I have now served as a Trustee on the Dallas ISD school board representing East Dallas and Vickery Meadow for six years. Rather than talk about upcoming events or current news items this month, I would like to use this column to reflect on the state of the district.
When I talk with people about Dallas ISD today, they are invariably shocked by two things.
The first thing they are shocked to learn is that almost 90 percent of our students are economically disadvantaged. This really shouldn’t come as a surprise given the recent reports that the City of Dallas has one of the highest child poverty rates in the nation, but it does. In addition, almost 45 percent of Dallas ISD students are English language learners, and the district has almost 4,000 homeless students.
The second thing that shocks many people is that Dallas ISD is the most improved school district in the state.
For example, in East Dallas, back in 2012, Bryan Adams, Woodrow Wilson, and Emmett J. Conrad high schools were all rated “academically unacceptable” by the Texas Education Agency. If you didn’t have children in the schools or weren’t otherwise keeping up with Dallas ISD news since then, you may have missed the fact that now in 2018, BA and Woodrow both met all state standards and earned seven out of a seven possible distinctions. Conrad also met all standards and earned three distinctions.
This progress has also been reflected all across the district. Dallas ISD has 230 schools. The district has steadily reduced the number of “academically acceptable” or “improvement required” schools from 43 in 2014 to four in 2018.
The district has outpaced the state in reading gains during the last four years, showing growth of 10 percent compared to state growth at 2 percent. And Dallas ISD students outperformed the state average by 5 percent in achievement growth on the recent STAAR Tests.
Dallas ISD has increased the number of collegiate academies from five to 23 in a two-year period with more than 4,400 students participating in one of the academies. These programs allow students to earn an associate’s degree while still in high school. This program is operated in partnership with the Dallas County Community College system and more than 60 industry partners, including companies such as Microsoft, JPMorgan, Gamestop and American Airlines. The vast majority of students in these early college programs will be first generation college students.
The district has also brought back vocational education in a big way with a ten-fold increase in Career and Technology certifications during the past six years.
Dallas ISD now has one of the largest dual language programs in the country. This optional program is in particularly high demand with many native English-speaking parents who want their children to learn another language and graduate bilingual and bi-literate.
Dallas ISD has grown its pre-k program from 8,000 to almost 13,000 students in the past five years. Early childhood education helps close the learning gap for children growing up in poverty. This program is so important to a high poverty school district like Dallas ISD that the district has continued to fund full day pre-k for eligible 4-year olds even though the state cut funding for this program in half in 2011.
Dallas ISD magnet schools are consistently rated among the best in the nation. And in 2014, Dallas ISD began to create a wide range of “choice” schools that do not require admissions tests, including Montessori, single gender, STEM/STEAM, personalized learning, and leadership academies that allow students and parents additional options beyond their neighborhood schools to find the best fit.
Dallas ISD has had more schools recognized as National Blue Ribbon Schools in the past five years than any other district in the state.
Dallas ISD is also one of only 22 districts out of more than 1,000 in the state of Texas to be recognized for increasing advanced placement class offerings while maintaining scores.
Dallas ISD’s “ACE” program, which incentivizes principals and teachers with the highest evaluations to work in the most struggling schools, has been an enormous success in turning around schools. Consider the amazing results at Dallas ISD’s Blanton Elementary where 5th grade students at one of the highest poverty schools in the state outscored 5th grade students in Highland Park ISD (where none of the students are economically disadvantaged) in math.
The challenges that our students, teachers and staff face every day are enormous. But our students, teachers and staff have proven that these challenges can be overcome. Every child deserves a great education.