State questions turnaround plans for eight Dallas ISD campuses

Dallas ISD is under fire from the state for its plans to turnaround eight of its failing campuses.

The schools were ranked "improvement required" for more than one year in a row. The state's top education leader would not talk specifics about what the district he used to represent did wrong. But he was clear that he did not believe the turnaround plans would get the job done.

Mike Morath, the Texas Education Commissioner, returned to the school district he grew up in for school safety week. While students at Herfurth Elementary School in Garland ISD flawlessly performed an emergency drill, the recent letter from Morath's office to Dallas ISD set off a different kind of alarm bells.

The letter called out the turnaround plan for eight Dallas ISD campuses as unsatisfactory.

FOX4 asked Morath, who used to represent DISD as a school board trustee, why he rejected the plans.

“The way the statute is written, the Commissioner of Education is actually not allowed to approve a turnaround plan unless he or she believes the plan will have a high likelihood of working,” he explained.

Morath would not get into the details about what campuses labeled "improvement required schools" did wrong in their plans but gave some general examples.

“We assess root cause analysis. For example, if a campus says the reason the campus is low performing is because the math scores are low, that is not what you would call root cause analysis. You have to go further than that,” he explained. “If you see an action plan in one year that's the same as action plan in the exact prior year didn't seem to result in improvements in prior year, we would have questions about whether that would be effective in the new year."

But Morath wouldn't say if that's the case with the DISD plans. The letter from his office is now requiring that the school board and superintendent go back to school for "governance training."

Some have criticized Morath's plans as meddling by the state, something he used to advocate against.

“I'm a constitutionally sworn officer, sworn to uphold the law. I'm doing what the legislature asked us to do,” he said.

In order to prevent a state takeover of the school board or closure of campuses in addition to training, the district will need to re-submit acceptable improvement plans and keep the merit-based pay reforms Mike Miles started and Dr. Hinojosa has continued.

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