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.