Archives for category: Colorado

Christina Samuels of Education Week reports that philanthropists continue to pour a large percentage of their donations into education, but are losing interest in K-12 due to the poor record of their efforts to “reform” the schools. 

ironically, this is good news because the philanthropic money was used to impose “reforms” that disrupted schools, ranked students based on their test scores, and demoralized teachers.

Schools that serve the neediest children definitely need more money but not the kind that is tied to test scores, stigmatizing students and teachers, or the kind that funds charter schools to drain resources from public schools, leaving them with less money to educate the neediest children.

Samuels reports that a growing number of grant makers to early childhood education are looking to help children before they start school, and giving money to issues such as “education and mental health, education and criminal justice, education and the arts.”

In 2010, I visited Denver and met with about 60 of the city’s civic leaders. I was supposed to debate State Senator Michael Johnston, the TFA wunderkind in the legislature, who arrived the minute I finished speaking, never hearing my critique of test-based “reform.” Johnston proceeded to sing the praises of his legislation to introduce exactly what I denounced and proclaimed that judging teachers, principals, and schools by test scores would produce “great teachers, great principals, and great schools.” The philanthropists bought these promises hook, line, and sinker.

They were false promises and a total failure. Now, as this article shows, philanthropists in Denver realize they made a huge mistake. Good intentions, wrong solutions.

Samuels interviewed Celine Coggins, the executive director of Grantmakers in Education, who said,

What we saw in our recent study was that members were more thinking about the whole learner and moving away from just thinking about the academic standards,” she said. Working outside the boundaries of the K-12 system is seen as a way to have more impact, as well as more freedom from governmental controls.

The Donnell-Kay Foundation, created to improve public education in Colorado, is an example of a charitable organization that is moving away from trying to influence education at the K-12 level, said Tony Lewis. Once known as the executive director of the Denver-based foundation, Davis said he eliminated staff titles about a year ago, to create a more egalitarian structure in the organization.

“Over the past five or six years, we’ve gotten frustrated with the lack of progress in improvement in the K-12 system,” Lewis said. “We’ve tried hard, and our partners have tried hard and everyone is still trying hard. The results have been disappointing at best. That’s a Colorado story and it’s a national story.”

Lewis said the organization has pulled back from areas such as school performance frameworks, district accountability, and “turnaround schools” because the gains have been minimal. The organization is also less involved in supporting new charter schools and in early-childhood education than it was several years ago.

Instead, Donnell-Kay is now taking a closer look at the out-of-school space, including afterschool and summertime. That’s where children spend most of their time, he said.

“We keep layering more and more work on schools, reading, math, STEM, nutrition, mental health,” Lewis said. “I don’t think loading more onto the school day is actually the answer any more.”

But, he continued, “What if you really intentionally maximize the time in the out-of-school space? You can make a huge difference in both academics and in life skills.”

Next question: Will Bill Gates, Mark Zuckerberg, Michael Bloomberg, and the other billionaire funders of disruptive reforms get the message?

Candidates backed by teachers for local school boards in the Denver area (including Denver) won all but one race.

Candidates supported by the teachers’ unions swept school board elections in Denver, Aurora, Douglas County, Littleton, Adams County, Cherry Creek, and Jeffco. The only candidate to lose was in Jeffco.

The “reformers” bold experiment in teacher-bashing has come to an end, at least for now.

Now it is time for the Colorado legislature to eliminate former state senator Michael Johnston’s failed educator evaluation law, which bases 50% of evaluations on test scores. The law was declared a failure even by its supporters but remains on the books. It did not identify “bad” teachers and it did not produce “great teachers, great principals, or great schools,” as Johnston promised in 2010 when his law was passed.

Reformer Van Schoales wrote in Education Week two years ago:

Colorado Department of Education data released in February show that the distribution of teacher effectiveness in the state looks much as it did before passage of the bill. Eighty-eight percent of Colorado teachers were rated effective or highly effective, 4 percent were partially effective, 7.8 percent of teachers were not rated, and less than 1 percent were deemed ineffective. In other words, we leveraged everything we could and not only didn’t advance teacher effectiveness, we created a massive bureaucracy and alienated many in the field.

The problem, he said, was implementation. Every failed reform is dogged by poor implementation. That’s what they said about the Soviet Union and the Common Core.

When the Waltons paid for an analysis of their failure to pass a referendum to expand charter schools in Massachusetts in 2016, their advisors told them that teachers are trusted messengers. The public likes teachers and believes them. They are more credible than out of state billionaires. The Waltons, too, concluded that the problem with their message was poor implementation, not a rejection by the public, which values its public schools (I go into greater detail in my new book SLAYING GOLIATH, which will be published January 21.)

 

 

Since the U.S. Senate refuses to consider any regulation of guns, some schools are preparing for the next shooter.

In Colorado, students are receiving training in how to respond if they are confronted by an active shooter.

Colorado was the site of the Columbine massacre in a high school and the Aurora massacre in a movie theater. Last May, a student was killed in a charter school in Douglas County.

The gym at Pinnacle High School echoed with laughter and a few cheers Wednesday morning as students took turns tackling a heavily padded man.

While it might have sounded like a game, the orange water pistol in the demonstrator’s hand served as a reminder of what would be at stake if they ever had to use the tactics they were learning on a real assailant.

The Adams County K-12 charter school spent most of the school day having students practice skills such as barricading their classrooms, evacuating the building — and, if necessary, defending themselves. Many schools near Denver and across the country teach the idea of fighting back as one possible option during an attack, but relatively few have students actually practice what they might do if a gunman entered their classrooms.

Clarissa Burklund, president of Pinnacle’s school board, said officials hadn’t discussed having students do more than traditional lockdown drills until this summer. The May 7 shooting at STEM School Highlands Ranch, where three students rushed one of two attackers, showed that teenagers could defend themselves and need to prepare for that possibility, she said.

“I hate that they have to talk about this,” she said with a catch in her voice. “I hate that they live in this society. But they do, and there’s no point in denying it….”

There’s no nationwide tracking of how schools prepare their students for active shooters, but emphasis appears to have gradually shifted from “locks, lights, out of sight,” where students are told to take shelter in their classrooms, to “run, hide, fight,” where they are expected to choose their best option for the situation. Some schools also have started conducting more realistic drills, including the sounds of simulated gunfire, but that practice has spurred controversy, especially when students weren’t aware they were only dealing with a drill.

Little evidence exists to show if one type of active shooter training is more effective than another, and some experts have concerns about emphasizing cases in which students have fought back. The fear is that could encourage students to overlook safer options such as evacuating.

Last May, there was a school shooting in the STEM Academy charter school in Douglas County, Colorado, one of the most affluent districts in the state, and a student was killed by another student.

Now there is a debate between the school district leadership and another charter school about arming teachers.

On the one side of the argument is Superintendent Thomas Tucker, who says guns have no place in the classroom.

“Teachers are not armed,” Tucker said. “We will fight tooth and nail of any school whether it’s a neighborhood school or a charter school.”

On the other side of the debate is Derec Shuler, the executive director of Ascent Classical Academies. The charter school currently operates within the Douglas County School District. However, for more than a year staff at Ascent have been training to carry and use, if necessary, firearms inside the school.

“We have staff who volunteer,” Shuler said. “They’re screened and they undergo pretty rigorous training. That’s on-going as well to be able to carry concealed firearms at school to protect kids.”

The Douglas County School District recently had to deal with a school shooting. An 18-year-old student was killed and eight others were hurt during a shooting on May 7 at the STEM Academy.

The superintendent insists that only security personnel will carry guns.

He has told the charter that it can leave the district if it insists on arming teachers. The charter may take him up on his offer.

Superintendent Tucker arrived in Douglas County after the defeat of a board led by rightwing zealots who controlled the school board and wanted to offer vouchers. Tucker had to take charge and restore confidence in the public schools. He looks like he is a take-charge guy. No doubt he has read the stories about the teachers who misplace their guns, drop their guns, forget their guns in the restroom, accidentally discharge their guns.

Jan Resseger noted that the Colorado state board of education awarded a contract to MGT Consulting based on their “success” in turning around the public schools of Gary, Indiana. She shows in this post that there was no turnaround.

She writes:

Colorado state school board members praised MGT’s record in the so-called turnaround of the only whole school district it has managed—for the past two years—in Gary, Indiana. The fact that MGT Consulting, a for-profit, was praised for work in Gary caught my eye. I have been to Gary, just as I have been to Detroit, whose public schools have shared some problems with Gary’s. Detroit’s school district was assigned a state emergency fiscal manager by former Governor Rick Snyder; in fact Detroit’s school district was assigned an emergency manager named Darnell Earley after he left Flint, where, as municipal emergency fiscal manager, he had permitted the poisoning of the city’s water supply. Fortunately Detroit’s schools have been turned back to the democratically elected local school board, which hired a professional educator, Dr. Nikolai Vitti.

And I have been to the cities in Ohio now in state takeover, and being operated by appointed Academic Distress Commissions. I am thinking of Youngstown, which in four years under an Academic Distress Commission and appointed CEO, has not turned around. I am thinking of Lorain, where outright chaos has ensued under an Academic Distress Commission’s appointed CEO, David Hardy. And I am thinking of East Cleveland, whose schools are just beginning the state takeover process, and ten other Ohio school districts—including Dayton and Toledo—being threatened with state takeover.

All of these Rust Belt cities and their school districts are characterized by economic collapse. They are industrial cities where factories have closed and workers moved away to seek employment elsewhere. When industry collapses, the property tax base—the foundation of the local contribution of school funding—evaporates, and as workers lose jobs or leave, local income tax revenue collapses as well…

In July 2017, the state took over the school district in Gary and turned the schools over to a private, for-profit management company: MGT Consultants. MGT hired Peggy Hinkley, a retired school superintendent to run the schools, but she resigned a little more than a year later. The Post-Tribune‘s Carole Carlson describes Hinkley’s tenure: “Hinkley served 14 months and ruffled the feathers of some elected officials who criticized her decisions, especially the closing of the Wirt-Emerson School of Visual and Performing Arts. When Wirt-Emerson closed in June (2018), it left the district with just one high school, the West Side Leadership Academy. It stoked fears of a continuing exodus of students who would leave for charter schools or other districts… Under Hinckley, Gary reached a deal resolving $8.4 million in back payroll taxes owed to the Internal Revenue Service. The IRS forgave a large portion of the debt, leaving the district with a $320,000 payment. The freeing up of the liens on buildings allowed Hinckley to list 33 vacant schools and properties for sale. By November, the district had accepted five offers, amounting to $480,000. More sales are still being weighed. In all, Hinckley erased about $6 million of the district’s $100,000 million in long-term debts and reduced its monthly deficit from about $1.8 million to $1.3 million… Academically, all seven elementary schools received Fs on state report cards this year.”

Clearly, in Gary, Indiana, MGT Consultants has not miraculously achieved the kind of quick school district turnaround Colorado’s state school board bragged about when it contracted with MGT to take over three school districts.

Read on to learn about the role of ex-Indiana superintendent Tony Bennett and the Corporate Reform-disruption-greed Movement.

The state board of education in Colorado has decided to turn over schools in three districts to a for-profit management corporation that claims it can turn the schools around, at a cost of millions of dollars. Where there the firm has ever turned any schools around before isin doubt. The political connections of the firm are not.

Read here about the story and a deep dive into the history of MGT Consulting.

In all cases, the state board gave districts the go-ahead to pay millions of school district dollars for MGT Consulting, a for-profit management firm, to virtually take over the schools. The move has elicited hope from some that the company can improve student performance after everything the districts have tried has failed. But the contracts have prompted condemnation from critics who say the firm has a dubious track record and is diverting tax dollars to private profits at a time when every cent should be spent on student needs…

Leaders of the Florida-based MGT say they specialize in allocating public money more effectively while improving teacher effectiveness in the classroom and school culture. Its management process includes sub-contracting areas of school work to other companies, and it boasts completing over 10,000 projects in many states and abroad over several decades.

MGT is more than just a school testing consultant. The limited liability corporation also consults for other government agencies, including conducting impact studies of privatizing public prisons, according to its website. MGT’s current chief executive officer also co-founded a consulting and lobbying firm tapped into a national network of for-profit education institutions, Republican education reformers, the testing industry and charter schools.

That’s part of what draws controversy as public school academia question the motives of a company headed by pro-school voucher officials working to save failing public schools — for profit…

The group began its work in the 1970s but has been led in its current iteration since 2015, when Trey Traviesa first appears as MGT’s title manager in Florida state records.

Traviesa is a longtime Floridian and former Republican state representative for the Tampa Bay area. He became a lobbyist, venture capitalist, banker and charter school co-founder after serving in Florida’s House of Representatives from 2004 to 2008.

While serving in the state House, Traviesa sponsored legislation to expand Florida’s school voucher program. That program created incentives for corporations to pay for mostly low-income students to leave their school districts and attend private schools.

MGT was hired largely on the basis of its claims of success in Gary, Indiana.

Chalkbeat wrote about the situation in Gary, which is inconclusive and certainly not a demonstration of success:

It’s early to say anything definitive. In 2017, MGT won a four-year contract to manage schools in Gary, Indiana. The deal is potentially worth about $11.4 million, if the state funds the contract for all four years and if the company meets performance goals.

Gary’s school district has about 5,000 students enrolled this year, down from about 11,000 ten years ago. The students in Gary overwhelmingly qualify for free or reduced price lunch, a measure of poverty, like in Adams 14, but only a handful of students are learning English as a second language.

In Gary, the state ordered an emergency manager to come in not only for academic problems, but because the enrollment decline and fiscal mismanagement problems landed the district deep in debt. MGT took over the responsibilities of the superintendent and the school board, at the state’s request, and reports directly to state officials.

The work has been controversial. Some lawmakers called for removing the firm when it was discovered that Tony Bennett, who was state superintendent in Indiana from 2008 through 2013, is a partner in the Strategos Group, which acquired MGT in 2015. Lawmakers argued that the policies Bennett rolled out in his time as state superintendent contributed to Gary’s financial problems that led the state to require an external manager.

MGT has not been removed, however, and Bennett doesn’t have an active role in the management of the district. According to news reports citing state officials, since the takeover, the Gary district has decreased its debt, slowed its enrollment decline, and purchased new textbooks. The latest state rating of the district has also improved slightly.

In other words, MGT has been in charge of Gary (which former state chief Tony Bennett tried to destroy) for one year. It has not created a successful turnaround, there or anywhere else.

Was the Colorado State Board of education influenced by Governor Jared Polis, who has a long record as a supporter of school choice, having founded two charters himself?

 

Colorado turned a school district over to a Florida-based management corporation.

Adams 14 officials have signed an $8.3 million, four-year contract with Florida-based MGT Consulting, officially becoming the first district in the state to hand over management to a company.

The state Board of Education in November ordered the Commerce City-based district of Adams 14 to hire an external manager for at least four-years, to handle much of the district’s operations in an attempt to improve the achievement of its approximately 7,000 students.

Count this as an admission of failure by the Colorado Department of Education, which clearly considers itsel incompetent to help the district.

What next? Outsourcing districts to China, Turkey, Chile?

 

Chalkbeat reports that the hedge funders’ Democrats for Education Reform sent out text messages during the Denver teachers’ strike using the name of a non-existent organization (“Support Students, Support Teachers.”)

Why?

Obviously, DFER wanted to undercut the strike (“for the kids,” of course). Teachers have power when they strike. They lose that power when they go back to work without concrete gains.

Also, DFER does not have a good reputation in Colorado. The state Democratic Convention asked it to stop masquerading as Democrats.

But DFER has a close relationship with Governor Jared Polis, who shares DFER’s passion for charter schools, having started two of them himself.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Jeannie Kaplan served two term on the elected Denver school board. I asked her to explain the issues behind the strike.

 

https://kaplanforkids.wordpress.com/2019/02/12/pcops-pensions-and-picketlines/

 

She writes:

 

PCOPS, PENSIONS, and PICKETLINES

Posted on by Jeannie Kaplan

 

On April 24, 2008 the Denver Public Schools agreed to borrow $750 million dollars from some of America’s top financial institutions for its outstanding pension debt. As I write this blog this morning February 12, 2019 Denver’s teachers have entered the second day of their first strike in 25 years. The amount of money being contested is somewhere less than one-half of one percent of the overall DPS budget.  0.04%.  Less than $10 million out of $1.4 billion.  The following tells some of the complicated story that connects these two events.

The $750 million taxpayer debt was divided this way: $300 million was to pay back already existing pension debt, $400 million was to fully fund the DPS retirement fund.  The remaining $50 million went to legal and financial fees. By the time this transaction was “fixed out” in 2013 a veritable Who’s Who in the Wall Street world was involved:  RBC Capital Markets, Goldman Sachs, JPMorgan, Citibank, Wells, Fargo, Bank of America. Part of the incentive to borrow this money was so DPS’ stand alone retirement fund could join the statewide retirement fund (Colorado Public Employees Retirement Association or PERA for short) which would in turn allow for more employee mobility into and out of DPS and would reduce DPS’ annual retirement contributions which would in turn provide more money for classrooms.  Because of previous financial miscalculations DPS was paying more per pupil for its retirement fund than any other school district in the state. Had this deal not been executed, the dollars paid to banks and lawyers could have been put directly into the DPS retirement fund itself. The DPS Superintendent at the time:  Michael Bennet. The Chief Operating Officer: Tom Boasberg.

Bennet and Boasberg came from the business world and were heralded as financial wizards. (They were boyhood friends growing up in Washington, D.C. together). Bennet had worked for billionaire Phil Anschutz and had already demonstrated a skepticism toward public pensions.  Boasberg arrived at DPS from Level 3 Communications, “an American multinational telecommunications and Internet service provider” where he was a mergers and acquisition guy.  Long story short they, along with bankers and lawyers concocted this very complicated and risky transaction using taxpayer money.  They were convinced that despite what was happening in the financial world at the time, DPS was going to save millions of dollars in pension costs.

Remember back to 2008. And remember we are talking about public, not private, money.  In February the auction rate securities froze.  In March Bear Stearns went under.  There were many indicators that something big could be going on in the world financial markets.  Nevertheless, in April the DPS board was encouraged to proceed with the high risk transaction which relied on the weekly LIBOR rate (it is the primary benchmark, along with the Euribor, for short-term interest rates around the world. Libor rates are calculated for five currencies and seven borrowing periods ranging from overnight to one year and are published each business day by Thomson Reuters.), swaps, (A swap is a derivative in which two counterparties exchange cash flows of one party’s financial instrument for those of the other party’s financial instrument. The benefits in question depend on the type of financial instruments involved.), bonds that were auctioned weekly.  And here is the headline from that deal.  In 10 years that $750 million loan has ballooned into twice as much debt  ($1.8 BILLION) and only for the past two years has the district begun paying any principal.  And simultaneously,  Bennet and Boasberg were able to convince the Colorado legislature that DPS should get the equivalent of “pre-payment” credit to deduct the PCOPs fees and interest from what would have been their normal pension contributions.  Because of these actions DPS employees have witnessed their pension fund drop about 20% from fully funded (100%) on January 1, 2010 to a little under 80% funded in June 30, 2018. But as Bennet and Boasberg would say as this defunding is occurring, “we are making our legal contributions, ” to which one must add, “Legal, but is it ethical?”

This story has become very relevant today because after 15 months of negotiations the district and the teachers have been unable to reach an agreement. Denver’s teachers have gone on strike over a compensation system called ProComp (Professional Compensation).  And the ProComp fight comes back to the pension.

In 2005 Denver voters approved a $25 million tax  (adjusted for inflation) for teacher pay-for-performance incentives.  A few thousand dollars was awarded for teachers who worked in hard to serve schools and taught hard to teach subjects.  The awarded dollars ($500-$2500) was intended to permanently raise base salaries.  It was reliable raise and it was PENSIONABLE.

In 2008 – hum, is this a coincidence? – the ProComp “bonus” went from a completely base building system to a yearly one-time bonus system.  And to further complicate matters, new bonus criteria (based primarily on high-stakes testing) have since been added. The result has been teachers cannot tell how much they will be making from year to year.  Some have said they can’t even tell how much they will make from paycheck to paycheck. Oh, and of course, these bonuses do not contribute to a teacher’s PENSIONABLE income resulting in…less retirement money  for retiring teachers, and simultaneously smaller demands on a dwindling pension fund.

While all this business bonus mess has been imposed in Denver, surrounding school districts have far surpassed Denver’s base pay scale, resulting in very high teacher turnover for DPS and a dwindling number of long serving professionals. Teachers are retiring earlier, teachers are leaving the district, and sadly teachers are leaving the profession. And because Denver is the quintessential reform district, DPS has been very welcoming to the reform idea of hiring short term, unlicensed educators with non-traditional training.  Think six week training programs.  The result of all this brilliance: fewer long serving employees resulting in less demand on a pension fund.  So the conflation of financial wizardry and education reform has hit Denver: businessmen Bennet and Boasberg take over the finances of a public school district, concoct a complicated and risky scenario during an unstable financial time, get the legislature to allow the defunding of the pension, implement a bonus based pay system to replace base-building, and voila – a strike by Denver’s teachers for a fair, reliable, sustainable pay system.

One more important headline. ProComp bonuses for teachers range from $500-$3000 per category per year. Last month a list of administrative bonuses without a rubric as to how the money has been awarded became available:  the current COO (Boasberg’s first job in DPS) received a $34,000 (!) bonus on top of his $198,000 salary, an “IMO executive principal” got $36,900 on top of his/her $130,000.  An IMO executive principal is the newest layer of reform administration.  He/she oversees a network of innovation schools (non union schools overseen by the district) and makes two to three times as much as a DPS teacher.  There are approximately 10 such positions with each person gathering around $20,000 in bonuses. These bonuses are not part of the ProComp agreement but rather come out of the DPS general fund.  Just imagine.  You could save almost half of the 8 million dollars they two sides are bickering over if you just eliminated these positions and the bonuses.

We must never end any story about Denver Public Schools without a reference to educational outcomes, for isn’t the first priority of a public education system educating its students? After 15 years of education reform brought by Michael Bennet and Tom Boasberg, 42% of Denver’s students are proficient in English Language Arts and 32% proficient in math.  Bennet and Boasberg  financial actions have also contributed to the doubling of the pension debt, and their policies have resulted in the first teacher strike in 25 years in Denver.  Quite a legacy left by the boys from D.C.

 

 

 

We will have more commentary on the Denver teacherss’ strike. Here, Fred Klonsky reminds us of the much-ballyhooed, but ultimately failed merit pay called ProComp, that substituted merit pay for adequate salaries. 

Don’t pay attention to Democratic Senator Michael Bennett, who claims to favor the teachers but was superintendent of the Denver public schools who launched corporate reform and lost many millions in tricky financial deals while he was in charge. He was anti-union when he was superintendent and is a big supporter of VAM.