years ago and was blown away by the teachers and their enthusiasm for Shakespeare.

This is Diana’s report about this summer’s institute. Every city should have an institute like this one:

Literature as Teacher Education

Diana Senechal


In a lovely tree-shaded wooden building, in July, teachers convene for three weeks not to analyze data, discuss “learning strategies,” or align objectives with standards, but to immerse themselves in literature. This place is the Dallas Institute of Humanities and Culture—specifically, its Sue Rose Summer Institute for Teachers. As a faculty member at the Institute and a NYC public school teacher, I love the place unabashedly and will try to explain why.


The Summer Institute, part of the Teachers Academy, was conceived in 1983 by Dr. Louise Cowan as a class for high school English teachers in “literature as a mode of knowledge.” It now attracts K–12 teachers across the disciplines, from public and private schools. In the even-numbered years, the Institute focuses on epic (participants read the Iliad, the Odyssey, the Theogony, the Aeneid, the Divine Comedy, Moby-Dick, Popol Vuh, Mwindo, Monkey, Gilgamesh, and more); in the odd-numbered years, on tragedy and comedy. The point is to explore the literature on its own terms and to enrich teachers’ knowledge and understanding. People sometimes ask: how does this affect student achievement? How does this translate into classroom practice? The Institute is there not to tell teachers how to teach, but to feed their imagination and intellect. This ultimately translates into classroom practice, but not in jargonizable ways.


The Institute follows a simple and fruitful routine. Each day begins with breakfast. The teachers sit down to eat in the dining room, in the seminar room with the French windows, or outside  on the porch or one of the benches. At 8:45, everyone congregates in the lecture hall, an intimate and elegant room with sloping ceiling. After some brief announcements, a faculty member gives opening remarks. Another faculty member then gives the morning lecture about the literary work under discussion. (Giving a lecture there is an exhilarating experience; the audience members’ eyes light up the way.) Seminar discussions follow and last two hours.


Then comes a hearty lunch followed by the afternoon activities, which may include panel discussions, teaching lectures, plenary discussions, guest lectures, and films. (This summer’s films included Iphigenia, Kagemusha, and The Revolt of Job.) At 4:00, the Institute adjourns; the teachers and faculty go home to regather themselves, think and read in quiet, and prepare for the next day. One ends up dreaming the literature—entering a state of mind like Dante’s in Canto XVIII of Purgatorio (in Allen Mandelbaum’s translation):


  Then, when those shades were so far off from us

that seeing them became impossible,

a new thought rose inside of me and, from

   that thought, still others—many and diverse—

were born; I was so drawn from random thought

to thought that, wandering in mind, I shut

   my eyes, transforming thought on thought to dream.


What distinguishes the Summer Institute from an intensive literature course? First of all, it’s specifically for teachers—so, while there’s minimal discussion of pedagogy, everything studied has an indirect, analogical relationship to the classroom. Second, the unifying principle is genre—not the external structure of a work, but its internal impulse and form. This allows participants to compare and liken the works in intriguing ways. Third, the faculty are there to learn from each other as well as to teach, and the teachers respond to this. Fourth, everyone is tasked in some sense with the impossible, and there lies the cheer. What, give a lecture on the Inferno? What, discuss the Iliad in three days? Preposterous! Yet we go ahead and meet the challenge—and enjoy a few surprises.


The Summer Institute is so far removed from typical teacher training, and yet so soulful in its approach to education, that some participants experience shock and pain. How did we remove ourselves from what matters in education? How did we get caught up in rush and frenzy? The Dallas Institute manages to create time where there is little. The time expands even as the three weeks come to a close.


What brings about this expanse? Part of it is the excellence of the literature and the practice of returning to it. The three weeks are a beginning, an opening. There’s minimal talk of pedagogy or skills—but the Summer Institute’s format suggests many possibilities, and thus open up teaching. A teacher couldn’t replicate the Institute, but the point is not to replicate. In the words of Dr. Claudia Allums, director of the Dallas Institute’s Cowan Center for Education, the point is to “work from abundance.” The abundance makes its way into everything, even into time running out.


This was my first summer as a full faculty member (I was a junior faculty member last summer). I laughed and cried during the closing ceremony, when the teachers presented us with surprise awards. Mine was the Venus Award for inspiring a love of poetry. I saw teachers joyous about what they had received at the Institute, and knew myself joyous and grateful too. I left confident that the good work of education is possible. The Dallas Institute clears away distractions and delves into good things. May it do so for many years to come.


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