After I posted an article about Denver yesterday, in which former board member Jeannie Kaplan asserted that corporate reform had failed in Denver, I received a note from Mike Petrilli of the Thomas B. Fordham Institute. I responded and copied Kaplan, since she wrote the post. I think it is an interesting discussion. Please read it from the bottom.

From Mike Petrilli at 9:26 pm:

If it’s everything in the chain below, yes.

On Fri, Oct 9, 2015 at 9:18 PM, Diane Ravitch wrote:

Mike, would you be okay with my posting your exchange with Jeannie Kaplan?

Diane Ravitch

On Oct 9, 2015, at 3:30 PM, Jeannie Kaplan wrote:

Sorry, Mike, but I totally disagree with you. When you make reducing the gap a main tenet of measuring success and this gap increases for ten years, you are failing. That’s like changing the rules in the middle of the game. But I guess it is all about winning, just not for the students.

And I would love to hear what you see as success in Denver. We have more segregated schools than any time since before bussing, we have the highest teacher turnover of any district in the metropolitan area, we have the most bloated administration in recent memory, etc., etc. The bottom line for me is telling the truth, and the truth is Denver is our kids are not being educated. That’s what matters. Taking tests isn’t educating. Reducing curricula isn’t educating. Pretending this is success isn’t telling the truth. My greatest fear when I was first elected in 2005 was Denver would be left as a district for those who have no other choice. I believe that is what we could easily be seeing in the not too distant future, especially when you have a board and administration that absolutely refuses to listen to anyone but themselves. And, frankly, like you, insist this is success.

Show me the (money) progress! And don’t cite 1+% gains. For all the hoopla that doesn’t cut it. The first Denver plan (2006) had very high standards and goals, none of which were ever reached. No accountability. I get asked repeatedly, where is the accountability and why does Tom Boasberg still have his job? Because when you buy the board and when you have no press, and when you have organizations like yours pretending this is working, you can say whatever you want and no one challenges. Reformers here have been very clever – a form of mayoral or superintendent control of the board without asking the voters to approve it. We are outgunned financially. Your side has poured 300,000 dollars per race into getting the six board members elected. I will expect nothing less this time.

And meanwhile, as your side hides the truth or spins it, our children and communities and Dps employees suffer. But you are certainly winning the pr battle!


On Oct 9, 2015, at 3:14 PM, Michael Petrilli wrote:

Hi Jeannie. What I’m saying is that we might find some common ground here. Looking literally at gaps turns everything into a zero sum game. Certainly we don’t want to root for white or Asian or middle class kids to do worse.

The right goal is to see progress across the board. Which is what Denver is demonstrating. Not that it’s perfect, but its progress is real, and promising.



On Fri, Oct 9, 2015 at 3:05 PM, Jeannie Kaplan wrote:

We seem to be crossing emails. Answering this I would say when reformers claim to be all about data, and when they point to reducing the gap as a mark of success, and when the Denver public schools has seen an increase in the gap in all three academic subjects based on free/reduced lunch as well as ethnic categories – white v. Black and Hispanic – for ten years it just might be time to try something different.

And if we were to stop using the gap as an indicator what might you suggest to replace it?


From Mike Petrilli at 3:12 pm

Yes, and then stagnation in the late 80s and most of the 90s, and then progress again with test based accountability. See:

On Fri, Oct 9, 2015 at 2:57 PM, Diane Ravitch wrote:

No, read Paul Barton on the black-white gap.

Biggest narrowing was late 1970s-early 80s. Smaller classes; early childhood; economic opportunities for African American families; desegregation.

Diane Ravitch

On Oct 9, 2015, at 2:47 PM, Michael Petrilli wrote:

Well, if that’s the case, you should stop using gaps to hit reformers over the head.

However, we did see major gap closing from the late 1990s into the 2000s, probably because of test-based accountability. Though that has now plateaued.


On Fri, Oct 9, 2015 at 2:39 PM, Diane Ravitch wrote:

We know the reasons for the gaps

The reformers have cynically politicized the issue by claiming that they can close it. No they (you) can’t and you won’t, [My addition here: not with test-based accountability. Tests are a measure, not a cure.]

Diane Ravitch

On Oct 9, 2015, at 2:28 PM, Michael Petrilli wrote:

Hi Diane. Just FYI:

1. Denver is one of the few urban districts in the country with about 30% white non low-income kids (and some very high end kids) so kids are starting out far apart.

2. Both low-income and non-low income kids have grown. Low income kids growing at 1-2% per year while non low-income kids growing at 1.5-2.5% per year so the gap grows

But do we want to start rooting for affluent kids to do worse? As you’ve said, “closing the achievement gap” is good rhetoric but we don’t want to take it too literally. The goal is for everyone to learn more.