CRPE: Creepier than CREEP


Way back in 1972 there was a committee whose acronym was CRP.  CRP stood for Committee to Re-elect the President, who at the time was Richard M. Nixon. Because CRP became integrally involved in some creepy activities including Watergate, its acronym morphed into CREEP. A creepy committee funding some CREEPy goings on. (On a personal note, I worked at CBS News in Washington, D.C. during this time.   While I thought some of the activities were CREEPy, I loved the political intrigue).


Fast forward to 2015 and my continuing involvement with Denver Public Schools. Another creepy organization has touched my life: Center on Reinventing Public Education or (another) CRPE, a University of Washington research center funded in part by Bill and Melinda Gates. It turns out this creepy organization has provided the blueprint for all that is happening and has happened in DPS over the last ten years.  This creepy CRPE has tried to lead us to believe that a business portfolio strategy can somehow be successful in the public education world. Strategies and phrases such as “risk management,”  “assets,” “portfolio rebalancing and managing,” “ridding yourself of portfolio low performers,” “monoploy” dominate the conversations with these folks.  And because DPS has been so successful and diligent in adopting these elements it has finally, finally, reached the top of a reformy chart.  The problem with this achievement is that it only represents success as it relates to implementation of some convoluted business strategy. Remember, a portfolio strategy requires constant churn, for the investor is always ridding his portfolio of low-performing stocks while looking for higher performing ones.  This may be a good strategy for business, but schools, children, families and teachers are not stocks and bonds.  They should not be treated as such.  And so far implementation of this strategy has had virtually no impact on improving educational opportunities or outcomes for Denver’s children.  So after being national exemplars for choice (or as I like to call it chaos), funding, talent (see here and here for Chalkbeat’s take) and accountability, Denver Public Schools still shows no growth in 2014 standardized tests.  Proficiencies across the district slog along at 57% for reading, 47% for math, and 44% for writing with achievement gaps increasing in each subject. Even with a slight increase ACT scores are still only 18.4 (a 26 is needed to enter the University of Colorado) and the overall graduation rate is still at only 62.8%.  Sadly, even after ten years, DPS has failed to transfer implementation into outcomes.


Screen Shot 2015-06-10 at 11.29.46 AM


Below is a chart with all 37 “elements” of Portfolio Management.  In order to see all of the elements you must click on this link. I strongly encourage you to do so.

A couple of observations:  As CRPE celebrates DPS for being a national exemplar in 5 out of 6 elements in the category of “Good Options and Choices for All Families,” neighborhoods across the city are at odds with the District on this very issue.  Just ask families in Northwest, Far Northeast, and Southwest Denver, and the neighborhoods of Park Hill and Stapleton how they view their choices. And again, as DPS achieves four out of 5 national exemplars in the Performance-Based Accountability category, one must ask how this is even remotely accurate when the School Performance Framework (SPF) used to close schools, give teachers’ bonuses, determine a school’s rating, is constantly changing.  There most likely won’t even be “Accountability” for the next two years, given the new PARCC tests.

Out of these 37, DPS is a national exemplar in 17, well on its way to implementing 15 elements and needing to work on only 5 elements.  I encourage you to open all of the elements.  The Denver Public Schools strategies of the past ten years will become painfully clear.  Strategies like “school closings, performance contracts, contract waivers, alternative pipelines, performance based evaluations,”  are all the things we in Denver are used to hearing.  What educational results have emerged from all this high performing implementation?

DPS Portfolio Snapshot

That is all I really want to say.  The 1972 CREEP was pretty creepy; the 2015 CRPE is even creepier. I was creeped out when I looked at this in detail and just wanted to share with you the blueprint of the business model producing nothing.  It is past the time to get rid of ten years of the sound and the fury, signifying nothing.


5 thoughts on “CRPE: Creepier than CREEP

  1. Couple of things. The Gates involvement with DPS is older than the CRPE approach. Gates funding fueled the division of Manual into 3 schools in the same building back in the 1990s. That was pretty much a debacle and was abandoned in stages in the 2000s.
    The fiscal autonomy of schools is also far older than is commonly thought. It essentially goes back to the Craig Cook era. The rhetoric and presentation of such autonomy has changed, in a positive way I think, but the principals have long had the authority to move resources around. The exceptions are where there are external constraints put on DPS like Title I and a few state restrictions. There has also been some decentralization of functions like plant maintenance that were previously centralized. This can be both good and bad. Good that those resources can be included in prioritization but perhaps bad if short term goals (where all the incentives lie) are pursued at the expense of long-term stability.
    It doesn’t surprise me that little progress is shown in letting schools set pay. To do that, the district would either have to break the union which the union wouldn’t like or let each school negotiate with the union which the district wouldn’t like.


  2. This is a totally unfair and an outrageous post. Comparing CRPE to Richard Nixon’s criminal election dirty tricks is nuts. You may not like CRPE, Paul Hill or the the portfolio approach to district management (by the way DPS has a long way to go on this front). Reasonable folks can argue whether you should have more of a command control or decentralized district. Maybe you’d prefer to have the district hold all resources and make all decisions centrally, that has worked well? but to suggest that CRPE which is a center part of the University of Washington has been driving DPS’s reform work is just not true and unfair to suggest for DPS or CRPE. I am thankful that there are organizations like CRPE that have a view point on how big districts might be managed and do research on various aspects of districts are working. A+ partners with them on some choice research because they have the capacity to do research like few do nationally. This sort of post undermines your credibility as a thoughtful critic of DPS which frankly we need more of, not less.


    • What CRPE does and how it relates to reform in DPS needs to be widely known. The purpose of this post is to educate people about what the master plan for Denver looks like. I think it is interesting that when pronounced CRPE and CREEP are the same, and to me both of them are creepy. I was not insinuating illegal actions with CRPE. Frankly, I don’t see any different results from centralized decision making and what is happening now except to say there is much more outsourcing, much less transparency, much more churn and chaos and much, much more deprofessionalization. I guess I need to hone my attempts at sarcasm and humor. I do appreciate your acknowledgement of the collaboration between CRPE and A+ Denver. I wish the results of these reform experiments where DPS is a “national exemplar” were better. After ten years of this, when is enough enough?


  3. I tried clicking on the link for the 37 elements, but it didn’t work, although the other links in the article do. Is my computer the problem or not?


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