The old cowboy insult of “all hat and no cattle” is an all too accurate description of educational history in the US over the past quarter century, especially here in Texas. Twelve years ago such misleading reporting became so bold that Houston actually claimed "zero dropout rates." The reality was that far less than 50% of any 9th grade enrollment were receiving diplomas within 4 years. The dropout rate was very far from zero, thus "no cattle!"
Fortunately many school districts are slowly moving away from such “all hat and no cattle” claims, but TEA recently made some of the boldest "all hat and no cattle" claims in the history of school accountability in Texas. TEA claimed graduation rates that amounted to placing Texas among the group of states having the 4th highest graduation rates in the nation! Fortunately business leaders in Texas, as well as academic leaders, were both vigilant and publically challenged these unrealistic graduation rates.
In spite of what TEA is trying to do, absolute transparency, especially when it is painful, is slowly being understood as the best alternative. Texas has led the way with the raw data about our schools and our students being placed online and annually updated at http://ritter.tea.state.tx.us/adhocrpt/Standard_Reports.html. Almost all the reports posted in this blog come from that web site. Due to data available through such transparency it can be clearly documented that Dallas ISD is making more real progress than at any time in the past 20 years!
Admitting and sharing the painful truths in our public schools is the only way to have a strong foundation for progress. That must be repeated: Admitting and sharing the painful truths in our public schools is the only way to have a strong foundation for progress.
The most accurate, easy to audit measurements for a credible transparency are the number of students who enroll each year in each grade, combined with the number who graduate annually, and how many of those annual graduates are ready for college. Simple spreadsheets for each school and school district should include enrollment by grade and year, covering 10 years or more of such annual enrollments. Each years numbers should include graduation numbers and percentages of those graduates who are college ready. It would quickly show if progress is happening.
Finally, such a TEA spreadsheet for all of Texas would be a powerful summary of what is REALLY happening in Texas education over time.
The Internet allows the accumulation and availablity of such data to explode. Dallas ISD is constantly taking advantage of that availability with results that are improving, and constantly need to improve. DISD does not yet have such a multi-year spreadsheet online and in a prominent place on the DISD web site. Such a spreadsheet could look like the chart at the end of the post at http://schoolarchiveproject.blogspot.com/2012/01/dallas-isd-one-of-most-improved.html.
Such a prominent spreadsheet on the DISD web site would make Dallas a national leader in educational transparency. No other major US City has such longitudinal, multi-year, transparency. DallasISD can lead the way!
Such a lack of more complete transparency also hides good news.
Significantly positive changes within DISD started 6 years ago, but received no publicity. Those positive changes happened when the 9th grade bubble began to disappear. The 9th grade bubble is caused when the 9th grade is larger than the 8th grade the year before. That is caused by large numbers of 9th grade students failing and repeating the 9th grade. Too many middle school students were not prepared for the 9th grade. As they fail the 9th grade enrollment grows due to students taking the 9th grade two or more times.
From 1996 through 2006 the average 9th grade enrollment in Dallas ISD was 33% larger than the 8th grade enrollment due to such failures. For the decade between 1996/1997 to 2005/2006 the average 8th grade enrollment was just over 11,025, and the average 9th grade enrollment was 14,727. That 33% 9th grade bubble began to disappear in 2006. It is now only a 9.3% bubble for the current 2011/2012 9th grade class!
The 9th grade shrinking means more students are passing on to the 10th grade. DISD now has the smallest 9th grade enrollment in over 15 years, and the largest 10th, 11th and 12th grade enrollments in over 15 years!! Fewer students are dropping out in the 9th grade! (See enrollment by grade numbers going back to 1996/97 at http://schoolarchiveproject.blogspot.com/2012/01/dallas-isd-one-of-most-improved.html)
Good things are happening in DISD. These DISD cultural changes must continue! They must be known! More complete transparency will expose all sides of DISD, the good and the bad. Then we can celebrate the good and work with the bad.
(Yes, that means closing middle schools!)
Debates over grade configurations surrounding middle school have gone on for as long as middle schools have existed. But can DISD continue to ignore the fact that 6th grade discipline issues have gone up over 400 percentage points since moving 6th graders from elementary schools to middle schools? Yes, discipline issues normaly go up with each year, but usually less than 30%. The first semester of the 2012/13 school year DISD had a total of 596 disciplinary actions against 5th graders, but that number jumped 440% to 3,230 for 6th graders! Research has now pushed that issue well beyond the debate stage.
A July 2011 Harvard University study has emphasized the urgency of an improvement for our public schools that parents need to study. This detailed and extensive research concluded (page 23): "Taken as a whole, these results suggest that structural school transitions lower student achievement but that middle schools in particular have adverse consequences for American students." If parents agree, they must demand changes in grade configuration, especially here in Dallas due to the publicly acknowledged issues with our DISD middle schools.
The Harvard study showed that in virtually all subjects the scores on standardized test were lower in middle schools than in K-8 elementary schools. Parents and teachers familiar with both settings will rarely be surprised by these findings.
This past November a powerful editorial was published by CNN giving a simple message: "By all accounts, middle schools are a weak link in the chain of public education."
The K-8 response to this "weak link" is gaining momentum. The number of K-8 schools has almost doubled in the US since 2000 as over 1,000 middle schools have disappeared, or been re-purposed as K-8. Google news for K-8 and middle school. You will find reports of school districts closing middle schools and changing them to K-8 elementary schools with very few exceptions. The reason is as simple as the statement a decade ago by William Moloney, then the Education Commissioner of Colorado: "K-8s are the place where everybody knows your name."
What better place to endure the uncertainties of puberty? Instead DISD is now forcing students entering the changes of puberty to move to a strange school with hundreds of other students from other schools also struggling to regain their self image as they change. It is no wonder that we have behavioral issues! Student performance falls in DISD middle schools!
In April of 2012 the National Middle School Association changed it's name to the Association for Middle Level Education. They saw middle schools being closed in the US, and realized such separate institutions do not exist in the highest achieving school systems in the world, such as Finland. In such countries the elimination of the middle school transfer trauma appears to help in far exceeding US academic achievement while at the same time investing significantly fewer classroom hours. The name change reflected a more authentic focus on educating students ages 10 to 15. Will Texas public schools see what is happening? (See more links to articles on this issue here.)
Parents can study these factors and be the driving force behind helping DISD to slowly move to k-8 schools systemwide. That process has already happened in one school, Rosemont Elementary in DISD, which is leading the way. Parents studied the issues and demanded the change. More schools will follow as quickly as parents can study the issues and continue to demand the change.
Such change will also strengthen PTA memberships as parents will be with the same PTA for three more years. There will be more of an investment in each k-8 school. They must be the best schools for the sake of the neighborhood!
As to costs for these three changes, only the last one for a movement to k-8 configurations would involve any signficant costs due to potential building modifications. This process could go slowly, as quickly as parental groups form and request such changes. It could be worked into the normal building budget for DISD. Also, since Dallas County has seen a constant drop in birth numbers since 2007 there may not be the normal pressure for building new schools. Such k-8 transitions could happen more easily.
building a stronger sense of the "intergenerational self" in students.
- Ate the same breakfast every day
- Knew the most about their family's history
- Played team sports
- Attended regular religious services
These three ongoing changes within Dallas ISD, if accelerated and reinforced, will create an urban public school system that becomes the national model. The third step is the only one that is truly unique to Dallas. The other two steps are happening at different levels nationwide. Many districts made the change to K-8 schools years ago, and the results have been researched and documented as solid. We have work to do in Dallas ISD. Things must change!