Wednesday, May 22, 2013

The DISD Controversy: Missing the Mark by Hitting Easy Targets

The school year is coming to an end, but not one of the most heated school district controversy since former DISD Superintendent Michael Hinojosa ran up an $84 million deficit!

For those who don't live in Dallas, the new Superintendent Mike Miles has raised just about everyone's ire. The business community has been put off because of an apparent arrogance and aloofness. There have been school board members offended because of he seems not to respect them. Teachers accuse him of micromanagement. Some principals seem terrorized by the executive directors overseeing their schools. And there are members of the community, more particularly the South Dallas community who are livid because of reported plans to replace principals in their neighborhood schools. 

Not only are these just a few of the complaints against him - each one of these complaints have subtexts to them that will make your head spin. 

And this is after 10 months!

I have some very smart friends on the anti-Miles/pro-Miles sides whom I feel are really missing the point, particularly when it comes to the schools in South Dallas. 

The problem is really simpler (and more complex) than whether or not we vigorously support or are vehemently against Miles' programs. 

The problem is poverty. South Dallas is an area of concentrated poverty and even when it comes to public education, the pathology associated with it cannot be addressed by changes in personnel and pedagogical techniques designed to raise test scores. 

Don't get me wrong. Strong principals in every school and a great teacher in every class is an inarguable objective. Creating an atmosphere in which expectations are are clear and in which students are cared for is laudable. But one cannot ignore what poor health, chaotic home situations, poor diet and a number of other challenges associated with poverty children bring with them in a classroom setting. 

The answer isn't as simple as replacing Superintendents, principals and teachers. Frankly, we always replace superintendents, principals and teachers. We need to provide an atmosphere in which real learning can take place (what that looks like is another argument), but we need to provide a safe atmosphere in which children are inspired to aspire and achieve, beyond the campus. We cannot afford to act as if education exists in a vacuum and our city has to take responsibility to address neighborhood issues that frustrate what our schools are trying to accomplish. 

It's for that reason, I don't think replacing Miles is the right answer. Let's face it. If we get rid of Mike Miles, he'll do just fine. Virtually every principal or teacher replaced will do fine. But if we don't address the barriers to student achievement on the campus and the community, it really won't matter. We'll be doing this again 10 months from now...or less. 

More on this later...

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