DALLAS – In a recent Dallas Morning News story, education writer Matthew Haag pointed out a sharp increase in teachers leaving the Dallas Independent School District under Superintendent Mike Miles, who started in July 2012.

results may vary chalkThe story implies labor groups that predicted teachers would quit because of Miles’ reforms were right, and Haag explained that Miles’ previous district in Colorado experienced a similar situation.

In the 2010-11 school year, 1,391, or about 12.9 percent of Dallas’ 10,751 teachers, left the school district. In 2011-12, it was 17.8 percent. Last year the percent grew to 20.5, according to Haag’s report.

“In Miles’ previous district, Harrison School District 2 in Colorado Springs, Colo., teachers also left at a high rate. In 2011-12, Miles’ last year, 35 percent of the teachers left,” Haag wrote, also pointing out that nearby districts experienced much less turnover.

But is the teacher turnover a problem or a blessing?

That’s the question a Dallas Observer blogger and the Dallas Morning News’ editorial board are now asking, because Haag didn’t.

“A turnover rate that looks high isn’t necessarily bad if it consists of a sizeable number of underperforming teachers,” The Dallas Morning News wrote in a follow-up editorial to Haag’s report.

Dallas Observer blogger Jim Schutze put it this way:

“No, you don’t want your good teacher, the top 20 percent sometimes called ‘the irreplaceables,’ to abandon ship. But you absolutely do want the worst teachers to take a hike. Some research suggests American public schools could catch up with Canada and Finland if we just replaced the bottom 8 to 12 percent of really bad teachers with teachers who only meet the … standard of barely above average,” Schutze wrote.

“Imagine, just for grins, that you had a very high number of driver’s education teachers who were addicted to meth and had no teeth. And Matt Haag did a story in The Morning News saying ‘toothless meth-head driver’s ed teachers left at a high rate in Superintendent Mike Miles’ first year.’ Well, that should be sufficient cause for us to all go downtown and pin a medal on Miles’ chest, right?”

Both Schutze and The Dallas Morning News come to the same conclusion: there’s no telling if the massive teacher exodus is good or bad until it’s clear what types of teachers are leaving the district.

If they’re the worst of the lot, then Dallas students, parents and taxpayers should rejoice. If not, district officials should consider ways to pay the best teachers more, such as the merit pay plan proposed earlier this year the union so strongly opposed.

Here’s one hint that should be considered – under Miles, a reform-minded superintendent, 189 of the district’s 223 schools met state standards this year, and 41 of those schools received top rankings by the state.

That’s pretty impressive for a large metropolitan school district. Perhaps Mr. Miles goes about his business in a way that rankles some employees, but it just might be effective. That suggests that the district might be better off without the teachers who can’t bring themselves to subscribe to his way of doing things.

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