Soooooo…it appears   “The education reform movement as we have known it is over.”  This from none other than “education reformer” extraordinaire, Van Schoales,  writing in the May 6, 2019 Education Week: Education Reform as We Know It Is Over.  What Have We Learned? Along his way to becoming the president of Colorado’s own reform-oriented “oversight” committee, A+ Colorado , Van has worked at Denver’s Piton Foundation and Education Reform Now (ERN), the advocacy arm of Democrats for Education Reform (DFER).  He has also been integrally involved with starting and supporting local charter schools and drafting statewide education reform-oriented legislation. When Denver media has needed a quote to support “education reform” outcomes, whom have they called?  Not Ghost Busters!  No, their go-to guy has been Van Schoales. So his partial about face in his recent post in Education Week is quite surprising.  In his words:

 “There are three primary reasons that education reforms failed to live up to our expectations: too few teacher-led reforms, a lack of real community support from those most impacted, and a lack of focus on policy change for public schools across the board, not just the lowest of low-performing schools.” 

Gee.  Who knew?

If I weren’t so darn mad, I’d be shedding tears of laughter.  If we hadn’t fought and fought and fought against “education reform” for the last 15 years, foretelling the recent conclusions of ed reformers,” the whole education reform movement could be viewed as a bad joke.  If we the taxpayers hadn’t spent hundreds of millions of dollars and if we the people hadn’t lost at least a generation of students and teachers to the chaos and churn and complete lack of common sense of “education reform,” we could all be lifting a glass of whatever to toasting “we told you so.”  If only the past 15 years could have been a bad dream, and we could all be like Dorothy and wake up in our safe places, wiping out the nightmare. But alas, that is not the case. And even with these mea culpas coming from unexpected places, most reformers are still unwilling to fully accept the disasters they have wrought upon community after community, most of which just happen to be populated primarily by people of color.

If I hear how much academic progress Denver has made one more time, especially when no corroborating data is provided, I may just scream.  Van repeats this myth (“This is the fundamental paradox we are left with at the end of this ed. reform era: How do we reconcile tangible progress with the massive systemic gaps that remain?”) and cites Denver along with Washington, D.C. and New Orleans as examples of progress. Now, if you have followed education reform at all over these past 15 years, there is one thing you can be assured of.  You don’t want to be in a “public” school in New Orleans, the first all charter school district in the nation, and you only want to be in a very select few public schools in D.C.  As for Denver, what data could he possibly be seeing that the rest of us are not privy to?  Proficiencies of 32% in math, 42% in English Language Arts, achievement/opportunity gaps between white students and students of color registering at the highest level nationally. Seriously, the only way anything positive can be honestly taken from these data points is if you are comparing DPS with the state.  Yes, that gap has closed significantly but only because the state has fallen so significantly since the implementation of CMAS.  State proficiencies are 34% in math and 44.5% in ELA. But even this statistic says more about the state dropping than DPS improving. 

This post is not intended to be an attack on Van Schoales personally, but it is meant to call attention once again to the false picture of success “reformers” like him have repeatedly painted for public consumption for the past 15 years:

  • “reform” has been successful;
  • “reformers” know what’s best for other people’s children, even though they themselves have come from a very different educational system and for the most part have demanded a very different educational system for their own children;
  • those who dare question the “reform” agenda want to return to the status quo (whatever that may be after “reform” has dominated the education scene for the immediate past).  

Even though we have always hoped for a truthful assessment of the “education reform” experiment, the importance of this partial admission should not be overlooked or underestimated.

Several other “education reform” oriented events have been taking place that give sway to the scenario “education reform” is in retreat and weakening its hold on public education. The first is a national report on the effectiveness of Common Core State Standards followed by the Houston Independent School District severing its ties with alternative teacher licensing Teach for America followed by several national studies illustrating the false promises of choice and charters regarding equity and educational outcomes.

Nearly a decade later, did the Common Core work?  New research offers clues analyzes the first national study evaluating the educational outcomes of implementing Common Core State Standards CCSS).  CCSS you will recall has driven much of the data driven reform agenda: high stakes testing, teacher evaluations based on test scores, school closures based on test scores, school rankings based on testing.  While studying Common Core at a national level has proven to be difficult, the study suggests “that even in the best case scenario, the academic shifts led only to modest gains for students, falling short of the far-reaching ambitions of Common Core advocates.”

In April 2015 I wrote about Teach for America in Denver, concluding that TFA had little effect on learning in DPS but did contribute to the deprofessionalization of the teaching profession.  TFA also cost the District a lot of money in finder’s fees.  Now, just this week the Houston Independent School District, citing similar reasons, especially the high costs of the program, severed its ties with TFA, demonstrating another withdrawal from “education reforms.”

Finally, two of the main tenets of the “reform” movement, charter schools and school choice, are seeing some of the air coming out of their balloons as they have come under more and more scrutiny and criticism.  Long time educator Peter Greene  exposes several of the most recent challenges facing these policies, some of which are due to their close connection to trump/devos education policies, others of which are due the lackluster educational outcomes from charter schools. And in Asleep at the Wheel The Network for Public Education documents fraud, waste, and lack of oversight and accountability within the federal charter school grants totaling nearly one billion dollars and counting.

Coloradoans in particular have been affected by one more reform related event.  Former Denver Public Schools Superintendent Michael Bennet’s announced his candidacy for the president of the United States.  Michael Bennet left a complex mark on Denver Schools.  Now he’s running for President explores some of the controversial legacy left by the former superintendent  as he pursues the highest office in the land as yet another “education president.”  “I think we need an education president,” he told the Des Moines Register. “There’s no public good that’s more important than education.” But as superintendent Bennet orchestrated the beginnings of “education reform” in Denver, including school closures and teacher pay for performance, two highly controversial tenets of reform. And let us not forget the risky and costly pension swap deal he and his successor Tom Boasberg crafted.  On April 24, 2008 DPS borrowed $750 million in taxable pension certificates of participation which have ballooned to over $1.5 billion today.

We who have been watching failure after failure unfold in public education are a bit miffed when Van asks “what’s next, how do we more forward?”  Communities have been clear in what they want:  Honesty in the assessment of where we are and how we got there. Collaborative decision making where decisions are made with and not to communities. No more divisive, punitive and authoritarian decisions and decision making. Replication of what works for most kids:  small classes, enriching curriculum, resources, safe learning environment.  It’s what all parents want for their kids. Let us return to making every neighborhood school a great option, because in spite of what “reformers” want you to believe, most parents want to be able to choose to walk their kids to their neighborhood school.  Finally, let us return to educating because we all know that testing is not educating. BTW this does NOT mean no assessments. 

For the last 15 years “education reformers” have pushed and pushed and pushed their vision and version of public education on unwitting subjects.  It is difficult not to be angry and suspicious of the recent admissions of failure when much of what education reform has wrought is actually still in place and will take years to undo. But if we can believe Van’s realization of what went wrong, there is hope to make the civil rights issue of our time work for all.  We do need to look forward and try to work together to make public education the equalizer it MUST be. 

*(Oh My God, In Case You Missed It, Shaking My Damn Head)



On April 24, 2008 the Denver Public Schools agreed to borrow $750 million dollars from some of America’s top financial institutions for its outstanding pension debt. As I write this blog this morning February 12, 2019 Denver’s teachers have entered the second day of their first strike in 25 years. The amount of money being contested is somewhere less than one-half of one percent of the overall DPS budget.  0.04%.  Less than $10 million out of $1.4 billion.  The following tells some of the complicated story that connects these two events.

The $750 million taxpayer debt was divided this way: $300 million was to pay back already existing pension debt, $400 million was to fully fund the DPS retirement fund.  The remaining $50 million went to legal and financial fees. By the time this transaction was “fixed out” in 2013 a veritable Who’s Who in the Wall Street world was involved:  RBC Capital Markets, Goldman Sachs, JPMorgan, Citibank, Wells, Fargo, Bank of America. Part of the incentive to borrow this money was so DPS’ stand alone retirement fund could join the statewide retirement fund (Colorado Public Employees Retirement Association or PERA for short) which would in turn allow for more employee mobility into and out of DPS and would reduce DPS’ annual retirement contributions which would in turn provide more money for classrooms.  Because of previous financial miscalculations DPS was paying more per pupil for its retirement fund than any other school district in the state. Had this deal not been executed, the dollars paid to banks and lawyers could have been put directly into the DPS retirement fund itself. The DPS Superintendent at the time:  Michael Bennet. The Chief Operating Officer: Tom Boasberg. 

Bennet and Boasberg came from the business world and were heralded as financial wizards. (They were boyhood friends growing up in Washington, D.C. together). Bennet had worked for billionaire Phil Anschutz and had already demonstrated a skepticism toward public pensions.  Boasberg arrived at DPS from Level 3 Communications, “an American multinational telecommunications and Internet service provider” where he was a mergers and acquisition guy.  Long story short they, along with bankers and lawyers concocted this very complicated and risky transaction using taxpayer money.  They were convinced that despite what was happening in the financial world at the time, DPS was going to save millions of dollars in pension costs.

Remember back to 2008. And remember we are talking about public, not private, money.  In February the auction rate securities froze.  In March Bear Stearns went under.  There were many indicators that something big could be going on in the world financial markets.  Nevertheless, in April the DPS board was encouraged to proceed with the high risk transaction which relied on the weekly LIBOR rate (it is the primary benchmark, along with the Euribor, for short-term interest rates around the world. Libor rates are calculated for five currencies and seven borrowing periods ranging from overnight to one year and are published each business day by Thomson Reuters.), swaps, (A swap is a derivative in which two counterparties exchange cash flows of one party’s financial instrument for those of the other party’s financial instrument. The benefits in question depend on the type of financial instruments involved.), bonds that were auctioned weekly.  And here is the headline from that deal.  In 10 years that $750 million loan has ballooned into twice as much debt  ($1.8 BILLION) and only for the past two years has the district begun paying any principal.  And simultaneously,  Bennet and Boasberg were able to convince the Colorado legislature that DPS should get the equivalent of “pre-payment” credit to deduct the PCOPs fees and interest from what would have been their normal pension contributions.  Because of these actions DPS employees have witnessed their pension fund drop about 20% fromfully funded on January 1, 2010 to a little under 80% funded in June 30, 2018. But as Bennet and Boasberg would say as this defunding is occurring, “we are making our legal contributions, ” to which one must add, “Legal, but is it ethical?”

This story has become very relevant today because after 15 months of negotiations the district and the teachers have been unable to reach an agreement. Denver’s teachers have gone on strike over a compensation system called ProComp (Professional Compensation).  And the ProComp fight comes back to the pension.

In 2005 Denver voters approved a $25 million tax  (adjusted for inflation) for teacher pay-for-performance incentives.  A few thousand dollars was awarded for teachers who worked in hard to serve schools and taught hard to teach subjects.  The awarded dollars ($500-$2500) was intended to permanently raise base salaries.  It was reliable raise and it was PENSIONABLE.

In 2008 – hum, is this a coincidence? – the ProComp “bonus” went from a completely base building system to a yearly one-time bonus system.  And to further complicate matters, new bonus criteria (based primarily on high-stakes testing) have since been added. The result has been teachers cannot tell how much they will be making from year to year.  Some have said they can’t even tell how much they will make from paycheck to paycheck. Oh, and of course, these bonuses do not contribute to a teacher’s PENSIONABLE income resulting in…less retirement money  for retiring teachers, and simultaneously smaller demands on a dwindling pension fund.

While all this business bonus mess has been imposed in Denver, surrounding school districts have far surpassed Denver’s base pay scale, resulting in very high teacher turnover for DPS and a dwindling number of long serving professionals. Teachers are retiring earlier, teachers are leaving the district, and sadly teachers are leaving the profession. And because Denver is the quintessential reform district, DPS has been very welcoming to the reform idea of hiring short term, unlicensed educators with non-traditional training.  Think six week training programs.  The result of all this brilliance: fewer long serving employees resulting in less demand on a pension fund.  So the conflation of financial wizardry and education reform has hit Denver: businessmen Bennet and Boasberg take over the finances of a public school district, concoct a complicated and risky scenario during an unstable financial time, get the legislature to allow the defunding of the pension, implement a bonus based pay system to replace base-building, and voila – a strike by Denver’s teachers for a fair, reliable, sustainable pay system. 

One more important headline. ProComp bonuses for teachers range from $500-$3000 per category per year. Last month a list of administrative bonuses without a rubric as to how the money has been awarded became available:  the current COO (Boasberg’s first job in DPS) received a $34,000 (!) bonus on top of his $198,000 salary, an “IMO executive principal” got $36,900 on top of his/her $130,000.  An IMO executive principal is the newest layer of reform administration.  He/she oversees a network of innovation schools (non union schools overseen by the district) and makes two to three times as much as a DPS teacher.  There are approximately 10 such positions with each person gathering around $20,000 in bonuses. These bonuses are not part of the ProComp agreement but rather come out of the DPS general fund.  Just imagine.  You could save almost half of the 8 million dollars they two sides are bickering over if you just eliminated these positions and the bonuses.

We must never end any story about Denver Public Schools without a reference to educational outcomes, for isn’t the first priority of a public education system educating its students? After 15 years of education reform brought by Michael Bennet and Tom Boasberg, 42% of Denver’s students are proficient in English Language Arts and 32% proficient in math.  Bennet and Boasberg  financial actions have also contributed to the doubling of the pension debt, and their policies have resulted in the first teacher strike in 25 years in Denver.  Quite a legacy left by the boys from D.C. 

Déjà Vu All Over Again: The Skeletons in the Closet Updated

I have not weighed in regularly as the Denver Public Schools’ superintendent search has been happening. Other education warriors have done an excellent job documenting its twists and turns and have been very loud and strong in their advocacy for accountability and transparency. But now as the process has seemingly devolved into a one and only candidate being put forth, I feel compelled to weigh in, for the similarity to the last superintendent search in 2009 is ringing loud and clear. A cover-up of sorts. In both instances DPS has had to choose an insider with the hope that “the truth, the whole truth, and nothing but the truth” is covered up to some extent. And I was there in 2009 as Tom Boasberg was pushed across the finish line.


Flash back to the first weekend in January 2009. Colorado Governor Bill Ritter named Denver Public Schools Superintendent Michael Bennet to fill the Senate vacancy created by President-elect Obama’s selection of Ken Salazar to become Secretary of the Interior. On that first Saturday of 2009 the DPS Board of Education met in executive session to discuss who should become Bennet’s successor. Michael Bennet was present for much of that session. Like today’s search there was a push from some Board members and the Denver community at large to at the very least interview outside candidates, and candidates who looked more like DPS’ students, i.e., someone of color. Few, if any board members, realized that while we were able to expand the pool somewhat, the decision to hire Tom Boasberg, Michael Bennet’s lifelong friend who had been serving as DPS’ Chief Operating Officer had already been made. It had to be Boasberg because unbeknownst to many, a very risky financial transaction, the now famous $750 million Pension Certificates of Participation (PCOPS), was deeply under water. Remember September 2008? It had to be Boasberg because he and Bennet along with their Wall Street bankers knew what trouble this deal was in, and while some of us on the Board asked how this deal was going, no real data was ever provided. Instead, we received platitudes like, “things are okay,” “perhaps not as good as we had hoped but it will be all right.” Meanwhile, DPS was paying upwards of 18% PER WEEK on its $750 million bet. There could be no other choice because any new person entering the DPS world would most likely have ordered a thorough examination of DPS finances and neither Tom nor Michael could have survived this revelation. Politics. After many executive sessions and much political pressure Tom Boasberg was unanimously selected. Obviously, I was a yes vote. It took over a year of investigating and prodding for the financial debacle to become uncovered and thus a rational explanation for Tom’s selection.  I know about that kind of pressure.


Fast forward to December 2018, almost exactly ten years later. After a torturous months’ long process where diverse communities across Denver spent hundreds of hours to determine what the most important characteristics DPS’ next superintendent should have, we have a somewhat similar situation: only one candidate being put forth. This time the candidate appears to be current Assistant Superintendent Susana Cordova. The similarity to 2009 should not be overlooked: this District is trying once again to elevate an insider who is deeply vested in keeping some current DPS condition from being fully examined and exposed. Ms. Cordova must be selected because much like Tom Boasberg in 2009 the District needs someone at the helm who will continue massaging the truth,  only this time the coverup involves educational outcomes, not financial malfeasance. My guess is at least four current board members – Anne Rowe, Barbara O’Brien, Happy Haynes, and Lisa Flores – are equally vested in Ms. Cordova because their legacies, too, are at stake. Even as the facts stare them in the face – the third largest achievement or opportunity gap in the nation, educational proficiencies of only 32% in math and 42% in reading , the highest teacher turnover in the Front Range, a Choice policy that is resegregating our schools – they cannot afford to admit 15 years of education reform have failed our students, particularly our students of color. I am going to go back to the proficiencies just cited because isn’t the first responsibility of any school district to educate its students? Even if you don’t believe high stakes testing tells the educational stories of our schools – and I do not – if you are going to live and die by the results of these tests, you had best have something good to show for 15 years of these education policies.


So you tell me.  Do educational results showing three out of 10 DPS students performing at grade level in math, and four out of ten in reading indicate a school District should continue down this path? These outcomes are the result of 15 years of education reform in Denver!  With Ms. Cordova as the head of DPS one can be assured the District will continue down this path, for she and the majority of the board of education are deeply vested in pretending these outcomes are just fine. They continue to tout growth figures as evidence of great success, while our students, particularly those of color, languish with few grade level skills.  No wonder folks who follow public education in Denver are so irate. The status quo must go.


In February 2016 I was asked to give a history of DPS education reform to the Boston Teachers Union. In that address I referenced a CABAL. I am going repeat this portion because it is so relevant to what is happening in Denver today. To those of you who have received my posts over the years this will be redundant. I repeat myself because this is very important today in Denver’ s political landscape.

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 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, Jen Walmer, is now head of Colorado DFER, the head of the citizens oversight group Van Schoales worked for ERN, the political arm of DFER . And former Board members and former politicians are parlaying 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 (Barbara O’Brien), two former city council presidents one of whom is the state director for former superintendent (Rosemary Rodriguez), now Senator Michael Bennet, the other of whom has just been appointed to head Denver’s city parks and recreation department (Happy Haynes), 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 (Mike Johnson). In 2016 the remaining three also had political ties to some part of the cabal.

In this current battle for DPS superintendent many cabal members have already thrown their support to Ms. Cordova including the current mayor and at least one former mayor.  It certainly would be better for Denver and the incoming superintendent to enter the position with unanimous approval. But given how this search has devolved, that probably will not happen. Susana Cordova has become a divisive figure in all of this, and repeating the 2009 history of putting forth only one inside candidate in the hope of keeping those skeletons hidden would not be good for DPS.  Would Ms. Cordova threaten to resign from DP altogether if at this point she is not put forward? Would that be so bad for Denver and its school District?  If the entire process were to be reopened, would she consider reapplying?  Would she ever be acceptable to communities who have demanded a different kind of superintendent and a different direction for the District?

The Board of Education is now scheduled to announce the superintendent finalist(s) on Friday, November 30. These extra days of “deliberation” and “executive sessions” will undoubtedly bring enormous pressure on wavering board members to conform to the majority’s wishes. Is trying to keep those skeletons under cover worth the divisions will most likely ensue from putting only this one candidate forward? Will Board members who are hesitant about her leadership be able to withstand the pressure? I know how hard that will be. Remember 2009.

Update: Early this evening, November 29, the seven member board passed a resolution by a vote of 5-2 to move the sole remaining candidate forward in the superintendent search.  Susana Cordova will now have meetings across the city to share her vision.  The two dissenting votes came from Dr. Carrie Olson and Jennifer Bacon.







DPS still failing at-risk students: A Study in Ambiguity

Shocking! One of the first drivers of “education reform” in Denver has seen the light.   That is how most people viewed former DPS Board President Theresa Pena’s front page op-ed piece in the Sunday Denver Post Perspective section entitled, DPS still failing at-risk students. Ms. Pena severely chastises Denver Public Schools for failing to properly address the sluggish pace of academic progress ten years of “reform” has brought to Denver’s at-risk student population. A pioneer of “education reform” in Denver has admitted its failure. My first reaction, too, was WOW! I couldn’t wait to post this on my FaceBook page.

My euphoria was short-lived, however. Upon further examination and after re-reading it several times, I have come to a different conclusion: while Ms. Pena expresses her clear disappointment with the lack of urgency the District has shown regarding educational outcomes for at-risk students her own conclusions appear to be ambiguous.  Here are some things she fails to address:

  • What next steps should be taken to jump start theses sluggish outcomes ;
  • Is the current portfolio management reform strategy the right method to get better results ;
  • Does Denver Public Schools have the right leadership in place to lead a genuine education revolution?

Given what is transpiring in the “education reform” world of late, I fear she is not calling for a change of direction from the District, but rather she is yet another “reformer” propping up this failing status quo. I fear she would like to see the District implementing more falling reforms at a much faster clip. Go figure. I have tried to get clarification from her but have been unable to reach her. She has not to returned phone calls or emails. I have also contacted others who I thought might know what she is thinking, particularly regarding next steps. No one I talked with could answer that question.

Ms. Pena bases most of her assessment of the current state of DPS on a 2007 Rocky Mountain News article, entitled: A Vision for a 21st Century School District (In what is certainly another WOW! moment, after several hours of combing through file folder after file folder, I was able to locate a printout of the article. If you have ever seen my office, you will recognize how miraculous this is.   Boxes and binders of CSAP, TCAP data, PCOP refinancing powerpoints, Strategic Regional Analyses, SPF information.   Neither I nor my assistants could find a copy on line).

So why is this “manifesto” resurfacing now?

Could it be that national and local “reformers” are questioning DPS’ commitment to “education reform” as other public education activists continue to question whether or not there should even be such a commitment?

Let’s go back to 2007 when this manifesto was written. Barack Obama had not been elected President; Arne Duncan was not Secretary of Education; Race to the Top, teacher evaluations based on high stakes testing were not in the education vernacular; Denver school board races were funded locally; the Broad Institute had just started training business and military people to become urban superintendents. While I don’t remember the specific details, I am pretty sure members of the Board were all very committed to working collaboratively to improve educational outcomes for all students.

With 20-20 hindsight I am stunned that then Superintendent Michael Bennet was able to corral the entire board to sign this manifesto, for this six-page document clearly lays out what has happened in Denver Public Schools in the last decade. I can only speak for myself, but I did not anticipate that   “Choice: and “Innovation,” “school closures” and “competition,”  “great principals” and “excellent teaching” and “greater control at the school level” would result in such chaos for Denver Public Schools.

And while I may agree with Ms. Pena when she says,

“Ten years later, we need to ask ourselves whether DPS has placed the proper focus on meaningful student achievement, or whether it has focused too much energy on governance models (charter, innovation, traditional)? We need to ask, 10 years later, who, if anyone, is better off as a result of the reforms put in place by the school board on which we served. Students? Teachers? Principals? Communities?

I’d argue, unfortunately, that the correct answer is none of the above.”

I do not agree that “we failed on all counts .” (my emphasis).  Even as the 21st century vision began to unfold, several board members confronted the very real possibility that this plan was not the right one for Denver’s students. Over our years of service, we continuously questioned the strategies that were producing such meager academic improvements, and we wondered at what educational price these so-called “reforms” were being instituted. We also did our best to fight for the communities who were displeased with the “reforms” being imposed upon them.

However, what I find most troubling and unsettling about Ms. Pena’s op-ed are her concluding words:

“Board members, we need you to follow through on the promises from the long-ago Rocky article and “abandon the status quo for a shimmering future.”

I stand ready to support you in pushing the dramatic changes necessary to improve outcomes for all Denver students. I hope you will exhibit the leadership and courage to lead the education revolution Denver needs to truly become the national vanguard for reform in public education.”

The promises of the 11 year old article established the blueprint for the past ten years and its failures which, according to Ms. Pena, are abhorrent. So, what are the dramatic changes necessary to make Denver the national vanguard – and here are the most troubling words – for reform in public education. If not More of the Same only on steroids, then what does she want?

The good news is this:  if former Board President Pena does think “reform” has failed and she is seeking an alternative strategy, a big thank you to her for calling out these failures.  If, on the other hand, she thinks tweaking the current path and pushing for speedier implementation is the answer, we should all be worried.

What Might Have Been: A Story of an Election Lost

In December 2015 a group of community members came together to form what became Our Denver Our Schools (ODOS): ODOS had one very simple goal: educate the public so they would learn about public education and through that process vote for change on the board. ODOS spent a year and a half educating people about public education in Denver through forums (my Latin background would tell me this is fora), letter writing campaigns and fundraising. In the summer of 2017 ODOS turned its attention on supporting its slate of grassroots candidates: Robert Speth at-large, Xochitl “Sochi” Gaytan in District 2 – Southwest, Dr. Carrie Olson in District 3 – Central Denver, and Tay Anderson in District 4 – Near and Far Northeast. ODOS did this in spite of the pushback from Denver’s teachers’ union, claiming early on there was only money for two seats, AND incumbents Rosemary Rodriguez and Barbara O’Brien were unbeatable. Hindsight is always 2020 but imagine what the $320,000 the union spent in two races could have done in four races!

As things turned out, Ms. Rodriguez retired from the Board, opening up her District 2 seat, and Ms. O’Brien won a three-way race with only 40% of the vote. Unfortunately, Denver Classroom Teachers Association (DCTA) and its parent group the Colorado Education Association (CEA) were not able or not willing to modify its game plan from winning 2 seats to winning 4 seats when these changes emerged.

This is a long blog, so if you aren’t that into Denver school board politics or just don’t feel like reading a long post, or whatever, here are some highlights:

Pro public education advocates won one seat: Dr. Carrie Olson, District 3.  We should have won more, even all four.  To find out why this didn’t happen, read on.

The union will most likely claim victory for two seats. The reality is they won zero public education seats because they didn’t really support winner Olson, and they supported a winning “reformer” candidate, Jennifer Bacon.

Winners this cycle include: The people, Dr. Carrie Olson, Teach for America, Our Denver, Our Schools.

Losers: Pro public education advocates, Denver’s teachers, Democrats of Education Reform, “education reform.”

Meh:   The teachers’ union because a 33-year DPS teacher did get elected.  No thanks to them.  Money.

On to the details of how four seats became one.

In the late spring of 2017 ODOS joined with Denver Area Labor Federation (DALF), NAACP, Gilpin Elementary School parents whose school had recently been shuttered, DCTA and CEA to work to get what ODOS hoped would be the same slate of candidates elected to the DPS Board of Education.   This collaborative worked well together until DCTA/CEA decided to support Teach for America alum Jennifer Bacon in District 4. Meetings and collaboration stopped and when the votes were counted the four seat vision became a one seat victory. Better one than none. However…


DCTA/CEA hired consultants who I – with apologies to The Cat in the Hat (and more recently MSNBC’s Chris Hayes. Remember Thing 1 and Thing 2?) – will refer to as Consultant 1 and Consultant 2 (C1 and C2 for short) for election in the Spring. C1 and C2 never believed in four in 2017. C1 had been involved with DPS board races in the past, but he had been out of DPS politics for at least 6 years. Things had changed. C2 did not have a history with DPS or frankly much knowledge about the politics of DPS. And again, when hired both thought Rodriguez and O’Brien were locks so the winnable Districts were 3 and 4. When Rodriguez announced her intent to leave, both believed districts 2 and 3 were the ones to go after. It is still not clear how and when that changed to districts 2 and 4 and how Carrie Olson, the only professional educator running, (33 years in Denver, 33 years of faithfully paying DCTA dues ) lost the support of the union and its consultants. Ironic, isn’t it, that she is the one who won. With very, very little union help.


Dr. Carrie Olson’s victory was EXTRAORDINARY. Let us not forget that she is the first pro-public education candidate to win in Denver since 2011 when incumbent Arturo Jimenez won by a resounding 150 (!) votes. Dr. Carrie Olson will be a force to be reckoned with, a voice for students, teachers, families, and communities. But given the quality of candidates running and the clear displeasure voters expressed with the current direction in DPS, public education advocates should have won more seats. In fact, they could have won all four.


Race by Race


At-large: Three candidates ran:

  • Barbara O’Brien, incumbent, former lieutenant governor, “reformer” poster candidate, raised nearly half a million dollars, spent $8.94 per vote and eked out 40% of the vote.
  • Robert Speth, ODOS and DCTA endorsed but the union did not really do much for him since those in charge of the money did not believe O’Brien could be defeated. Speth won 35% of the vote, spending $0.77 per vote. Speth ran two years ago and came within a hair of beating incumbent Happy Haynes. He was also a founding member of Our Denver, Our Schools.
  • Julie Banuelos, former DPS teacher, endorsed by a DCTA off-shoot, The Caucus of Today’s Teachers. Banuelos garnered 24% of the vote, spending $0.43 per vote.


Lesson learned. Three person races with two candidates supporting the same positions – Speth and Banuelos were pro public education – allow the third person to be elected with less than a majority of voter support. The current DPS trajectory of “reform” was soundly defeated 60% to 40% but the “reformer” won and will vote accordingly.


District 2: Open seat because incumbent Rosemary Rodriguez stepped down.

  • Xochitl “Sochi” Gaytan –ODOS and DCTA endorsed. She was heavily supported by the union but that support turned out to be a mixed blessing. The union’s independent expenditure committee, Every Student Succeeds, sent out a mailer to a Republican part of the district, tying Gaytan’s opponent to Trump/DeVos. The I.E. further claimed an endorsement for Gaytan that was never made. Her campaign spent much time trying to undo the damage but was unable recover from these faux pas.
  • Angela Cobian mentee of the current board member, former TFA member, current organizer for Leadership for Educational Equity (LEE) the TFA offshoot that trains former corps members “to engage civically within their communities to end the injustice of educational inequity.” Cobian was the “reformer” darling, gathering $67,000 from DFER’s Raising Colorado and tens of thousands of dollars from local and national “reformers.” She ran as a teacher.


Lesson learned: Independent expenditure committees aren’t always helpful.


District 4: Another three-candidate race, but complicated because DCTA endorsed one of the two “reformers.” If you need proof of the similarities between Bacon and Espiritu, here are three confirming manifestations:

1) Stand for Children could not decide between the two of them so did not endorse in that District, while endorsing the other “reform” candidates in Districts 2, 3 and at-large.(Cobian, Johnson and O’Brien, respectively).

2) Former Board member Nate Easley contributed to both campaigns, hedging his “reformer” bet.

3) Mayor Hancock endorsed Bacon along with “reformers” in 2, 3, and at-large.


  • Tay Anderson, 19 year old 2017 graduate of Manual high School who decided to run when Board member Happy Haynes told the Manual community its wishes would be ignored as to the future of Manual.. C2 was a strong supporter in the beginning and then dropped him for reasons still unclear. ODOS endorsed.
  • Rachele Espiritu, the incumbent, had a difficult mountain to climb. While receiving $97,000 from DFER, and raising $93,000 on her own, she had to defend DPS’ record in the district where the most “reforms” were happening. Under fire from the beginning, she often supported points of views different from the way she voted. Having a record hurt her.
  • Jennifer Bacon , former TFA member, ran as a “teacher.” She raised $70,000 on her own and received $139,000 from teachers union. Bacon also received reformer money from TFA national board member Arthur Rock.


Lesson learned: It is mixed. Grassroots worked in District 3 against all odds. Grassroots did not work in District 4. To this day union support of a non-union “teacher” is baffling. A Pyrrhic victory at best, certainly not a vote that can be counted on for pro public education advocates.


Saving the best for last…


District 3: Incumbent, “reformer” Mike Johnson against educator Dr. Carrie Olson.

Extraordinary victory!


  • Dr. Carrie Olson, 33-year DPS UNION teacher of English Language Development 6-12 Social Studies. Dr. Olson was recruited by community members. When her potential conflict of interest arose (Policy BCB) many thought the issue could be resolved fairly easily given the fact the policy had not been revised in 30 years and given the seemingly overt conflicts that have existed with recent and current board members: bond lawyer for DPS, directors and assistant directors of non-profits doing business with DPS to mention the most obvious. DCTA and C1 and C2 didn’t think she would win so they paid little attention to the policy, gave Dr. Olson very little financial support, and provided even less people support. How wrong they were! And although “STUDENTS FIRST” and “IT’S ALL ABOUT THE KIDS” are commonly heard clichés throughout the district, the other six board members and the superintendent could not manage to figure out how this EXTRAORDINARY   educator could possibly stay in her teaching position where she has been such a positive influence on the lives of thousands of kids and their families over her tenure.  How could this person possibly teach and be a board member at the same time?  So Dr. Carrie Olson, with great sadness, has opted to resign from her lifelong love, teaching, at semester’s end.
  • Mike Johnson, incumbent, raised over $100,000 on his own and received almost another $100,000 from DFER and Stand for Children. The “reform” message was a hard sell in District 3, even though many of its main tenets are not occurring in this district.


Lesson learned: A great candidate with a great message and a great grassroots organization can beat big money, incumbency, and “reform!”


The biggest winners from this election?

  • The people, for they once again have a voice on the previously unanimous “reform” board.
  • Dr. Carrie Olson.
  • Teach for America. Two former corps members Jennifer Bacon and Angela Cobian, won their elections. Both work for LEE, Ms. Cobian as a community organizer, Ms. Bacon as a regional director. When these two recognized how Dr. Olson’s simple message of “It’s time to put an educator on the Board of Education,” resonated with voters, both co-opted that message and ran as “teachers.” And yet to the amazement of many, and after many meetings with both community members and DCTA and after many heated arguments over who to support in District 4, the consultants and DCTA decided to endorse Jennifer Bacon. The reason given: they could win that seat with the help of LEE money.  $100,000 from DCTA, $100,000 from LEE. As of the last filing there is no trace of LEE money, so where is/was it? As an aside, at the November 27 swearing in ceremony for new board members the same charter advocates and TFA/LEE advocates cheered equally for both Bacon and Cobian. Another unanswered question: Why didn’t the union decide to endorse Cobian as well? Or better yet, why did they decide not to endorse Tay Anderson, clearly the candidate most aligned with teachers in their fight against privatization?
  • Our Denver, Our Schools, for it was able to unite disparate community interests and leverage its meager amount of money to help all four of its candidates. ODOS will continue to make its voice heard.


The biggest losers in this cycle?

  • The pro public education believers in Denver, for they had a chance to flip the board and stop the train wreck that is “ed reform” from continuing. Just imagine the difference a redistribution of union money could have made in all four races.
  • Denver’s teachers, who are paying dues to an organization that turned its back on a 33 year teacher and endorsed and heavily funded an alum of TFA, an organization in Denver at least that thumbs its nose at a professional educators.
  • Democrats for Education Reform. Two of three incumbents they backed lost. But don’t ever count them out, for they still have 5 of 7 board members and lots of money to spend. And you can be sure they will be back, both in the Colorado legislative races as well as the next DPS board elections.
  • Education Reform.” Two of three “reform” incumbents lost; one eked in with 40% of the vote. Voters spoke loudly against the current DPS strategies, but unfortunately, votes and policies will most likely not reflect this trend.


  • The teachers’ union because a 33-year DPS teacher did get elected.  No thanks to them.
  • Money. Won some; lost some.  Obviously better to have it but it wasn’t THE determining factor this go round.



Many unanswered questions remain before this election can be fully understood and put to bed:


  • Why did the consultants and the union resist supporting a slate?
  • When did support for districts 2 and 3 become 2 and 4 and why?
  • How and why did Tay Anderson, the strongest student, teacher, and family advocate in District 4 lose the support of the union after its initial support for him?
  • Where is the money LEE put into the Bacon campaign or did DCTA end up funding the independent expenditure by itself?
  • Will Jennifer Bacon vote for any pro public education policies, or will she vote be a consistent vote for “education reform policies?”
  • Why didn’t the union fight policy BCB on behalf of Dr. Olson?  Will it do so going forward?  There are real conflicts on this board.  Being a teacher doesn’t appear to be one of them, especially when three “teachers” won in large part because they marketed themselves as such. The voters obviously don’t see this as a conflict. And now Denver’s students and families have lost an incredible teacher, advocate, friend because of the intransigence of the policy makers.
  • Will the “reformers” on board heed the voices of Denver voters and slow down the march to privatization?


The union will most likely take credit for two victories: Carrie Olson and Jennifer Bacon. The reality is it should be credited with zero victories, for Carrie won in spite of the union and Jennifer has yet to show many pro public education bona fides. “Reform” certainly got its hands slapped this cycle. But disappointment abounds from what might have been.




There is no other way to describe the November 7, 2017 DPS School Board Election.

Some quick and rather raw observations:

  • Dr. Carrie Olson 33-year DPS teacher, defeated incumbent “reformer” Mike Johnson even though he out spent her over four times to one. Grassroots and community beat big money and reform. Really extraordinary!
  • Democrats for Education Reform (DFER) lost two of four seats it heavily supported. Extraordinary
  • Teach for America (TFA) made inroads into decision making positions within Denver Public Schools as two new board members are TFA alums.
  • Big money won in 3 out of 4 contests, but they didn’t win in all 4 for the first time in several election cycles in Denver! Extraordinary!
  • If more than two people run for office on more or less the same side of a debate, it almost always ensures the viewpoint represented by the two will not come to be. (See Presidential election 2016; DPS at large 2017).

If you want to know more, read on; if that’s all you want to know, realize what happened last night in Denver was truly extraordinary. Maybe even the beginning of the pendulum swing.

Dr. Carrie Olson, 33 year DPS teacher, soundly defeated incumbent, “reformer,” Mike Johnson., and she did so with $33,747 in her campaign war chest and a completely volunteer “staff.” The dollars and vote totals cited in this post can be found here and here. As of the last campaign finance report Mr. Johnson had raised $101,336 on his own and was the beneficiary of $42,777 from Democrats for Education Reform( DFER) dark money and $6320 Stand for Children dark money. His 11,193 votes cost his campaign $13.44 each; Carrie’s 11,121 votes cost her $2.73 per vote. He spent almost 5 times as much per vote as she. Extraordinary.

As the quintessential “reform” school district with a previously unanimous 7-0 board, this is a HUGE VICTORY. Congratulations to Dr. Carrie Olson and her amazing, grassroots organization, spearheaded by a mother/son team of Susan Johnson and her 18 year old (!) son Zachary Cheikho. They had never done this before but between them and  candidate Olson, they were smart enough to take the best their volunteers had to offer and let them roll with it.

The second major victory for pro-public education advocates occurred when DFER’s independent expenditure committee, Raising Colorado lost two of the four races it invested heavily in. For incumbent Rachele Espiritu in District 4 Raising Colorado spent $97,000. DFER’s sister reform organization Stand for Children lost one of the two races it invested heavily in: Mike Johnson, cited above. And as an aside, in the Denver suburb of Aurora the Raising Colorado supported candidates lost all four seats.

If you have followed the Denver election story, you know that four of seven seats were up this go round. The community organization, Our Denver Our Schools (of which I am a co-founder) (ODOS), supported its team of Robert Speth, Xochitl “Sochi” Gaytan, Carrie Olson, and Tay Anderson. It was able to raise and spend around $11,000 of “dark money” under the independent expenditure committee called Our Denver Our Schools Independent Expenditure Committee.  Please note: not so dark. The teachers union and ODOS agreed on the three candidates but parted ways over District 4 endorsement:  ODOS went with student/activist/2017 DPS graduate Tay Anderson; the union landed on    TFA alum, Jennifer Bacon, in whom they invested $140,000. Bacon raised $69,000 herself. $200,000 total for her.

Union support of Ms. Bacon greatly complicated the election landscape and became a rather difficult situation to negotiate for the remainder of the election cycle.  Jennifer Bacon is not only a TFA alum but both she and the other newly elected colleague TFA alum,  Angela Cobian, are currently employed at the TFA leadership training organization,  Leadership for Education Equity .  

Now, I make no bones about this decision to support Bacon: I have not liked it nor supported it from the beginning. Neither have many befuddled teachers. TFA in Denver has not been viewed in a favorable light. The decision was made to support her because of a belief that union money along with the promised LEE money/support could deliver a victory. It did, but to me, it always seemed to be a Pyrrhic victory at best. The day after it happened it still seems to be. I sincerely hope I am wrong. Jennifer Bacon defeated two other candidates, incumbent Rachele Espiriteu and 19-year old phenom Tay Anderson.

The at-large race garnered the most money, as you can imagine. Incumbent and former Lieutenant Governor Barbara O’Brien raised $116,000 on her own and had DFER’s Raising Colorado kick in $98,000 on her behalf, followed by Stand’s Better Schools for a Stronger Colorado $79,000. Almost $300,000. And she didn’t come close to breaking 50% of the votes cast. She collected 42%, Robert Speth received 36%, Julie Banuelos 22%. Per vote they spent respectively: $7.74, $ 1.07, $0.62.

District 2 in Southwest Denver provided an interesting competition between two very capable Hispanic women: Xochitl “Sochi” Gaytan, and TFA alum Angela Cobian. The last financial report shows them both gathering contributions in the $160,000 range. Both candidates were the recipients of “dark money,” Ms. Gaytan from the teachers, Ms. Cobian from DFER. Ms. Cobian was the recipient of several large individual contributions as well.  It will be interesting to see the final dollars spent in this race, for there is a belief that much of the “dark money” expenditures for Cobian have not yet appeared.

Extraordinary.  That is what happened last night in Denver.  And even as we ODOS and other volunteers lick our wounds because we really thought we could FLIP THE BOARD, we must celebrate our victory last night.  Dr. Carrie Olson won a seat on the formerly unanimous “reform” DPS school board.  Public education advocates WON a seat in Denver.  And two of the other “victors” received less than 50% of the vote. I think it was an extraordinary night in Denver.

No story about this election cycle could be complete without thanking the ODOS guru extraordinaire, Scott Gilpin.  Scott’s expertise and analyses allowed ODOS to make a difference in this election. To him – and his family who put up with the countless hours – thank you.  Onward!







SPF: Lies, Damned Lies, and GROWTH

Compare and Contrast these two opening sentences:

October 2016

Fewer Denver schools earned the top two ratings this year on the school district’s color-coded scale than the last time it issued ratings in 2014, according to results released Thursday.

The results push Denver Public Schools further away from its ambitious goal for 80 percent of its students to attend a high-performing school by the year 2020.

October 2017

More Denver schools this year earned the top two ratings on the district’s five-color scale than ever before, a spike officials say reflects the record academic progress students are making.

However, nine schools that otherwise would have scored top ratings were downgraded for having large academic disparities between traditionally underserved students and their more privileged peers under a new rule meant to spur schools to close those gaps.

In all, 122 of Denver Public Schools’ more than 200 schools are rated “blue” or “green,” according to results released Thursday. That’s up from 95 schools last year


What a difference a year makes, especially when you change the metrics!  Here are some questions and observations that arise from these these starkly differing openings.

If by 2020 you are the Denver Public Schools District and your goal is to have 80% of your students sitting in what you define as high quality seats (according to your color-coded School Performance Framework – SPF – those seats are blue for Distinguished and green for Meets Expectations) and you are confronted with the reality of the 2016 scenario above, and

If you have an important school board election coming up in less than a month and you want to protect your incumbent candidates and your “reform” agenda, and

If community meeting after community meeting implores you, the District, NOT to close any more schools but rather put real time and resources into the schools with very high concentrations of students living in poverty and not speaking English as their first language and these schools are located in Board Districts where the seats are being contested, and

Even if you have been warned repeatedly from both sides of the philosophical education debate that so much emphasis on GROWTH over STATUS is misleading, and

If all of these decisions are determined by high stakes test scores where proficiencies are terrible (39% in reading and 30% in math) and achievement gaps enormous (the highest in the state and among the highest in the nation),

WHAT WOULD YOU DO?  Answer: Change how you calculate school success and rankings, and then put all your public relations minions to work to tout the importance of growth and to downplay the importance of grade level competency.

Interesting that this exact scenario is being played out in Denver today. Here is how this is playing out:

To make it appear that schools are performing better than they actually are, assuming the real metric parents and students should care about is about acquiring grade level skills and becoming proficient at them, you change the SPF metrics to give academic growth even more weight than previous years.


This is exactly what transpired within the many floors of the Denver Public Schools administration building.  As you can see from the graph on the top, the weights of the School Performance Framework i.e., the points allocated for Growth and Status for elementary, middle and high schools was 51%, 57%, and 58% respectively.  Status, or proficiency, weighed in at 27%, 24%, and 41%.  Strong emphasis on Growth over Status with ratios of 3:2, 2:1, 2:1. These weights were proposed in May 2016 and were apparently going to be used for the 2017 SPF rankings.

Somehow, the powers that be – the superintendent, his staff, and the Board of Education Directors, who must approve such changes – determined these weights would not make the DPS  “reform” agenda appear to be succeeding in teaching reading and math  skills.  Educating kids? Well, that’s a whole other story, not to be confused with testing kids. And so in July 2017 this rubric was changed to what you see on the bottom graph: Growth 73%, 71% and 44% for elementary, middle and high schools.  Status (proficiency) was reduced to 22%, 22%, and 10% (!) respectively. Ratios were not even mentioned.  But they are 3:1, 3:1, and 4:1.  And in order to push the view that early literacy was working they added this to the SPF:  “Early literacy measures will carry more weight to continue supporting our early literacy goals.”  Hmmm.  Ends defining the means, anyone?

Then, because the economic and ethnic gaps are so large, the same decision makers added a new metric to try to make the enormous numbers look better.

To give some schools heavily populated by students who do not speak English as a first language and who live in poverty, you add a metric called “academic gaps indicator” but you do not hold schools with very high levels of these students accountable this year. Superintendent Boasberg: “The purpose of the academic gaps measure is to make clear the priority and importance that we place on a school doing everything possible to close its gaps,” he said. To see so many schools improve is “very heartening.” This from the leader of the district that is consistently at the bottom of both national and state achievement gaps for having not only the largest gaps but for having INCREASING GAPS. According to just released Colorado Department of Education information DPS is experiencing gaps of 42% in 4th grade reading and math, 46% in 7th grade reading, 50 in 7th grade math.


And then there is the CRPE report putting Denver’s gaps at the very largest of 36 studied urban districts.



And of course, through very convoluted machinations and because politics is never far from any decision this superintendent and his 7-0 school board make, no schools will be closed this election year.

To avoid a very contentious political issue that could adversely affect “education reform” candidates running for election and re-election in a few short weeks, you avoid closing any schools this year. School closure has been very controversial in Denver, especially in two of three districts facing voters. Communities, parents, students, do not like to have their neighborhood schools closed or turned around or transformed or whatever, the action of the day is. And one school community in particular that was closed this year, has become very motivated and activated to elect new school board members. So what has DPS done to assuage school communities under this cloud of closure?  I bet you can guess.  Yes, they have postponed any closures till next year.


Finally, I will give you an example of the disconnect between SPF ratings and proficiencies in a school. Great thanks to friend and former DPS teacher Mary T. Sam who disaggregated proficiencies for all Far Northeast Schools.

STRIVE PREP RISE, one of three high schools started by the STRIVE charter management organization:

DPS SPF rating:  Distinguished.  9th grade reading proficiency 53%; Algebra proficiency 39%

KIPP Northeast Leadership Academy Distinguished: 9th grade reading 53%; math no data because not enough students took tests

DSST Green Valley Ranch: SPF Distinguished: 9th grade reading proficiency 45%; Integrated math I 44%, Integrated Math II 74%

Finally, DSST Green Valley Ranch Middle School: SPF Meets Expectations;

Reading Proficiencies – 6th grade 48, 7th grade 48, 8th grade 55.

Math: 6th grade 39%, 7th grade 24, 8th grade 17.


That is where we are in Denver today.  The DPS public relations department is working overtime to avoid using the words proficiency and status.  This from the Director of Public Affairs as the SPF was being released.  Please note again, there is no mention of actual academic proficiencies.

5 Key Points: 


Our schools are improving: Ten years after the first SPF release in 2008, a record high number of our schools achieved our top ratings, Meets Expectations/Green or Distinguished/Blue. Most recently, a third of our schools increased their overall rating between 2016 and 2017, fueled by our students’ record growth in English language arts and early literacy. And, we cut the number of schools receiving our lowest rating by two-thirds, from 31 to 10.


Growth over time: Districtwide, the number of Green and Blue schools has increased from 64 in 2008 to 122 in 2017, reflecting a stronger set of high-quality schools for district families. Today, 60% of our schools are rated Blue or Green.


Focus on equity: To emphasize our commitment to equity, this year we implemented our Academic Gaps indicator. We believe deeply that all children are capable of success. Nine schools saw their ratings decline and will receive additional supports in closing gaps this year based on this indicator.


Supporting our schools: Intensive supports and, when necessary, restarts (new programs and staff) are resulting in better schools for our kids. Nearly 80% of district-run schools that have had intensive interventions since 2010 continue to perform better than the schools they replaced.


School Performance Compact: We congratulate the students, staff and families at six of our seven schools that were being considered under the School Performance Compact. Based on improved results for those six schools on the 2017 SPF, only one school — Cesar Chavez Academy — is being designated under the Compact. In light of its performance and pursuant to the terms of its charter school contract, Cesar Chavez will close at the end of the 2017-18 school year.

It is almost miraculous what you can portray when you are in charge of the rubric, the metrics, and the data. Almost anything is possible.  Magic wand = magic results. Hard to compare apples to apples when pears and oranges are added to the mix. Twelve years and the numbers the District won’t share with you:  39% students reading at grade level, 30% of student performing math at grade level, and achievement or opportunity gaps between students of differing economic status of over 40%.  Time for a change.  Election Day is November 7.  Ballots drop Monday.  All mail-in election. Flip the Board: Sochi Gaytan, District 2; Dr. Carrie Olson, District 3; Tay Anderson, District 4; Robert Speth at large. Our kids deserve them.






They Can Run, but They Can’t Hide, Part II

Nineteen year old (!) Tay Anderson, student, organizer and candidate for Denver Public School Board orchestrated what can only be described as a masterful rally and march against corporate greed and public school privatization in Denver Wednesday, July 19. At least one thousand public school advocates gathered on the State Capitol steps, and lead by the community-based organization Our Denver, Our Schools, State Senator Andy Kerr, and event organizer Tay Anderson (who education historian Diane Ravitch endorsed) proceeded to march to Denver’s Convention Center Hotel to protest the appearance of Secretary of Education Betsy DeVos at the annual ALEC meeting being held in Denver this week.



For those not familiar with ALEC (the American Legislative Exchange Council) it is a national secretive lobbying group on steroids, committed to influencing state legislators and legislation for the benefit of corporations at the expense of the people. It develops “model legislation” on everything from school vouchers to the environment and gun control and everything in between. ALEC believes in “limited government,” “free markets, “ and “federalism.” It holds its meetings behind closed doors. You must be a paying member to attend. One of its latest ideas is to establish Education Savings Accounts: put your extra money in and use it in conjunction with public funds for your children’s education. Eighteen states introduced the legislation in 2017; only North Carolina passed it. ALEC is hoping to get Colorado in its ESA win column. ALEC’s funders are a Who’s Who of conservative foundations and individuals: Koch, Scaife, Coors to name a few.


Three current cabinet members are scheduled to speak at this week’s Denver convention: Alexander Acosta, Labor, Ryan Zinke, Interior, and…Betsy DeVos, Education. Yesterday’s rally and march focused on the unqualified DeVos and her privatization and corporatization policies. Under Anderson’s leadership and with the help of Colorado’s unions, Colorado Resistance groups, and many other community groups, teachers from across the state joined with other union members, community supporters, students and parents to demonstrate and express their opposition to the direction ALEC-led lobbyists are pushing public education. Chants of “Hey, hey, ho, ho, Betsy DeVos has got to go!” and my favorite, “Show me what democracy looks like! THIS is what democracy looks like” echoed throughout the buildings the marchers passed. In fact, several ALEC attendees were eating at a hotel restaurant as the marchers circled the block and by the second passby the shades were drawn so they would not have to see the signs and faces of those opposing them.


DeVos’ appearance in Denver garnered so much interest the five Supremes made an appearance.



Why such emphasis in Denver? Because Denver has been at the center of the failing “education reform” movement for the past 12 years.  And while many “reform” organizations keep trying to make Denver Public Schools look successful, the academic outcomes continue to be dreadful, opportunity gaps and segregation of schools keep increasing.  Four of seven seats are up this November. Supporters of real public education, lead by Our Denver Our Schools are working hard to get these four candidates elected.  Their election could stem the failing “reform.”

Xoxhitl (Sotchi) Gaytan, District 2, Southwest Denver

Dr. Carrie A. Olson, District 3, Central Denver

Tay Anderson, District 4, Northeast Denver

Robert Speth, At-large

And in spite of the incumbents’ attempts to distance themselves (one incumbent actually appeared at the rally long enough to have his picture taken with his anti-DeVos sign) from DeVos/Trump, here are some of the similarities:

* DeVos and the DPS Board support the privatization of public education, funneling public money to schools that are privately administered and serve corporate interests.
* DeVos and the DPS Board support punitive school closure policies based on high stakes testing forcing schools to compete to stay open.
* DeVos and the DPS Board support policies that have resulted in increased segregation and poor academic outcomes for students of color, children facing poverty and homelessness, English language learners and students with disabilities.
* DeVos and the DPS Board put the needs of competition and corporations before the welfare of kids and the communities in which they live.


July 19, 2017 was a fulfilling day for this 1960s activist.  Marching and chanting with people from so many different backgrounds, from so many different age groups, united to fight privatization and corporate greediness was very moving.  And as someone who grew up in a strong union family and city, seeing labor and other civic minded groups united under the leadership of such a gifted young man gave me hope.  I must confess, however, after three hours in the almost 100 degree heat (no climate change, though, so don’t worry!) this ’60s protester had to take a bit of a nap to get ready for the next big battle.  But I sure plan on being there! I hope you will be there, too.


They Can Run, but They Can’t Hide

Preemptive strike.  Those are words that are being heard quite frequently these days.  The Denver School Board and the superintendent have executed preemptive strikes of their own lately.  Luckily, these don’t involve war but rather only elections and privatization.

On April 20, 2017 the The Denver Public Schools Board of Education and the DPS superintendent attempted to separate themselves from the Trump/DeVos education agenda by passing two resolutions. Both tried to convey how privatizing public education in Denver differs “bigly” from the national Washington education program.

1) Resolution 3784 Regarding the 2017 Federal Education Budget Proposal with its six “WHEREAS” clauses covers everything from the need of the federal government to fund basic education needs like tutoring, wrap around services, Pell grants, professional development to a federal budget that includes health care for the uninsured, ending with

THEREFORE, BE IT RESOLVED, that the District respectfully urges Congress to continue its support for the vital resources in the current federal education budget and not to approve the cuts in the Trump Administration’s proposed budget.

It should be noted that this resolution does NOT decry the Trump budget as it relates to the increase in money being recommended for charters ($168 milllion) and choice ($250 million).  This is probably because it is hard to know how and where to distinguish the distinction without a difference when it comes to privatizing public education.

2) Resolution 3785 in Support of School Choice Emphasis on Equity and Accountability  tries to clarify this District’s differences between its CHOICE policy and the Trump/DeVos CHOICE policy. This resolution talks about public dollars going to only public schools, and specifically calls out district-run and charter schools, self-congratulating the District for its high standards of financial transparency and accountability as well as promoting an open and equitable CHOICE system.

NOW, THEREFORE, BE IT RESOLVED, that the Board of Education strongly supports the work of the District to ensure we have great schools in every neighborhood and a choice system that is open, equitable and committed to promoting opportunities for all students, and especially our highest-need students;
BE IT FURTHER RESOLVED,that the Board of Education does not support private school vouchers,…but believes instead that public dollars should be used to support and grow public schools, both district-run and charter, that are open to and serve all students;

You see, Denver Board of Education and superintendent, once the drip of privatization as characterized particularly by choice and charters starts, it is very difficult, if not impossible, to stop.  What starts as a drip quickly becomes a flood that is almost impossible to control.  You may truly not believe in vouchers, but you have fostered an atmosphere in Denver where vouchers could be the logical outcome of Choice and Charters, intended or not. And while DFER, too, tried to separate itself from parts of the Trump/DeVos agenda, it simultaneously sent out a notice congratulating “Betsy DeVos on her appointment as Secretary of Education, and we applaud Mrs. DeVos’s commitment to growing the number of high-quality public charter schools.”  Further, Betsy DeVos has given money to DFER which in turn has given lots of money to DPS campaigns including the Committee for Denver’s Kids cited below.  You can’t always have it both ways, and even the best public relations departments cannot always convince you of their stories.

Preceding the board’s vote on the above resolutions, the District kicked off what can only be described as its November 2017 board of election campaign.  Robo calls in mid-March to invite voters to participate in an education town hall, hosted by the at-large candidate up for re-election.  Three very slick four page 8 by 11 inch flyers sent on behalf of the same candidate and two district incumbents up for reelection, all paid for by the “Committee for Denver’s Kids. This committee was formed to support the 2016 half billion dollar bond/mill for Denver Public Schools.  If one didn’t know better, one would think it was autumn, and the race for DPS school board was well underway.  Yet it is only Spring and as this is posted the incumbents have yet to declare their candidacies.  So, why the push?

Let’s take a deeper dive into this latest DPS fundraising apparatus.  Who are the biggest contributors to this bond/mill “non-profit?”  Here are the big four:

  • Stand for Children – $200,000 – “Reform” organization founded by Superintendent Tom Boasberg’s childhood friend, Jonah Edelman which lobbies and campaigns for all things “reform;”
  • Stacy Schusterman, – $100,000- funder of the ERS report detailed in “Reform” Systems Grow, Academic Outcomes Slow;
  • Benjamin WALTON – $100,000 – nothing more to say;
  • Education Reform Now Advocacy -$120,000 from the independent expenditure arm of Democrats for Education Reform (DFER) which also lobbies and campaigns for all things “reform.”

And not far behind are two real estate development companies responsible for two of the three largest housing in-fill projects in Denver.  Theses developers are also the beneficiaries of the generosity of Denver’s taxpayers regarding the building and refurbishing of DPS properties heavily weighted toward charter schools. Pat Hamill of Oakwood Homes, developer of Green Valley Ranch in the Far Northeast contributed $25,000 and something called FC Facilitator, affiliated with Forest City, real estate developer of Denver’s previous airport site, Stapleton, contributed $20,000.

The amounts then drop to $10,000 and below and contributors are financial institutions, construction companies, architecture firms and local foundations many of whom benefit directly from passage of the bond.  These contributors include First Bank, Stifel Nicolas, RBC Capital Markets, Vectra Bank, George K. Baum, Saunders Construction, Golden Triangle Construction, GE Johnson, Swinerton Builders, Continuum Partners, Eidos Architecture, CH2MHill Engineers, Gary Community Investments, and Carson Foundation.

At what point do the District’s murky associations with Choice and Charter devotees contradict its supposed outrage at the Trump/DeVos agenda?  And what is the urgency for the District to kick off the 2017 campaign so early?  Could it be the District is trying to contain reaction to its compromised position? Could it be that a 7-0 board assures unanimous approval for all things “reform,” all things being privatized?  Could it be that a 7-0 board assures few questions are raised as the “reforms” continue to be shoved through DPS even though the academic outcomes resulting from these “reforms” continue to under-perform? Could it be the District is worried that the fraud of “education reform” will be exposed with a new Board?

The Board and the superintendent most likely do not want public money going to private or religious institutions and they most likely do not want the funding cuts proposed for public education. But elections, policy decisions and listening to monied interests have consequences.  Sometimes those with whom you associate give a more accurate picture of the story than the words that come from resolutions, flyers and the best public relations departments.  The relationship the District’s decision-makers have chosen to pursue have resulted in consequences from which the District’s decision-makers cannot hide in spite of their best public relations efforts.

Post Script:  Since I started writing this post, a bi-partisan spending bill, averting a government shut down and funding it through September has been proposed by Congress. It is expected to pass later this week.  Most of the itemized funding in resolution 3784 has remained, and apparently the Trump budget requests for choice and charter school increases have not materialized.  But these Congressional budgetary decisions do not change the intent of the Denver Public Schools’ actions.

M.O.T.S.* “Reform” Systems GROW, Educational Outcomes SLOW

*More of the Same

The train to educational excellence is literally inching its way through Denver, Colorado.  As another report focusing on Denver becomes public, let us look at where “education reform” in Denver Public Schools stands today.

Education Reform Systems Installation Check in Denver Public Schools – March 2017

  • Portfolio Management.  Check.
  • Unlimited charters.  Check.
  • Choice. Check.
  • Non-union work force in new schools.  Check.
  • High stakes testing used to determine school closures, teacher firings, school rankings.  Check.
  • Common Core State Standards.  Check.
  • Enrollment zones to replace neighborhood schools.  Check.
  • Political connections in place. Check.
  • Alternative teaching licensing (TFA). Check.
  • Alternative leadership licensing (RELAY here and here). Check.
  • Longer school year, longer school day. Check.
  • Academic progress measured by growth, not proficiency. Check.
  • “People,  time, technology, and money.” (ERS, p. 2) Check.

These “reform” systems are all in place in Denver Public Schools and seem to working well, at least according to the authors of four national studies touting DPS’ “reforms”.  But if you read beyond the headlines, dig a little deeper into the meat of the reports, analyze the part that deals with the real mission of a public education system – educating all children – you will find a different story.

Educational Outcomes Check in Denver Public Schools

  • Achievement gap. Stalled or growing.
  • Proficiencies in reading and math.  Stalled or declining depending on which standardized test one uses – CMAS or TCAPs.
  • Graduation rates. Stalled in comparison with other urban districts.
  • Choice. In spite of Secretary of Education Betsy DeVos’ shout out to DPS for its Choice Policy, the reality is very different. The latest round of Choice has had disappointing participation numbers, especially from lower income and non-English speaking families. High quality options are still not available in high needs areas.  Transportation is a big deterrent.
  • Segregation.  Growing.
  • Teacher and principal turnover.  Large and growing.
  • Testing, testing, testing.  Growing in importance.
  • Class Offerings – physical education, music, arts, recess. Reduced.
  • Equity in distribution of resources.  Stalled.

In a never ending attempt to showcase “education reform” success in Denver, a fourth national study was released in mid-March once again touting “reform ” success in Denver Public Schools.  Once again this is a tale of two universes.

The latest  report comes to light just as March Madness is full upon us, and as the college hoops teams apply their version of a full court press, so too are “education reformers”  vis-a-vis Denver Public Schools. (See here and here).  No question about it, the stakes of the “ed reformers” are much higher than those of a basketball tournament (although fans of Gonzaga, South Carolina, Oregon and North Carolina might beg to differ!). The pressure is intense for both.

This most recent study was conducted by the Boston-based consulting group, Education Resource Strategies (ERS). It celebrates DPS’ success in systems organizing “resources,  people, time, technology and money so that every school succeeds for every student.” (p.2)  The previous three Denver success stories focused on 1) the implementation of the portfolio strategy – the quintessential business model “reformers” are still trying desperately to adapt to public education – and was published by The University of Washington’s Gates funded Center on Reinventing Public Education (CRPE); 2) the political landscape necessary (EducationNext) for “reform” to take hold.  This article also tells the story of how Denver Public Schools has been able to parlay this landscape into a situation that force places charters and choice on many unassuming residents;  and 3) the implementation of the “reformer” favorite, Choice, published in the Brookings Institutions’ annual report on Education Choice and Competition Index where Brookings ranked DPS #1 for Choice even though the District had a very low participation rate (25%) especially among poorer and non-English speaking families. The CHOICE non-participants are mostly families who have had their pleas for great neighborhood schools fall on deaf ears as “reformers” have twisted that message into “great schools in every neighborhood.” These are the families who continue to choose their walk-to neighborhood school.

As with the past studies, analyses of the ERS study appeared in “reformer”-friendly publications like Chalkbeat, and  NonProfit Quarterly, and of course, DPS wrote about it in its weekly newsletter.

Holding true to history, this report like the three before it deal with two parallel universes and measurements of success:  Implementation of national “reform” ideals and educational outcomes. Throughout the report DPS gets high marks for things like having “systems in place” and  “being strategic,” but as with the other reports ERS is also critical of DPS for not using its resources and practices to produce the outcomes necessary to truly move the needle on student achievement.

Using the DPS spotlight rating system, one would have to conclude DPS has earned a second to the highest GREEN rating (MEETS EXPECTATIONS) for implementation of national “reform” ideals, while at the same time concluding DPS warrants a RED rating (DOES NOT MEET EXPECTATIONS) for educational outcomes.

DPS Reading TCAPs
A reading increase of 9% over a ten year span (0.9%/year) is described as the “Current pace of progress feels too slow and growing achievement gaps are concerning.”

The report goes on to note the ten year changes in the achievement gap this way:

“And while system-wide efforts have raised performance for all, significant achievement gaps remain.”  (p.9)

In the ten years of “reform” the achievement gap in reading between Free and Reduced Lunch (FRL) and non FRL students has has decreased one percentage point – from 39 points to 38 points. This translates into a gain of 1.5% per year and a rate at which is would take three generations of students to close. In the CRPE report cited above Denver Public Schools was last of the districts studied in reducing this gap. But hey, DPS will have more data to tell the world what should be happening, in the classrooms, in the school buildings, with school leaders, with classroom leaders, to fill … an 85 page, color PowerPoint. Ah, if only people were widgets and public education a business and all participants would comply and act in the same fashion. Even Superintendent Tom Boasberg could find only three bullet points to brag about in the weekly OUR DPS newsletter. (On a positive note, please see that the title of the DPS weekly epistle has changed from MY DPS to OUR DPS. Finally.)

“As the report highlights, here’s what we’ve accomplished together:

  • Of the nearly 300 school districts in the United States serving at least 25,000 students, DPS has had the second-highest academic growth in the nation.
  • This rapid growth means that DPS students on average were a full grade ahead of where DPS students were four years previously.
  • DPS is showing more strategic alignment in prioritizing its push to drive student-achievement gains than any other urban district analyzed by ERS.”

Here comes that scurrilous metric GROWTH again.  Even “reformers” in Denver have asked the District to de-emphasize its reliance on growth. Students need to have grade level skills; students’ proficiencies are the important number. But the District is reluctant to highlight proficiencies since they continue to lag, even after implementation after implementation of “education reforms.”

Boasberg ends his letter with this admission:

“As the report also notes, we have much more work to do. Large gaps to erase. Barriers to move aside.”

In addition to trying to reconcile the two parallel universes of DPS’ “education reform” – implementation and outcomes which are at odds with one another –  the ERS report presents a third challenge: Reading and deciphering these 85 pages even with the pretty colors and graphics.  The writing and research is often sloppy and confusing.

  • This report uses way too many platitudes and offers few specific solutions: “better options for students” (like what?), general agreement (from whom?), “could generate” (but doesn’t)
  • This report needs more keys to explain some of its charts and graphs (p. 24, 69)
  • This report too often uses percentages without providing the overall number in the group being analyzed, i.e., 10% of ????
  • This report needs serious proofreading: p. 4 “engagement” should be “engagements”; p. 16 “that” should be “than”; p.33 “you” should be “your”; p. 80 another “you” should be “your”.

You get the picture. Spell check won’t cut it.   Again, using DPS’ own Stoplight evaluative system this report deserves a RED: DOES NOT MEET EXPECTATIONS for writing and research.   How much did this eight-year study cost? And was all of the cost absorbed solely from grants or was there taxpayer money involved as well?

Every day we witness more assaults on our public institutions. Just yesterday (March 27, 2017) the White House  announced son-in-law Jared Kushner is going to head up a new team called The White House Office of Innovation,  “charged with ‘fixing’ the federal government using business strategies” (Washington Post) (like “education reform” has been doing for ten years).  One can only shudder at this attack as well as the results of the business model in education.  Connect the dots… The current occupant of the White house who thinks business will fix it all and whose budget has slashed funding for public education in general while directing more money to charter schools ($168 million) and choice ($250 million) to… Secretary of Education Betsy DeVos a fierce advocate for Choice, who has given money to Democrats for Education Reform (DFER) for choice and charter school expansion to… DFER itself which while criticizing the president’s “bigoted and offensive rhetoric” still issued the following statement upon DeVos’ confirmation,

“DFER congratulates Betsy DeVos on her appointment as Secretary of Education, and we applaud Mrs. DeVos’s commitment to growing the number of high-quality public charter schools.”

to… other advocacy”reform” groups like Stand for Children, A+ Colorado, and others, all of which contribute heavily to political campaigns in Colorado to ensure the elections of “education reformers”, Colorado Democrats and Republicans alike to the state legislature and to the DPS school board to ensure the continued privatization of public education here.

As Aurora Colorado Superintendent Rico Munn stated last week when A+ Colorado released its latest report on Aurora Public Schools,

“Organizations such as A+ [my add DFER, Stand, “reformers”in general] demand that school districts see the world through their lens and follow their particular directives,” Munn said in a statement. “Their focus on ‘facts’ is a thinly-veiled effort to secure funding, promote their agenda and expand their brand on the backs of Aurora [my add – urban students nationally] students.”

How can we change the direction and of this very slow-moving train?   A majority of Denver School Board seats (four) are up in November 2017.  You can make the difference.