Dear Denver School Board, the definition of insanity is…
To those of us who do not have the good fortune to live in Denver, the results of the recent school board election were very exciting. For the first time in many years, a majority of the school board members were not funded by out-of-state billionaires and the hedge-fund driven school choice lobby. It appeared that Denver was part of the new wave of pushback against failed reforms.
High-stakes testing, written into federal law by George W. Bush’s No Child Left Behind law in 2002, was embraced by Denver school officials. Almost 20 years later, we know that testing should not become the central feature of schooling. It diverts time, money and energy away from everything that is not tested, including history, civics, literature, the arts, and even recess. We now also know that the billions spent on standardized testing and Common Core were wasted, since test scores on national and international tests have barely budged in the past 20 years.
Merit pay was tried and failed in Denver, as it has failed everywhere else it has been tried. Teachers don’t respond to rewards and punishments; they are not donkeys. Teachers choose their profession because of their love of children and their desire to teach. Rewards and punishments are very poor motivators.
Denver was praised by Secretary of Education Betsy DeVos for its commitment to charter schools, but charter schools have proven to be a huge disappointment, not only in Colorado but across the nation. They lure students and resources away from real public schools, which weakens the schools that most children attend. Privatization always and everywhere produces segregation. Multiple studies have shown that charter schools don’t get better results when the same demographic of children are enrolled. Many charter operators choose their students carefully, but that is unfair to the public schools that lose their best students.
If we are to thrive as a nation, we must rebuild our public schools to provide equality of educational opportunity for all children. If parents want a private school education, that is their right and they should pay for it, not take money away from the schools that educate most children.
The new Denver school board should use this unique opportunity to repute the failed “reforms” of the past decade. They have not closed achievement gaps; they have not improved the opportunities of all children. They have failed.
It is time for the school board to find new leadership willing to strike out in a new direction. That means leaders who do not define schooling by deeply flawed standardized tests and who understand that a great public education system benefits all children, not just a few.