State senator: Dallas ISD is ‘blazing a trail for others to follow’

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Yesterday, State lawmakers applauded Dallas ISD’s “innovative initiatives” that aim to place an effective teacher in every classroom.

During a Texas Senate Education Committee hearing on a bill that would improve teacher evaluations, Dallas ISD Superintendent Mike Miles briefed lawmakers on the district’s new teacher evaluation system that better identifies effective teachers. The new teacher evaluation system under the district’s Teacher Excellence Initiative includes “arguably the most fair, accurate, and rigorous large-scale teacher evaluation system in the nation,” Miles said.

“We’ve had discussions in this committee that there are districts out there that are innovators,” Sen. Larry Taylor said. “And I appreciate and applaud what you are doing in Dallas in leading some of those efforts and blazing a trail for others to follow.”

Lawmakers on the committee also commended the district’s new draft Accelerating Campus Excellence Plan, which would improve the distribution of effective teachers through educator choice and incentives.

Sen. Kel Seliger told Miles that, in his opinion, the idea behind the ACE Plan to get effective teachers in the classrooms where they are most needed is one of the “most important things in education today.”

“I’m convinced…that fundamental principal may make more difference in your school district than anything else,” Seliger told Miles.

For the big picture, Miles told lawmakers three fundamental elements exist to turning around any school: an effective teacher in front of every child, a strong leadership team, and high expectations for both staff and students from all stakeholders.

“Give any schools these three ingredients and it will achieve at high levels,” he said.

Sen. Taylor told Miles that he was “absolutely spot on” in that belief.

Miles was testifying before the committee as part of their discussion on Senate Bill 893, which would develop a new statewide way to determine teacher quality. Miles said that the bill would seemingly reinforce Dallas ISD’s current innovative teacher evaluation system that aims to identify and reward effective teachers.

“In the end, our children must be the beneficiary of every major initiative we take,” Miles said. “For them, the most important step we can take is to place an effective teacher in front of them every day.”

Below is the full transcript of Miles’ remarks. To view a video of the hearing, click here. Miles’ speech begins at 3:27:07.

 

Statement to Senate Education Committee on SB 893

Mike Miles, Superintendent of Dallas ISD

In Dallas, and in every large school system, there are three fundamental elements to turning around schools: an effective teacher in front of every child, a strong leadership team, and high expectations for both staff and students from all stakeholders. Give any school these three ingredients and it will achieve at high levels. 

That is not to say that other reform initiatives such as after-school activities, small group tutoring, or greater use of technology are not important. But every major initiative relies in large part on the three foundational elements of strong leadership, effective teaching, and high expectations. Early childhood programs are critically important. Public school choice and ‘best fit’ schools offer great promise. Expansion of technology will support greater learning. However, these important initiatives are dependent upon strong leaders, effective teaching, and high expectations and will have little impact without them. 

On the whole, Senate Bill 893 attempts to strengthen perhaps the most important of the three underpinnings of our transformation: effective teachers. We are fond of chasing silver bullets in education, but they do not exist. What is required, but has not been pursued in any significant way is ensuring an effective teacher in every classroom. There are numerous great teachers in Dallas and elsewhere. However, the reality is that there are not enough effective teachers to serve all students. Moreover, in Dallas, just as in most urban school districts, our least effective teachers are teaching in the lowest performing schools. This widens and sustains the achievement gap. This is an issue of justice and equity. 

In Dallas, we’re doing the hard work of challenging this reality – soon you will see a fundamental shift in the distribution of effective teachers as we incentivize the movement of our most effective teachers to the Improvement Required (IR) schools.

However, the effort to equitably distribute effective teachers and grow the capacity of our teacher corps hinges on our ability to define what effectiveness means and then to assess teacher performance accurately. We cannot return to the days of the perfunctory evaluation. An evaluation system such as PDAS, by which 97 percent of all teachers received ratings of satisfactory or highly effective, is not a rigorous nor useful system. In such a system there is little accountability nor insight into actual teacher effectiveness. Under weak teacher appraisal systems, since virtually everyone is equally effective, there is no opportunity to ensure an equitable distribution of effective teachers and the achievement gap persists.

We know that we can do a better job of defining what great teachers do, supporting teachers in a more differentiated way, and rewarding teachers who excel. This seems to be the goal of SB 893, which reinforces the changes we have made in Dallas.

This school year, Dallas ISD launched arguably the most fair, accurate, and rigorous large-scale teacher evaluation system in the nation. It differentiates the evaluation into eight effectiveness levels and ties evaluation ratings to performance in the classroom, student surveys, and student achievement results. Under the new evaluation system, teacher support and professional development is similarly differentiated. The DISD appraisal system further rewards teachers based on effectiveness, eliminating the old “step and lane” system which had placed a premium on years in the profession. We believe the positive impact of this new form of compensation should not be limited to teachers, and we hope that this legislation will take further steps to allow districts the leeway to compensate counselors and other employees based on performance rather than years of experience. 

We recognize that we exist in a larger educational ecosystem and that the state and national contexts impact the stage on which we have to work. Thus we applaud the provisions of SB 893 that help the entire profession focus on the effectiveness of the teacher and support reform of the teacher appraisal system. In the end, our children must be the beneficiary of every major initiative we take. For them, the most important step we can take is to place an effective teacher in front of them every day.

 Allow me to close by saying that we have reached a critical juncture in the education of public school children. After decades of reforms, the achievement gaps persist and the college ready rate remains flat. We know we have to do things differently to get a different result. The real question is whether we have the courage to transform.

Senators, you have a handout on Dallas ISD’s teacher evaluation system, also known as the Teacher Excellence Initiative. I look forward to answering any questions you may have.

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