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:

FRL-Gaps
“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.

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” <JOHN_ALBRIGHT@dpsk12.org>
Date: May 17, 2016 at 6:17:43 PM MDT
To: “Kress, Dustin” <DUSTIN_KRESS@dpsk12.org>, ”  “Dunn, Lauren” <LAUREN_DUNN@dpsk12.org>
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 http://healthyschools.dpsk12.org/health-agenda/.
  • 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 <DUSTIN_KRESS@dpsk12.org>; ”Dunn, Lauren <LAUREN_DUNN@dpsk12.org>
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:
 
Urgent!  Urgent! ALL PHYSICAL EDUCATION AND ARTS TEACHERS
 
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

What’sNext?


 

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%

 

(4,479)
Vernon Jones 28.2%

 

(3,732)
Andrea G. Mosby 18.7%

 

(2,473)
Jacqui Shumway 11.1%

 

(1,479)
Alton Clark 7.9%

 

(1,054)

 

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(1)

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

Choice

High Stakes Testing

Enrollment Zones

Longer school days

Longer school year

Innovation Schools

At Will Employees

Co-locations

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%

ACADEMIC RESULTS OF DENVER’S REFORMS

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.

PARCC

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

YOU BE THE JUDGE

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.