Jeannie Kaplan was twice elected to the Denver Board of Education and is well qualified to review the claims made about that city’s schools. Due to an infusion of reformer cash from across the nation starting in 2009, Denver’s elected school board is now completely dominated by supporters of choice and high-stakes testing (i.e. corporate reformers). These “reformers” have a 7-0 grip on the city’s schools and its publicity machine, thanks to national corporate reform-minded groups like Stand for Children and Democrats for Education Reform (DFER). Their claims are repeated in the reformer media, including at Gates-funded and rightwing think tanks and publications. Jeannie is a very kind and compassionate person, and she is tired of having to refute the claims, again and again. But she comes once more to the front, to explain why Denver is a hoax, not a model.


In this post, she reviews the latest phony claims about “reform” in Denver.


She writes:



Let’s do a quick refresher course before we delve into this faux success story.



The main goals of “education reform” are:


Expanding charter schools, which as the state of Washington has determined are not common (public) schools;
Improving graduation rates. The most recent DPS strategic plan, Denver Plan 2020, calls for graduation rates for African American and Latino students of 89% by 2020, 90% for students who start in DPS in ninth grade;
Reducing or eliminating the achievement gap, that is, the gap between children living in poverty and those not. Another goal of Denver Plan 2020.
Eliminating the union protected workers in the public school system which can be exacerbated by closing “failing” schools and replacing them with either charter schools or innovation schools both of which are for the most part non-union;
Evaluating teachers based on test scores with all the concomitant issues around high stakes testing.



Reformers try to reach these results through something called a portfolio strategy, a business model used by Wall Street that simply put is predicated on constant churn. As Osborne writes, a portfolio strategy works “to replicate successful schools and replace failing ones.” The problem with such a strategy is students and teachers and parents and communities are neither commodities to be bought and sold nor should they be characterized as winners and losers. Denver has seen up close and personal how the chaos and churn this model brings.



Kaplan devotes the bulk of her post to debunking false claims of Denver’s success made in an article by David Osborne in the Hoover Institution-sponsored publication Education Next. EdNext cheerleads for charters, vouchers, and all forms of school choice. Osborne reliably concludes that “reform” has been a great success in Denver and that the day is in sight when most families will choose charters or other choice schools, thus obliterating neighborhood schools. Kaplan goes point by point through his article to correct him, though she notes that he provides no documentation for his statements.


She shows that at the present rate of change, Denver has no chance of reaching its “reform” goals by 2020. It is always dangerous for reformers to set concrete dates as predictions of their total success. This was done in Tennessee by Chris Barbic and the Achievement School District. He predicted in 2012 that the schools in the bottom 5% statewide would reach the top 25% in only five years. None of them has even managed to exceed the bottom 10% thus far and most remain in the bottom 5%.


Probably reformers should promise to reach their ambitious goals by 2050, a date so far removed that they won’t be held accountable in the meanwhile.


Kaplan concludes:


Denver has become a national leader for its implementation of “education reform.” This has been relatively easy to accomplish with the help of the national media who continuously bolster the “education reform” agenda of chaos and churn. “Education reformers” in Denver have all the elements in place to continue to push a failing education model. Be afraid, Denver. Be very afraid.


Why the hatred of neighborhood public schools? I don’t know.