Mike Miles took charge of the Dallas Independent School District on July 1, 2012. He came from a district with 10,000 students to one with 150,000. His background was in the military, then a stint at the unaccredited Broad Superintendents Academy, where he learned the importance of top-down reform. He introduced himself to thousands of staff members at a shindig where he danced with a student group, then spoke inspiringly of the “disruptive transformation” that he would lead.
Being a Broadie, he immediately set out his quantified goals:
By 2020, he says, the graduation rate will be up to 90% from the 2010 rate of 75%.
By 2020, SAT scores will jump by 30%, and 60% of students will achieve at least a 21 on the ACT.
80% of students will be workplace ready, as determined by assessments created by the business and nonprofit communities.
He will create a new leadership academy to train principals in one year, based on what sounds like NYC’s unsuccessful one.
Teachers will be observed up to ten times a year, and these observations will factor into a pay-for-performance plan.
All classroom doors must be open all the times. so that teachers may be observed at any time, without warning.
Principals will have one year “to demonstrate that they have the capacity and what it takes to lead change and to improve the quality of instruction.”
Miles did not say how he intends to measure whether principals have this capacity.
By August 2015:
“At least 75 percent of the staff and 70 percent of community members agree or strongly agree with the direction of the district.
At least 80 percent of all classroom teachers and 100 percent of principals are placed on a pay-for-performance evaluation system.At least 60 percent of teachers on the pay-for-performance evaluation system and 75 percent of principals agree that the system is “fair, accurate and rigorous.”
Of disruption there has been an abundance. Of transformation, not so much. In the past (nearly) three years, he has been a polarizing figure, often in hot water with teachers, administrators, parents, and the school board. There has been a significant departure of teachers, unhappy with his “my-way-or-the-highway” style. He placed nearly two dozen young alumni of Teach for America in high-level administrative positions. Before Miles’ arrival, there were 111 administrators paid more than $100,000; the Dallas Morning News discovered that the number of administrators earning that much increased to 175 within two years after Miles took the job. He has fired many principals. He called the police to evict a school board member who was visiting one of the schools in her district. He became so controversial that he moved his family back to Colorado to ensure their safety. From time to time, the school board debates whether to fire him, yet he has thus far survived every attempt to oust him.
The last blowup with the school board occurred in February, when it was revealed that the 30-year-old director of human resources (a TFA alum who had been hired by Miles at age 28 and was earning $190,000) had sent a series of instant messages disparaging her co-workers and making inappropriate comments about their race, religion, and age. Miles fired her and paid her $79,000 in a separation agreement.
Most recently, he selected six schools with low test scores and designated them part of his ACE program (Accelerating Academic Performance). He replaced the principals and many of the teachers, and he pledged that there would be significant academic gains by December. The teachers are eligible to win stipends of up to $12,000 yearly over their salary.
These are the changes Miles is imposing on his six low-performing schools:
Students will receive at least 90 minutes of homework every night. The schools will stay open until 6 p.m. for those who wish to finish their work on campus. Dinner will be provided.
Failing grades will not be accepted. Students will have to redo assignments until they get passing scores. Saturday school will be offered to students who need help.
Parents will be required to sign a “contract” that details those expectations. Parents who object can send their children to another school, and transportation will be provided.
Each teacher must agree to spend an additional three hours a week — before or after school or on Saturday — supporting additional instructional time or monitoring student homework time.
Read the comments following the above article to see the bitter feelings for and against Miles.
Now Miles is engaged in some more disruption, since as we all know, disruption is a constant in the world of reform these days. A popular principal of a successful elementary school has been informed that she will be removed from her post at the end of the school year.
Rosemont Elementary School is considered a neighborhood gem in North Oak Cliff, boasting everything a Dallas ISD campus aspires to have: strong academics, passionate students and devoted parents. Those parents credit Anna Brining, Rosemont’s principal of 15 years, for that success.
But now they fear the school is in jeopardy. They learned Wednesday that Brining was told that her contract will not be renewed after this school year. And they believe it’s in retaliation for their activism.
Parents have been outspoken about their opposition to the overemphasis on testing, and they confronted Superintendent Miles with their concerns at open meetings. Afterwards, the principals got more visits from central administrators and was written up for minor infractions.
Just this past February, three of the school board trustees–after the scandal in the human resources department– wanted to discuss Miles’ future with the district. But they are a minority of the nine-member board. The Dallas Morning News reviewed the academic record of the district in the past three years and found no significant gains or losses. Disruption, yes. Transformation, no.