Archives for category: Colorado

Colorado has one of the most punitive teacher evaluation systems in the nation, passed in 2010. It was written by State Senator Michael Johnston, ex-TFA. Contrary to the conclusions of the American Statistical Association, the American Educational Research Association, and eminent researchers such as Linda Darling-Hammond and Edward Haertel of Stanford, Colorado’s SB 191 bases 50% of teachers’ evaluation on student test scores. This creates tremendous pressure to narrow the curriculum only to what is tested and to teach to the test. Senator Johnston vainly insisted that his legislation would produce “great teachers” and “great schools.”

Pauline Hawkins, a teacher in Colorado, explains here why she is resigning as a teacher in Colorado. The environment she leaves with regret was created by George W. Bush, Arne Duncan, and Michael Johnston.

Hawkins writes:

Dear Administrators, Superintendent, et al.:

This is my official resignation letter from my English teaching position.

I’m sad to be leaving a place that has meant so much to me. This was my first teaching job. For eleven years I taught in these classrooms, I walked these halls, and I befriended colleagues, students, and parents alike. This school became part of my family, and I will be forever connected to this community for that reason.

I am grateful for having had the opportunity to serve my community as a teacher. I met the most incredible people here. I am forever changed by my brilliant and compassionate colleagues and the incredible students I’ve had the pleasure of teaching.

I know I have made a difference in the lives of my students, just as they have irrevocably changed mine. Teaching is the most rewarding job I have ever had. That is why I am sad to leave the profession I love.

Even though I am primarily leaving to be closer to my family, if my family were in Colorado, I would not be able to continue teaching here. As a newly single mom, I cannot live in this community on the salary I make as a teacher. With the effects of the pay freeze still lingering and Colorado having one of the lowest yearly teaching salaries in the nation, it has become financially impossible for me to teach in this state.

Along with the salary issue, ethically, I can no longer work in an educational system that is spiraling downwards while it purports to improve the education of our children.

I began my career just as No Child Left Behind (NCLB) was gaining momentum. The difference between my students then and now is unmistakable. Regardless of grades or test scores, my students from five to eleven years ago still had a sense of pride in whom they were and a self-confidence in whom they would become someday. Sadly, that type of student is rare now. Every year I have seen a decline in student morale; every year I have more and more wounded students sitting in my classroom, more and more students participating in self-harm and bullying. These children are lost and in pain.

It is no coincidence that the students I have now coincide with the NCLB movement twelve years ago–and it’s only getting worse with the new legislation around Race to the Top.

I have sweet, incredible, intelligent children sitting in my classroom who are giving up on their lives already. They feel that they only have failure in their futures because they’ve been told they aren’t good enough by a standardized test; they’ve been told that they can’t be successful because they aren’t jumping through the right hoops on their educational paths. I have spent so much time trying to reverse those thoughts, trying to help them see that education is not punitive; education is the only way they can improve their lives. But the truth is, the current educational system is punishing them for their inadequacies, rather than helping them discover their unique talents; our educational system is failing our children because it is not meeting their needs.

I can no longer be a part of a system that continues to do the exact opposite of what I am supposed to do as a teacher–I am supposed to help them think for themselves, help them find solutions to problems, help them become productive members of society. Instead, the emphasis on Common Core Standards and high-stakes testing is creating a teach-to-the-test mentality for our teachers and stress and anxiety for our students. Students have increasingly become hesitant to think for themselves because they have been programmed to believe that there is one right answer that they may or may not have been given yet. That is what school has become: A place where teachers must give students “right” answers, so students can prove (on tests riddled with problems, by the way) that teachers have taught students what the standards have deemed are a proper education.

As unique as my personal situation might be, I know I am not the only teacher feeling this way. Instead of weeding out the “bad” teachers, this evaluation system will continue to frustrate the teachers who are doing everything they can to ensure their students are graduating with the skills necessary to become civic minded individuals. We feel defeated and helpless: If we speak out, we are reprimanded for not being team players; if we do as we are told, we are supporting a broken system.

Since I’ve worked here, we have always asked the question of every situation: “Is this good for kids?” My answer to this new legislation is, “No. This is absolutely not good for kids.” I cannot stand by and watch this happen to our precious children–our future. The irony is I cannot fight for their rights while I am working in the system. Therefore, I will not apply for another teaching job anywhere in this country while our government continues to ruin public education. Instead, I will do my best to be an advocate for change. I will continue to fight for our children’s rights for a free and proper education because their very lives depend upon it.

My final plea as a district employee is that the principals and superintendent ask themselves the same questions I have asked myself: “Is this good for kids? Is the state money being spent wisely to keep and attract good teachers? Can the district do a better job of advocating for our children and become leaders in this educational system rather than followers?” With my resignation, I hope to inspire change in the district I have come to love. As Benjamin Franklin once said: “All mankind is divided into three classes: Those that are immovable, those that are movable, and those that move.” I want to be someone who moves and makes things happen. Which one do you want to be?

Sincerely,

Pauline Hawkins

Lisa T. McElroy, a law professor, decided that her children would not take the state tests during the year the family spent in Colorado. She checked and found it was legal.

That is when the trouble began, and McElroy found out how much this idea frightened the school staff.

After many phone calls, emails, and meetings with desperate administrators, she had to decide.

“Do I stand on my principles, both personal and political? Or do I put the interests of the very important people and institutions that educate my children above those of my kids? And how can I help ensure that more parents, teachers, administrators, and, yes, policymakers recognize the craziness that is our “accountability above all else” mentality?

“For now, I’m opting out of making any permanent decision about my kids’ participation in high-stakes testing. But for those who say that these tests have no educational value, I disagree, at least to this extent: Opting out of them has been a real learning experience for me.”

A reader forwarded this excellent article that appeared in the Denver Post.

The author Robert Zubrin scanned the state’s tables ranking schools based in large part on test scores. And this was his amazing discovery:

“So, does this testing data, acquired at great expense in both money and class time, tell us which schools are doing their job and which are performing poorly? Not at all. Rather, what really jumps out of the data is the extremely strong relationship between school rank and student family income. This correlation is so strong that it is possible to predict the rank of the school in advance with fair accuracy just by using a simple formula that multiples its percentage of low-income students by 4 and subtracts 20….

“In short, what we have managed to learn is that the children of doctors and lawyers do better on standardized tests than the children of day laborers and welfare recipients. This raises an interesting question: Why are we funding this program?

“At a time when school funds are scarce, why are we wasting tens of millions of dollars per year statewide, and close to 20 percent of classroom time, on a testing program, only to find out nothing that we didn’t know before? Does anyone actually believe that Evergreen students do better than Jefferson students because of the superior quality of the staff? If we switched school staffs, but kept the students in place, would the high scores move with the staffs or stay with the students? So, do we punish the teachers at the lower ranked schools because they are willing to take on the tougher jobs?”

NEA President Dennis Van Roekel strongly supported the legal action of the Colorado Education Association against SB 191, one of the worst bills of its kind in the nation. It was written in 2010 by State Senator Michael Johnston, ex-TFA. Fully 50% of teachers’ evaluations are tied to test scores.

I was in Denver the day the law passed in the Senate. Johnston and I were supposed to have a lunch debate before about 60 or so local leaders. He was late. We waited and waited. Finally, I gave my talk. As soon as I finished, young Master Michael Johnston walked in, safe from hearing anything I might say, and proceeded to give a speech praising his bill and saying it would produce great schools, great principals, and great teachers. He was very pleased with what he had done.

Here is Van Roekel’s statement:

NEA PRESIDENT COMMENTS ON SB 191 LAWSUIT IN COLORADO

WASHINGTON—The following is a statement from NEA President Dennis Van Roekel on SB 191 lawsuit in Colorado:

“The National Education Association supports the efforts of Colorado educators in their fight to keep quality teachers in the classroom and preserve the stability of our students’ learning environment. Legislation should be used to ensure that every public school student has a quality teacher in the classroom. It should not drive out great educators without the benefit of a rigorous evaluation system. The way SB 191 has been implemented by the Denver School District has resulted in the removal of more than a hundred teachers without a hearing or cause. The lawsuit brought by Denver Classroom Teachers Association and the Colorado Education Association challenges firing those teachers without cause. The notion that a veteran quality teacher can be removed from the classroom without due process not only subverts the essence of the law but hurts our students.”

The Colorado Education Association, which represents the overwhelming majority of teachers in the state, will sue to block further implementation of SB 10-191.

That law, written by ex-TFA State Senator Michael Johnston in 2010, wiped out due process for teachers and tied evaluations of teachers and principals to student test scores. This method, called VAM, has failed wherever it was tried. Most researchers agree it is inaccurate and deeply flawed.

This is the CEA statement:

“The Colorado Education Association (CEA) has announced plans for legal and legislative action to correct what the organization calls proven flaws in the mutual consent provision of Senate Bill 10-191 that allows school districts to remove qualified teachers from the classroom. SB191 gutted Colorado’s tenure protections for teachers, and replaced them with an unproven scheme that could fire teachers for their students scores on standardized tests.

“The CEA is Colorado’s largest teachers union. Denver teachers have earlier sought an arbitrator’s opinion with Denver Public Schools, an opinion which found SB191 unconstitutional.

“SB191 contains provisions that strip teachers of their teaching licenses, and in effect, the ability to earn a wage, without due process of law.”

The corporate types who hate teachers’ unions and public schools have been running a billboard and mass media campaign in New York and New Jersey.

But they are not the only ones who know how to frame a message.

Here is a fabulous billboard posted on a major highway in Colorado by critics of the nutty testing regime imposed by No Child Left Behind and Race to the Top.

Noelle Roni, who was principal of the Peak to Peak Charter School, says she was fired for trying to stop a practice that humiliated children.

“Noelle Roni was the principal of Peak to Peak Elementary School for more than eight years before being abruptly fired last November. Roni says that higher-ups at the school became angry with her when she demanded that cafeteria workers stop stamping the hands of children who did not have enough money in their account to pay for lunch, according to CBS Denver.

“Although the charter school is allowed to set its own policies, other schools in the Denver area notify parents when students do not have money for lunch, rather than stamping their hands, according to Colorado outlet the Daily Camera. Roni reportedly was told that some children were too embarrassed to go through the lunch line because of the practice.

“The kids are humiliated. They’re branded. It’s disrespectful. Where’s the human compassion? And these are little children,” Roni said to CBS Denver.”

Commentary: there is often a good reason for regulations to protect children, the same regulations that charters are free to ignore.

This post was written by Don Batt, an English teacher in Colorado:

 

There is a monster waiting for your children in the spring. Its creators have fashioned it so that however children may prepare for it, they will be undone by its clever industry.
The children know it’s coming. They have encountered it every year since third grade, and every year it has taken parts of their souls. Not just in the spring. Everyday in class, the children are asked which answer is right although the smarter children realize that sometimes there are parts of several answers that could be right.

And they sit. And they write.

Not to express their understanding of the world. Or to even form their own opinions about ideas they have read. Instead, they must dance the steps that they have been told are important: first, build your writing with a certain number of words, sentences, paragraphs; second, make sure your writing contains the words in the question; third, begin each part with “first, second,” and “third.”

My wife sat with our ten-year-old grandson to write in their journals one summer afternoon, and he asked her, “What’s the prompt?”

I proctored a standardized test for “below average” freshmen one year. They read a writing prompt which asked them to “take a position. . .” One student asked me if he should sit or stand.

There are those who are so immersed in the sea of testing that they do not see the figurative nature of language and naively think that the monster they have created is helping children. Or maybe they just think they are helping the test publishers, who also happen to write the text books, “aligned to the standards,” that are sold to schools. Those test creators live in an ocean of adult assumptions about how children use language–about how children reason. They breathe in the water of their assumptions through the gills of their biases. But the children have no gills. They drown in the seas of preconceptions.

They are bound to a board, hooded, and then immersed in lessons that make them practice battling the monster. “How much do you know!” the interrogators scream. The children, gasping for air, try to tell them in the allotted time. “Not enough!” the interrogators cry. Back under the sea of assumptions to see if they can grow gills. “This is how you get to college!” the interrogators call. And on and on, year after year, the children are college-boarded into submission.

What do they learn? That school is torture. That learning is drudgery.

There are those who rebut these charges with platitudes of “accountability,” but, just as the fast food industry co-opted nutrition and convenience in the last century, the assessment industry is co-opting our children’s education now. As Albert Einstein [William Bruce Cameron*] said, “Not everything that can be counted counts, and not everything that counts can be counted.” Would that the measurement advocates would measure the unintended consequences of their decisions.

Our political leaders–surprise–have bent under the pressure of businessmen wearing the masks of “rigor” and “accountability.” They have sacrificed our children’s joy of learning on the altar of expediency.

Here’s what should happen: teachers in their own classrooms, using multiple performance assessments where children apply their knowledge in the context of a given task, determine what their students know and what they need to learn, based on standards developed by that school, district, or possibly, state. Teachers should take students where they are and help them progress at their own developmental rates. And good teachers are doing that every day. Not because of standardized tests, but in spite of them.

Students’ abilities can be evaluated in many, creative ways. The idea that every student take the same test at the same time is nothing more than the warmed-over factory model of education used in the 1950’s, now, laughingly called “education reform.” As Oscar Wilde has observed, “Conformity is the last refuge of the unimaginative.”

Don Batt


English teacher
Cherry Creek Schools
Aurora, Colorado

*http://quoteinvestigator.com/2010/05/26/everything-counts-einstein/

I reported yesterday that an administrative law judge found that the school board of Douglas County, Colorado, had violated the state’s fair campaign practices law by commissioning Frederick Hess to write a paper extolling the school board’s agenda of privatization.

But when I read the story in the Denver Post, I realized that the school board had been even more active in promoting its agenda than commissioning a favorable report. 

The suit was brought after a complaint by Julie Keim, a candidate who lost in the recent election. The reform slate won.

According to the Denver Post:

The judge did not fine the school district for the violation, citing that Keim had not requested such action.

School district officials said they plan to appeal the decision. Board president Kevin Larsen argued that the ruling would “silence all public entities for months on end.”

“The judge seems to have concluded that it is a violation of law anytime the district disseminates positive news involving its education policy agenda if there are also candidates for school board who support that agenda,” Larsen said in a statement. “The district does not agree with that interpretation of law.”

Larsen also said that the district planned to seek reimbursement for litigation costs on the complaints dismissed by the judge.

Those complaints included allegations that the district violated fair-campaign practices when its fundraising arm paid former U.S. Education Secretary William Bennett to write a report and give a speech before the election, when school officials stopped some volunteers from placing campaign fliers on cars during after-school events, with a Facebook post that alleged an audit of Keim, and when posting notices on a couple of charter school websites mentioning campaign forums or events that excluded certain candidates.

Questions:

Should a school board be allowed to spend public funds, supposedly collected from taxpayers for educating children, on its election campaign? Would all “public entities” be “silenced for months on end” if they were unable to spend public funds on their campaign?

A judge in Douglas County, Colorado, ruled that the school board had violated the state fair campaign practices law by hiring two conservative commentators to write papers praising the district’s privatization agenda.

One paper was produced by Frederick Hess of the American Enterprise Institute and the other by conservative activist William Bennett. Hess was paid $30,000 (half from district coffers) and Bennett was paid $50,000 ( by a private foundation).

Although there was no fine, the district plans to appeal.

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