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.