There’s been a lot of ink spilled (statewide as well as nationally) about the unfolding leadership changes in Houston ISD. Much of the writing has focused, with good reason, on the current experience of Houston educators contending with an unprecedented situation. But I feel it’s worth stepping back and trying to put some of state-appointed superintendent Mike Miles’ policy decisions in their historical context.
After beginning my career in public education as a classroom teacher, I had the opportunity to serve as both a central administrator under superintendent Miles and as one of his managers as an elected member of Dallas ISD’s Board of Trustees. I then stayed on as trustee during the superintendency of Dr. Michael Hinojosa as he maintained and built upon many of the policies initially instituted by Miles in addition to his own.
With these experiences shaping my perspective, I’d argue that Dallas, with its similar size and demographic makeup, has provided an ideal test case for many of the student-centered policies that Miles is now piloting in Houston ISD.
To understand why, we have to go back to 2012, when Miles first arrived in Dallas. The district was just emerging from a massive budget crisis that had deeply disrupted public confidence. We canceled our 2011 school board elections because not more than one candidate would run for any of the three available seats. Most importantly, only one in five of our students experiencing economic instability (a population itself accounting for over 80% of our total student body) were meeting grade-level expectations across all subjects.
Miles responded to these crises with bold action. With the Principal and Teacher Excellence Initiatives, we began paying our most effective educators more money and sooner in their career to keep them on Dallas ISD campuses. With the Accelerating Campus Excellence initiative, we sent many of these highly effective educators, as well as new resources, into historically underserved campuses and saw huge academic gains as a result.
Following Mr. Miles’ departure, Dr. Hinojosa returned to the district and wisely allowed these programs the time they needed to accelerate student success. Both of these programs then served as a model for the state’s Teacher Incentive Allotment (“TIA”), which is generating major bonuses for effective teachers in over a quarter of all school districts in the state (with hundreds more in the process of implementation). Hinojosa also began the process of turning Dallas ISD into a District of Innovation.
Now, roughly 4 in 10 of Dallas students experiencing economic disadvantage are meeting grade level expectations. While there is much to be done as the district continues to recover from the pandemic, the district’s 16 point gain since 2012 is especially impressive when you compare it to the trajectory of students in Houston and across the state during the same time frame.
Where Dallas ISD once trailed behind both Houston ISD and the state, its performance for its largest demographic now exceeds both, with its gains equating to 2.6 times Houston ISD’s gains over that period of time. The differences are even more pronounced when looking at the experience of students learning English for the first time. (See the second chart below)
This growth was the result not of any one leader but rather a relentless commitment to students-first decision making that has been embodied by superintendents Miles, Dr. Hinojosa, and now Dr. Stephanie Elizalde, as well as my fellow trustees. It has also been the result of numerous reinforcing policies focused on addressing the root causes of our academic challenges, with the most recent step being a district wide-adoption of high-quality instructional curriculum similar to the approach being taken by Mr. Miles in Houston ISD.
Finally, it’s also the result of the district being provided time and substantial community buy-in – something I hope Mr. Miles and his team are afforded as they attempt to take many of the same student-centered actions in Houston. The historical data show that he deserves that opportunity.