Friday, April 12, 2019

Information School Trustees, Teachers, & Parents must know how to find about schools

Education must be data driven!

Many schools and administrators claim to be data driven but never share the source of the data or full access to that data.  They rarely follow data over the years from decade to decade.  Small snapshots of cherry-picked data, used to justify the most recent innovations, seem to be the extent of being "data driven" inside our public schools.

For education to be data-driven the public must know where to find the information year to year so that as much as is possible they can do the driving in "data-driven."  They should be led by well informed trustees.  Sadly, too few trustees seem to know the sources of the data needed, or care about exposing the data so that parents and teachers can better understand and support any allegedly "data-driven" changes.  Here is a summary of some of those sources:

The Dallas ISD Data Portal, should be, and almost is, the most valuable source for information for everyone.  See  It is a very large site that after over a decade of work on it I can only claim to know more than most civilians, but not everything.  The main menu has these choices and this is it with the most used choice selected: "Statistics and Reports."

I have invested probably thousands of hours over the past 15 years working with these 4 alternatives, spending most of my time in the first three choices.  They are powerful!

Enrollment is only current data.  Data Packets has all data going back nine years.  It is powerful, but all in a pdf file and very difficult to use in showing patterns year to year.  It takes work!

SEI (School Effectiveness Indices) data is very powerful and useful in tracking progress in schools.  I have used it extensively to follow schools with School Time Capsule Projects.  This measure must not be allowed to stop.  It is very useful.  It is over 20 years old and unique to DISD as far as I know.

The STARR choice shows the history of such tests by school going back to 2012.

During the past year I have been shown a much more powerful data set that is not in the Statistics and Reports tab but you can find it under the "Resources" tab to the right:

The "School Information File" is the most powerful tool in the Dallas ISD Data Portal.  It creates a spreadsheet in seconds with one line for every school and academy in DISD and currently provides 40 variables per school, some of the most critical.  It needs to be expanded, but still remains powerful.

 (This posting is under construction and will be expanded.)

Monday, April 8, 2019

School Time Capsule Postmasters Needed!

Want to help hundreds of parents write letters to their children every year about their dreams for their children?  (Imagine the priceless family conversations such letters generate!)

Want to help children write their plans for their future every year, during the decade before they graduate high school? (Do you wish you had copies of such plans you had written from 3rd through 12th grade? Would you be a different person because of such focus?)

Want to help parents connect their children with their family roots?  (Do you wish you now had such written family stories from your parents, grandparents, and other relatives? Imagine the value of such written family stories! Imagine the priceless value of stories relatives who are no longer living could have written in letters to you if you had asked!)

Want to help students experience and learn the true power of writing?  (Help strengthen the weakest link in our schools, writing!)

These goals are possible!

Simply helping letters that students, parents, and others write, to get back to them, makes it all possible! 

Imagine handing out year-old letters to 5th graders.  They consider year old letters to be very old ...

Volunteer School Time Capsule Postmasters are needed to help schools achieve these goals! They make a system possible that focuses both students and parents on their own roots & goals, year by year, from pre-k through graduation.

The Postmaster(s) invest possibly 50 hours a year helping store hundreds, if not thousands of letters parents and students write for the School Time Capsule Vault, a large vault usually placed in the school lobby.  If their local school does not yet have a vault, they can help raise the $900 needed with the PTA. The fundraising process is the best way to tell parents about the project.  Then the school can order the 700-pound vault from, delivered. The postmaster(s) help train school staff, especially the Language Arts teachers, about this set of two annual writing projects for students.

The first of the two annual classes start in the third grade.  Students letters are written to each parent and may expand in later years to favorite relatives. Students write to ask for letters back about dreams for the student and one story from the writer's personal history. Students should always immediately read letters they receive back. They then ask the writer any questions they may have.  Hopefully this will lead to those priceless conversations we should have more of with our children and grandchildren.

Honorable Trinidad Garza, former DISD Trustee, and Bill Betzen on 1-17-19,
seeing both the old 2005 Quintanilla vault and the new 700-pound vault.
Too many letters for the old vault! Nice problem! Since 2015 Quintanilla has
consistently remained one of the 5 best of all 33 DISD middle schools.
The second writing class is when students prepare the self-addressed envelope for all the letters collected.  Then the student writes a letter to themselves about their own plans for the future while the postmaster and teacher double check addresses on the envelopes. 

A year is a very long time. Students change significantly.  Thus the "Time Capsule" term is appropriate from the perspective of both the student, and their parents who see the massive year to year changes every child's life reflects.

The Postmaster(s) make this system possible in each school. They manage the archiving system so that they can personally hand back to each student the envelope they prepared a year earlier.  They will see that twinkle in the student's eye as students try to remember what they wrote a year earlier.

Letter writing starts as parents fill out the pre-k application and are asked to each write their first of 14 annual letters to their child about their dreams for their child. These are dreams that will develop and gain details as their child grows.  Remember, the letters from the students start by the third grade.

The Postmaster(s) will also help for the special 10-year-in-the-future dreams and plans that happen in the 8th grade, and then again in the 12th grade.  They will ultimately be helping to coordinate those 10-year 8th grade and 12th grade class reunions.  At the high school level they may simply staff the table at the traditional high school 10-year reunion.  They will pass back the letters written 10-years earlier.

2015 was first 10-year reunion for the first Time Capsule Project Class of 2005.
2015 was also the year Quintanilla had the highest DISD School Effectiveness
Indices (SEI) Score of any DISD middle school, for the first time! System
improvements now speed up such improvement to three years, not 10.

I personally consider this to be the most rewarding volunteer work possible.  You will see a school change before your very eyes!  Your work allows students to begin to know in more detail their own family roots and make their own plans for the future, updating their plans every year.  Grades and behavior both improve! Student confidence grows!  Then you see tears of joy at the class reunions as they are thankful and celebrate what they have achieved.

Please call the Dallas ISD Volunteer Center (972-925-5440) about becoming a Time Capsule Postmaster and/or even starting such a project in a school you want to change. Use the word "Postmaster" and they will know what you are calling about.

To see more details about the project, read the manual that is found at

This is an open source project that is ran independently by each school.  We only ask that improvements discovered be shared.

Bill Betzen,