The (de)MEANing of A MErica

Once upon a time here was a weekly hold-it-in-your hands magazine called Newsweek, and in it was a column called “My Turn.” Well, this post had its genesis back then when W. was President and his VP was someone I thought embodied the definition of MEANness. (I had no idea what the future would hold). At some point during their Supreme Court determined 8 years, the title of this piece popped into my mind. It is purposeful in its triple entendre: 1) what did our founding fathers MEAN when they wrote our Constitution; 2) ME-ism (selfishness) taking over our country; and 3) deMEANing other people: when, how and why did it become acceptable for Americans to deMEAN one another through anger, rudeness, disrespect and incivility?  Little did I know then how my procrastination would result in an even more relevant essay in 2016.

1.Let me start by celebrating some what our Founding Fathers MEANt when they wrote and adopted the Constitution of the United States.  In 4543 words and approximately one-half hour of speaking time –the Founding Fathers formalized and ratified the tenets of American democracy. The 2016 Republican Presidential nominee spoke two and a half times as long (75 minutes) when he accepted the nomination in July.  He spent most of his time talking not about the greatness of the Constitution and its MEANing, rather he talked about the greatness of … himself.



Speakers at the 2016 Democratic Convention often referenced and underscored some of what the Founding Fathers had in mind for the MEANING of AMERICA:


President Barak Obama:


  • The America I know is decent and generous.
  • They (my Kansas grandparents) didn’t respect mean-spiritedness or folks who were always looking for shortcuts in life. Instead, they valued traits like honesty and hard work, kindness, courtesy, humility, responsibility; helping each other out. That’s what they believed in. True things, things that last, the things we try to teach our kids.
  • America has never been about what one person says he’ll do for us. It’s about what can be achieved by us, together, through the hard and slow and sometimes frustrating, but ultimately enduring work of self-government.
  • America is already great. America is already strong. And I promise you…it doesn’t depend on any one person. And that, in the end, may be the biggest difference in this election, the meaning of our democracy.


Vice President Joe Biden:


  • We talk about, we think about, the countless thousands of people who suffer so much more than we have, with so much less support—so much less reason to go on. But they get up every morning, every day. They put one foot in front of the other. They keep going. That’s the unbreakable spirit of the people of America. That’s who we are. Don’t forget it.


First Lady Michelle Obama:

  • Barack and I think about every day…How we insist that the hateful language they [our daughters] hear from public figures on TV does not represent the true spirit of this country. How we explain that when someone is cruel or acts like a bully, you don’t stoop to their level. No, our motto is, when they go low, we go high.
  • I want a president who will teach our children that everyone in this country matters, a president who truly believes in the vision that our Founders put forth all those years ago that we are all created equal, each a beloved part of the great American story.
  • And when crisis hits, we don’t turn against each other. No, we listen to each other, we lean on each other, because we are always stronger together.


Democratic Presidential nominee Hillary Clinton:

  • [We have t]he most enduring values. Freedom and equality, justice and opportunity. We should be so proud that these words are associated with us. That when people hear them — they hear … America.
  • Americans don’t say: “I alone can fix it.”We say: “We’ll fix it together.”
  • Remember: Our Founders fought a revolution and wrote a Constitution so America would never be a nation where one person had all the power. Two hundred and forty years later, we still put our faith in each other.
  • We lost my mother a few years ago. I miss her every day. And I still hear her voice urging me to keep working, keep fighting for right, no matter what. That’s what we need to do together as a nation.
  • Let our legacy be about “planting seeds in a garden you never get to see.” That’s why we’re here … not just in this hall, but on this Earth.
  • The Founders showed us that. And so have many others since. They were drawn together by love of country, and the selfless passion to build something better for all who follow.
  • That is the story of America. And we begin a new chapter tonight.


Khizr Khan:

  • Like many immigrants, we came to this country empty-handed. We believed in American democracy — that with hard work and the goodness of this country, we could share in and contribute to its blessings.


2.  ME (selfishness).  This MEANing is perhaps the hardest for me to understand. America is filled with kind people. And if you go back to those 4543 words in that dog-eared pamphlet Mr. Khan pulled out of his pocket, there is a strong role for the federal government to play to “establish Justice, insure domestic Tranquility, provide for the common defence, promote the general Welfare, and secure the Blessings of Liberty….” Working together, solving problems together, living together, respecting one another are American values. Americans are about WE, not about ME.



3. When did it become acceptable for Americans to be so overtly MEAN to one another and to deMEAN one another? When I first thought of the MEANING of America in the early part of this century I thought this nastiness reared its ugly head under Bush/Cheney. But as the years have passed, I now believe the overt MEANness and the tacit approval of saying hurtful things started in 1994 with Newt Gingrich’s Contract with America, so it should come as no real surprise that Newt Gingrich has been supporting Donald Trump and his ugly view of America. Disparaging public servants became acceptable and even the norm. Not long afterward this Contract, the shameful behavior we are witnessing today seeped into our everyday lives. The advent and expansion of the internet and email and texting and twitter have all added to our willingness and ability to attack one another verbally. The anonymity and the impersonal nature of electronic communications allow people to say things many would never utter face to face. The culmination of this can be seen daily, hourly, minute by minute in the behavior and words of the Republican Presidential nominee.  The nominee bullies, he lies, he threatens, he name calls using jargon few would ever use privately, let alone publicly,  language that no national figure should ever use and before him did ever use.  The nominee has done this from the safety of his tweets, rarely facing his targets personally.  Somehow he has given Americans tacit approval to deMEAN each other, express hatred and bigotry toward each other, and even threaten each other with physical violence. He has become a poster child for MEANness and much, much more as he now threatens to undermine the cornerstone of our democracy, our election process itself.



I cannot fully explain these occurrences.  Our Founding Fathers would not recognize the crass discourse we are witnessing today.  They worked tirelessly to collaborate, unite and adopt those 4543 words.  One can obviously argue about equity, justice, tranquility, liberty for whom. But I do believe they hoped this new experiment called America would increase everyone’s opportunities for equity, justice, tranquility and liberty.  Their hope was not to increase MEANness and ME –ism. It was not to deMEAN others, but rather to produce a country where democracy prevailed and where people would treat each other as they would like to be treated. In the words of Khzir Khan, “We can’t solve our problems by building walls and sowing division. We are stronger together.”





I’m with Her, not with Him

Let me be perfectly clear: If Hillary Clinton were to choose Denver Public Schools Superintendent Tom Boasberg as Secretary of Education, and if I knew she were going to do so, I would still vote for her. A Boasberg selection would not be a deal breaker for me. But…


On July 31, 2016 Peter Cunningham wrote a blog post for The 74 – you know that non-profit co-founded by former CNN reporter Campbell Brown. Ms. Brown has become an outspoken spokesperson for “education reform” for reasons that are not abundantly clear. Cunningham was Assistant Secretary for Communications and Outreach during Obama’s first term, and now writes and advocates for the national failing education policy known as “education reform.” This piece hypothesizes about who might be the next Secretary of Education under both major political party candidates. One person he suggests Hillary might choose is Denver Public Schools Superintendent Tom Boasberg. He describes Boasberg and his tenure this way:


“Equally outstanding would be Denver Superintendent Tom Boasberg, who has deftly expanded charter schools in the Mile High City while simultaneously boosting enrollment in the traditional school sector. Like Henderson (DC Superintendent who has followed the Michelle Rhee model of district leadership), he also gets results in the classroom. Both of them have made supporting and strengthening teaching a top priority and have managed to maintain good relations with their local unions even as they advance policies like teacher evaluation.”


Criticizing anything about the Democrats this election cycle is not something I wish to do because I would never want to say anything that could possibly be misconstrued as a positive for the Donald Trump and the Republicans. But seriously, has Peter Cunningham ever talked to a union leader or union teacher in Denver, or is his perception of “good relations” just based on his conversations with Tom Boasberg? Do “education reformers” EVER talk to folks on the other side of the debate?


Let us look at some of what Tom Boasberg has brought to Denver Public Schools over the past 8 years.


  • Not his children, for he and his family live in Boulder where education reform is basically not happening.


  • No experience as an educator. He is a businessman, and, as such, approaches education like a business. The model used is called a “portfolio strategy” and depends on constant churn from constantly closing schools and opening schools.


  • Indoctrination of staff, administration, teachers, parents, students, the business community, legislators.


  • A deaf ear to the wants and desires of parents and community members.


  • Support for the most punitive teacher evaluation system in the country.


  • Unfettered support for an increase in the number of non-union schools, be they charters or what in Colorado are called “innovation” schools. Out of approximately 225 schools in DPS, over 100 are now staffed by non-union workers.


  • Lots of outside money, primarily from Stand for Children and Democrats for Education Reform, to buy the seven member school board.


  • Support for high stakes testing and the concomitant evaluations and firings based on such.


  • Support for non-licensed or alternatively licensed staff, be they principals (RELAY), teachers (TFA, Blueprint), tutors (Blueprint), substitute teachers (Teachers on Call).


  • The highest teacher turnover rate in the Denver metropolitan area – 22% per year.


  • Principal turnover of 30% per year.


  • Re-segregated schools. Three-fourths of DPS are what the New York Times calls “demographically homogenous.” Denver has 65% minority schools (Over 70% minority); 11% Anglo (over 70% Anglo).   65% +11% = 76%.


  • A rising pension debt due to a $750 million swap transaction executed in April 2008, only months before the crash of the world economy.



The “good results in the classroom,” Cunningham writes about? Here are a few.


  • A flat ACT score of 18.3 (22 is deemed college ready; 26 is needed to get into the University of Colorado at Boulder).


  • PARCC proficiency scores of 25% in math and 33% in language arts for 2015, the only year available to date.


  • TCAP (the state mandated tests before PARRC) proficiencies in 2014 of 54% in reading, 47% in math and 44% in writing.



  • A GROWING achievement gap in both major academic subjects. Again citing the CRPE study, Denver ranked dead last out of the evaluated districts with its gaps of 38% in reading and 30% in math.



While many in Denver would not be sad to see Mr. Boasberg leave the district, others hope floating his name is just a trial balloon, not a serious possibility. Those in the latter camp do not believe failure should not be rewarded, and while Denver Public Schools gets high marks for implementing the business model, the number one responsibility of a school district, educating children, has been an abysmal failure under Tom Boasberg’s leadership. Would his elevation to Secretary of Education change anything for us in Denver given the makeup of the current 7-0 board of education, a board elected with large amounts of outside “reformer” money?   Most likely not, but at least we wouldn’t be reminded daily of the harm he has inflicted on our students and employees.


Vice Presidential candidate Tim Kaine and his wife, Virginia secretary of state Anne Holton have very different views and experiences from Tom Boasberg’s.   They have not been supportive of most of the “reform” agenda.  We can only hope the Kaine view wins out and Hillary chooses an advocate for public, not privatized, education. Most importantly, we must do everything we can to ensure Hillary Clinton is our next president.




URGENT: A Whole New Meaning to Flexibility and High Standards

The email exchange below came to my attention yesterday.  The Board of Education is voting on this tomorrow, May 19.  Few people in Denver know the real scope of these changes.  Spread the word.  Transparency?  Are we living in George Orwell’s Nineteen Eighty-Four where up is down and down is up and revisionist history is the norm?
Some questions the DPS Board of Education must address before voting on this tomorrow:
1)  How does reducing the elective options produce more flexibility?
2) How does reducing requirements translate to higher standards?
3) Who will determine what competency and mastery of skills are?  What will those be?  How can you vote on this with so little concrete information available to the public?
4) Why are the state and the district pushing “college level” courses when so many students do not have basic high school skills and knowledge?
5) How can you expect students “to pursue their individual interests and aspirations” if they have no opportunity to discover them?
Finally, as if more proof were necessary about the failure of the “reform” in Denver, please read today’s Chalkbeat article entitled, “Freeing failing schools from bureaucracy hasn’t worked as hoped.  So why is Colorado still doing it?”  Chalkbeat is not known for its criticism of “education reform.”

From: “Albright, John” <>
Date: May 17, 2016 at 6:17:43 PM MDT
To: “Kress, Dustin” <>, ”  “Dunn, Lauren” <>
Subject: RE: some information that is getting attention
thanks for providing this opportunity to clarify. The Board has not yet adopted this policy, and the policy would go into effect for next year’s eighth graders (Class of 2021). The Board will deliberate and determine on Thursday night whether or not to approve the draft policy. We agree that arts and PE are key to our high school course offerings. We also believe that schools need flexibility to meet student needs on an individualized basis (see points below for more on that).
As we’ve shared with the Mill Levy Oversight Committee each year, the district has tight controls in place for use of mill levy funds. We provide detailed guidance to our schools on how to budget for PE, arts and other mill-funded subject areas. See the district’s budget guidance manual, pages 38-39, for more info. Nothing is changing operationally, so funding for PE and arts will continue. Schools need to meet the criteria outline in the budget guidance manual.
I’ve included information below to summarize; however, for folks who would like to further study this issue and see the explicit focus on the whole child that’s embedded within the recommended graduation requirements policy, I suggest reading the public materials that are posted on Board Docs (our online Board of Education document system). There’s a cover memo outlining the policy development process. In addition, the draft recommended policy is there for review.
Key summary points:
Why change?
  • Like all Colorado districts, Denver Public Schools is revisiting its graduation requirements to ensure they meet or exceed statewide graduation guidelines approved by the Colorado Board of Education in 2015.
  • CDE did not include any course requirements in their guidance to school districts.
What’s changing?
  • Under the proposed new requirements, DPS students will be asked to display competency and mastery of skills – rather than simply pass a certain number of courses. The new approach is less about time spent in a classroom and more about demonstrating preparation for the world after high school.
  • What’s required isn’t changing dramatically – students will still need to complete the equivalent of four units of math and English language arts, and three units of science and social studies.
  • But they’ll have more opportunities to demonstrate this knowledge, such as by achieving a certain score on a state or national test, passing college-level courses taken during high school, completing rigorous learning projects guided by a teacher or receiving certifications through an internship or apprenticeship.
What about electives?
  • Students will have more flexibility in selecting elective courses, providing them more opportunity to pursue their individual interests and aspirations. We are encouraging our students to pursue at least one unit of physical education and at least one unit of art.
  • DPS and Denver voters support physical education and the arts, as evidenced by voter approval of our 2012 mill levy, which includes directing dollars to schools specifically for these areas. These dedicated dollars will continue.
When does this change go into effect?
  • The Denver Board of Education is scheduled to vote on the proposed graduation requirements at its May 19, 2016 board meeting. If approved, the new requirements would go into effect for the graduating class of 2021, or those students who are eighth-graders in the 2016-17 school year.
Why is this good for students?
  • It means more options for our diverse students, allowing them to choose courses based on career aspirations, talents, passions and interests, which honors the district’s emphasis on supporting the whole child.
  • Students will continue to have the opportunity to take multiple art, career technical education and physical education courses as part of the elective offerings at each school.
  • The policy provides our Language Learners who take required English Language Development courses more opportunities for choice, especially if they desire to study more deeply in a particular elective area.
  • Students would have the opportunity to take more advanced courses, AP, IB or Concurrent Enrollment courses with this option.
More options sounds good but will it be confusing for students and their families?
  • All students will complete Individual Career and Academic Plans, or ICAPs, no later than ninth grade. This means they will be planning a course of study early to achieve their goals.
How did DPS arrive at these proposed requirements?
  • A team of district and school leaders have been meeting over the past year to reach agreement on how DPS can best meet or exceed the state’s new graduation guidelines and ensure our graduates are ready for college and career in the 21st century.
Whole Child, Healthy Child Agenda 2020:
  • A key focus of the Denver Plan 2020 is a commitment to creating a setting that fosters the growth of the whole child, which includes supporting our children’s physical health. This commitment is also reflected in our Whole Child, Healthy Child Agenda 2020, which is available at
  • Over the last year, DPS conducted a community engagement process to inform the development of the Whole Child, Healthy Child Agenda 2020. We gathered input from approximately 4,000 DPS community members through surveys, focus groups and meetings. Based on this input and endorsed by the DPS Health Advisory Council, we have established objectives and performance metrics that will drive our work in the coming years.
  • This agenda focuses on 10 key areas, including physical education and physical activity as well as health education, nutrition and health services.
  • The primary objectives for physical education and physical activity are as follows:
  • Increase standards and evidence-based physical education programming for students in district-run schools.
  • Increase the amount of student physical activity before, during and after school.
  • Examples of performance metrics:
  • 85% of physical education teachers will ensure students are moderate to vigorously active at least 50% of every PE class period.
  • 75% of schools will offer physical activity opportunities before school.
  • 75% of teachers will use an in-class movement structure during the school day.
John Albright
Deputy Chief of Staff
Office: 720-423-3287
Cell/Text: 720-939-0690
Sent: Tuesday, May 17, 2016 4:09 PM
To: Kress, Dustin <>; ”Dunn, Lauren <>
Subject: RE: some information that is getting attention
Mill Levy committee,
I’m not sure what to make of this, the following email message has been distributed and there is an impression that the School Board is planning to vote to reduce graduation requirements in the electives. I thought that someone on the Mill Levy committee might be informed about this and could help me formulate a response:
On Thursday May 18th, the school board will be making the decision to eliminate the 1 year graduation requirement for physical education as well as other electives.  We must all contact, all the school board members and let them know that without Physical Education and the Arts the whole child does not exist.  The voters gave us their support in the 2012 election, they want P.E. and Art.
“The arts are fundamental resources through which the world is viewed,
meaning is created, and the mind developed.” – Elliot W. Eisner



Confession 1: I have discovered that sitting and writing about public education in Denver is depressing.  I am a very positive person who is generally very happy.  Publications about “Education Reform” and its made up success make me grumpy, discouraged, and depressed.

Confession 2:  Over the weekend I saw an education post titled, “Disturb the Sound of Silence.”  The words struck a chord.  If we allow the DPS narrative to repeat itself with no reality check, our silence gives tacit approval to that narrative.  Those five words have pushed me back to the computer.

Confession 3:  This is a long post and repetitive in parts.  “Education reformers” cite the same pathetic data over and over and over to try to show success.  Because they are many and have several telling their version of public education in Denver and I am one,  I must repeat the reality we in Denver are observing and living.



“Education Next is a scholarly journal committed to careful examination of evidence relating to school reform, published by the Hoover Institution at Stanford University and the Harvard Program on Education Policy and Governance at the Harvard Kennedy School,” according to its self-description. Imagine my surprise when I read this “scholarly” article in the Education Next Summer 2016 edition, that contained no primary documents, no footnotes or links to data or sources, and read much like a propaganda piece or even worse a campaign literature publication. The subject of this “scholarly” article? Success in Denver Public Schools due to “education reform,” especially choice and charters.  (And since this was published at the beginning of April, a shortened version has appeared in U.S. News and World Report,  where Mr. Osborne is identified as a “contributer.”)


In my speech to Boston teachers I described in some detail the national “education reform” cabal. I somehow overlooked including university programs and think tanks whose mission is to research and conclude education reform is working. But even with this push to make “education reform” look successful, the truth often wins out.  See the fall 2015 report from the Gates funded Center on Reinventing Public Education headquartered at the University of Washington. Data notwithstanding, David Osborne has written – with no documentation – yet another article which attempts to prop up Denver Public Schools failing “education reform” experiment. However, Osborne’s tale differs slightly for a couple of reasons: 1) he spends more time on several previously downplayed historic events; and 2) his research is often sloppy and undocumented. Otherwise, his article resembles other national attempts to define DPS as a “successful reform district.” He omits data that “reformers” contend is important to the cause; and, as with many “reform” articles, he has received much of his information by conversing with only one side of the historic battle in Denver. I will provide his missing data when possible.


Mr. Osborne’s article is entitled: Denver Expands Choice and Charters: Elected school board employs portfolio strategy to lift achievement.


PART I – Background and History


Let’s do a quick refresher course before we delve into this faux success story.


The main goals of “education reform” are:


  • Expanding charter schools, which as the state of Washington has determined are not common (public) schools;
  • Improving graduation rates. The most recent DPS strategic plan, Denver Plan 2020, calls for graduation rates for African American and Latino students of 89% by 2020, 90% for students who start in DPS in ninth grade;
  • Reducing or eliminating the achievement gap, that is, the gap between children living in poverty and those not. Another goal of Denver Plan 2020.
  • Eliminating the union protected workers in the public school system which can be exacerbated by closing “failing” schools and replacing them with either charter schools or innovation schools both of which are for the most part non-union;
  • Evaluating teachers based on test scores with all the concomitant issues around high stakes testing.




Reformers try to reach these results through something called a portfolio strategy, a business model used by Wall Street that simply put is predicated on constant churn. As Osborne writes, a portfolio strategy works “to replicate successful schools and replace failing ones.” The problem with such a strategy is students and teachers and parents and communities are neither commodities to be bought and sold nor should they be characterized as winners and losers. Denver has seen up close and personal how the chaos and churn this model brings.


Portfolio Strategies in education reform consist of two elements: 1) implementation of “reform elements”, and 2) academic results from this implementation. After all, Denver Public Schools is an education institution first and foremost. Shouldn’t it be judged by how it is educating its students? Evidently “education reformers” don’t think so.


Nationally, DPS is continually recognized for #1 – implementing these “reforms.” At the same time Denver gets low marks for #2 – the academic results – which is why it is curious Mr. Osborne has chosen “lifting achievement” as part of his subtitle. Even Denver’s cheerleading citizen oversight group, A+ Colorado (formerly A+ Denver) in a recently released report, says


“Let’s be clear: There has been progress in DPS, particularly in comparison to other Colorado districts. But some student learning outcomes are stalled, or improving far too slowly for the district to be successful. (My emphasis). We cannot emphasize that point strongly enough.”


Back to this latest marketing piece. Osborne begins his article with an observation often overlooked when talking about Denver but a very important one: Denver is unlike many portfolio strategy school districts because it still has an elected school board, not a mayor appointed one. Osborne describes this phenomenon this way: “Reformers won in part because they had more money and better-known candidates, and in part because their approach has yielded results: “ His first two premises are certainly true: upwards of $250,000 per race have poured into Denver Public Schools Board of Education races to “win” the 7 seats.  And the candidates “reformers” who are “better-known” include a former lieutenant governor, two former City Council presidents, a lawyer and active Democrat who has done bond work for the District for the past ten years, garnering over $3.5 million for his legal work from DPS, a grant writer for an “education reform” non-profit world in Denver, and a person with strong ties to the local political cabal.  The seventh seat was just recently filled when another well known community member resigned for family reasons.  What Osborne fails to recognize – or at least fails to write about – is the fact that today’s board members are pretty much people the current and previous “reform” friendly mayors could have and may have easily chosen.  In other words, “reformers” in Denver have been able to accomplish the equivalent of a mayoral-appointed Board of Education without the drama of actually taking away voting rights from citizens.  If the Denver model is replicated in other cities, voters should be aware of this sleight of hand.


Where Osborne really falls short is when he talks about results. Like all ”reformers,” he is somewhat delusional when he cites academic success. Like all “reformers” he compares DPS growth figures with the state, and growth can be a misleading reference as pointed out by “reformers” and neighborhood school activists alike. Comparing DPS with the state is the DPS way but this can be a specious game. The state is not where it needs to be. Denver Public Schools needs to be comparing itself to entities with much higher proficiency numbers, standards and expectations.


Perhaps the most troubling part of Osborne’s piece is his very careless research. For his scholarly piece, he has chosen to provide no documentation or references. He cites incorrect charter school numbers as well as incorrect graduation rates.


“…in 2006-07 less than 39 percent graduated on time. By 2014-15”…65 percent graduated on time, including 72 percent of those who entered DPS high schools and stayed for four years.” Graduation rates are fundamental data points for “education reform,” so this erroneous statistic is very important to the “reform” storyline. A simple web check would have told him this information was not true. And such carelessness on easy to confirm data makes one wonder how much else is inaccurate in his article.


The method for determining Colorado graduation rates changed in 2010 and the Colorado Department of Education (CDE) clearly states pre-2010 figures are irrelevant. Mr. Osborne should have checked. From its website:


The four-year on-time graduation rate for the Class of 2015 was 77.3 percent. The four-year formula, adopted in 2009-10, defines “on time” as only those students who graduate from high school four years after transitioning from eighth grade.

It is important to note that this new formula yields a rate that cannot be compared directly with data prior to 2009-10. With the old system, students who took longer than four years to graduate were factored into the formula calculating a graduation rate. Under this four-year “on-time” formula, a student is assigned an unchanging anticipated year of graduation (AYG) when they transition from eighth grade.

The anticipated year of graduation is assigned by adding four years to the year that a student transitions from eighth grade. In other words, the formula anticipates that a student transitioning from eighth grade at the end of the 2011 school year and, subsequently, entering ninth grade in fall 2011 will graduate with the Class of 2015. For more information on the change in calculation rate, please see the link below.

CDE Press Release – New Federal Formula Figures Four-Year “On-Time” Graduation Rate For Colorado



It is a fact that from 2010 to 2015, DPS graduation rates increased from 51.8% to 65%That is an average gain of 2.64% per year, almost 1% below the stated goal of 3.5% set by the strategic plans of 2006 and 2009. And this Education Next conclusion touting Denver’s graduation gains is in stark contrast to the conclusion reached last fall by the Center on Reinventing Public Education Report which ranked Denver Public Schools 45th out of 50 urban districts for improving graduation rates.  Data without context can be pretty meaningless.


Further, the stated graduation goal in the third version of the strategic plan Denver Plan 2020 changes the component for measuring graduation rate. Instead of measuring all students which is what national as well as state and local studies do, the current Denver Plan states:

By 2020, the four-year graduation rate for students who start with DPS in ninth grade [my emphasis] will increase to 90%.


This is a very different paradigm from one that measures ALL students.  Aren’t public schools charged with educating ALL students?  Shouldn’t the goal be to graduate ALL students? Isn’t this changing the rules in the middle of the game so real results are more difficult to find? But while the graduation rate for “students who start with DPS in ninth grade” stands at 72% in 2015, DPS would have to show an increase of 3.6% every year to reach the stated 90% goal.  To date that has never been accomplished no matter what cohort one uses. And the stated goal of the Denver Plan 2020 for African American students and Latino students?  89%. Their current graduation is 64%. To reach the  89% these students would have to show an increase of 5% per year, a daunting task to be sure.


Osborne goes on to praise DPS for increasing test scores over ten years from 33 to 48%, “far faster than the state average.” Like DPS in general, Osborne cites DPS statistics v. State statistics to show improvement. Again, the state is hardly the high bar DPS should be comparing itself to. The state is not showing great gains, but what he fails to point out is that ten years ago the state started at 68% and while the gains have been less than stellar and reaching 71%, this still leaves DPS over 20% points behind.



Over the 10 years of so-called “reform” reading has improved 1.4% per year, math 1.8%, and writing 1.4%.    At this rate of “improvement” it will take Denver Public Schools’ students 20 years to reach 90% proficiency in reading, 24 years in math, and 33 years in writing. Osborne spends some time analyzing the new PARRC standardized tests for 2015 report Denver Public Schools versus state results, but the bottom line for test results shows Denver’s students with proficiencies of 33% in language arts, 25% in math. The state weighs in with 40% in language arts, 29% in math. Both he and I take note of the narrowing of the District/State gap. He described it this way:


In 2015, Colorado switched to the PARCC tests, so comparisons to previous years are no longer possible. But Denver schools appear to have adjusted far better to the more demanding, Common Core‒aligned PARCC tests than schools in the rest of the state.  Perhaps focusing on testing at the expense of educating children pays off!


In February I described it this way:


Here’s one piece of good news . Under the last state initiated tests in 2014 TCAPs, DPS had proficiencies of 54% , 47% and 44% in reading math and writing, respectively, while the state stood at 69%, 56%, and 54% . At least under PARRC, the double digit gaps between DPS and the state were reduced to single digits. Too bad the scores across the board were awful.


PART II – Winning the Political Battle

Osborne also spends more time on the political history of Denver’s “reform” board, but once again he is sloppy with his research. (My last post goes into great detail about how “reformer’s” changed the election outcome.) He starts his analysis factually when he states, the union “backed a slate of board candidates that fall [2009] and won a majority of open seats….But the union had been a bit careless in vetting Nate Easley…” who “surprised everyone by embracing reform and – being the swing vote – he was elected board president.” His timeline description of Easley’s transformation is not factual. Here is where reaching out to the other side in Denver would have given him a more accurate picture of the history. Nate Easley ran on a platform of Building and Keeping Strong Neighborhood Schools, Making Schools the Cornerstone of Excellence in Every Neighborhood, Empowering Parents, Students, and Educators at every school, Supporting and Rewarding Dedicated Teachers and Administrators. Nate Easley embraced reform but only AFTER he was promised things, the board presidency among them. He is currently the executive director of the Denver Scholarship Foundation, and who knows if that position wasn’t offered to sweeten the deal?  When Easley resigned his Board position three years later, he cited a “conflict of interest” with his new position. The truth is if there were a conflict as Director of DSF, there was also a conflict when he was Assistant E.D. and was on the Board of Education.  But Osborne is absolutely correct when he says “ the board majority was reversed, triggering a bitter divide that lasted for four years.” And why shouldn’t it have triggered a divide? Democracy was subverted. The wishes of the voters subverted. Reformers even back then stopped at nothing to push this failing experiment. Easley survived a recall attempt but Osborne’s timeline for the event is once again skewed. Community members started talking recall several months after Easley’s election because they felt betrayed by his consistent “reform” votes when he was elected to do exactly opposite of what he was doing. He was not who they elected.


This event has never received its proper due in the history of “education reform” in Denver. This one vote changed the course of public education for the foreseeable future. The people voted for one thing; “reformers” changed the election outcome.


Mr. Osborne also tells the story of Superintendent Bennet’s political maneuvering to gather support for his “reform” moves.  As someone who was on the Board at the time, I can neither confirm nor deny these moves.


2009 was also key in Denver school board elections because it was the first time outside money appeared in Board of Election campaigns. Stand for Children came with the goal of making the board “more reform oriented”… In spite of their $30,000 expenditure per candidate – which at the time was unheard of – , our side, as Osborne notes, won the election. Each following election more and more reform money both from in city and out of city appeared to win seats. In addition to Stand, Democrats for Education Reform, Students First, and wealthy local businessmen, both Democrats and Republicans, have all put enormous amounts of money and human capital to be sure the Denver version of a unanimous board was achieved. Much of the money while identified by independent expenditure committee, remains hidden as to who is making the individual contributions. In 2011 the people were able to hold on to a “mighty minority” of three: 4-3. In 2013 the minority dwindled to one: 6-1. In 2015 the Board was unanimously “reform.” 7-0. Not many serious questions from this rubber stamp board. So for the article to say the majority has expanded because “the district’s strategies produced results” is not the whole truth and nothing but the truth. Money buys elections, even for non-paying school board positions. And the truth in American politics in general seems to be something in the past.


Mr. Osborne spends much of the article regurgitating “reform” talking points: the greatness of charters particularly Denver’s locally grown charter networks, DSST and Strive, how choice has given more student so-called high performing options.  Data tell a somewhat different story.


Over the past few years STRIVE has suffered serious declines in proficiencies.     STRIVE CEO Chris Gibbons explained these losses this way: “expanding the network too quickly, high teacher turnover, alignment to the new state standards (Colorado Academic Standards).” To its credit STRIVE does not cull its student population and provides supports to retain its students.


But with the introduction of PARCC last year, STRIVE students scores were basically the same as traditional schools – and depending on the location of the school and the numbers of FRL and ELL students.


As for DSST. DSST students score very well on standardized tests. DSST students who start at DSST in the ninth grade do not all make it to graduation. In seven years at the flagship DSST, Stapleton, 972 students started as freshmen. Four years later 549 graduated. Graduation rate? 56.5%. The Green Valley Ranch DSST had a slightly higher rate for its only graduating class to date: 145 started, 86 graduated. Rate = 59.3%.  And if you bother to read the latest DSST graduation celebratory email entitled, Celebrating 100%  College 9 Years in a Row.”  Hmmm.  Isn’t it amazing how not one student in nine years has failed to be accepted to college?  Try to find the actual number of graduates in the press release. And 100% is a bit misleading. It is 100% of a little less than the original 60% entering freshmen. Where the missing 40+% go and why they leave is a tale yet to be told.


As for families participating in CHOICE, according to Chalkbeat’s analysis only 27% of DPS families participated.


If there is any doubt “education reformers” are in close contact with each other, note this irony:  Osborne’s piece published on April 7 included the following information: “Soon DPS will take the next step, creating an Innovation Zone with an independent, nonprofit board, which will negotiate a performance contract with the district. Beginning with four innovation schools but able to expand, the zone could for the first time give district schools the autonomy charters enjoy.” The Denver Public Schools Board of Education voted unanimously on April 28, for just such a proposal. How DID he know? Who will be raking it in from this newest non-profit?  Why without any data or proof, is this already being characterized as a good thing?


With the exception of the political history of “reform” there is little new in this article. Osborne does raise the red flag of an ever growing achievement gap.

He also correctly cites the increase in the number of students taking Advanced Placement classes and enrolling in college classes at local institutions of higher learning.  His most frightening and possibly most correct observations appear at the end when he concludes:


“Boasberg is on a six-month sabbatical, but when he returns in the summer of 2016, he is likely to enjoy support from a majority of the board for quite a few years. The opposition is weak and disorganized, and all the momentum is on the side of the reformers. If anything, some on the board are frustrated that Boasberg is not moving faster.

It is hard to see what might derail the portfolio strategy, even if the bureaucracy continues to slow it down. Denver has proven, for a decade now, that charter schools offer a more effective model of urban education. It is about to launch an Innovation Zone, which—if done properly—will give some district schools the autonomy and accountability that make charters so effective.

Within a decade, the district could reach a tipping point, where a majority of public school families choose charters or innovation schools. When that happens, the reforms will be difficult to undo. And Denver will be well on the road to proving that an elected board can transform a 20th-century system organized on the principles of bureaucracy into a 21st-century system built to deliver continuous improvement.”

Denver has become a national leader for its implementation of “education reform.”  This has been relatively easy to accomplish with the help of the national media who continuously bolster the “education reform” agenda of chaos and churn.  “Education reformers” in Denver have all the elements in place to continue to push a failing education model. Be afraid, Denver. Be very afraid.
















Disruption, Disenfranchisement and Drama in District 4


This is a saga about Disruption (school closings and openings, extraordinarily high teacher and principal turnover, destruction of neighborhood schools), Disenfranchisement (two board resignations in four years, two representatives chosen by the Board of Education, not the voters), and Drama (the most recent Board vacancy replacement appears to never have undergone the most basic background check which is mandatory for all Denver Public Schools – DPS – employees and volunteers.  The seat became vacant in February 2016 and remains vacant as of May 2.)


For the past ten years of “education reform” Social Studies have taken a back seat to the language arts and math in the test-centered public education system in the United States.  Consequently, I feel it is my CIVIC duty to provide a little POLITICAL HISTORY lesson for those who do not know or may have forgotten what has happened in Denver Public Schools District 4, GEOGRAPHICALLY located in the Northeast and the Far Northeast of Denver.


For those unfamiliar with Denver’s District 4, here are some facts:

  • It is geographically the largest District;
  • It has the most number of schools;
  • It has 27% Black voters, 34.4% Hispanic voters, 31.9% White voters, 6.7% others, making it the most diverse by far of Denver’s five school Districts;
  • It is the District where the business model of “education reform” has been enforced with the most rigor;
  • It is the District where schools are rated excellent with proficiencies ranging from 31% (!) to 60% compared to schools in Districts 1 and 3 where schools with proficiencies of 80% to 100% are deemed excellent


In the spring of 2009 a then little known national “non-profit” decided to put down roots in Denver. This group was called Stand for Children,  nicknamed “Stand” or “SFC.” It has over its years in Denver been not-so-affectionately referred to as Stand on Children, or even Stomp on Children. It has lobbied for some of the strongest anti-teacher legislation in the state. (Senate Bill 10-191, the so-called “teacher effectiveness” bill, as well as lobbying this session to defeat a slight change to that bill that would have allowed nationally board certified teachers to be evaluated every three years instead of every year.)  The stated priorities from its first 2009 flyer were to:

  • Establish two Chapters, including one in Denver, and recruit a minimum of 150 organized members.
  • Strengthen the Denver school board’s pro-education reform majority by helping elect four pro-reform candidates. (This bullet was later changed from pro-reform candidates to “effective” school board candidates.)


As a new organization in Denver, Stand took it upon itself to find new ways of recruiting potential members which almost immediately landed it in a heap of trouble.   Stand for Children received or assumed it received approval from District staff (this point has never been clarified) to engage principals and school-sanctioned and school-run organizations to recruit members. It sent out the following email to District principals.


From: name redacted
Sent: Thursday, April 09, 2009 12:04 AM
To: name redacted
Subject: Meeting at Brad Jupp’s suggestion


Hello, Principal ________ (redacted)


My name is (name redacted) and I work with an organization called Stand for Children, a non-partisan group of parents, educators, and other concerned community members that uses the power of grassroots action to help children get the excellent education and strong support they need to thrive.


Stand for Children is launching its fifth state affiliate here in Colorado and we’re building the first Colorado Chapter in Denver at this critical moment in order to ensure that DPS retains, and ideally strengthens, its pro-education reform school board, and then supports research-based education reforms and investments at the local and the state level. (my emphasis)


Brad Jupp strongly recommended I meet with you as soon as possible to learn from you and talk about building a Stand for Children Team.


Could we meet for half hour next week at your school?


Name Redacted


Stand for Children


For those who were not in Denver at the time or those who do not remember the name Brad Jupp, here is a little HISTORY.  Shortly after Michael Bennet was chosen superintendent in 2005 he tapped Brad Jupp, former teacher and union activist, to be his senior policy advisor. Remember. Mr. Bennet was a Broad-trained superintendent, a businessman, not an educator. He needed people around him who were familiar with public education, especially public education in Denver. In 2009 Jupp was about to follow Mr. Bennet to Washington where he would work for Arne Duncan’s Department of Education. His name carried great weight. Principals generally responded to an email when his name was affixed.


Stand’s political actions lead DPS General Counsel to issue an email on May 5, 2009 CONDUCT RELATED TO GENERAL CAMPAIGN ELECTIONS.


Among the advice offered by the District:

Colorado’s Fair Campaign Practices Act prohibits certain school district and district employee involvement with candidates and ballot issue campaigns. As a means of ensuring compliance with the ACT, your attention is directed to the guidelines to be followed in all buildings and by all personnel throughout the campaign.

Schools and Employees shall not:

  • Send campaign materials home with students or ask students to work on a campaign in favor of or against a ballot issue or candidate.
  • Use school printing and copying facilities, fax, email, school mailboxes, telephones, bulk mailing permits, or other district equipment or resources to advocate in favor of or against a ballot issue or candidate.
  • Distribute campaign literature at school, on school grounds or at school-sponsored activities or events.


Why bother with all of this HISTORY and POLITICS? Because everything that has played out “reform” wise in Denver Public Schools goes back to this time.


Stand was the first national organization to play a role in Denver Public Schools Board of Education elections. Its ties to Denver and Colorado are noteworthy: founder Jonah Edelman grew up in Washington, D.C. with DPS Superintendent Tom Boasberg; Boasberg’s sister Margaret was on the Stand board when the decision to expand to Colorado was made; Stand has been dogged in its support of “reform” and offered a financial path fund “reform” candidates and to lobby for “reform” legislation.


In 2009 Stand for Children supported and funded (approximately $30,000 per candidate which at the time was an absurd amount of money for this non-paid position) three DPS school Board candidates. Its candidates lost two out of three contested races. In the District 4 contest 13,000 votes were cast for five candidates.  Stand’s candidate came in second with 28% of the vote; the victor, with 34% of the vote, was the union backed/neighborhood school supporter, Dr. Nate Easley.


Nate Easley 33.8%


Vernon Jones 28.2%


Andrea G. Mosby 18.7%


Jacqui Shumway 11.1%


Alton Clark 7.9%




The lead story in the November 4, 2009 Denver Post described the election this way:

Denver school-board election seen as neighborhood schools vs. charters

Voters on Tuesday shifted the balance of power on the Denver Public Schools board, creating a majority that is less sympathetic to charter schools.

The seven-member DPS board, heralded nationally for pushing academic and administrative reforms, now is effectively split 4-3 along ideological lines, with the minority supporting reforms pushed by Superintendent Tom Boasberg and his predecessor, U.S. Sen. Michael Bennet.

Union-supported candidates Andrea Merida in southwest Denver and Nate Easley Jr. in northeast Denver won seats on the board, and Jeannie Kaplan, who was running unopposed, returns to office.


The 2009 election and its consequences are relevant today because of the confluence of two recent events:  another District 4 vacancy caused by a board member resignation and a newly published article in EducationNext by David Osborne where Mr. Osborne, as any good “reformer” would, engages in some revisionist history:


“In 2009, the district opened eight new schools and planned to open seven more for 2010. By this time the Denver Classroom Teachers Association was on alert. It backed a slate of board candidates that fall and won a majority of open seats, and one of its supporters prepared to take the board presidency. But the union had been a bit careless in vetting Nate Easley, an African American who grew up in Denver but had recently returned from Washington, D.C., to help lead the Denver Scholarship Foundation. Easley surprised everyone by embracing reform, and—being the swing vote—he was elected board president. Suddenly the union’s 4‒3 board majority had reversed, triggering a bitter divide that lasted for four years.”


Not exactly. Nate Easley did not embrace reform and thus become president of the board. Rather, “reform” and “reformers” embraced Nate Easley. The three person minority and the superintendent, his staff and probably others made overtures to Easley promising him the presidency and who knows what else if he became a “reformer” and turned his back on those who supported him and the principles he espoused to get elected. Few saw that coming. Easley ran and won with union support and the following platform (from his campaign literature):


  • Building – and Keeping – Strong Neighborhood Schools
  • Making Schools the Cornerstones of Excellence in Every Neighborhood
  • Empowering Parents, Students, and Educators at every school

Nate Easley's Campaign Literature


Osborne is correct, however, in stating this reversal by Easley did trigger “a bitter divide that lasted for four years.” And why wouldn’t it and why shouldn’t it have? District 4 which Nate Easley represented had voted to have resources invested in its neighborhood schools. It most certainly did NOT vote for the chaos and churn that has resulted from his “embracing of reform.” It most certainly did NOT vote for the loss of its traditional high school which truly was the cornerstone of its community. It certainly did NOT vote for the never ending lies the District continues to spread to show “reform” is working in Denver. As former DPS teacher and long time resident of District 4 Mary T. Sam shows in her analysis below, Distinguished Schools in District 4 have very different academic outcomes and expectations from Distinguished Schools in mostly white upper middle class districts 1 and 3.  I have included her actual spreadsheet.  Please, see for yourself.  Schools in the Far Northeast are rated “Distinguished” or “Meets Expectations” with student proficiencies primarily in the 30-60% range.  These are the academic results ten years of “reform” have brought the most impacted District 4 schools.  And again, please read her conclusion of what these misleading results ultimately mean for students.


TCAPSPFRawData14(2) page 2

Dr. Easley was Board president for his first two years of service. He was eased out as president by another reformer in 2011 and because the balance of power was so fragile and because the likelihood of his re-election was slim, Dr. Easley resigned his post in February of 2013 allowing for the “reformers” on the Board to select District 4’s representative. He cited his promotion to Executive Director of the Denver Scholarship Foundation as the reason – conflict of interest! – but it is not at all clear why moving from assistant E.D. to E.D. would change any potential conflicts. They were always there. The end result was voters in District 4 were denied a choice as to who would represent them.


Under Colorado State Statute this vacancy had to be filled within 60 days or the Board president gets to make the selection. The political importance of Easley’s resignation should not be overlooked, for his stepping down allowed his replacement to garner many advantages in the upcoming November 2013 election not the least of which was the ability to run as an incumbent. After a rather torturous process, long time community activist Landri Taylor was selected (fitting with the Denver model of finding candidates with good name recognition to run so that the chosen “reform” candidates would run and win with a lot of outside money pouring in). Mr. Taylor fit the bill. Many people felt his selection was a foregone conclusion before any “public” process began.


In February of this year having served fewer than 4 years, Mr. Taylor resigned his position citing family needs.  District 4 was left once again with an open seat.  The Board of Education, not the voters, would once again choose the District 4 representative. Mind you, in the past 12 years, there have been only two board resignations. Both of these have occurred in the past 3 years, both have been in District 4. District 4 is the site of most of the DPS educational experiments. It is crucial for the District 4 representative to be solidly in the “reform” camp. The myth of success must be perpetuated.


This brings me back to Stand for Children and what has happened in District 4 in the past two weeks. From the outset of this latest community process many people believed   this vacancy would be filled by another predetermined candidate, this one with strong Stand for Children connections. Lo and behold, Stand’s choice, MiDian Holmes, was ultimately selected. The current strong connection between SFC and DPS?  The Director of the Denver chapter of Stand just happened to have been the chief spokesperson for the Denver Public Schools from 2007-2011 when Stand arrived.


Unfortunately Ms. Holmes’ story began to unravel two short days after her selection. Several local media outlets, led by Denver’s Fox31, discovered some inaccuracies in Ms. Holmes background and application.  She didn’t bother mentioning criminal charges for child abuse, and she was not truthful describing her professional experiences.   For a complete summary of the debacle from a District 4 newspaper perspective, read this in The Greater Park Community Newspaper.  For the Chalkbeat story read here.   On Friday afternoon, four short days after her selection,  Denver Public Schools Acting Superintendent held a press conference to try to control the damage. 


But this story is not really about Ms. Holmes. It is about Board of Education and DPS accountability, (Don’t forget the elected Board of Education is technically the superintendent’s boss.  The buck stops with them.), Stand for Children’s seemingly undue influence in DPS, and the continuing disenfranchisement of District 4 residents. Be sure to notice what people and which organizations the District contacted.


And there are mysteries yet to be solved.


Mystery #1: With 22 original candidates applying for the opening, many of them falling into the ”reformer” camp, why was it so necessary for this board to listen to Stand? What is the real tie that binds DPS to SFC? Why did this Board overlook other highly qualified candidates and take Stand for Children’s word that this young woman was the best choice, ignoring the most perfunctory background check? Why DID this choice have to be her?


Mystery #2: Did the Board of Education actually ever know about the young lady’s encounters with the law regarding child abuse before KDVR’s report, and if so when did they know?


I do hope the Board did not actually know about Ms. Holmes record,  for if they did and still voted for her, what does that say about their decision making? This whole situation isn’t really about one ill-chosen director’s seat. This is in part about the politics in play in DPS and the relationship between DPS and the various reform groups and what all the players are willing to do to keep up the pretense of success. But most of all this sordid saga is about denying the voters of District 4 a real choice as to who should be representing them.


Starting in 2009 a pattern has emerged for District 4 residents. They have been repeatedly victimized by “reform” and its false promises and failed leaders. They have not had a genuine, open election since then.  Instead they have been subjected to: Two board resignations. Board selected representatives. They have lost their comprehensive high school. They have been given fewer and fewer quality extracurricular opportunities. They have seen neighborhood school after neighborhood school closed replaced by new non-union school after new non-union school.  They have been mislead about the quality and progress of FNE schools. They have been subjected to much chaos and churn all resulting in little to no educational improvement.  No other DPS District has been subjected to such educational experimentation. District 4 residents deserve better. They must be louder as they STAND up for their Children and Communities.


Those who do not learn history are doomed to repeat it. George Santayana.


UPDATE:  Shortly after I published this, Board president Anne Rowe appointed Rachele Espiritu to fill the District 4 vacancy.  Dr.Espiritu was the only one of the five original finalists still in the running.  Three others withdrew their names from consideration; Holmes was the fifth.  This appointment changes nothing regarding my original post.  If anything, it just underscores the disenfranchisement of District 4 residents, for once again, they have been deprived on having a real voice in the selection of their representative.

Parents, Teachers, Students, Communities Unite and Fight: A Speech to Boston’s Teachers and Communities

On Saturday, February 27, 2016 I was asked to tell the story of Denver and “education reform” in Denver Public Schools to the Boston Teachers Union.  Here is what I said.


My name is Jeannie Kaplan. I had the honor of serving on the Denver Public Schools board of education for 8 years. My terms coincided with the most transformative and destructive years in public education in recent memory. Thank you for inviting me to tell you about education reform in Denver. Thank you for spending part of your weekend to learn about Denver. Thank you for teaching!


Denver is a great place to call home with its 300 days of sunshine, the Rocky Mountains, very nice people, and of course, the 50th Super Bowl Champion Denver Broncos. One thing that is not so great in Denver is its public education system, as currently comprised. Denver Public Schools is practicing education “reform” on steroids.


I have been advised to find some positives about what is happening in Denver. Here is the best I can do but as most things reform nothing is as it would appear to be. All need further explanation. I will explain some and provide you with a handout with further resources. Two potential positives: Enrollment zones, longer school days. And Denver has recorded one positive academic result to date: an increased graduation rate. Since 2010 when a new calculation system was put in place, the graduation rate has gone up 13% in five years. Not bad. 2.6% per year. However, not the 3.5% goal the board of education set in 2009 and certainly not an increase big enough to reach the new goal of 90% by 2020 set by the current board.



Public education in Denver despite what you may have heard or read about in the press is a system in chaos. It is a system run by a cabal. It is a system where politics, pardon the expression, trumps good policy and the truth. But let us be very clear: the top reform goal is to undermine teachers’ unions and the education profession.


I am going to highlight some of what Denverites have witnessed in the past 10 years in public education. I will cover a lot of territory quickly but can’t cover everything. If you want more information, please ask me questions. If any of what I am about to describe sounds familiar to you in Boston or Massachusetts, sound the alarm and organize the troops


Words to worry about:

Charters, particularly the strict regimented, “no-excuses” kind


High Stakes Testing

Enrollment Zones

Longer school days

Longer school year

Innovation Schools

At Will Employees


Eliminating the achievement gap

Teacher evaluations based on high stake testing

Alternative Licensure

And my all time favorite, human capital. Boston Public Schools already has an office of human capital so my sense is you are on the way to being reformed.


These elements of reform are the building blocks of an overarching national education reform policy based on a common business practice referred to as a portfolio strategy. What are the most common features of portfolio strategies?    Keeping winners, dropping losers which in turn produces constant churn and chaos. This strategy in education reform greatly is helped along the way by legislation which ultimately results in the unfettered expansion of charter schools, the use of high stakes testing to evaluate teachers and schools, the demise of neighborhood schools through choice and resource starvation, destroying of teachers’ unions by whatever means necessary, fear and bullying of workers, all of which have resulted in a reduction in actual learning.


A portfolio strategy may be a great business strategy. I can tell you from experience it is an awful educational strategy. Students and teachers and parents and communities are neither commodities to be bought and sold nor should they ever be characterized as winners and losers.


My real message today is this: when you hear any of the above reform words. SOUND THE ALARM: Parents, Teachers, Students, and Communities (PTSC) unite and fight. Organizing, uniting and fighting this “reform” at the outset is the only way to stop this failing model from infiltrating your state and your city.   PTSC UNITE AND FIGHT!

Once education reformers get a foothold in your system, they become like dogs with a bone. They don’t ever let go, and they continue to fight to undermine the cornerstone of our democracy, public education, through privatization and corporatization   Give them an inch and they take the world. Our only hope is to be brave and work as a coalition. We can’t match their money; we can and must overmatch their commitment.


How did we in Denver land where we are today?


Please keep this in mind.   Education reform has two components: 1) implementation of portfolio strategy based reforms and 2) academic results from this implementation. Denver Public Schools is celebrated because of its very high implementation of education reform.   DPS is repeatedly criticized for its results.


The dictionary defines a Cabal as a group of plotters, a secret plot, a clique Education Reform across the nation is being run by a cabal.   This “education Reform” cabal is made up of some combination of the school board, the mayor, the governor, civic leaders and real estate developers, both Democrats and Republicans. (This is very important to note. Ed Reform is bi-partisan. (It is a shame it has taken a full front attack on public education to bring the R’s and D’s together.), national venture philanthropists like Bill Gates, Eli Broad, the Walton Family Foundation to name the big three, national non-profits like Dem for Ed Reform, Jonah Edelman’s Stand for Children, Michelle Rhee’s Students First and all the lobbying and lobbyists money can buy. This cabal extends all the way up to the Secretary of Education and the President of the United States. Add to this powerful group local citizen’s oversight committees and local foundations and you have most members of the cabal.


In Denver the cabal ties are more than just casual connections: then superintendent Michael Bennet, went to private school with his successor current superintendent Tom Boasberg who is on an unprecedented 6 month leave of absence, who grew up next door to Stand for Children founder Jonah Edelman. One of the first Board members of Stand was someone named Margaret Boasberg, sister of Tom Boasberg. The former chief of staff to Boasberg is now head of Colorado DFER, the head of the citizens oversight group worked for the political arm of DFER . And former Board members and former politicians are parlaying from their years of public service into various profitable ventures. These are definitely powerful people who have a lot of money. Oh, and by the way, it is always easier to be part of the in crowd (remember middle school?) than it is to actually research issues for yourself and come to your own critically thought through decisions. So “reformers” have gathered support from civic leaders, many of whom have superficial knowledge about public education but who trust and don’t really verify.



Many members of the cabal are products of a very different school system, a private one that prizes small classes, enriched curricula, up to date facilities. They had parents who exercised choice sending them out of the neighborhoods to private schools. I am convinced that is part of the reason CHOICE is desirable and non-controversial to them. That’s what they did. That’s what they are comfortable with. That is why the repeated cry to fix neighborhood schools, not close them, keeps falling on deaf ears. To them closing neighborhood schools is a totally objective decision and one that can be made without emotional ties.      Most of the cabal’s children attend schools where reforms are not practiced. So public education in the United States today embodies decisions being made for those children by folks who do not subject their own children to the portfolio strategy that has become education reform.

In Denver the cabal is made of representatives from all of the above-named entities. We don’t have a mayoral appointed board but you don’t need one when the cabal finds and funds people to run like a former lieutenant governor who just happens to be the head of a non-profit that trains principals for non-union schools, two former city council presidents one of whom is the state director for former superintendent, now Senator Michael Bennet, the other of whom has just been appointed to head Denver’s city parks and recreation department, a bond lawyer whose firm has garnered $3.5 million from the district over the last 10 year selling many kinds of bonds., including pension swaps. The remaining three also have political ties to some part of the cabal. (Since I wrote this last week, one of the three has resigned from the board. This decision will result in his district once again being denied a genuine open seat election, for his replacement, carefully chosen by the board, will then run as an incumbent. )


According to a January 2015 study conducted by the University of Washington’s Center on Reinventing Public Education (CRPE) the Denver Public School District has become a national exemplar of education reform because of the implementation component of education reform. CRPE gets much of its funding from Bill Gates. DPS is the third highest ranked urban district in implementing the various aspects of “reform:” Choice, autonomy, funding, talent, support, accountability, and engagement. The only two Districts ranked higher are the RSD in New Orleans, and the Tennessee Achievement School District, neither of which should be emulated in any way. And then comes Denver Public Schools at number 3. By the way the study had no data for Boston in 2015. It is very clear that all three of these districts are being recognized for implementing the 37 designated elements of reform rather than for the educational outcomes. The business world likes to say inputs must lead to good outcomes.   This is where education reform and the business model part ways. Education Reformers are afraid of the truth and the real data. They talk continually about making decisions based on data  and “evidence based research,” yet we have seen over and over when the data does not support their agenda, they Ignore, Spin, Manipulate it. DATAISM.


Let’s fast forward to the same institution’s fall 2015 report where the second component of the portfolio strategy – results – are analyzed and see how Denver Public Schools did. On two very important “reform” data points, decreasing the achievement gap and improving graduation rates, CRPE ranked Denver Public Schools dead last among the 37 urban districts ranked for decreasing the gap. Gaps in reading and math were 38% and 30% respectively; the national average for the other 36 districts was 14%. As for improving graduation rates,  Boston ranked 7th out of 50 urban districts at 75%, Denver ranked 45th of 50 at 65%. The national average was 75%. The Network for Public Education published a national report card “to inform the public about each state’s commitment to public education and to see what state” is doing to provide opportunity for its public school students.”   Massachusetts ranked 7th; Colorado ranked 37th. One question you in Boston should be asking is why would your school system want to institute a  system that produces worse outcomes for students?



A Brief History of Denver’s March to Education Reform


Race to the Top (RTTT) – July 2009 $4.35 billion was dangled before states who were willing to conform to the national view of “education reform.” In order to be eligible for this money states had to pass legislation that contained no limit on the number of charter schools and teacher evaluations based on test scores. Colorado passed such legislation. The infamous SB-191 has the highest percent of a teacher’s evaluation based on test scores – 50%. In the past two weeks the Colorado State House and State Senate have each failed to amend the bill. This is due in part to an unholy alliance formed between the conservative Koch brothers’ funded and founded Americans for Prosperity (AFP) and Colorado Democrats for Education Reform (DFER). Therefore, teachers in Colorado will continue to suffer from this most punitive evaluation legislation supported by a bi-partisan group of legislators.


Yet, even with all the pandering to the federal regulations, COLORADO NEVER WON a RTTT state grant.


Also in 2009 the first outside money appeared in board of education campaigns. Stand for Children came to Denver with the goal of making the board “more reform oriented”… In spite of their $30,000 expenditure per candidate – which at the time was unheard of – our side, the non privatizing side, won the election. The board was 4-3 parents students, teachers, community. But reformers are smart and powerful and within hours, of the election they found the weak link and made him promises, some of which are still unknown, if he would change his viewpoint and become the fourth “reform” vote. And the rest is history. Each following election more and more reform money both from in the city and from out of city appeared in School Board races. The results were 2011. 4-3 “reform.” 2013   6-1 “reform.” 2015 7-0 “reform”   With upwards of $250,000 per candidate pouring in for a NON-PAYING school board position.


Then there is the press – or in Denver’s case lack thereof. The Denver Post is part of the cabal; Chalkbeat Colorado, the on line education paper is funded by reform organizations.


How have Denver’s EDUCATION REFORMERS been so successful in implementing all of these reforms?


Through politics. Corporatization and privatization have had free reign in Denver.
What does “education reform” look like in Denver?


CHARTERS – Denver has seen an unfettered growth of charter schools 71 and counting. Yet no excuses charters are nowhere to be found in middle class neighborhoods.


CHOICE – while receiving national awards for its one application system, only 27% of Denver’s families have chosen to take part in Choice. Choice increases inequity. Choice is for families who can transport the students to school. The Choice process is raising concerns about the real randomness of student assignments as well as creating a belief that choice is being used to populate unwanted schools.


ENROLLMENT ZONES – a good idea in theory to increase integration. There are ways enrollments zones could benefit all students, but as currently practiced they are increasing inequity.


CO-LOCATIONS – just another term for Gates small school initiatvies. In Denver they have been very controversial every time they are introduced .

AT WILL EMPLOYEES – This is a very important reform item. How do we get rid of those awful, awful teachers? All charters and almost all innovation schools are staffed by at will employees.


OUTSOURCING PROFESSIONAL SERVICES – DPS has contracts with alternative licensing of everything from teachers to principals to superintendents. Teaching programs like TFA, as well as alternative principal programs such as Relay “Graduate School of Education” and Denver’s own Catapult headed by a current DPS Board member, the Broad “Academy of Superintendents,” and Boston’s own Blueprint Schools Network populate the district. What do these services have in common? Non-professional educators telling professionals how to do their jobs.


LONGER SCHOOL DAYS – Teachers are mandated to work longer hours. In previous iterations of longer school days, services and extra curricular activities, not test prep, were offered by a multitude of different agencies. Good idea, bad implementation.


RESEGREGATION OF SCHOOLS -Three-quarters of DPS schools are what the New York Times has termed “demographically homogenous.”

  • 65% of DPS schools have student bodies with over 70% students of color
  • 11% of DPS schools have students bodies with less than 30% students of color
  • 65% + 11% = 76%


The oft-repeated academic Goals of Reform are: Eliminate the achievement gap, increase graduation rate, provide an excellent teacher in every classroom, great schools in every neighborhood, college and career ready students. So what are the results in Denver under “reform”? After all, shouldn’t this be the real test of any policy? And if the results are not as good as we had hoped, wouldn’t you think the designers would make course corrections? Not so in education reform. The reformers just double down on the failures and increase pressure on the teachers in the classroom.


In Denver the achievement gaps have increased across the board in reading, writing and math, between white/Asian students and Hispanics/Black students as noted by the CRPE study and DPS own department of assessment and research.


Denver’s graduation rate is 65%. The state of Colorado stands at 77%. It bears repeating that Denver ranked 45th out of 50 urban districts studied by CRPE.


DPS answer to great schools in every neighborhood is to close schools, fire staff and replace them with at-will employees and non-professional educators.. With over 70 charters up and or in the pipeline and over 36 non-union innovation schools close to half of Denver’s schools are non-union.


Teacher turnover in Denver is at 22% per year, higher than any other metro district. Principal turnover stands at 30% per year.


College and Career Readiness: ACT scores dropped slightly this year to 18.3. A score of 21 usually indicates a student is college ready. A score of 26 is needed to get into University of Colorado in Boulder.


As for Common Core State Standards and how DPS students performed in the new the PARCC tests.


Language arts scores varied from proficiencies of 31% in 10th grade to 36% in 7th grade, overall the District scored 33% State: 40%

In Math scores varied from 24% in 4th grade to 30% in 3rd grade, 25% overall met or exceeded expectations State 29%

Here’s one piece of good news . Under the last state initiated tests in 2014 TCAPs, DPS had proficiencies of 54% , 47% and 44% in reading math and writing, respectively, while the state stood at 69%, 56%, and 54% . At least under PARRC, the double digit gaps between DPS and the state were reduced to single digits. Too bad the scores across the board were so pathetic. But that’s part of the plan.

Probably the saddest thing I have witnessed is the lack of willingness, mostly from those in power and those with the money, to allow for real collaboration to occur. And how quickly this education debate became an ideological fight.


I am going to stop here. I have not discussed all of the “reforms” going on in Denver: turnaround schools, a draconian school evaluation metric called the School Performance Framework, the charter compact, technology over usage and blended learning, to name a few. Education reform has divided our country, and educationally it has produced larger gaps, a narrower curriculum, winners and losers, non-professionals in the classroom. The winners tend to be politicians and consultants who are making careers and money from the failing “education reform.” The real losers are our students and teachers. You educators should be celebrated as the heroes of today’s society. I honestly cannot understand why and how teachers have become such scapegoats.


You in Boston still have an opportunity to work together – parents, teachers, students, communities – to stop the destruction of public education that has become education reform. Your students, your communities deserve better. They deserve an education that will prepare them for life, an education that will allow them to develop a love of learning, an education that is more than just preparing and taking test. Remember, the decision makers aren’t subjecting their children to this punitive system. Neither should the rest of us.












Anatomy of a School Board Election: When Big Money Wins, Kids Lose


“Reformers” in Denver are claiming victory, and to some extent they should.  They have been successful in buying a 7-0 school board.  Following is the story of how the last seat was purchased on November 3 and how the big money was able to hold on to the two “reform” seats up for re-election.


Should you not wish to read all of my analysis here are the headlines:


District 1: The incumbent was going be difficult to beat, for while voting for all things “reform,” she has managed to keep most of “reform” out of her mostly affluent, mostly white district.


District 5: There was no way “reformers” were going to lose this seat.  This was the only remaining obstacle to a unanimous board, the only thing standing between  public dialogue and silent acquiescence to all staff proposals.


At large: Had the election been held on Friday, October 28, 2015, the challenger, Robert Speth, parent not politician, would have defeated Board President Allegra “Happy” Haynes.


Now on to the details.


While anti-reformers locally and nationally are celebrating the victories in Colorado’s Jefferson County (Jeffco) and Douglas County (Dougco), we in Denver are left with a unanimous board devoted to continuing the destruction of public education in Denver Public Schools. Those of you unfamiliar with Colorado, briefly, Jeffco and Dougco are suburban Denver counties. They are more affluent and less diverse than Denver. The issues in both counties differ greatly from the “reform” happening in Denver.  Dougco and Jeffco boards were overtly arrogant in their power grabs. Not so in Denver, so while I take my hat off to them and while I am very envious of their victories, Denver is a completely different ball game. Koch brothers’ money along with money from Democrats for Education Reform (DFER)  and some from the Colorado Education Association (CEA) flowed into Jeffco;  Koch brothers’ money flowed into Dougco; unlimited and unknown amounts of money from (DFER) and Stand for Children money flowed into Denver.  Democrats in Denver undoing public education.  Who ever would have thought that possible?


Denver is well down the “reform” road. Ten years. National attention has been showered on Denver Public Schools for its success in implementing the business model in spite of data showing snails’ paced academic improvements. (See here and here).  And while national “reform” publications and institutions try to tell you Denver is a success story, the recent data tell you something completely different.(Center on Reinventing Public Education, Council of Great City Schools, National Assessment of Educational Progress ).  Implementing “reform” is one thing; getting results a completely different thing.  Test and punish should be the mantra of this District as our students, communities, families, and teachers, suffer.  And, ironically, on election day the New York Times published an analysis of a new report which strongly suggests American schools are not failing students.  American society is.  Schools cannot and should not be held responsible for poverty and its consequences.  Society can and should be. Also, on Thursday, November 5, 2015 the Colorado Court of Appeals ruled against part of the state’s punitive teacher evaluation bill SB 10-191. And on the same day the DPS Board of Education had a staff presentation making school closures more institutionalized, including providing the board with predetermined questions! Now, if you are one of seven elected Board members and you need the District staff to provide you with questions to ask, I would suggest you might not be qualified to be sitting in this lofty position. But I digress.


This is how I see what transpired in the Denver Public Schools Board races this past Tuesday.


As the November 3, 2105 election drew near, the local and national education “reformers” salivated at the possibility of a unanimous Denver Public Schools board of education: No more annoying questions from non-compliant board members, no more discussions, no more having to be bothered with dissatisfied communities. Three school board seats were being contested: two with incumbents (not just incumbents but the current president and vice president of the board); the third was an open seat due to term limits. The open seat was the only remaining one held by a non-privatizer.


Hindsight is always 20-20 but as I look back, I am pretty convinced there is no way this election could ever have ended differently.


District 1. While challenger Kristi Butkovich lost to incumbent board vice-president Anne Rowe, Kristi was able to bring many supporters to the virtual voting booth who not only supported her, but then also voted for Robert Speth. The Southeast seat was always going to be a difficult one to win because while voting for every DPS staff supported “reform,” Ms. Rowe has been successful in keeping the most controversial “reforms” away from her district: no enrollment zones, few charter schools, more teacher and principal stability, no school closures, no co-sharing of facilities. So while imposing these policies on other communities, she has been able to keep them out of hers for the most part. Classic NIMBY (Not in My Back Yard).


District 5.  Because the “reformers” assumed the two incumbents were safe, they focused for months on the one open seat. Student interns from an offshoot of DFER, called Students for Education Reform, appeared in the summer to door knock and hand out information for Lisa Flores, a relative newcomer to the political side of public education in Denver. The estimate of contacts: 30,000 to 40,000 households. Flyer after flyer, mailer after mailer (at least 8), paid canvasser after paid canvasser. Simultaneously the DFER “independent political committee” arose. Raising Colorado. And who might the executive director of Colorado DFER AND the registered agent for Raising Colorado be? None other than the former chief of staff for Denver Superintendent Tom Boasberg, Jen Walmer. What a great muckety we could create connecting all the reform people and organizations in Colorado! We don’t yet know how much DFER money poured into all three races and won’t until the end of the year (and even then the money won’t be traced to individual donors) but for Lisa Flores, the big money was available before school was over in June 2015. By the time the first reporting period ended on October 15, Flores reported having raised close to $90,000, including large contributions from out of state donors. Yet the Denver media continues to characterize these races as one of union money  v. candidate money when the reality is far different.  As yet unreported “dark” monies do not have to be reported until well after election day, another reason for the Colorado legislature to look at campaign finance reform.  In this particular election cycle all the teacher/union money has come to candidates, not some pseudo-neutral PAC.   All teacher/union money was public and accountable. The total amount spent for the “reformers” will not be available until the end of the year. So talking about the “huge amount of union money” somehow swaying the election is meaningless…unless you just want to keep lying and bashing unions.


Let’s move on to the at-large seat held by DPS Board President Happy Haynes. Ms. Haynes has been a political figure in Denver for decades. She was city council president in the 1990’s. She has held various political public and private positions over her career. She worked for Mayor Hickenlooper in the early 2000’s and Superintendent Bennet in the beginning of his tenure at DPS.  She is well known in Denver.


In 2011 an at large board seat became available. “Reformers” tapped Happy Haynes to run.  She fit their profile: good name recognition, good history of public service, able to raise big money. Happy won handily, running against four lesser known candidates. “Reformers” thought she was a shoo-in for re-election, so much so they paid little attention to this race. I believe they expected no opposition. The filing deadline for the election was August 28. On August 26 the unexpected happened. A parent, Robert Speth, filed his petitions to run for the at large seat.


On September 8 the recently re-elected Mayor announced Happy Haynes as his new Director of Parks and Recreation after a nationwide search was conducted by a committee with Happy Haynes as a member. Sort of like Dick Cheney and the vice presidency. There is much political backstory to Parks and Rec. I won’t bother you with it. In any event Ms. Haynes was slated to hold two very important positions in Denver. Notice the timing of all of this, please. Mayor sworn in in July. Committee formed to find director of parks and rec shortly after. Filing deadline for DPS Board August 28. Announcement of Haynes appointment ten days later.  It is very, very clear to me the powers that be never thought Happy would have any opposition, thus little attention and money was directed to her campaign during the summer.  It is also clear to me by the timing of her appointment to the Parks position,  Denver’s “reformers” assumed that because of a lack of opposition she would be able to hold both positions without many questions around her dual roles.


That didn’t happen thanks to parent, not politician, Robert Speth and his crack non-traditional, non-political campaign team. (They can’t be called a staff because none of them received a penny of compensation). These parents dove into this campaign and came within a whisker of defeating a very long time Denver politico. In fact, I am convinced that had the election been held on Friday, Robert Speth would have won.  But a few days before the election her handlers panicked, and unfortunately, they had just enough time and certainly more than enough money to save the campaign from what would have been the biggest upset “reformers” have experienced in Denver.  They saved the campaign by pulling out ALL stops, including,


  • Issuing a press release from the national executive director of DFER  denouncing Speth for daring to call out democrats for not acting as democrats (let us see how much money they ultimately committed to Denver school board elections as reporting deadlines arrive);
  • Placing robo call after robo call from the Mayor, to the Deputy Mayor (I do hope they were smart enough to take personal time off to do this), to Happy herself, to a retired principal all singing  the praises of “reformer” success in Denver, lead by Board president Haynes;
  • Placing radio ads during the Denver Bronco/Green Bay Packer football game Sunday night and during drive time Monday morning;
  • Conducting poll after poll after poll over the weekend to identify potential supporters;
  • Manning (not Peyton) phone banks with people paid to identify supporters and then following up to make sure they voted by Tuesday;
  • Encouraging the city’s only daily newspaper to write editorials and publish op-eds praising her leadership.


All of this effort and all of this money paid off for the “reformers.”  With slightly more than 100,000 votes cast in the at-large race, Happy Haynes eked out an 800 vote victory by spending anywhere from 5 to 8 times as much money  as Robert Speth. Again, the final figures for PACs and other committees won’t be available until December, but if estimates are correct, Haynes will have spent close to half a million dollars to retain her seat.  Speth will have spent $65,000. $10.00 per vote v. $1.30 per vote.


Denver is just the latest example of an election being bought. “Democrats” scream about the Koch Brothers. Well, Denver is experiencing a similar scenario, only this time it is the “democrats” buying the elections.  Since 2011 Democrats in Name Only (DINOs) have bought the all seven seats on the Denver Public Schools Board of Education. And as usual when big money enters and controls the message and the messenger, the kids and their education have become the ultimate losers. When I left my position on the Denver Public Schools Board of Education in 2013, I said I hoped I was wrong about the direction the district is going.  Two years later there are no indications such is the case, but now there will be no dissenting voice on the board of education to question the failures. It is a sad day for public education in Denver.


You Be the Judge

On Monday, October 12, 2015 I submitted the Op-Ed piece below to The Denver Post.  The editors accepted it for probable publication the following Sunday, October 18.  I was cautioned not to make the piece too political.  I agreed because I believed the message of the failures would make the politics self-evident. My piece did appear but what the editors failed to tell me was:

  1. My offering would be part of a point/counterpoint presentation. The Post solicited a piece from a “reformer” without having the courtesy of telling me that was going to be the case;
  2. The title of my piece would be changed from “You Be the Judge” to “NO: Dismal stats provide the answer” and would part of the more argumentative format.

Three of seven DPS Board of Education seats are being contested this November.  Two of the seats are being held by incumbents who strongly support the status quo of the past ten years.  The third is an open seat where the “reform” candidate has filed a campaign finance report showing close to $100,000 raised, mostly from the national “reform” organization, Democrats for Education Reform. There is an enormous national push to make Denver’s board unanimous in its push to silence the public.  This is an all mail-in election.  Ballots must be received by 7 p.m. Tuesday, November 3.  If you care about the future of public education in Denver, and if you read the below article and think these data are unacceptable and this District is headed in the wrong direction and if you think the public should be welcomed in questioning some District decisions, here are your candidates:

Kristi Butkovich, District 1 , Southeast Denver

Michael Kiley, District 5, Northwest Denver

Robert Speth, At-large Candidate


We have ten years of data on education “reform” in Denver, Colorado. Three out of seven seats on the Denver School Board are being contested this November 3. (Really, the election starts mid-October since this is an all mail-in election and ballots will be sent out then). Here are some important Denver Public Schools data with which you should be acquainted before you vote:



  • ACT scores (the bar by which “reformers” cite college readiness) have remained stagnant with a slight drop to 18.3 in 2015. Twenty-one (21) is the number generally cited for college readiness i.e., no need for remediation. Twenty-six (26) is the average score needed to enter CU Boulder.
  • DPS graduation rate is 62.8%. The state of Colorado’s rate is 77.3%. The last available remediation rate stands at 52.4%
  • Academic proficiencies for Denver Public Schools students are:
    • Reading   54%
    • Math        47%
    • Writing    44%
  • Achievement gap INCREASES since 2005 based on economics – free and reduced lunch students and paying students:
    • Reading 7  percentage points from 29 to 36
    • Math 14 percentage points from 20 to 34
    • Writing 9  percentage points from 27 to 36
  • Achievement gap INCREASES based on ethnicity – white students and Black and Hispanic students
    • Reading 4 percentage points from 36 to 40.  The gap increase from 2013 to 2014 alone has been 2 points.
    • Math 3 percentage points from 34 to 37 points.  The gap between white and Black students is the highest at 47 percentage points. The gap between white and Hispanic students is 40 points. All gaps are widening, 1 point from 2013 to 2014.
    • Writing Less than 1 percentage point decrease to 42  percentage points between white and Hispanic and Black students but increasing since 2011


  • Resegregation of Denver Public Schools: Three-quarters of DPS schools are what the New York Times has termed “demographically homogenous.”
    • 65% of DPS schools have student bodies with over 70% students of color
    • 11% of DPS schools have students bodies with less than 30% students of color
    • 65% + 11% = 76%

The Sunday, October 11, 2015 Denver Post had even more unfavorable statistics.


  • Teacher Turnover: 22% per year. DPS is experiencing the highest teacher turnover in the metropolitan area.


  • Principal Turnover: 30% per year. Since Superintendent Boasberg took over in 2009 approximately 90% of DPS traditional schools have experienced at least one change in leadership.


  • Academic Innovation Office, a new department within Denver Public Schools which oversees charter and innovation schools, not traditional schools, has 54 directors, managers, assistant directors, with salaries totaling $5.3 million. Average salary: $100,000.


Finally, just last Wednesday, October 7, 2015, the University of Washington’s Center on Reinventing Public Education, released a report/report card on the status of 50 urban school districts who have been actively engaged in education reform. Thirty-seven districts supplied enough achievement gap data to be evaluated. Denver Public Schools was dead last (37th) in both reading and math with gaps of 38% and 30% respectively. The average for the other districts was around 14 percentage points for each subject. As for graduation rates, Denver ranked 45th out of the 50 districts.


The Denver Plan 2020 emphasizes reducing the gaps and increasing graduation rates (Goals 3 and 5). Given the performance of the past ten years, is this a District going in the right direction to achieve this? You be the judge.


All data are from DPS, CDE, Chalkbeat Colorado, Denver Post.

If you wish to link to the published piece, here it is.

















A Conversation about Denver: Petrilli, Me, Kaplan

Diane Ravitch published the post below with a self-explanatory title.   I hope you will find the conversation as well as the comments fascinating.

Since this email conversation occurred, I attended a forum on educational equity sponsored by the League of Women Voters and the University of Colorado.  The panelists highlighted a few tenets of public education in the United States today:

1.   To achieve meaningful educational equity the challenges  and solutions for educating children in poverty and children who  speak English as a second language must be addressed and solved;

2.   “Reformers” are hypocrits because they have developed an educational system most would never subject their own children to;

3.   Charter schools (and there is little difference between for profit charters and charters run by private charter management organizations which include most of Denver’s charters) are not public schools and “reformers” who keep saying that are naive or misinformed or worse;

4.  Ten years of “reform” have failed when you keep hearing words like “slow progress,” “gliimmer of hope,” better than other Colorado metropolitan districts.”

I have copied her post below as well as provided the link.

Source: A Conversation about Denver: Petrilli, Me, Kaplan


After I posted an article about Denver yesterday, in which former board member Jeannie Kaplan asserted that corporate reform had failed in Denver, I received a note from Mike Petrilli of the Thomas B. Fordham Institute. I responded and copied Kaplan, since she wrote the post. I think it is an interesting discussion. Please read it from the bottom.

From Mike Petrilli at 9:26 pm:

If it’s everything in the chain below, yes.

On Fri, Oct 9, 2015 at 9:18 PM, Diane Ravitch wrote:

Mike, would you be okay with my posting your exchange with Jeannie Kaplan?

Diane Ravitch

On Oct 9, 2015, at 3:30 PM, Jeannie Kaplan wrote:

Sorry, Mike, but I totally disagree with you. When you make reducing the gap a main tenet of measuring success and this gap increases for ten years, you are failing. That’s like changing the rules in the middle of the game. But I guess it is all about winning, just not for the students.

And I would love to hear what you see as success in Denver. We have more segregated schools than any time since before bussing, we have the highest teacher turnover of any district in the metropolitan area, we have the most bloated administration in recent memory, etc., etc. The bottom line for me is telling the truth, and the truth is Denver is our kids are not being educated. That’s what matters. Taking tests isn’t educating. Reducing curricula isn’t educating. Pretending this is success isn’t telling the truth. My greatest fear when I was first elected in 2005 was Denver would be left as a district for those who have no other choice. I believe that is what we could easily be seeing in the not too distant future, especially when you have a board and administration that absolutely refuses to listen to anyone but themselves. And, frankly, like you, insist this is success.

Show me the (money) progress! And don’t cite 1+% gains. For all the hoopla that doesn’t cut it. The first Denver plan (2006) had very high standards and goals, none of which were ever reached. No accountability. I get asked repeatedly, where is the accountability and why does Tom Boasberg still have his job? Because when you buy the board and when you have no press, and when you have organizations like yours pretending this is working, you can say whatever you want and no one challenges. Reformers here have been very clever – a form of mayoral or superintendent control of the board without asking the voters to approve it. We are outgunned financially. Your side has poured 300,000 dollars per race into getting the six board members elected. I will expect nothing less this time.

And meanwhile, as your side hides the truth or spins it, our children and communities and Dps employees suffer. But you are certainly winning the pr battle!


On Oct 9, 2015, at 3:14 PM, Michael Petrilli wrote:

Hi Jeannie. What I’m saying is that we might find some common ground here. Looking literally at gaps turns everything into a zero sum game. Certainly we don’t want to root for white or Asian or middle class kids to do worse.

The right goal is to see progress across the board. Which is what Denver is demonstrating. Not that it’s perfect, but its progress is real, and promising.



On Fri, Oct 9, 2015 at 3:05 PM, Jeannie Kaplan wrote:

We seem to be crossing emails. Answering this I would say when reformers claim to be all about data, and when they point to reducing the gap as a mark of success, and when the Denver public schools has seen an increase in the gap in all three academic subjects based on free/reduced lunch as well as ethnic categories – white v. Black and Hispanic – for ten years it just might be time to try something different.

And if we were to stop using the gap as an indicator what might you suggest to replace it?


From Mike Petrilli at 3:12 pm

Yes, and then stagnation in the late 80s and most of the 90s, and then progress again with test based accountability. See:

On Fri, Oct 9, 2015 at 2:57 PM, Diane Ravitch wrote:

No, read Paul Barton on the black-white gap.

Biggest narrowing was late 1970s-early 80s. Smaller classes; early childhood; economic opportunities for African American families; desegregation.

Diane Ravitch

On Oct 9, 2015, at 2:47 PM, Michael Petrilli wrote:

Well, if that’s the case, you should stop using gaps to hit reformers over the head.

However, we did see major gap closing from the late 1990s into the 2000s, probably because of test-based accountability. Though that has now plateaued.


On Fri, Oct 9, 2015 at 2:39 PM, Diane Ravitch wrote:

We know the reasons for the gaps

The reformers have cynically politicized the issue by claiming that they can close it. No they (you) can’t and you won’t, [My addition here: not with test-based accountability. Tests are a measure, not a cure.]

Diane Ravitch

On Oct 9, 2015, at 2:28 PM, Michael Petrilli wrote:

Hi Diane. Just FYI:

1. Denver is one of the few urban districts in the country with about 30% white non low-income kids (and some very high end kids) so kids are starting out far apart.

2. Both low-income and non-low income kids have grown. Low income kids growing at 1-2% per year while non low-income kids growing at 1.5-2.5% per year so the gap grows

But do we want to start rooting for affluent kids to do worse? As you’ve said, “closing the achievement gap” is good rhetoric but we don’t want to take it too literally. The goal is for everyone to learn more.


76 Comments Post your own or leave a trackback: Trackback URL

  1. Diane, please check your email for an urgent message from me. Thanks.

  2. Linda

    “The goal is for everyone to learn more.” Including you too, Petrilli. Get certified as an educator and you will finally learn more about teaching and learning.

    • jcgrim

      It’s hard to take Petrelli seriously given his support for segregation of kids with disabilities from academically high achieving students.

    • Jack

      **** SPECIAL BULLETIN ***

      **** WE INTERRUPT YOUR REGULARLY SCHEDULED PROGRAMMING to bring you the latest on the pedophilia scandal swirling around Kevin Johnson, the current Mayor of Sacramento and prominent proponent of school privatization and union-busting … oh yeah, and the husband of Michelle Rhee.***

      BELOW is the recently-released police interview video — conducted during the 1996 investigation — with the alleged victim Mandi Koba herself. Here she recounts the horror of being molested by Michelle Rhee’s husband Kevin Johnson, the current mayor of Sacramento and a prominent proponent of busting teacher unions, and replacing public schools with privately-run charter schools.

      Sacramento Mayor Kevin Johnson is the same man who has no court-mandated limits on his access to the two daughters of his current wife Michelle Rhee (who are also, of course, the daughters of her ex-husband and former Tennessee Education Commissioner Kevin Huffman.) Conceivably, these two daughters, when visiting their mother Michelle Rhee and their step-father Kevin Johnson in Sacramento, could be left alone with this perv, without any supervision whatsoever.

      Scary stuff. (Mr. Huffman, if you’re reading this, what are you going to do about this?)

      Watch the video and judge for yourself.

      Keep in mind, folks, that this is a sixteen-year-old girl, recounting events of a few months prior when she was just fifteen. The video is even dated July 19, 1996 ( “7-19-1996” )
      ( 00:37 – 01:35 )

      ( 00:37 – 01:35 )
      PHOENIX P.D. DETECTIVE: “What … what specific areas (of your body did Kevin Johnson fondle)?”

      MANDI KOBA: “My stomach. My breasts. My butt… ”

      PHOENIX P.D. DETECTIVE: (almost whispering) “Anywhere else?”

      MANDI KOBA: “As it progressed.”

      PHOENIX P.D. DETECTIVE: “Where ELSE did it progress?”

      MANDI KOBA: “Between my legs.”

      PHOENIX P.D. DETECTIVE: “Okay, and what do we call that area?”

      MANDI KOBA: “My vagina.”

      PHOENIX P.D. DETECTIVE: “And – and I know some of the questions sound stupid. Okay? And I apologize for it, but there are certain things I’m looking for. Unless I know these things, then…

      MANDI KOBA: “I understand.”

      PHOENIX P.D. DETECTIVE: ” … then I don’t know what’s going on.”
      — (PAUSE)
      “He (Kevin Johnson) had HIS clothes off?”

      MANDI KOBA: “Yes.”

      PHOENIX P.D. DETECTIVE: “What happened after the fondling?”

      MANDI KOBA: “That’s … we didn’t have intercourse… It was… just a lot of THAT. I don’t know how long it lasted, and then… ummm ”


      (ONE SIDE NOTE: what’s up with choosing a male detective to conduct this incredibly sensitive and delicated interview? Wouldn’t this be better handled by a female detective? Just askin’.)

      There’s so much to be asked here.

      If this video were about the predations of a prominent teacher—especially one in the anti-corporate reform movement, or perhaps a prominent teacher union leader…

      —what do think Campbell Brown would be doing in response to this video?

      What would Ben Austin would be doing in response to this video?

      What would Michelle Rhee be doing in response to this video?

      The same question goes for Eli Broad, Mike Petrilli, Wendy Kopp, Richard Barth and the rest.

      Before she went on her campaign to take away all teachers’ rights and job protections, Campbell Brown first came to prominence with her accusations that among the unionized teachers of New York City were hundreds of pedophiles on the loose, thanks to their being protected by their union. When all of that was proven to be nonsense, she simply moved on to her current crusade.

      Now that Ms. Brown and the rest of the corporate reform world have video proof that one of their pro-charter, union-hating allies Kevin Johnson (and also the husband of one of their most prominent allies) is a pedophile, the question must be asked:

      What is Campbell Brown doing now? SILENCE

      Where is Kevin Huffman doing now? SILENCE

      From this shameful silence, they communicate to the world that they apparently view this girl in the video above — and Johnson’s other victims — as collateral damage in the movement to bust unions and privatize the public school system. Now that Kevin Johnson has successfully pulled off a hostile takeover of that Black Mayors’ association, he will be instrumental in privatizing hundreds of schools in those cities run by black mayors in the organization. Since the ends justify the means, someone like Johnson who is that key in the anti-union movement to privatize public schools must be given a pass for his fondness of teenage female flesh.

      To watch the entirety of this video in context, watch here:

      There’s more about Johnson rubbing his … against her leg. I’m not doing any more transcribing, as this is seriously creeping me out.

      ONE MORE THING: the reason for “SPECIAL BULLETIN” parody at the top of this post is that this in actually four-days old, having been released by DEADSPIN four days ago… and there has been ASBOLUTELY NO COVERAGE OF THIS WHATSOEVER FROM THE MAINSTREAM MEDIA.


        Fraud, corruption, and this scandalous behavior lies in the context of BETRAYAL… and I think that more os us, need to use this word when we describe the criminality.

  3. Re: Mike Petrilli, and all the Charlatans from the piece I am writing, because Mike fits the bill.

    This is a time of great betrayal. The betrayal of trust is the essence of what is happening across our nation. When we speak of corruption, and the lack of accountability we are speaking about BETRAYAL. But there is another kind of betrayal, the spinning of the truth as Mike Pitrilli does…by dint of being an ‘expert’ or a ‘pundit.’

    At the core of this betrayal is the mendacity that is a facet of our culture today… the  bold-faced lying, the artful ‘performance’ that has replaced authentic  action.  Donald Trump personifies this… a charlatan who artfully spins lies about what he can do, but from the get-go, plans to betray us once he gains the throne and the bully pulpit,

    The last thing we need, today is charlatans who the public looks to as a pundit, for they betray us all by leading us astray with their promises and rhetoric, which is then spun endlessly as  ‘truth,’ by our corrupted media.

    It is time to hear truth, because it is only truth that can lead to solutions. Patrol offers only lies, and thus no solutions.

    Out with the charlatans who betray the public trust!

    or just plain ‘shut up!’ when people like Diane and Jeannie speak truth!

    • jcgrim

      I love it. Plain talkin’

    • Ellen Lubic

      In this vein of discussion re truth….here is Robert Reich’s column today re Hillary Clinton. Hope that Lily and Randi both read it closely and see who they have pledged the teachers of their major unions to support. Disgraceful that they colluded with the Clintons who are the close friends of Eli Broad.

      Yes, Susan, there are too many charlatans who betray the public trust.


      This post originally ran on Robert Reich’s website.

      “Giant Wall Street banks continue to threaten the wellbeing of millions of Americans, but what to do?

      Bernie Sanders says break them up and resurrect the Glass-Steagall Act that once separated investment from commercial banking.

      Hillary Clinton says charge them a bit more and oversee them more carefully.

      Most Republicans say don’t worry.

      Clearly, there’s reason to worry. Back in 2000, before they almost ruined the economy and had to be bailed out, the five biggest banks on Wall Street held25 percent of the nation’s banking assets. Now they hold more than 45 percent.

      Their huge size fuels further growth because they’ll be bailed out if they get into trouble again.

      This hidden federal guarantee against failure is estimated be worth over $80 billion a year to the big banks. In effect, it’s a subsidy from the rest of us to the bankers.

      And they’ll almost certainly get into trouble again if nothing dramatic is done to stop them. Consider their behavior since they were bailed out.

      In 2012 JPMorgan Chase, the largest bank on Street, lost $6.2 billion betting on credit default swaps tied to corporate debt – and then publicly lied about the losses. It later came out that the bank paid illegal bribes to get the business in the first place.

      Last May the Justice Department announced a settlement of the biggest criminal price-fixing conspiracy in modern history, in which the biggest banks manipulated the $5.3 trillion-a-day currency market in a “brazen display of collusion,” according to Attorney General Loretta Lynch.

      Wall Street is on the road to another crisis.

      This would take a huge toll. Although the banks have repaid the billions we lent them in 2008, many Americans are still living with the collateral damage from what occurred – lost jobs, savings, and homes.

      But rather than prevent this by breaking up the big banks and resurrecting Glass-Steagall, Hillary Clinton is taking a more cautious approach.

      She wants to impose extra fees on the banks, with the amounts turning not on the bank’s size but how much it depends on short-term funding (such as fast-moving capital markets), which is a way of assessing riskiness.

      So a giant bank that relies mainly on bank deposits wouldn’t be charged.

      Clinton would also give bank regulators more power than they have under the Dodd-Frank Act (passed in the wake of the last banking crisis) to break up any particular bank that they consider too risky.

      And she wants more oversight of so-called “shadow” banks – pools of money (like money market mutual funds, hedge funds, and insurance funds) that act like banks.

      All this makes sense. And in a world where the giant Wall Street banks didn’t have huge political power, these measures might be enough.

      But, if you hadn’t noticed, Wall Street’s investment bankers, key traders, top executives, and hedge-fund and private-equity managers wield extraordinary power.

      They’re major sources of campaign contributions to both parties.

      In addition, a lucrative revolving door connects the Street to Washington. Treasury secretaries and their staffs move nimbly from and to the Street, regardless of who’s in the Oval Office.

      Key members of Congress, especially those involved with enacting financial laws or overseeing financial regulators, have fat paychecks waiting for them on Wall Street when they retire.

      Which helps explain why no Wall Street executive has been indicted for the fraudulent behavior that led up to the 2008 crash. Or for the criminal price-fixing scheme settled in 2012. Or for other excesses since then.

      And why even the fines imposed on the banks have been only a fraction of the banks’ potential gains.

      And also why Dodd-Frank has been watered down into vapidity.

      For example, it requires major banks to prepare “living wills” describing how they’d unwind their operations if they get into serious trouble.

      But no big bank has come up with one that passes muster. Federal investigators have found them all “unrealistic.”

      That’s not surprising because if they were realistic, the banks would effectively lose their hidden “too-big-to-fail” subsidies.

      Given all this, Hillary Clinton’s proposals would only invite more dilution and finagle.

      The only way to contain the Street’s excesses is with reforms so big, bold, and public they can’t be watered down – busting up the biggest banks and resurrecting Glass-Steagall.”


      We must be very cautious about who we support in Denver, LA, Cleveland, Chicago, and nationwide. We all know that data and stats can be manipulated and used for cross purposes…as the Billionaire Boys Club reformers show us, minute by minute, everywhere.

      • Exactly.

        We talk here, and he and all the brilliant minds talk about what is happening in America, but I wish to FRAME the conversation as BETRAYAL on the deepest level.

        We call all the lies, and frauds ‘corruption’ but that is the underlying cause, AS THESE PEOPLE WHO KNOW BETTER, who are people we NEED TO rely upon, betray our trust at every level.

        “We the people of the United States, in order to form a more perfect union, establish justice, insure domestic tranquility, provide for the common defense, promote the general welfare, and secure the blessings of liberty to ourselves and our posterity, do ordain and establish this Constitution for the United States of America.

        There are the principles upon which all government is based, and if you look at the supreme court which is destabilizing the laws that have already been passed “to promote the general welfare” they are promoting INJUSTICE; what domestic tranquility can there be if the unions are destroyed. Betrayal, pure and simple!

        And, BTW, how is bombing a hospital providing for the common defense! Our military betrays our faith them.

        And how to our militarized police secure the blessings of liberty when they can shoot people in the back, beat them up, throw them in jail with no way to pay bail.

        That’s look at all the fraud and corruption, and tell these people that they have betrayed the trust!

  4. Fl Teacher

    I would like to see Mr. Petrilli respond to Ms. Kaplan’s last post. I doubt he will.

    It’s a shame that so much money is being spent on a failed endeavor: too many people making a living on this fiasco and too hard for the deep pocketed egomaniacs to admit they are wrong. Then you have the really dark side of this – the people who KNOW it doesn’t work but realize they can still make a LOT of money raping the system for all its worth.

    • …for all it’s worth AND then having the audacity to act as if educators are the ones taking advantage with their huuuuuuge salaries.

      Michelle Rhee makes more money in an hour bashing teachers, than I do working all year helping kids.

    • The greatest betrayal is that of the Supreme Court, which we American TRUST to monitor the Congress.

      The money that pours into the pockets of those we must trust– our legislators, our governors, our leaders and our media — is so much more than corruption of our laws. It is a betrayal of our democracy. Money dictates behavior in all societies. Here monied interests betray us all

      Read Rob Kall’s “Democracy Sold”–To-158-Fa-by-Rob-Kall-2016-Elections_Billionaires_Citizens-United_Democracy-151010-764.html#comment566649

      An excerpt:
      The damage the five Supreme Court Justices have done to democracy in America is evident with these numbers.The NY Times reports, Just 158 families gave nearly half the early money in the presidential race.

      We reveal who they are.

      The article informs us that 138 of them supported Republicans, 20 supported Democrats, all giving at least $250,000. Then there were another 200 families who gave more than $100,000. Between the two groups, they provided more than 50% of the “money in the presidential election.” And it was primarily given to Republicans. The prime reason they give is to affect regulations which impact their ability to make more money.

      The article mentions backers of Republicans on the right and Hillary Clinton on the left. Sanders is not mentioned in the article at all.”

      and I, Susan adds: That, by the way, is because WE THE PEOPLE SUPPORT HIM.
      so contribute here and help an authentic voice rise to the top.

      • Ellen Lubic

        Indeed, Susan…when some of the Supremes seem to be colluding with the other branches of government, the Executive, and even possibly with the lobbyists and Congress, and seemingly with corporations, that gives us no democracy, but rather it creates fascism.

        The ultra reactionary judges Scalia, Alito, Thomas, are led by the generally Right-tilting Roberts, and too often joined by the waffler, Kennedy, to produce some the most activist court decisions in US history.

        Citizens United, expanded by McCutcheon, left us with the dirtiest politics possible. Now the richest people in the country, and in the world, choose the candidates and pay for their campaigns…all without having to show “who’s on first.”

        Denver is only one more city which is feeling the brunt of the oligarchs power, and anyone who fights back is deserving of our support. But the case of Friedrich v. CTA is to be decided soon, and SCOTUS can kill the American union movement with this far reaching decision.

      • And they will, for they are the top-dogs on this mountain of Charlatans who are betraying the public trust.

        I am writing the first piece on that, and Ihope you will add your commentary to it, when It is posted on Oped.

      • bethree5

        I like your replies because they keep nudging us back to the point that the democratic system itself has been corrupted. It is good to note the ongoing instances of grifters riding on the back of the test-&-punish movement and making a mint– grass-roots outrage has to start with taxpayers who recognize their own pockets are being picked. But political energy needs to be directed as well beyond individuals who are reaping windfalls as a result of a corrupted system. Think whack-a-mole.

  5. It’s wonderful to see people on opposite sides of these issues engaging in respectful dialogue.

    • Laura H.Chapman

      Thanks for posting this exchange. It is clear that Diane and Jeanne have far more ample views of education than Mike.

      People who think that increments in test scores and reductions of differences in the test scores of students (gap closing) can be generalized to make claims about student achievement need to get some new glasses and “mindsets” for thinking about education. (“Mindsets is hot off the stove educational jargon).

      Referring to test scores as if increases in the scores represent “growth” is either a symptom of ignorance or it is a deliberate and cynical effort to undermine the meanings of growth in education—full spectrum human growth with development over time part of that.

      Nothing about test taking bears on “student growth.”

      The national and international fixation on test scores as the be-all-and-end-all of education is a case of navel gazing with none of the potential benefits of insights from that contemplative exercise.

  6. Diane,

    I really don’t see the problem here. Let’s assume we are talking about the gap between how many students should be college ready and how many truly are.

    For whites and Asians, that gap closed due to rising performance.

    For blacks and Hispanics, that gap closed due to rising performance.

    It’s win-win.

    Are you suggesting that if white scores had fallen faster than black scores, you would be giving Denver kudos? Nobody expects you to actually answer this question because you don’t answer problematic questions but I thought I’d try.

    As we close the gaps against foreign students who are better prepared, we should celebrate and take those best practices to all schools.

    • Virginia…your last all encompassing sentence leaves no room for facts often posted on the site. Closing gaps against SOME foreign students who may SEEM to be better prepared in SOME disciplines, can be celebrated, but your statement does not allow for the many US public schools which showed in international stats to be doing better than other foreign countries. Search Diane’s archives for this info.

    • Laura…hope you don’t mind my posting this comment of yours on another issue…but you say it all far better than I, and with depth of knowledge so that Virginia, and all of us, can learn from this info re NAEP and data.

      Laura H.Chapman

      October 10, 2015 at 3:35 pm

      The “backpack” metaphor for stored data is more intimate than the “cloud” metaphor.

      Both are misleading.

      People who think that the data hounds are only operating in the hope of making profits should note that the National Assessment of Educational Progress is not only set up to deliver secondary analyses of data to selected groups, using the “backpack” metaphor.

      The NAEP Governing Board has become an echo chamber for this era’s truncated view of education as college and career prep.

      In fact, the lead writer of the ELA Common Core Standards, Susan Pimenthal, has served on the NAEP governing board since 2007, rising to vice chair in 2012, completing her term this year 2015. She is hardly the only board member who has deep ties to the Common Core.

      I continue to be amazed at the nearly complete takeover of once independent agencies and associations by the campaign to impose standardized education on all public schools, with data mongering forwarded especially by Bill Gates’ Teacher Student Data Link project and USDE’s Statewide Longitudinal Data Systems (SLDS) Grant Program for early learning through the workforce (P-20), including individual student records. Those records can be used by approved “stakeholders,” not necessarily the educators working directly with individual students.

      The assumption that data-informed decisions will improve student learning and outcomes is ridiculous. Data, treated as if facts, do not speak for themselves.

      In a recent study of how teachers interpret data, researchers concluded there was a definite “messiness of data use,” especially if teachers are working in a school that has not met accountability targets,” and instructional coaches are certain teachers can and should use the data derived from questions on the test for one purpose: to raise test scores. Bertrand, M., & Marsh, J. A. (2015). Teachers’ Sensemaking of Data and Implications for Equity. American Educational Research Journal, 0002831215599251.

      • West Coast Teacher

        Please, I read the data for confirmation of what I already knew. The data was the same every year for the school in which I taught. Getting to HOW to overcome the needs that gave us the data was the crucial part.

      • Ellen Lubic, I don’t quite follow. I don’t believe every child should go to college. If kids who want (should) take a different track score below proficient on the PARCC/SBAC/ACT/SAT, that’s not a problem is it?

        I assist customers with metrics for a living. We don’t always target “100%”. Maybe an org who meets a certain criteria 55% of the time is doing well. The % that meet the standard is never the same as the normal 90% = A, 80% = B, etc. Still not sure why folks are going nuts because there is a 35% proficiency rate on the new tests.

        Are you now saying that NAEP is “corrupted” because their proficiency standards result in 1/3 of students meeting them?

      • Virginia, you don’t understand NAEP achievement levels. NAEP proficiency is not a passing mark. It is equivalent to an A. Why would we expect all or most students to reach such a high level? By using that as the passing bar, we are setting most students up for failure. That’s just plain dumb.

      • Linda

        David Brooks wrote in his column today, “On almost every college campus…(they’re) stemming the careerist tide and, widening the system’s narrow definition of achievement….the future of the university will be found in its original moral and spiritual mission…in an open and aspiring way.”
        Reformies with a new guise and regrouping? What are Petrelli’s thoughts?

  7. wdf1

    This standardized-test-defined achievement gap is like taking a child’s temperature if she’s not feeling well. If the temperature reads high, then it’s an indicator to ask broader questions — do you feel achy? tired? etc. You go to a doctor and get additional observations and presumably a diagnosis — flu, or some other disease, or some other issue.

    This test differential is like that — an invitation to ask further and broader questions. It’s an indication of a fever or a high temperature in the system. But the conventional response is the “tylenol strategy” — work on curing the symptom and then the malady will go away, just as if a parent would give Tylenol to a child with temperature to make it go away.

    This generation of reformers isn’t moving beyond trying to cure the symptom. Probably because the cause (poverty) is bigger and more complex issue to deal with.

    • bethree5

      Truer words never spoken.

    • NY Teacher

      Not sure they even want to cure the symptom. They just keep sticking their thermometer in the kid’s mouth screaming, “My God, this kid’s fever is so high! It must be her parents fault.” And at the same time they get to define a “fever” – 98.6 F!!!!

  8. KrazyTA

    With all due apologies to Jeannie Kaplan: from the first paragraph of her 3:30 PM response—

    “When you make reducing the gap a main tenet of measuring success and this gap increases for ten years, you are failing. That’s like changing the rules in the middle of the game. But I guess it is all about winning, just not for the students.”

    A quibble. When the rheephormsters go all in on the scores from standardized tests—and most of their multiple measures of assessment circle back to whatever raises those scores—and they fail miserably at their own narrow measure of success, then proclaiming the (by now obvious and self-wounding) insufficiency of that measure is not “like” changing the rules in the middle of the game, that is cynically and self-servingly changing the rules of the game because by their own most sacred and inviolable measure, rheephorm does not measure up.

    And a quibble about terminology. The “gap” in question is not properly and accurately described as one of learning and teaching, it is a “test score gap.”

    Look at practice, not hype and spin and sales points. Sacrificing genuine teaching and learning to those all-important numbers results in what Ms. Kaplan describes: “Taking tests isn’t educating. Reducing curricula isn’t educating. Pretending this is success isn’t telling the truth.”

    Campbell’s Law. Not “Campbell’s Conjecture” as per Dr. Raj Chetty.

    Or as Charles Goodhart stated it years before Campbell:

    “When a measure becomes a target, it ceases to be a good measure.”

    While I second Bob Shepherd comment just above, I respectfully must add:

    I do not think there are enough excuses in all of the self-proclaimed “education reform” movement to excuse the insufficiency of Mr. Petrilli’s responses. If this is the best he can do then he is, in his own words, a “non-striver.”


  9. brcrosby

    The other elephant in the room is that when Arne Duncan threw $5 billion at reform and only funded the test-based, hold teachers accountable and fire the lowest 5%, and use only “research based” (and often scripted) lessons model and others suggested that perhaps there were other models we should be trying as well … we heard over and over from Geoffrey Canada, Arne, Rhee, and too many more, “We don’t have time for that, our kids don’t have time for that … we believe in this model and our kids deserve it.” (the message being if you advocate for something else you are not for what’s best for kids and for the status quo … so shut up! In the meantime other models weren’t funded or even considered and the model the neo-reformers pushed as a sure thing hasn’t been … more time has gone by, and because other models weren’t supported we lost the opportunity to learn if all or even parts of those other models and pedagogies may have made a difference.

  10. MathVale

    Test based accountability has failed. The amount of spin and gaming is astounding. It has gotten to the point we are measuring nothing. Not learning. Not teachers. Not “rigor”. If Petrilli and other Reformers truly had the interests of students in mind, they would realize the test and punish approach has separated from reality. Reformers are desperate.

    The Reformers have succeeded in destroying education. The effect of their scorched earth policies will take at least a decade to correct. So sad is we will have lost an entire generation to this grand, failed experiment.

  11. I think Mike Petrilli wears a filter inside his head that only sees what he writes and he ignores everything else while he keeps repeating the same message.

    Repeat a lie enough and it becomes the truth. Who said that?

  12. TC

    “1. Denver is one of the few urban districts in the country with about 30% white non low-income kids (and some very high end kids) so kids are starting out far apart.”

    And I think Denver had merit pay. Probably a lot of that merit pay went to teachers who taught the “30% white non low-income kids (and some very high end kids)”. Thus, increasing the gap.

    Somehow, they build systems where the resources always flow to the kids at the top. Whether this is because they can’t design systems worth a damn, or just nefarious intent, I do not know.

    • Former Teacher

      Resources…that word. I wonder the extent to which resources flow to the kids at the top…or are the resources always there due to educated households, money, good neighborhoods/higher tax base. Instead of spending all of these funds on this data-driven hoax, money should be spent supplying resources where resources are needed, especially our lower middle and poverty classes. I’m not challenging your statement, just wanted to state my $0.02, for what it’s worth.

      I agree about the merit pay going to teachers teaching those students at the high end. It also probably went to those few teachers at the low end that overly taught “to the test”. They earned their merit pay, but those poor students weren’t set up for success as they most likely didn’t learn the curriculum they needed. Ugh.

  13. West Coast Teacher

    No, Petrilli. One expects everyone to gain. When one teaches something, someone learns it. Some learn it better and faster. However, you are supposed to be speeding up the rate of the low-income. That rate IS the gap!

    Shouldn’t the question be, Why are the low-income only growing 1-2% per year on the tests while the mid-high income are growing 1.5-2.5% per year. That is a large gap. Why isn’t that rate gap closing?

    I would guess that if the tests measure actual knowledge growth, then one could argue that the low-income started behind and have not caught up. But the goal was to catch up! So the low-income should be at a higher growth rate.

    If the tests are measuring testing skills, then why are not the low-income caught up in testing skills?

    No matter how one looks at this statistic, the low-income are not caught up. If the rate maintains, there will still be a difference. The low-income need to grow much faster than the others, either in knowledge or testing skill to close the gap.

    Would someone tell me how Mike’s comments make any sense?

    Tell Mike learning is exponential, not incremental. Tell Mike that testing skills are easily taught. Tell Mike that the continuing gap is due to economic factors beyond teachers, unions, charters, vouchers control. Tell Mike that whether he knows it or not teachers who deliberately taught in low-income schools have long known that teaching is about changing culture, stimulating thirst for knowledge, motivating the unmotivated, providing rich and deep knowledge, easing the move from one framework to a new one for viewing one’s place in the world, overcoming learned helplessness, inspiring self-confidence, combatting the view that education is either for some other class of people or that education is white people’s method of oppression. Tell Mike there is a difference between no money and poverty. Public schools have always dealt easily with no-money students (the middle-class poor) but real poverty poses boundaries that block academic learning.

    I was never satisfied with a one-year growth on a reading score in a year because that is a normal rate of growth and is meaningless. A two year or more growth might mean something. I found I could achieve that in six months by teaching test-taking skills and motivating the test-taking. Since my test-taking skills were based on teaching test writing the students learned something, although I doubt it was to read better.

    I also found scores could be raised about two years by reading aloud and motivating the students to follow along. In this way vocabulary grew as did internalization of written language structures. Especially, if the teacher read only one author.

    I rather suspect that charter students who are low-income, reluctant readers, and deprived of multiple experiences will not make the grade, even if they can perform the test. It takes steady, broad, and deep reading habits and experiences to gain all the knowledge some kids gain by being the kids of middle to high income parents and the experiences these parents provide.

    This is expensive as any middle-class parent can tell you. And as a public expense, no one wants to make it. Furthermore, the gifts of Walton, Gates, Broad, etc. will not go to the existing institutions to help make this a goal. There are no ego points in such a mundane operation.

    • Former Teacher

      I hear you. I didn’t teach “to the test”. I taught my students a modified curriculum and pushed them hard, with motivation, and everything a teacher does to support learning.

      What do I mean by modified? My students were placed into an 11th grade algebra 2 course after completing their “algebra 1” and “geometry” courses, which were data-driven. Long story short, they came in with no algebra 1 skills, and poor basic math skills (I had a group of students in 11th grade who couldn’t tell the difference between parallel and perpendicular lines). It was a thought year. Even after their “data-driven” curriculum and their previous teacher “closing the gap”, most of these students enrolled in my course severely unprepared and under the wrong impression of how a math course operates. I had to teach math, math learning strategies, and discipline in studying math. Students would fight me when 40% of them didn’t perform well on an exam, but would later explain they didn’t prepare a dime for it.

      All this to say my students, after much tough love and “fighting” learned more than than they expected: math and skills that will aid them in college. OH – and the point of my story is that the kiddos scored the highest math ACT scores compared to other open enrollment high schools in our area, and we showed much growth compared to other “ACT subjects” in the school.

      My principal approached me my last year before I resigned and told me I needed to be on board with their data driven environment and that she knew I cared about the kids (implying that my method of instruction meant I didn’t care for the kids). I told her absolutely not, because I care about my kids.

      One day I hope for this nonsense to stop. Diane and everyone, thanks for letting me rant.

    • I can tell anyone who listens why the low income kids aren’t catching up to the mid-to-high kids, and it isn’t the fault of the teachers. It’s poverty. It’s poverty. It’s poverty.

      Many mid-to-high kids come from homes with books, magazines and newspapers. Most of the low income kids go home to a house devoid of books, magazines and newspapers. If anyone wants to see for themselves, just watch a propaganda film funded by corporate reformers designed to make public schools look bad, but they got one thing right.

      The title of the film is “Won’t Back Down” and Maggie Gyllenhaal plays the single mother fighting to get her kid into a better school. That film clearly reveals the mother is a low income parent and she doesn’t want to be the parent she should be to support the public school’s teachers.

      Correct me if I’m wrong, but In the scenes in her apartment, there is no sign of books, magazines and newspapers and the only thing I see her daughter doing is watching TV—that the reason why low-income kids are not catching up.

      That mother and clearly the psychopathic, fraudulent corporate education reformers are taking advantage of this, doesn’t want to be a supportive parent. She wants the teachers to do her job for her so she can come home from work and flop down in front of the TV and watch it with her daughter who isn’t reading or doing the homework.

      Children growing up in a home that has books, magazines and newspapers who watches parents who read usually ends up being a reader too. The opposite is true of children from low income homes.

      Public school teachers have been turned into scapegoats for this fact and have been told that they msut overcome that child’s environment outside of the school but with no support and no power to change that home environment.

      Both of my parents dropped out of high school at age 14. My dad was a gambler and an alcoholic. When I was born, my family lived in poverty. Eventually, thanks to a labor union, my dad landed a job that paid a living wage and we climbed out of poverty into the lower end of the middle class. The only different between my home environment and many children who are born into low income famlies was that both of my parents were avid readers. My dad loved to read westerns and mysteries. My mother read mostly sanitized romances, the hand holding only type, and the Bible. Every night even with the TV on, they both read from a paperback. I was a horrible student K – 12 and would have earned an extremely low score on those high stakes tests linked to Common Core but I grew up to be an avid reader and in high school, even though I didn’t study or do most of the homework, I polished off two Science Fiction or historical fiction books a day, and when I went to college on the GI Bill after leaving the Marines in 1968, I had the literacy level to understand and do college work.

      No bubble test in the world is going to motivate low income children to read books like I did.

      • Former Teacher

        Excellent share. My siblings and I, too, had parents similar to your situation. We grew up lower middle class because my step dad worked on the line for Ford (thanks Detroit). My mom didn’t graduate high school, but my step dad did.

        Because if this, we went to a decent high school. My parents didn’t promote education, but something felt so right about learning – so my sister and I did (my brother, not so much). My sister is currently studying for her PhD in Chemistry and I’m an engineer (and former teacher, thinking about pursuing PhD in Ed. Policy). We are first generation college students.

        I guess the point I’m trying to make is that our high school supported our academic interests, with a full curriculum, not a data-driven one. We didn’t have all the support of education growing up, but our school did. I pushed myself and my sister to be educated (my brother is another story – middle child syndrome). I know that if I had a “data-driven” system, we wouldn’t have learned all we needed to learn and wouldn’t have been exposed to all that we should be exposed to. I’m not sure we would have become who we became today. And if we were to have, it would have taken us much longer because we most likely would have been behind our college competition academically.

      • Yes, the public schools I attended K-12 had that same support system and the public schools where I taught (1975-2005) had it too, but all that support can’t help a student learn who doesn’t want to learn.

      • Take a look at the Messy curricula described on that blog that Diane recommended the other day. , Educating All Our Children.

        One thing that struck me when I read the “Messy” essays: MOTIVATION, WAS THE FIRST ACTIVITY we teachers had to list — back in the days when we were autonomous in our own PROFESSIONAL PRACTICES (I.E classroom) !

        We were REQUIRED to list in our LESSON PLANS, IN 1963 and forever, when I taught, and was AUTONOMOUS in my CLASSROOM PRACTICE.

        They are after all CHILDREN, and anyone who thinks that a ‘core’ curricula that ignores motivation and can still engage children to learn anything (especially SKILLS) — ignores human psychology.
        I wrote my own ‘messy’ curricula in 1990, when East Side Middle School opened in NYC, and they gave me room, and a pupil list. I immersed the entire 7th grade in the stories –the characters and plots– and the stunning language that allowed the authors to ‘speak’ their philosophy to a reader — to engage a reader.

        Through reading, and through my speaking the way that language was meant to be spoken, (so they could hear how it sounds, not just how it look on paper) these 13 year old NYC kids learned to THINK ABOUT LANGUAGE and to write like adults. It was no different in then my practice in second grade, when the objectives were all about learning to read and to write… and to think and speak well, too.

        I could have followed a curricula like the one I used when I subbed in seventh grade English classrooms, in East Ramapo, (back in the day when it was rated third in the state) . Theirs was a traditional seventh grade approach to grammar objectives— punctuation and usage— (Warriners Grammar, the center of all lessons).

        This ‘curriculum had not engaged my own sons, or myself —when I was in 7th grade in the fifties… so I ‘messed’ it up with wonderful stories that I loved, and movies that showed how stories could be constructed. We compared and contrasted this to that, and we talked and wrote and read what we wrote… and I posted their writing in the halls. “WOW,” said Harvard and Pew, and the rest was history.

        My ‘kids’ over 8 years of my tenure, won every award for writing that was offered, and when the first ELA writing exam proved that 3/4 of NYC kids could not write, my students, now in grade 8, were third in the state.

        I had a book offer from Stenhouse to tell “how I did it ” —the same question that Harvard asked when Pew made my practice the cohort for the real, genuine NATIONAL STANDARDS RESEARCH (THE PRINCIPLES OF ‘EFFORT-BASED’ LEARNING.

        But of course, I NEVER wrote the book, even though I was now (1998) the NYS Educator of Excellence (NYSEC). They jailed me… —in a rubber room accused of INCOMPETENCE… betrayed by the administration, the union , and those who ruled NYC — all the people upon whom teachers rely!

      • “Public school teachers have been turned into scapegoats” BETRAYED by those who should support their professional practice.

        ” a propaganda film funded by corporate reformers designed to make public schools look bad” A film of lies by charlatans pretending to be educators and BETRAYING THE PUBLIC.

        ” fraudulent corporate education reformers” job is to lie, and thus they betray the trust of the people…
        Lloyd, fraud, lies, corruption, are behaviors that are the symptoms of BETRAYAL.
        It is time, I think, that we FAME THE CONVERSATION, and talk of these things in one voice, putting this utter lawlessness and contempt for the people in the context of THE GREAT BETRAYAL THAT IT IS.

        The Supreme court is set to betray the workers, the masses, the citizens of this nation by their decision on unions.

        Let’s talking one voice, and tell the people, END THE BETRAYAL. No more lies, and spin and Orwellian promotions that pretend to put children first when the intention is that they are the last consideration for the privateers.

        Truth, transparency and accountability are the new words our leaders and media must learn!

      • Yes, we should all shout the same message at the same time but try to get that many people to work together like that—even all the regulars here and the members of the Education Bloggers Network. It’s more like everyone is doing their own thing and no one is joining together the organize as one voice even for one day a week to share the same post written by one member.

      • There is a need to Frame the conversation… give it a context people can grasp, something that resonates beyond the static which all these lies produce… a background noise so powerful that ordinary folks do not hear the truth… which is out there, has been out there for a decade.

        I have begun to frame what is afoot in the nation as BETRAYAL.

        Lloyd, I have much more to add–things that I would say to you in an emaiL ABOUT GETTING THE TRUTH OUT THEREl, if I had your email address. I hate the way my commentary would crawl along the edge, so I am going to post the rest of my comment to the larger audience here.

        This is such a great place, but this WordPress format hurts the conversations.

        Moreover, there IS NO PLACE, where a reader of the blog, CAN GO BACK to a page where ALL THE COMMENTS for you or me, or anyone can be read. At OPED, there is a link to my essays,
        one to my posts which link to other writers and blogs (quicklinks)
        , and one where all my commentary can be accessed.

        And look at the long address that interrupts the flow of the idea, because there is no way to embed the link in the text. That needs a tweak.

      • bethree5

        Lloyd this is such a great point: “That mother and clearly the psychopathic, fraudulent corporate education reformers are taking advantage of this, doesn’t want to be a supportive parent. She wants the teachers to do her job for her so she can come home from work and flop down in front of the TV and watch it with her daughter who isn’t reading or doing the homework.”

        I would just expand from my own experience, this also applies to parents of kids w/learning difficulties trying to shepherd their square pegs through the round hole of the p.s. system. Those kids come home bouncing off the walls after 6 hrs of being frustrated, misunderstood, generally feeling that who they are isn’t good enough, carrying in backpacks multiple red-pencilled commentaries attesting to that perception. Husband was traveling during the week; I felt permanently exhausted & helpless to deal, blaming the system/ teachers, we all just wanted to retreat behind tv or game screens.

        One evening my wise sis, a SpEd teacher when my kids were young, listened to my phoned rant about the system calling them adhd etc. Then asked, “are you still watching TV during dinner?” And suggested we turn it off & try reading a story aloud, or exchanging jokes as we ate. That one little change began a new chapter in our family life.

      • For the thirty years I was a teacher (1975-2005), I had one parent in 1979-80 who met me after school one day and actually asked what she could do so her child in 7th grade, who was five years behind in her literacy skills, could catch up.

        My suggestion that that mother was to turn of the TV and replace it with reading time every day seven days a week 365 days a year. I told that mother she had to read at the same time in the same room and then after that reading time of a half hour minimum or more, she had to talk to and listen to her daughter about what they both read.

        That one mother was dubious, but she reluctantly said she’d do it. About eight months later near the end of the school year, her daughter tested at the 7th grade level. She’d made up that five year deficit in her literacy skills in one year, and that mother wrote a letter praising my advice and she mailed it to the district’s superintended. I was told that letter went into my file.

        During those thirty years, I worked with about 6,000 students and that one mother was the only parent who came to one of her daughter’s teachers, me, and asked for advice, and then followed through.

        Much later, a few years before I retired from teaching, one of my female students asked me what she could do to get out of the reading lab. This 9th grade student was in my grade level, college prep English class but she was reading far below grade level and she was stuck in two periods of reading lab in an attempt to catch her up. The reading lab out the high school is where all of the kids went to help them catch up. When the district wanted to cut the reading labs to save money during contract negations one year, the teachers voted to cut back their pay increase demands to keep that class. The teachers also agreed to teach more kids per class too. Concessions made by the teachers and their union to keep what teachers felt were vital services for kids who were reading below grade level.

        Anyway, I gave the same advice to this 9th grade student. I asked her if she read books at home. She said no. I told her to stop talking on the phone, watching TV, playing video games and listening to music and to read at least 30 minutes every day. I told her the more she read, the faster she’d get out of the reading labs. She did as I suggested but read several hours a day instead of the minimum of thirty minuets.

        She tested out of the reading lab in 10th grade because she caught up to grade level in her literacy skills. She also did all the work in my class and earned an A. To earn that grade, she had to do many of her assignments over to improve the grade on them.

    • Thank you West Coast Teacher, Former Teacher, and Lloyd for three of the best posts I’ve ever read on Diane’s blog. Petrilli would not stand a chance in a debate with the three of you.

      • Former Teacher

        Thanks! I’d love an opportunity to share my experiences and beliefs! Maybe I should bring data to prove my points LOL.

        Lloyd, I wanted to say that when students came to me asking what they could do to get their grades up I’d always tell them “do as much math and practice as much as you can – anything you are unsure about needs to be asked about”. The kiddos had to put in the work, behind grade level or not! If you put the work in and utilized resources provided (and believe me, I offered many resources: online discussion boards for students and parents, videos that I created myself on the material taught in class, and plenty of in-class time to get a start on assignments, preprinted notes, online communication system, supplemental materials available for students who may needed a brush up of basic facts…we didn’t skip a beat, which allowed all the time in class for questions and discussions). It was an amazing system and I miss it! The kids knew I didn’t play, and that was my reputation – gosh I’d be fired in a second in a data driven charter school. I want to teach again and make it even better!

        I guess how I want to end this post is to agree with you, Lloyd, about helping students who don’t want to help themselves. I wouldn’t ever give up on them, and I’d offer them resources (and sometimes we’d make other agreements specific to them that were between me and them)…but if they didn’t want it, there was only so much I could do – but I always tried to make it a learning moment. I feel like there’s this huge denial plaguing our public schools. Denial doesn’t fix a problem. America, your drowning our public schools. Do you want us to be the best of all of the developed nations? Stop this crap. You’re losing teachers, administrators, and the centers (or-could be centers) of our communities: our schools.

  14. kriskross

    “Test based accountability” is just nonsense, dreamed up by people who don’t understand how children learn. What world do they live in, anyway?

  15. vavrik2014

    Maybe Mike would like to comment on the inconsistency of curriculum, the RIB process and how many tenure teachers with good observations have been pushed out, the miss use of programs like Restorative Justice (in school suspension with a fancy name), the closing of schools while the community is not wanting it, the fact that they wipe out staff and rehire under the conditions of innovation when the staff should be in tact to vote for innovation, the number of non-certified teachers teaching, how much money is paid for alternative contract teachers, how long a teacher needs to wait to gain insurance, the one day off they are given while they wait, and the options that are forced on many disguised as choice. People would be interested in how Denver is meeting CRPE’s indicators and if the idea is to turn all schools into charter. More Strive anyone?

    • Former Teacher

      Funny you talked about “restorative justice”, another buzz word. In the school I previously worked for, “restorative justice” meant talking with a student about what they did wrong. If they did whatever they did wrong again, thy would be talked to again, and then again. After about the fifth or so time of talking with the student and discussing how their “actions have consequences and how their actions have hurt people”, they’d be assigned a detention.

      Give me a break. This coddling makes me sick.

    • Former Teacher

      But, I agree! I would love to see his responses to your questions.

  16. Christine

    I hear that common ground baloney from reformers bent on hairbrained ed schemes all the time. It’s their latest spin. Let’s hear from both sides b.s. When do they get off their failed theories? They are like a brainwashed cult, compleyely unable to see beyond their own belief system. Petrilli needs to stop. Just STOP!

    • Former Teacher

      The scariest part is how wide this “fad” has spread. These charters have plans of expanding over the next 10, 15+ years.

    • How do you force the charlatans to STOP, when the people have no idea of the extent of the betrayal that has been perpetrated already.

      You see, VAM — was not in existence when I, Susan Lee Schwartz, was eliminated… at the very moment when I was at the top of a four decade career, and the NYSEC Educator of Excellence.

      How did they do it, back then in the nineties?

      Why the same way that you would get a hospital to fail” take out theprofessionals who understand the complexities of the discipline. Medicine and pedagogy are not easily grasped by the public, which it is why the pundits who explain education cannot be charlatans selling magic elixirs.

      How did they begin the war on public education?
      They came after me, and all the ‘teacher-practitioners’ who understood how the brain of emergent learners actually ACQUIRES both SKILLS and KNOWLEDGE. Thinking critically (analyzing) is a very complex skill, and it needs an expert who can plan lessons that meet age-appropriate objectives.

      Replace that expert with an administrator, following a mandated ‘core’ unrelated to the needs of the human brain of a child, and the result is FAILING CHILDREN, and a failing school … which can be replaced by a CHARTER SCHOOL!

      Yes, it is Orwellian, and it was carefully planned, so that thenational conversation would be subverted from one about learning, which the professionals grasped, to one about teaching,which no one understood, but could easily be defined and attacked in the media.
      Thus, they began to ‘terminate’ the contracts and the careers of the veteran teachers who made NYC schools such a path to opportunity for so many.

      They began by eradicating the voice of the classroom practitioner who would never use the anti-learning curricula which was the Common Core?

      That was ME! For I had written my own curricula to meet the state objectives for the seventh grade, and the success of my students needed to DISAPPEAR, so I could be charged with incompetence.

      One hundred thousand EXPERIENCED TEACHER disappeared over two decades, and we talk, talk , talk about those charters, as the reproduce like bunnies.

      We need to speak in one voice to the public about this BETRAYAL that is ongoing under their noses.

      Betrayal must me a watchword., for that is what it is. The betrayal of the common good, that our children once learned.

  17. Randal Hendee

    Petrilli: “But do we want to start rooting for affluent kids to do worse?”

    This is the kind of disingenuous question the “trolls” ask. It’s a standard gambit for writers like Petrilli, and it disqualifies him from the conversation. When his supposedly substantive arguments fail–and they always do–he grasps at rhetorical straws.

    His career seems to be based on misconceptions about teaching and learning mingled with logical fallacies. He’s good at using those to spin a false narrative about public education, and that’s what he gets paid for. What his career isn’t based on is experience as a teacher or administrator (or a willingness to listen to teachers and administrators).

    When he claims “progress again with test based accountability,” he fails to note the circular nature of his claim. Besides, if you reduce the concept of progress to improved test scores–and then focus your efforts on improving those scores–even if scores do improve it doesn’t mean the kids have had a better education. Petrilli either doesn’t understand this, or he understands it very well but refuses to admit it. To admit it wouldn’t fit the agenda of the people who pay him.

    He claims to want rigor for kids, but from an intellectual rigor standpoint, his arguments are as flabby as they come. That’s why I’m not sure he deserves a bigger platform than he already has. But I guess his viewpoint offers a whetstone for Diane and others on which to sharpen theirs. So maybe it’s worth printing.

  18. Homeless Educator

    What a hoot! Petrilli provided this paper as evidence of “progress again with test based accountability,” when the paper itself actually used his own words to describe the lack of success of NCLB, the test-based accountability law, in closing the achievement gap, in the following statement (see page 4):

    “the lack of any effect in reading, and the fact that NCLB appears to have generated only modestly larger impacts among disadvantaged subgroups in math (and thus only made minimal headway in closing achievement gaps), suggests that, to date, the
    impact of NCLB has fallen short of its ambitious “moon-shot rhetoric” (Hess and Petrilli 2009).”

    They analyzed NAEP data, demonstrating how billions of dollars, and massive amounts of time and energy, have been wasted on RttT, CC and subsequent tests, when NAEP was already sufficient..

    Funny how 1% holds different meanings for different populations. 1% is just fine to “reformers” when it’s indicative of the billionaires who are now in charge of virtually everything important, and good enough when it describes the incremental progress of the disadvantaged post NCLB, but how many people with money put their savings in bank accounts that yield just 1% interest?

  19. NY Teacher

    The CORNERSTONES of test-and-punish accountability is a combination of MIS-TRUST of the teaching profession, BITCH-SLAP rhetoric, COERCION via THREATS, and UNFAIR/INVALID measures of accountability. DOOMED by its own guiding principles, test-and-punish accountability is DEAD in the water and Petrilli wants to give it mouth-to-mouth.

    Petrilli, You and your ilk should just stop and go away. You have violated the sacred oath of all those who work in the helping professions: Primum non nocere .

  20. Mike is nothing more then a paid huckster for Gates. He lost any and all credibility when he and Checker Finn sold out to the vendors. I wonder if Mike’s own children have to suffer through the pain and hurt brought on by Common Core.

  21. I’m impressed that he chose to allow you to put this out here, Diane.

    Every time I think of this man, I remember that ridiculous YouTube he put out, with him and his office mates cheerleading “Common Core” and ridiculing those who would question it’s validity and it’s motives.

    There has been little thought given for discussion and public debate on this issue. And it’s a very, very, very BIG issue.

    Thanks to both you and Jeannie for telling it like it is. I only wish Mr. Petrilli and those he represents would come down off of their self appointed thrones and listen to the people who really understand what’s needed in education. Too much money at stake, though. If wishes were fishes we’d all be casting nets.

  22. Please forgive me if I’m being banal, but what about the students who want to be truck drivers? Plumbers? What about the kids who have no clue whatsoever about what they want to be or do? Are they slackers and failures because they aren’t making it in Algebra?

    At first it was ALL about “college ready”. Then they threw in “…and career…”.

    This is grand standing. Words. Trying to make it seem so simple when it’s really not. At all.

    Not everyone is going to be “successful” by the time they graduate high school, no matter what standards are set or imposed. And who’s concept of “success” are we talking about here, anyway?

    To point fingers and label our education system as “failing” because we aren’t reaching all of our students is beyond absurd.

  23. Virginiasgp,

    Please do not forget that the Common Core standards and tests allegedly measure “college AND CAREER” readiness. Do you really believe that 2/3 of the children in this country are not suited either for college or careers? What shall we do with them? The tests are bunk. NAEP is an audit. We don’t need every child tested every year; no other nation does it. Why do we?

  24. Diane, what if the benchmarks were changed to:

    1. College-ready proficient

    2. Career-ready proficient

    3. Remediation-level

    4. Failing

    or something to that effect. Most would agree that there is some level below college-ready proficiency that nearly all students should attain. That is a lower standard than the NAEP’s “proficient”. Are we really just talking about semantics?

    You could even score the tests differently. For example, suppose students need to learn how to solve moderate level geometry and algebra questions to be ready for college. But for career readiness (own or work in a business), they really just need algebraic rate problems and more basic geometry. For college level readiness, we might expect students to explain the symbolism in novels whereas career readiness is more focused on understanding the content of basic contracts or instructions.

    The tests can classify questions based on content. So if a student missed all symbolism questions, those wouldn’t be held against his score for career readiness. For college readiness, the scores would be a composite across all skills.

    Would you be open to more nuanced views of the achievement of students? I think many agree that not all students can or even want to attend college. However, many politicians would disagree with that statement. Do you?

    (a little off-topic, but I am not even allowed to pick up my kids from school these days because I ask “critical questions” during PTA meetings. The autocratic tendencies are enshrined in all organizations and individuals if you let them wield their power without checks. That’s what you are seeing in the out-of-control charter schools as well)

  25. Virginia, there is no test that can measure college-readiness in 3rd grade, 4th grade, 5th grade, 6th grade, 7th grade, etc. The only college readiness test that has any predictive value is administered in 12th grade.

  26. Diane, fair point. But as a project manager, I must ensure that all of our work doesn’t occur on the last few days (weeks) or else we are doomed to failure. How do we ensure that students are on track in the 8th grade? Or maybe the 6th? It’s hard to learn geometry or algebra in 9th grade when you don’t understand fractions by the 6th? We set milestones to ensure that we can achieve the final goal by the final deadline. Surely you don’t suggest we wait until the 12th grade?

    And I’m not actually certain your definitive statement on the 12th grade test is correct. The SAT/ACT have as much predictive value as GPA but are often taken in the 11th or even 10th grade. If we analyzed PSAT results in the 10th, they might well be informative.

    But what about the core of my suggestion. I think we agree not all students should go to college. But shouldn’t there be different standards for different students? It’s hard to consistently report on readiness for skilled trades (electrician, nurse, contractor, etc.) so I’m not suggesting some grand testing regime. But if folks don’t think Algebra 2 is needed for all jobs (probably a fair point), then why don’t we create other benchmarks for various occupations that would discount those questions on the test? I realize that’s a long slog to create the consensus, but are you at least open to that perspective? (in the world of metrics, we try to get the most informative view for a specific target, that’s all this is).

  27. Virginia, It’s arguable that I wasn’t college ready until 1966 (I was 21), the moment a sniper in Vietnam came within a fraction of an inch of taking me out. As I lay in the dirt, with the safety off of my M14 and a round in the chamber, searching for a target I never found, I decided it was time to be college ready.

    Up until that moment I was not ready to go to college. In 1968 after the Marines honorably discharged me, I started college on the GI Bill. Two years later, I earned an AS degree and in 1973 I earned a BA in journalism. Years later I’d earn an MFA in writing.

    And because I was an avid reader as a child, after my mother beat learning to read into seven year old me with a wire coat hanger, in 1968 I had a literacy level that was adequate for college work. To reach that literacy level, I read thousands of books for fun starting at about age 10. I was even reading paperbacks in Vietnam that my mother mailed to me from the states.

    No high stakes Common Core Crap test has the power to make an individual ready for college. You are ready when you are ready or you are never ready. It’s an individual choice. Parents, of course, can help by raising their children to love to read on their own for fun starting as early as age 2—even if it takes a wire coat hanger to motivate the child to learn to read.

  28. Virginia, I agree that there should be different standards for different students. Not everyone wants to attend Harvard, Princeton or Yale. Those who do must meet higher standards than those who don’t. You just hit on one of the flaws in the Common Core standards. The assumption behind them is that every child will meet the same high standards, no matter what their interests, motivations, or goals. You may not be suggesting “some grand testing regime,” but the U.S. Department of Education shelled out $360 million for such a regime, hoping that every child in the country would take the same rigorous exams (different names, same rigor, same standards, same developmental inappropriateness). One of the glories of American education has been its willingness to allow 2nd and 3rd and 4th chances. A student who was not doing well in 4th grade might find something that lights her interests in 8th grade. We do not believe in determinism, or not until now.

    And by the way, it is well established and accepted, even by the SAT/ACT, that a four-year GPA has greater predictive value than the arbitrary score on a test taken on a single day. That is why nearly 1,000 colleges and universities are now test-optional.

  29. Virginia, you said, “It’s hard to learn geometry or algebra in 9th grade when you don’t understand fractions by the 6th.”

    I’m going to use me for an example.

    I barely graduated from high school and had no desire to go to college. That’s why I went straight into the Marines and ended up in Vietnam were I suddenly decided college was a good idea after all. In high school I only took general math. I never took algebra, geometry, trig, or calculus. I was a horrible student who just happened to be an avid reader of science fiction, fantasy and historical fiction. Textbooks, not so much.

    I started in a two year community college at age 23, and that’s where I was required to take algebra, geometry, trig, calculus and physics. I passed all those classes I never had in high school.

    Project managers are not needed in the public schools. Teachers are. But kids really do need parents who introduce them to books as early as age 2 if those parents want their children to be college ready by the end of high school.

  30. Diane, I think we agree on this. The CC standards are the top-end, 100% proficiency standards for college-ready students who will make the transition with ease. We know many (if not most) students won’t take the path of a four-year degree straight out of high school. So while “proficient” on PARCC/SBAC is the standard for the college-bound kids, a lower standard is appropriate for other careers.

    But let me make this point. I’m not saying that if say 60% correct equates to “proficient”, then say 40% correct equates to “career-ready”. I’m saying we analyze the actual questions that were answered correctly. A “career-ready” student should still understand how to use fractions or read non-fiction for comprehension. They could get 0% of the Algebra II or poetry symbolism questions correct but still should be able to answer most of the fractions and non-fiction comprehension questions. And since the standards are cumulative, answering questions up thru the 7th grade standards correctly on the 8th grade exam, should still result in a good score.

    Maybe you are correct that some reformers will try to beat public schools down if these nuanced approaches are taken. I highly doubt most will. Just like Petrilli was pleased with incremental growth, we need an honest, comprehensive assessment of the status quo and then strategies to improve the education for kids seeking different outcomes. I’m sure I am not the first one to think about this. What have those discussions yielded in the past?

    Lloyd, I agree that kids take different paths. I’m a big fan of endeavors that cause kids to grow up like the military. The Mormon missions seem quite effective. Or even things like peace corps. However, many kids are ready for college at 18. And even if they are not ready to buckle down for 4 years of college, having those skills at 18 is very useful. But that just shows why we need to have goals as well as differentiated targets for different career aspirations.

    As for the reading of books, that’s a good goal. But not all kids are going to read. And while reading opens doors to learn additional knowledge, I would argue that basic math understanding is just as important. When kids understand the core concepts of math at an early age, they never feel left behind. They enjoy math. But once they fall behind and fear math, it’s an uphill struggle. Parents can help but the truth is many can’t or won’t. If parents could/did teach everything we wouldn’t need teachers.

    This goes back to the ASA statement. Nobody says teachers don’t matter in learning or test scores. They do or else we wouldn’t need to pay them. There is a reason most can remember an inspiring teacher. One more inspiring than their parents’ lectures to study in school. We need great teachers. Parents are not enough.

    And yes, there are many paths to a college education. But are you really suggesting that kids take your route? It was great that you took algebra and geometry at 23 in community college. Do you recommend that strategy to your kids/grandkids and/or students? I rather doubt that. Even for grad school, it’s typically more likely one attends graduate school at a young age before life’s responsibilities (spouse, kids, house, etc.) interfere.

    So what exactly is wrong with the CC standards or with more nuanced standards for kids seeking different careers again?

    gitapik, I don’t think any reasonable person is saying students should be 100% “proficient” by PARCC/SBAC standards. We want to make a significant chunk of students ready for college (probably can increase from 1/3 up to 40%) and a much larger share of students “career ready” which I am defining as slightly lower standards than college-ready. If 35-40% of students are “college-ready”, public schools will not get slammed. That would be an improvement just like Petrilli notied in their district.

    Oh, and Diane, this slate article sums up why SAT/ACTs are very useful. They not only predict college success on par with GPAs, but combined they are superior to either one alone. And for low-income kids, the SAT/ACT is a major predictor of success with this coming from the Minnesota study:

    “In all the data sets, the SAT showed incremental validity over secondary school grades in predicting subsequent academic performance, and this incremental relationship was not substantially affected by controlling for SES.”

  31. Virginia,

    The Common Core standards don’t predict anything. How do you know they are a measure of college-readiness? No one has ever had 12 years of CC standards and then gone to college. They were never tested. No one knows whether they predict readiness for college. They certainly don’t predict readiness for careers.

  32. So, Diane, are you suggesting we take the ASA’s advice and provide caveats on the PARCC/SBAC test results so that parents and taxpayers understand these standards haven’t been fully tested? I would support that.

    Isn’t it great that we are going to get so much useful longitudinal data to prove whether it does predict readiness at earlier grades? As a researcher yourself, I’m sure you just love that aspect of CC. Isn’t that what academic excellence is all about?

    Surely you aren’t suggesting that we don’t need “early warning indicators” for both students, teachers and schools? For students, we need to know early on whether intervention is required. Students may be able to fool some teachers. We’ve seen athletes graduate with decent grades who can’t read. Standardized tests can help identify those situations. Teachers need early warnings regarding the effectiveness of their instruction. Many principals barely set foot in classrooms these days. If a teacher doesn’t teach the 4th or 8th grade NAEP subjects, there is no objective measurement of their instruction. Teachers deserve the feedback that growth scores provide. And I’ll be the first to admit that some schools with low test scores overall provide effective instruction. But we need to identify schools that don’t early on. As demographics change, the only way to determine the effectiveness of schools is by annual testing. My friend John Butcher (ex VA Attorney General employee) has identified wide discrepancies in the performance of Richmond schools with similar SES students.

    Reformers are open to novel ideas. Please provide them. But surely an “early warning system” for career and college readiness is essential if we truly intend to Leave No Child Behind.

  33. NYC public school parent

    The colleges themselves — and I mean the best ones — don’t think the common core tests predict anything. That’s why they don’t care about the results of the Regents’ exams or any other state tests. Now more of them don’t even care about the results of the SATs.

    Is Virginia claiming that not using SATs as the main admissions criteria demonstrates that colleges have low standards these days?

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When Is Enough Enough?

Two items have crossed my desk over the past 24 hours that require coverage.


The first item involves a report just out from the University of Washington’s Center for Reinventing Public Education (CRPE) (Creepier than CREEP), the Center that awarded Denver Public Schools a bronze medal for being third best in the nation at implementing reform strategies. The study released today paints a very different picture as it cites Denver as the district with the largest achievement gap in reading and math based on socioeconomics out of ALL OF THE 50 URBAN DISTRICTS STUDIED for the past three years. That’s right.  Denver Public Schools is dead last in closing the gap between children living in poverty and those not. Even the “reform” funded, “reform” supporting  online newspaper, Chalkbeat Colorado, had a difficult time putting a positive spin on these findings.


“Of all the cities, Denver had the largest achievement gaps in both math and reading between students eligible for free and reduced-price lunch and other students – 38 percent in reading and 30 percent in math over three years studied. The gap nationally was about 14 percent….The report… paints a largely discouraging picture of U.S. urban education, especially when it comes to hard-to-serve students.”


The CRPE report provides information that is extremely important for public education nationally. It is even more important to Denver voters at this time because there is a school board election rapidly approaching (All mail in ballot election.  You must vote by 7 p.m., November 3, 2015.  Ballots go out mid-October), and three candidates are strongly supporting continuing the direction this District is going.  The current Board president and at-large candidate Allegra “Happy” Haynes, touted her work for the past four years, and cited the DPS strategic plan, Denver Plan 2020, with its focus on reducing the gap, as a reason to re-elect her. In a debate October 5, 2015 she said, “I believe this is the progress we’ve made under my leadership and that of my colleagues.”  This gap has increased in all three academic areas for the past ten years of “reform” and this progress has landed this District at the very bottom of the heap regarding one of the five tenets of the Denver Plan 2020 – the newly named Opportunity Gap.  Call it what you will – opportunity or achievement – the reality is the gap has increased between economic (Free and Reduced Lunch and paying students) and ethnic groups (white students and students of color).  After ten years of focusing on reducing this, the exact opposite has occurred.  Isn’t it time for a change?  Robert Speth, parent not politician is challenging Ms. Haynes for this at-large position.

The other incumbent running for re-election, Anne Rowe from District 1 in Southeast Denver, also continuously cites her work on the Denver Plan 2020, again focusing on reducing the gap. I will be honest here: The Denver Plan 2020 taken in its entirety is long on platitudes and very, very short on how to achieve its goals. For the most part, the solutions seem to involve doing more of the same. What is the definition of insanity?  I say – and if you really care about public education in this country you should, too – enough is enough. I am going to use a “reform” phrase: NO MORE EXCUSES! “Reform” is harming our children. “Reform” is failing to provide our students with a real 21st century education.  Kristi Butkovich is challenging her with a campaign based on collaboration, community and commitment to kids.   The third seat being contested is an open one because current member and neighborhood school advocate Arturo Jimenez is term limited.  Michael Kiley, parent, is the candidate with a voice for strong neighborhood schools.


The second piece of information to be shared is this: The Academic and Innovation Office (see Another Reorganization at DPS) just released the individual salaries for all 54 Directors, Managers, Executive Directors and Chiefs for this department. The grand total: $5,347,738.96. ($4,754,846.27 and $592,892.69 from grants) That is correct. $5.35 million in salaries for 54 people for an average of just under $100,000 per position. The highest salary is that of the Chief Academic and Innovation Officer at $178,955.32. The average starting teacher salary in Denver Public Schools is $39,000. I will do the math for you. At $39,000 per teacher this district could be hiring 137 more teachers. Now, we pretty much know the past ten years have been a failure in almost all aspects of educating our children and respecting out communities’ wishes.  At the same time we pretty much know individualized attention, smaller classes, an enriched curriculum, more professional educators, attention to the non-educational needs of our children, particularly those who live in poverty and those who speak English as a second language, can produce well educated students. Just ask the guys in charge why their parents sent them to private school.  This is just one department, but it is one that has grown exponentially as the Denver Public Schools continues to struggle with its main responsibility: educating Denver’s children. It is also the department that houses most of the managers charged with improving the education of Denver’s students.

So, I ask you, when is enough enough?  We have more national proof that what Denver Public Schools is doing is not working.  We have overwhelming local proof of the same. Enough is Enough!





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