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Editorial: Plan to improve Dallas’ poorest schools is showing success

Dallas Morning News
January 26, 2015

Too many of us think it quietly, even if we don’t say it out loud: There’s not much that can be done about Dallas public schools.

That isn’t true. A solid plan, high expectations and additional resources can improve even our most impoverished campuses.

Want proof? Look at news that came out of Dallas ISD over the weekend.

It concerns the Imagine 2020 strategy, which Superintendent Mike Miles instituted in 2013. The plan placed more teachers and tutors in 33 schools in South Dallas, Oak Cliff and West Dallas. It also added an hour of instruction to the school day and equipped every student with tablets and computers.

An analysis of the program’s first year by Dallas Morning News reporter Matthew Haag shows the payoff. While test scores through the district are inconsistent, Imagine 2020 schools showed gains.

Those campuses include Lincoln, Madison, Pinkston and South Oak Cliff high schools and the middle and elementary schools that feed them. They are schools with such significant achievement gaps that many might be tempted to simply throw up their hands in frustration. Miles instead put his primary focus there.

Now reading and math scores are up, and attitudes are improving.

Look at the number of students applying for college: Imagine 2020 schools saw 97 percent of seniors complete the state’s higher ed application form — better than the 86 percent districtwide.

Early on, Miles predicted the Imagine 2020 schools would post double-digit gains in the percentage of students passing STAAR exams. They didn’t. The superintendent could have pulled the plug on the program; instead, he added the South Oak Cliff schools.

That was the right choice. The latest numbers show the schools are on the right track, and these improvements could be the foundation for long-term change.

None of this is magic. Should anyone be surprised that more instruction and better access to teachers and tutors enhance a student’s chance to succeed?

Of course, a school’s leadership, its teachers and the community must be on board with the initiative. One disappointment is the buy-in at Dade Middle School, which receives Imagine 2020 resources but where some parents remain unaware of the program. That signals Miles’ wisdom in changing out the school’s principal earlier this year.

All DISD students would probably benefit from more teachers and extra instruction time, but that isn’t in the cards. Imagine 2020 cost the district $11.3 million this year; the funds don’t exist to expand it to all 223 campuses.

Perhaps state legislators, who appear content to kick the school-funding can down the road until a court forces their hand, should look at what Dallas is doing in its Imagine 2020 schools. The state can best serve its future by providing students with the teachers and tools they need to succeed.


Schools in the Madison, Lincoln, Pinkston and South Oak Cliff high school feeder patterns are showing promise under a plan called Imagine 2020. Changes from 2012-13 test scores to those the next year indicate improvement.


Imagine 2020 schools



Fourth-grade reading



Fifth-grade math



Algebra I