Blog Launch Redux

Blog Launch for Kaplan for Kids

Fifty seven charter schools (57), seventy five percent (75%) housed in taxpayer owned or leased facilities. Fifty two percent (52%) of taxpayer approved new schools money going to two Charter Management Organizations (CMOs). Forty percent (40%) of schools non-union. These are the outcomes Denver Public Schools Superintendent Tom Boasberg must be looking at when he repeatedly declares education reform is a success in Denver. He certainly can’t be looking at the academic outcomes.

My name is Jeannie Kaplan. I had the honor and privilege of serving on the Denver Public Schools Board of Education for 8 years, from 2005 through November 2013. Michael Bennet was superintendent, having been selected in June of 2005. Mr. Bennet served until January 2009 when he was selected to be the junior Senator from Colorado. His replacement was and continues to be Tom Boasberg, Michael’s childhood friend and former DPS Chief Operating Officer.

I believe today as I did when I first ran for the school board that public education is a fundamental cornerstone of our democracy. I am starting a blog to explore and hopefully shed some light on the complicated issues challenging public education today. I am going to be writing about my passion, public education, with a focus on Denver Public Schools. I will try to provide a voice for a side of this debate that is often overlooked by the main stream media.

After 10 years of leadership from Mr. Bennet and Mr. Boasberg here are some facts about public education in Denver:

The national corporate reform movement has two primary tenets: getting rid of a unionized work force and encouraging the proliferation of privatized charter schools. DPS has been fairly successful forcing this national model into neighborhood after neighborhood in spite of much opposition. The national movement has other goals – such as pushing for “choice” in schools, using high stakes testing to evaluate teachers, deprofessionalizing educators, talking about accountability while holding few administrators accountable. However, if you have followed this movement, getting rid of unions and viewing charters as the ultimate solution for public education continue to be the driving forces. Forget about poverty. Forget about the ability to speak English. Forget about an enriching curriculum. Forget about small class size, although this precept is slowly beginning to creep back into the conversation.

The academic mantra of the corporate reformers focuses on things such as test scores (student proficiencies and growth), achievement gaps, graduation rates, remediation, college readiness. Let us look at how Denver Public Schools is doing regarding these data points after 10 years down this reform path.

Proficiencies across the district in 2013 are:
reading 54%
writing 42%
math 46%
Standardized test increases in Denver have been so minimal – less than 2% per year per subject – that at this current rate of “reform” it will take 2 more generations of students to reach 90% proficiency, a number we should expect all of our schools to reach. Oh, and the third grade reading scores that were released in the spring of 2014 were DOWN 1.5%. As for growth figures – growth being increases from year to year – the increases are even worse over these 10 years: 1.25% in reading, 1.5% in math, 1% in writing. I do not believe even Mr. Boasberg can look at this as being a success.

The achievement gap, recently renamed the opportunity gap by DPS, has increased across the board over the last 10 years. Eliminating the achievement is a top educational priority of the “reformers.” Many reform candidates run on eliminating the gap. The GAP – whatever adjective you put before it – has increased district wide to 38 points in reading, 40 points in writing and 35 points in math. Again, increased. Reform success?

As for college readiness, the 2013 DPS graduation rate was 61.3% (2014 figures will not be available for several months).. The remediation rate, that is the number of students needing to take high school classes again before beginning their college level classes, is over 50%. The exact remediation rate has proven problematic to confirm because the method of calculating this number seems to change often. Regarding ACT scores: DPS scores rose 0.5% to 18.1 after two stagnant years at 17.6. A score of 26 is what students need to enter CU Boulder. Again, I do not believe even Mr. Boasberg can look at this as being a success.

Policy wonks on both sides of the education debate emphasize the importance of good leadership both at the district level but particularly at the school level as a key to academic success. There is much data to show how “reform” is causing great churn and chaos in Denver’s neighborhoods and schools. Regarding leadership changes in traditional DPS schools:
From 2009 through August 2014, the 135 remaining traditional (that is non-charter) schools have witnessed the following changes: 83% have had at least one change in school leadership, 35% have had more than one change. Approximately 20 schools have seen no change in leadership.

For teachers the turnover is equally disturbing: According to a recent article in Westword,
DPS has hired 2771 new teachers in the last four years, after losing nearly 3000 teachers for a wide variety of reasons. Approximately 10% of these new teachers are expected to come from Teach for America, where teachers generally stay for two years. Finders’ fees for these teachers cost the district upwards of half a million dollars.

I cannot give you similar data for employee retention and loss for charter schools because DPS does not have that data, another interesting factoid about the charter school movement in Denver. I have to call each charter school individually to get that information, and I have not yet had the time to do so. This is yet another seeming disconnect regarding the debate about charters as public or private entities. Charters are included in the overall DPS website when it best suits them, like being listed in the overall schools list with no special categorization. Yet, the DPS job site has no charter school openings because each charter school operates independently on this level. So charters appear to be in the public DPS domain when it best suits them and they are not when it does not. Public? Private?

Since public pensions are under attack around the county, and since many “reform” organizations are making policy decisions that affect pension plans, I would be remiss if I didn’t include a brief overview of the financial situation in DPS vis-à-vis its pension obligations.

Certificates of Participation are used in Colorado to get around the Tabor Amendment which requires a vote on all tax increases. In April 2008 DPS borrowed $750 million in Pension Certificates of Participation (PCOPs) to fully fund its pension. Following are the statistics to date on how this has played out.

2008 – Before borrowing the $750 million DPS had a 1997 PCOP debt of $300 million which would have been paid off in 2017. It had an Unfunded Liability in its pension of $400 million, totaling a debt for its pension of $700 million. The remaining $50 million was used to pay financiers and lawyers. The financial instrument used in this risky transaction was what is called a swap, based on LIBOR and these taxable bonds were auctioned weekly.

By April 2013 the debt incurred from the $750 million rose to $932 million because the Board of Education voted unanimously two times to exit this risky deal and enter into a fixed rate situation. The so-called termination fees for these two exits cost were $40 million in April 2011 and $142 million in April 2013 for a total of $182 million. That added to the original $750 million equals $932 million. That $182 million went to financial institutions and lawyers. To date not one penny has gone to pay off any principal. That won’t happen until 2018. DPS’ pension debt has more than doubled in five years from $700 million to $1.6 billion, and its Unfunded Liability has risen from $400 million to $640 million. And over 30 DPS buildings are now mortgaged and being used as collateral for this debt.

That’s all for now. I will be delving deeper into all of these topics as well as many others in the near future. Thank you for paying attention. Please sign up to receive more posts.





9 thoughts on “Blog Launch Redux

  1. Excellent post. I, too, happen to believe that public education is a public good, an investment in our future. No one should be making a profit on K-12 education! Thank you for your advocacy.


  2. […] Here is her inaugural post, where she lays out the facts about “reform” in Denver. The biggest “success” has been the steady increase in privately managed charter schools, most of which get free public space. The educational gains are harder to find. […]


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.