Friday, January 3, 2014

The Hero Superintendent Debunked

Supt Miles, the dancing queen
Miles’ first year in Dallas was a nasty one. One-quarter of the district’s principals were gone after that year, including some favorites in South Dallas and Oak Cliff, where schools earned high marks from the state. Their departures sparked a fight with black community leaders like Dallas County Commissioner John Wiley Price, who circulated a letter to pastors accusing Blackburn of taking Miles on a goodwill tour of black churches to sell his reforms. “Pontius Pilate plans to parade through many of your churches with a fake Jesus in tow,” Price wrote. Miles’ communications chief, Jennifer Sprague, left before Christmas, and her replacement came and went after just a few months. Other top officials fled the district, including holdovers from the Hinojosa years and some of Miles’ new recruits.... Texas Observer
With our new Chancellor in place it is worth checking out this article posted on the Ravitch blog focusing on Texas and particularly on Dallas.

Diane's intro:
This is a fascinating article from the Texas Observer that explores the myth of the hero superintendent, the popular delusion that one transformational leader can "save" a school district. The idea was shaped by the Rhee story, the TIME cover I plying that she held the secret to "fixing America's schools," a myth that persists despite the absence of any objective evidence. The focus of the article is the first year of Dallas superintendent Mike Myles, who arrived as a superstar and barely survived an effort to fire him a year later.
The Rhee/Klein/Miles/Brizard/etc nightmare is like watching Ground Hog Day.

I have a particular interest in the Dallas story because Miles replaced 7-year Supt. Michael Hinojosa, whose sister is married to one of my fraternity brothers. They were up here for a wedding of the daughter of another frat brother a few years ago and we heard details of Michael Hinojosa's remarkable educational journey beginning as a Mexican immigrant - in fact the entire family's remarkable success story.

So I began to follow his career a bit. After he left/was pushed out of Dallas and replaced by Miles he became Supt of Cobb County, the 2nd largest school district in Georgia -- and they opted out of common core this past summer (which makes for an interesting story in itself).

I extracted the parts about Hinojosa from the Miles story plus the destructive aspects when the business community takes over school policy. It really makes for interesting reading at:
Though departures are rarely that dramatic, about 200 Texas districts change superintendents every year. That’s about one in five, and it’s been pretty constant over the years, Joe Smith says. The average tenure for a superintendent is a little more than three years, according to a 2010 survey by the Council on the Great City Schools, a D.C.-based nonprofit. So when Michael Hinojosa left Dallas ISD after seven years as superintendent, it was virtually the end of a dynasty.

Hinojosa had carried Dallas fairly steadily through years when brash school chiefs with dramatic reform plans came and went in other cities. He was a homegrown leader, a graduate of Dallas ISD’s Sunset High School, and during his tenure the district enjoyed modest academic improvement according to test scores and graduation rates. His most remarkable screw-up was  financial: a $64 million budget shortfall in 2008 thanks to an accounting error and possibly hiring too many teachers. Later that year, then-Mayor Tom Leppert floated the idea of a mayoral takeover of the district—a school turnaround strategy that had been in vogue among big American cities—but quietly dropped the idea.

Hinojosa adopted a signature plan for the district called Dallas Achieves, which included the goal of winning the Broad Prize by 2010. When that didn’t happen, Dallas Morning News columnist Bill McKenzie urged the business community and “Democratic reformers” to get involved with Dallas’ schools, particularly to tie teacher pay to student performance. Though Hinojosa had overseen a rise in test scores and graduation rates, McKenzie and other shake-it-up reform advocates had plenty of ammunition against him. In 2011, less than two-thirds of Dallas’ high school graduates took SAT or ACT tests, and just 10 percent of those scored high enough to be called “college ready.” Almost half of Dallas’ students scored below grade level on state math tests.

After Hinojosa announced his departure, the business community took a new interest in the school system, giving tens of thousands to school board candidates who favored shaking things up—a remarkable departure from the election the year before, which was canceled for lack of challengers. Dallas—after seven years with Hinojosa, with schools in poor neighborhoods still struggling and with administrators who’d grown comfortable in their jobs—was finally ready for reform.

Mayor Mike Rawlings, who promised in his campaign to support bold improvement in the schools, told the Morning News, “You already have some momentum for change and have a school board taking reform-minded actions, and the city and business community is supportive of this, and whoever comes in will have a lot of support. For that reason, and if it succeeds, you’re going to be a hero.”
Rawlings, a former Pizza Hut CEO, said he was looking for a new superintendent who could be a “real change agent.  It’s less important to me if they’re a mathematician or a businessperson or a military type. Their background is less important than their leadership ability.”

The business world’s interest in remaking public education is nothing new—calling school leaders “superintendents” became popular a century ago, when factory efficiency experts took a first pass at redesigning public schools.
Nothing like having Pizza Hut deciding on school policy.

If I ever get to meet Michael Hinojosa I would like to ask him why he would want the Broad/Boob prize.

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