Archives for category: Colorado

In 2010, Colorado State Senator Michael Johnston took credit for a piece of legislation called Senate Bill 191, which he said would produce “Great Schools, Great Teachers, Great Principals.” Its main feature was tying teacher evaluation to their students’ scores, which counted for 50%. But it included other time bombs. One allowed districts to lay off teachers for various reasons. Now seven teachers and the Denver Classroom Teachers Association is suing.

One of those who lost her job was Cynthia Masters, a special-education teacher in a K-8 school. She was one of only 3,000 to lose their job.

“In the four years since the law was passed, nearly 3,000 DPS teachers have lost their positions due to what the district calls “reduction in building,” or RIB for short. The reasons that teachers are RIBed vary: Some lose their jobs because their schools are “turned around” or closed. Others are cut because school enrollment drops. In Masters’s case, she was RIBed due to a decrease in the number of special-ed students.

Of those 3,000 teachers, 1,240 had at least three years’ worth of positive evaluations, including Masters. And not all of them have been able to find new jobs. According to the law, still widely referred to as Senate Bill 191, RIBed teachers with three years of positive reviews — officially known as “nonprobationary” — who can’t find a position within a certain time frame are put on unpaid leave, a move that both unions believe violates the state constitution……”

“Brad Bartels, an attorney with the Colorado Education Association, says these teachers are victims of DPS’s brand of musical chairs. They didn’t lose their positions because they were bad teachers, he insists: “They just didn’t have a chair when the music stopped.”

“Seven DPS teachers and the DCTA have now sued the district. (The statewide CEA is representing the DCTA in the matter.) The lawsuit is a class action, and the plaintiffs represent several different classes, including all teachers in Colorado who were considered nonprobationary prior to the passage of Senate Bill 191 and all nonprobationary DPS teachers who were RIBed and ended up on unpaid leave.

“Westword spoke with five of the seven plaintiffs and found that they have several things in common: All are older than 45 and have good teaching records. Upon losing their positions, all five applied for hundreds of teaching assignments within DPS but, inexplicably to them, received just a few interviews. Only one managed to avoid being put on unpaid leave or being forced into early retirement.

“I applied for over 700 positions in the district,” says plaintiff Michelle Montoya, who got RIBed in the fall of 2010. “I thought, ‘I can deal with this. I’m going to go get a job. My skills are definitely needed.’ And I just never got a second interview.”

Will Senator Michael Johnston live long enough to declare that Colorado now has great teachers, great principals, great schools, thanks to Senate Bill 191?

Jeanne Kaplan served on the Denver school board for years and watched with a heavy heart as fake “reformers” took over Denver and Colorado. Now Colorado has the most punitive teacher evaluation law in the nation, thanks to Arne Duncan and Colorado’s State Senator Michael Johnston. When the NEA voted a resolution calling on Duncan to resign, the reporter didn’t speak to a teacher. No, the call went to Joe Williams of Democrats for Education Reform, the organization of hedge fund managers. When did DFER become the spokesman for Democrats or teachers or regular voters?

Jeanne Kaplan recently retired as an elected member of the Denver school board. She has started her own blog where she will keep track of education in Denver.

Here is her inaugural post, where she lays out the facts about “reform” in Denver. The biggest “success” has been the steady increase in privately managed charter schools, most of which get free public space. The educational gains are harder to find.

She writes:

“My name is Jeannie Kaplan. I had the honor and privilege of serving on the Denver Public Schools Board of Education for 8 years, from 2005 through November 2013. Michael Bennet was superintendent, having been selected in June of 2005. Mr. Bennet served until January 2009 when he was selected to be the junior Senator from Colorado. His replacement was and continues to be Tom Boasberg, Michael’s childhood friend and former DPS Chief Operating Officer.

“I believe today as I did when I first ran for the school board that public education is a fundamental cornerstone of our democracy. I am starting a blog to explore and hopefully shed some light on the complicated issues challenging public education today. I am going to be writing about my passion, public education, with a focus on Denver Public Schools. I will try to provide a voice for a side of this debate that is often overlooked by the main stream media.”

Jeanne Kaplan is one of our nation’s strongest voices for public education and for democracy.

Veteran educator Val Flores pulled off a stunning upset when she beat a well-funded candidate for a seat on the state board. No one thought it could happen.

Val spent $20,000. Her opponent spent $135,000. Val won by a margin of 59-41.

Jeanne Kaplan, a former member of the Denver school board, explains what happened.

Valentina (Val) Flores, a career educator, won a surprising and decisive victory for a seat on the state board of education in Colorado.

Flores won by a margin of 59-41, beating a candidate who was supported by the hedge funders’ Democrats for Education Reform, Stand for Children, and Education Reform Now. Her opponent had two years experience in Teach for America.

Flores has more than 40 years experience in education.

In my post about this electoral contest, I asked “Will big money win again?” The answer in Colorado is a loud and decisive NO!

Colorado and Denver are very friendly territory for corporate reformers. They have poured big money into state and local school board races. It has one of the nation’s most extreme teacher-evaluation laws, with 50% of teachers’ rating based on test scores. The law was written by State Senator Michael Johnston (ex-TFA). U.S. Senator Michael Bennett is a stalwart of corporate reform. In recent elections, “reformers” swept the Denver school board and the Douglas school. Board

Now the corporate reformers have decided to pick up a seat on the state school board. Their candidate taught for two years in TFA. He is getting generous support from Democrats for Education Reform (DFER), the hedge fund managers; from Stand for Children, which is funded by the Waltons and various equity investors; and others from the corporate reform crowd.

His opponent, Valentina Flores, is a veteran educator, with 43 years in the field. On her website, she says: “I oppose big money and corporatization in our public education system. I oppose high stakes testing that takes away valuable classroom learning time. I oppose a “reform” model that is slowly privatizing our public education system. We cannot allow free public education to be traded on NASDAQ and sold to the highest bidder.” You can see why the people with big money could not support a candidate like Flores.

– See more at:

Gary Rubinstein writes in this post about Michael Johnston and his long association with him.

Today Johnston is known in Colorado as the state senator who wrote the most punitive, anti-teacher law in the nation. At present, Harvard students are protesting the invitation to Johnston to speak at commencement

Gary knew him from Teach for America. He describes a young man who understood and cared about his students, who saw the obstacles they confronted, and who appreciated the hard work of veteran teachers.

But something happened to Michael Johnston between 2002 and 2010. The man Gary knew turned into an accountability hawk. He became a harsh critic of teachers.

For a time he was leading the test-and-punish parade, but the parade seems to be in disarray. It is no longer the leading edge but the rearguard.

Michael Johnston was invited to be the commencement speaker at the Harvard Graduate School of Education for 2014, but some students objected and called on the school to withdraw the invitation. That’s not likely to happen, nor should it. The students and graduates should have a chance to debate the issues, to debate the value of the Rhee–Duncan-Spellings style that has long been favored by the Harvard Graduate School of Education. Now is a good time to review the research on value-added measurement. Now is a good opportunity to ask SenatorJohnston what happened to quash his youthful wisdom.

Four years ago, I was in Colorado to discuss education policy. This was in the heady early days of Race to the Top (which Colorado did not win, despite its whole-hearted embrace of everything Arne Duncan wanted). On one occasion, I was scheduled to debate State Senator Michael Johnston, the darling of the “reform” crowd. Johnston had written a bill that was coming to a vote that very day. His bill made student test scores count for 50% of every educators’ evaluation. An effective evaluation, his bill decreed, required growth in student scores. Johnston called his bill something like “Great Schools, Great Educators.” Or something like that. Every bill these days must contain at least one impossible promise in its title.

As I said, we were supposed to debate in front of a packed room of civic leaders, maybe 80 or so people. I waited and waited. No Johnston. Finally, I got up and spoke my concerns in his absence. No sooner did I finish than the doors at the back of the room opened and out popped young Senator Johnston. I say young because he appeared to be about 25, though I think he was actually 32. He was then considered the leading voice of education reform in the Legislature, despite members who were retired and experienced educators. Senator Johnston had served two years in Teach for America, then was principal of a school for two years, then ran for state senate. And now he was rewriting the state’s education laws! Truly a whiz kid!

Since he did not hear me, he did not have to respond to anything I said. Instead, he spoke in glowing terms of his legislation. He had an almost mystical faith in the amazing results that would automatically materialize as soon as teachers and principals were evaluated by the academic growth of their students. He seemed to believe that the only source of low scores was the absence of incentives and sanctions for those unmotivated, possibly lazy educators. Everyone, it seemed, wanted to believe that he knew what he was talking about.

Now, we know it takes time to phase in new policies and practices. As Bill Gates famously said, “It will take a decade to know whether this stuff works.” What he meant by “this stuff,” I guess, is the idea that privatization and measuring teacher quality by student scores will make students better educated. My own view is that we should stop looking for the “secret sauce” because it is a chimera. Instead, we should do what we know works, which is reduced class sizes, early childhood education, family education, experienced teachers, healthy children, a full and rich curriculum, and the wraparound services that children need. But all that is complicated, not simple; our data-driven reformers like simple solutions, the bumper sticker ideas.

But surely we should see some positive movement in Colorado, don’t you think? And it should be cumulative, stronger every year as the “reforms” take hold.

The latest state scores from Colorado–which has been dominated by data-driven reformers for a decade– are unimpressive. Actually, the scores of third-graders, who have known nothing other than a testing culture, took a slight dip. In truth, they were flat.

Oh, well, maybe next year, we will see the miracle that Senator Johnston promised. Or the year after that.

Meanwhile Senator Johnston has been invited to be Alumni Commencement Speaker at Harvard Graduate School of Education, which has aroused some protest. This is allegedly a tribute to his great accomplishment in Colorado, where every year his promises grow more hollow. How many of the graduates at HGSE would want to work under Johnston’s law? Presumably, students at HGSE read research and know that VAM is Junk Science.

This just in:

Dear Colleagues:

I write to you specifically to inform you of recent action taken at the Colorado Education Association’s delegate assembly.
This past Tuesday, April 22nd, Pat Kennedy and I met here at my office at UNC to discuss what had recently transpired at the Colorado Education Association’s delegate assembly held earlier this month. The CEA adopted a new business item which reads as follows:

“CEA shall join in coalition with other organizations demanding the withdrawal of Colorado from the PARCC assessment and will place a three year moratorium on high stakes standardized tests.”

At long last the CEA is willing to take action. Pat, who was a delegate at the assembly, was encouraged by the possibilities of such a new business item. She will take the names of organizations which have been created to resist the invasion of high stakes standardized testing which has so devastated public education. Pat will supply this information to the Communications Department and CEA executive offices including the office of President Kerrie Dallman.

Over 500 delegates (public school educators from across the state of Colorado) directed CEA to join in coalitions with other organizations to take the next steps to withdraw Colorado from the PARCC and seek a three year moratorium on high stakes standardized tests. Colleagues, let’s give this new business item some teeth. Please write to Pat ( and inform her of the details of your organizations. This will be a point of strength and a point of departure as the CEA makes demands on the Colorado Department of Education. We know what is pedagogically sound. We know what malpractice looks like. Let’s continue to speak from strength and demand truly humane policies that dignify the autonomy of our children and their professionals in the classroom.

In solidarity,

Don Perl

Department of Hispanic Studies
University of Northern Colorado
Greeley, Colorado 80639

Gary Rubinstein is quite the sleuth when anyone makes a claim about educational results that seem too good to be true.


A few years ago, he helped me pin down some whoppers when Secretary Arne Duncan, President Obama, and then-Mayor Michael Bloomberg claimed they discovered miracle schools that had a 100% graduation rate, or miraculous score gains, or some other incredible statistic. His research helped me write an article for the New York Times about miracle schools, debunking the notion that anyone can overcome poverty if they do something simple, like firing the entire staff or, better yet, raise their expectations.


Gary created a website to report and analyze sitings of miracle schools, whose magic melted on closer inspection. The purpose was not to say that schools could not get better, but that improving schools is hard work. not subject to the magic of press releases and political manipulation.


After the appearance of that article, the miracle claims briefly subsided, but Gary found that Duncan recently tweeted about a high school in Colorado with a 100% graduation rate.


He checked it out, and discovered yet again that this was not a miracle school. It was true that 100% of the seniors graduated, but only 62% of the ninth grade cohort made it to graduation.


As Arne loves to say, we should stop lying to our children.


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