Chutzpah – noun \ˈhu̇t-spə, shameless audacity; impudence, nerve, gall
At noon Thursday, August 14, 2014 the Colorado Department of Education (CDE) released Colorado’s 2014 standardized tests results, TCAPs, (Transitional Colorado Assessment Program) at its monthly meeting. Shortly after the release, “reform” State Board Member Elaine Gantz Berman spoke and said what has turned out to be one of the most honest assessments of the latest results. “Not acceptable….To see this kind of flat result is more than troubling. It’s like, ‘Where do we go from here?’
Since the release of the results, the spin from Denver Public Schools and its friends has been dizzying. Their defense of the failing status quo has given new meaning to the Yiddish word “chutzpah.” A few examples: recognition that new strategies are needed to change the trajectory of the District but offering no concrete details of what that would look like; slight recognition that professional educators do make a difference when it comes to teaching children but continuing to hire short term teachers at the expense of teaching professionals; no recognition or admittance that a business model is not transferable to education. No attempts have been made to answer Ms. Berman’s question. Instead the status quo has chosen to defend the ten year performance with confusing, misleading and manipulated data.
Six emails from the Superintendent, 2 articles and one editorial in the Denver Post, a Board of Education work session featuring a 67 page PowerPoint presentation with more charts, graphs, acronyms, and meaningless analysis than one thought possible. And Thursday, August 21 at noon an email from the favorite national organization of “reformers.” DFER (Democrats for Education Reform), makes its way into computer inboxes. The email’s subject, “Denver Plan 2020 Fights for Great Schools in Every Neighborhood,”praises the new Denver Plan and closely mimicks two of the six emails the superintendent has sent this week. The email’s author: Jennifer Walmer, former chief of staff for the Denver Public Schools, current state director of Colorado DFER. Could it be that the Denver Public Schools District is so worried about its lack of progress and its failing education “reform” that it has to inundate the public with reams of insignificant and deceptive information? Unfortunately, I was correct when I wrote in my post of last week, growth is pretty much all the District will talk about. The state losses of 1% in each of the three subjects have translated into disingenuous DPS growth scores. Below is a summary of the flood of writing that has occurred after the release of the pathetic data last week.
Six emails from the superintendent (all six can be viewed here)
- The Denver Public Schools superintendent, Tom Boasberg, sent his first email Friday afternoon at 4 p.m. to parents and community members titled “Three Years in a Row: DPS Leads State in Student Academic Progress.” Denver Public Schools saw zero (0) growth overall in 2014. The District witnessed a 1% loss in reading, no change in math, and a 1 % increase in writing. You do the math: -1 + 0 + 1 = 0. How can the superintendent’s take possibly be accurate? Is it because he is using MGP, Median Growth Percentile, a complicated measure often used to mask the goal of getting students to proficiency and above? If this is the case, it puts more doubt on the reliability of the conclusions reached from this way of calculating student progress.
- He followed that with the same letter to “Educators” Monday afternoon.
- Later Monday afternoon he sent another email to the DPS community celebrating “Making Gains in College Readiness.” From this email:
“On the ACT, for the second year in a row, DPS saw a 0.4-point gain in its overall ACT composite score. After several years of flat performance, DPS students have raised their ACT scores by nearly a full point since 2012.”
ACT (American College Testing) is the national standarized test used to determine college readiness. A score of 21 is generally believed to be the score required to ensure no remediation will be necessary for entering college students. What is DPS’ composite score for 2014? 18.4. The University of Colorado at Boulder requires a 26 or higher. And “nearly a full point since 2012” actually translates to 0.8 in since 2011. ACT scores in Denver were a flat 17.6 in 2011 and 2012, rose 0.4 in 2013 and now 0.4 in 2014. So at this rate it will take DPS graduates six and a half years to reach the low-ish bar of 21.
Wednesday morning, August 20, 2014, another email from Mr. Boasberg,
- “Transforming, Teaming, Thriving Together.” The alliteration is sort of clever, but I find his seeming disregard for the most important T – Teachers and/or Teaching – to be astonishing and disturbing. “Reformers” claim to be all about good teachers in every classroom and yet here is the superintendent writing to “educators” about this great summer day of togetherness without acknowledging “reformers’” key to success. And it even would have gone with his “T” theme!
And then early Wednesday afternoon, August 20, 2014, email #5 arrived.
- “Great Schools in Every Neighborhood.” Quoting: “There are many elements that make up a strong community. But the bedrock, the backbone, the foundation at the base of the best communities? Great public schools.” Chutzpah personified since Tom Boasberg and his “reform” have come into neighborhood after neighborhood and destroyed the “foundation at the base of the best communities” – public schools. And he has carried on this destruction against the wishes of community after community.
Email #6 arrived on Thursday afternoon, August 21, 2014. This was sent to “Dear Educators,” and was the same email as one sent Monday to the DPS community at large, titled “Making Gains in College Readiness.”
THE DENVER POST’S ROLE
Between Friday, August 15, 2014 and Monday, August 18, 2014 the Denver Post wrote an editorial and two articles about TCAP struggles. Saturday’s editorial opined “Continue implementing reforms that are only in their infancy [they call ten years infancy?]….And double down on what clearly has been working.” Seriously? What might that be when the state has lost proficiencies, State Board of Education members have admitted a new course must be found, and Denver Public Schools has seen gains at a pace that will take over two decades to reach goal proficiencies of 90% in reading, writing, and math. The editorial then goes on and assures the readers STRIVE “will be back in the mix of high achievers again next year.” Taxpayers in Denver have to hope that proves so, because as of today four new Strives are scheduled to open, two in brand new taxpayer funded facilities in the Far Northeast, two in taxpayer funded renovated buildings in Southwest. So much for accountability and replicating successful models! Accountability appears to be relevant for teachers only. DPS Board of Education, why are you not exerting some leadership by asking for a moratorium on these STRIVE schools until the problems have been solved and taxpayers’ money can be spent judiciously?
To STRIVE’s credit, CEO Chris Gibbons has taken responsibility and ownership for the network’s decline, citing three major factors: “expanding the network too quickly, high teacher turnover, alignment to the new state standards (Colorado Academic Standards).” But if these are valid reasons for the precipitous drop – and there is no reason to believe they are not – why is the District allowing the network to continue to expand quickly which will require many more teachers to be hired which could lead to higher teacher turnover therefore ignoring two of the reasons Mr. Gibbons cites as causes for his schools’ struggles. And again, why is the DPS Board of Education or Mr. Gibbons not asking for a moratorium on opening more STRIVE schools until the causes for decline can be empirically identified and solutions found? Mr. Gibbons might actually welcome some time to assess and implement changes before having the stress of more schools added on. As for the third factor Mr. Gibbons cites – new academic standards – Colorado best prepare itself for high stakes test results that could see steep declines due to the implementation of the Common Core State Standards (CCSS) evaluated by new tests.
DPS BOARD REACTION TO THE CURRENT STATE
Monday night, August 18, 2014, at a Board of Education work session, the superintendent presented to the Board his view of the state of the District. The discussion focused heavily on growth, not proficiency. But even the District had to admit results are not acceptable (p. 26).
- Our growth is not sufficient to ensure All Students Succeed.
- Substantive gaps remain and are growing in both status and growth.
This presentation has quite a bit of information, some more relevant than others. Here are some other highlights:
Pages 46, 47, and 48 address the achievement gaps based on economics; proficiency gaps between paying lunch students and free and reduced lunch students. Eliminating achievement gaps are another big goal of “reformers.” In ten years of reform in Denver gaps have INCREASED from 29 to 36 percentage points in reading, 20 to 34 percentage points in math, and 27 to 36 percentage points in writing.
Pages 52, 53, and 54 address the achievement gaps based on ethnicity. There are many different ethnic comparisons provided, but the headline is once again INCREASING gaps in all three subjects resulting in a gap of 40 percentage points in reading, 47 percentage points in math, 42 percentage points in writing.
On Tuesday night there was a community meeting in the Far Northeast, the site of education “reform” on steroids in Denver. School Board President Happy Haynes attended. She was asked to cite the positive outcomes of this ten year “reform”. These were her answers:
- Math tutoring (which has had mixed results on most recent TCAPs)
- Increased numbers of students choosing to attend DPS (in large part due to a very successful taxpayer funded Early Childhood Education program)
- Data driven instruction (which has produced the current stagnant results)
- Following a national trend, the hiring of a very inexperienced teacher core
If those are the only positives from the past ten years, is it any wonder our Denver Public Schools are suffering? And continuing down this path? Well, that takes chutzpah and gives credence to Einstein’s famous definition of insanity: “Doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results.” Our students, employees, and communities deserve better.