Archives for category: Colorado

Tom Ultican teaches in San Diego. He recently read Ciedie Aech’s new book about teaching in Hyper-Reformy Denver and highly recommends it.

Denver is a trifecta of reformers. Non-educator Michael Bennett was tapped to be superintendent. He has a law degree from Yale. He then was appointed to fill an empty Senate seat, so he is now Senator Bennett. He was replaced by Tom Boasberg, another non-educator. He too is a lawyer with no education background. And Colorado has wonder boy Michael Johnston, the TFA-Broadie in the state senate who wrote the nation’s most punitive teacher evaluation bill. It passed in 2010. Colorado was supposed to have great schools, great principals, and great teachers by now. Results don’t matter.

Tom loved the book and thinks you will too.

Peggy Robertson is an elementary school teacher in Colorado. She is founder of United Opt Out. She is an outspoken defender of children’s right to learn without coercion. She must have been a thorn in the side of her school and district officials, because they eliminated her position.

She writes:

My position at Jewell was eliminated. In addition, Jewell no longer is a healthy working environment (for teachers or students) and I would not be able to work there unless we were able to return to our previous work as an inquiry-based democratic school. We are now a Relay Leadership School which focuses on teach to the test practices that are not good for children. Relay Graduate School is run by non-educators and lacks pedagogy – it is an embarrassment to the teaching profession. It is unfortunate for Aurora’s children that APS has gone in this direction. It is also unfortunate for the teachers at Jewell who were forced to implement 100% compliance models of discipline with continual teaching to the test and skill/drill. The teachers at Jewell this year (2015-2016) were the most unhappy teachers I have seen in my 19 years in public education. They wanted to file a grievance against the principal but were afraid for their jobs. I no longer can work in such a toxic learning/teaching environment. Aurora unfortunately seems to be going in the direction of “no excuse” charter models which do not develop or support the growth of problem solving citizens. Rather, these charter models, which Relay supports, promote racist practices specifically directed towards black and brown children in urban diverse schools. These charter practices promote the school to prison pipeline. I joined APS four years ago with great hope and excitement because the professional development and respect for the teaching profession in APS has always been excellent; that is no longer the case. I am sorry APS has chosen this path. I will miss my colleagues and the children.

I suppose you could conclude that the public schools of Aurora learned “best practices” from charter schools, which require “no excuses,” tough discipline, strict obedience, and teaching to the test.

Peggy was never one to bend to authority, especially when the authorities were wrong about what was best for children.

In another post, Peg expresses her astonishment to learn that children in her former school have been told to eat their breakfast while sitting on the floor in the hall.

She writes:

As you all know by now, I am no longer working at Jewell Elementary in the Aurora Public School District. However, I was recently alerted to a new policy regarding breakfast at the school. The school day starts at 9:25 a.m. This year, if children want to eat breakfast they must get there at 9:15 a.m. If they ride the bus I guess they’ll be rushing in the door to eat in five minutes or so as breakfast time now ends at 9:30.

And there’s more. There are two options: the children will be eating on the FLOOR in the carpeted HALLWAY outside the classroom OR the teachers can graciously give up some of their morning planning time and invite the children to come in and eat at their desks.

Let that sink in for a minute. I know your mind is racing, as mine did, as I tried to think through the implications here – and there are many.

The first thought I had was – what would ever cause anyone to even consider – fathom – such a policy, as children eating breakfast on the dirty carpeted floor like dogs? I am horrified that this policy was thought of and considered “rational.”

Then of course, I tried to imagine what that policy might look like in action. Hallways lined with children with backpacks, coats, lunchboxes and juggling milk, juice, cereal and more. I tried to imagine how I would feel as a child if I was asked to eat my breakfast on the floor, without a place to properly set my things in order to manage it all. I thought about how that policy might impact my own personal beliefs about my self worth, if I were a child at Jewell. I thought about the racism that is inherent within the behavior policies via Relay Graduate School. I thought about the way the children at my school are expected to demonstrate 100% compliance, and how this breakfast policy smacks of that compliance. Sit. Eat. Comply. On the floor. Where is the respect for the child? Where is it? How can one create a policy so unkind and so disrespectful of a child?

I thought – are the white children in the burbs sitting on dirty carpeted floor eating breakfast each morning? You know the answer to that.

Peg Robertson is now blogging at Tim Slekar’s website “BustED Pencils.” Now she has more time to write and more time to organize the resistance to insane and harsh policies that hurt children. I am sure she would rather be in the classroom, which she loves.

A judge in Colorado tossed out the voucher program enacted in Doulas County.

The Associated Press reports:

“A Denver District Judge has ordered Douglas County schools to suspend a program that allowed parents to use vouchers at private schools.

“The Denver Post reported that Denver District Judge Michael Martinez on Wednesday ruled that Douglas County’s School Choice Grant Program is not substantially different from its predecessor the Choice Scholarship Program, which was struck down by the Colorado Supreme Court as unconstitutional last year.

“After the high court ruled that Douglas County’s voucher program violated the state constitution’s ban on using public funds for religious schools, the district in March introduced a new program that would allow taxpayer money to help cover non-religious private schools.

“Martinez ruled that the new program was too similar to the previous program.”

Parents and educators in Douglas County, Colorado, opposed to corporate reform were pleased by the resignation of the superintendent, who has accepted a position in the schools of Humble, Texas.



May 25, 2016
For more information contact:
Amy DeValk:, 303-350-7206
Stefanie Fuhr:, 303-483-1196



Superintendent Fagen’s Resignation a Victory for the Community; More Work Remains to Reclaim the Douglas County School District


After years of calling for the removal of Dr. Elizabeth Fagen as the District’s superintendent, students, parents, and teachers of Douglas County are celebrating the departure of the state’s most controversial school district leader. Community members have long attributed the district’s hostile environment to Dr. Fagen and her divisive methods for implementing policies set by the elected school board. Frustrated that their concerns have been largely ignored by the school board, parents responded with a spontaneous social media campaign started in May 2013 using the hash tag #FireFagen. A petition asking for Dr. Fagen’s removal has grown to nearly 1,500 signatures. [click here for the petition]


Dr. Fagen was hired by the Douglas County Board of Education in 2010. The superintendent is hired to ensure the accomplishment of the Board of Education’s goals and vision for the District. These policies have resulted in a marked increase in teacher turnover, multiple lawsuits for an unconstitutional voucher program, and a flawed pay for performance system.


While we are pleased with Dr. Fagen’s departure, Directors Silverthorn and Reynolds are unfit to represent the Douglas County School District, as evidenced by their recent treatment of high school student Grace Davis during a private meeting where they unsuccessfully attempted to dissuade Ms. Davis from holding a student protest criticizing the board’s anti-teacher policies. Ms. Davis’ parents were not notified in advance that their daughter would be interrogated for 90 minutes by the directors. Ms. Reynold’s unethical behavior led to her suspension and subsequent resignation from a volunteer position with the Girl Scouts. Both are currently under a third-party investigation regarding this matter; results of the investigation are scheduled to be released at the June 21 board meeting.

Amy DeValk, co-founder of Voices for Public Education (Voices), questions why the District would hold itself to a lower standard than the Girl Scouts of Colorado. “It is clear the Girl Scouts, a respected national organization, took the complaints against Reynolds seriously when they suspended her from volunteer activities, from which she later resigned. Why hasn’t the District taken any action to protect the students of Douglas County School District? Their threatening behavior towards Ms. Davis is indefensible, and any result of the investigation that does not call for the immediate resignation of Directors Silverthorn and Reynolds will be seen by parents as invalid. We will not allow this to be swept under the rug.”


Stefanie Fuhr, co-founder of Voices wants the people who are truly responsible for conditions in the district to be held accountable. “We recognize that Dr. Fagen was only a symptom of a larger problem. With Dr. Fagen’s removal, our community can now get back to the business of supporting Ms. Davis and every other student in the district. Regardless of the outcome of the investigation, Directors Silverthorn and Reynolds must resign from the board immediately so our community can heal and focus on what matters most for kids.”


Voices initiated an initial email campaign on April 21 demanding the immediate resignation of Directors Silverthorn and Reynolds. That campaign resulted in over 385 requests from the community to the school board for the resignation of Silverthorn and Reynolds. A second campaign will be launched requesting the board hold the two directors to a high ethical standard and demanding their resignations.


About Voices for Public Education

Voices for Public Education is dedicated to educating the community to empower to act and take back our public schools.

We educate by:

• Bringing in national education experts to discuss education reform and offer alternatives
• Building personal relationships to tell our story
• Supporting other community groups fighting education reform
We empower by:
• Working with our school communities to develop actions to take back our schools
• Giving teachers, parents, students and community members a voice in decision-making
We act by:
• Creating actions for both quick “wins” and long term goals
• Providing the resources and information for people to take individual actions
• Partnering with and supporting other grassroots organizations
Visit for more information.




Grace Davis is a sophomore at Ponderosa High School in Parker, Colorado. She was upset that so many teachers left every year, and she decided to hold a student protest to call attention to the issue. (I posted about this here on May 8). She got clearance from the school. She read about her First Amendment rights. She thought everything was set.


Colorado Public Radio told the story here.  


Two members of the school board asked to meet with her. One is the president of the board. Grace brought a recording device with her and taped the meeting. From her research, she knew it was legal to tape a conversation without the consent of all parties under Colorado law.


The meeting lasted an hour and a half. (Grace missed a class while she was harangued.) The board members warned her that her family would be liable  for any damages. They threatened, they cajoled. Grace, on her own, with no parent or advisor, stood her ground.


The protest was held without incident.


Grace went to the next school board meeting and explained what happened. She called for the resignation of the two board members for bullying her.


The board was split; the board president hired an outside lawyer to conduct an investigation. CPR noted the ties between the school board president and the lawyer, suggesting that this will not be an independent investigation.


How owe can it be that sophomore Grace Davis is wiser than the district school board? She understands the importance of teachers. She exercised critical thinking, came to her views after personal experience and careful research. She personified the courage and independence we hope to teach all students.


I am pleased to add Grace Davis to the blog’s honor roll.

Peg Robertson is rightfully outraged that the Relay Graduate School of Education received state approval to operate in Colorado.


She was even more outraged that no one spoke out in opposition to this travesty.


She writes:


This is the story of a fake graduate program getting approved by the Colorado Commission of Higher Education. CCHE has approved that non-educators trained by non-educators can be “certified” teachers who are in charge of the social, emotional, physical, mental and academic well-being of Colorado’s children. Imagine your child in that classroom. I’d like to see all the principals and leaders in Colorado who attended Relay Principal training PUT THEIR OWN CHILDREN IN THESE CLASSROOMS.


These fake teachers must prove that they can achieve one year’s growth via TEST scores in order to graduate from Relay. You can be assured that they will be stellar at teaching to the test. This is all that they know. And in order to make this happen, militant disciplinary methods must be used because children, and adults, ultimately find this form of dog training to be boring, redundant, and insulting. Therefore, it must be enforced – and as it is enforced this conditioning will become normal – it will be accepted as “as good as it gets.” Democratic thinking will continue to erode.


These fake teachers will be led by a fake dean who appears to be 31 years old and is a former TFA. She has two years teaching experience and appears to have some bizarro M.S.T. in which she got her training by speaking to robotic students via video games. Meanwhile her bachelor’s was in sociology.


Daniel Katz of Seton Hall University wrote a scathing article about Relay last year. Of course, Arne Duncan praised it.


Katz described it thus:


It is a “Graduate School of Education” that has not a single professor or doctoral level instructor or researcher affiliated with it. In essence, it is a partnership of charter school chains Uncommon Schools, KIPP, and Achievement First, and it is housed in the Uncommon Schools affiliated North Star Academy. Relay’s “curriculum” mostly consists of taking the non-certified faculty of the charter schools, giving them computer-delivered modules on classroom management (and distributing copies of Teach Like a Champion), and placing them under the auspices of the “no excuses” brand of charter school operation and teachers who already have experience with it.


This is a direct assault on the very idea of teacher professionalism. This alleged graduate school has no Ph.D.s or EDDs on its “faculty.” It consists of charter teachers teaching prospective charter teachers how to raise test scores. No research. No library. No scholars. Of its several campuses in five states, not one has a dean with a doctorate. They are mostly TFA graduates. They will now train and award master’s degrees in test-score raising.


Relay is spreading like kudzu, offering to “train” teachers and principals. It has been approved in New York by the Board of Regents. It was approved in Massachusetts. And most shocking of all, it has been approved by NCATE, which apparently has no standards for what constitutes a graduate school of education. Having a masters’ degree in raising test scores should be about as valuable as a BA from Corinthian Colleges.



Let’s start from the assumption that school board members should be expected to act with dignity when they engage with students. That was not the case recently in Douglas County, Colorado, and in Buffalo, New York.


In Dougco, as it is known, two school board members have been accused of trying to intimidate a student who wanted to start a protest about high teacher turnover. Parents and educators have started a petition calling for the resignation of Dougco school board President Meghann Silverthorn and VP Judith Reynolds. The board meets again May 10.


According to the petition, these school board members bullied a student named Grace Davis:


“During the Douglas County School Board meeting on April 19, 2016, Grace Davis, a student at Ponderosa High School, gave public comment about a meeting between her, Director Silverthorn, and Director Reynolds regarding a student protest organized by Grace.


“This meeting took place without the knowledge or consent of Grace’s parents. When there is a meeting between a minor and school administration, parental consent is a requirement. Grace describes how she felt small, intimidated and uncomfortable during this meeting. She goes on to describe her family’s attempts to resolve this issue with Silverthorn and Reynolds, with no results. To hear Grace’s public comments, click here.


“The audio of the meeting between Grace and Directors Silverthorn and Reynolds was also released on April 19. It is clear that during this meeting, Directors Reynolds and Silverthorn used their position to intimidate and bully Grace to deter her from proceeding with the planned protest.


Among the statements made by the directors:

·”*** Grace did not fully understand her First Amendment rights and this protest was not necessarily protected speech.
·” *** People with other motivations could hijack the protest.
· “*** Police officers could be hurt and Grace and her family would be financially responsible.

“Additionally, Director Silverthorn outright lied, claiming a police officer had been injured during a Denver student protest by “an angry motorist.” In reality, the officer was struck by a driver who had a seizure at a Black Lives Matter protest. For the full audio of the meeting, click here.”


In Buffalo, one of the wealthiest real estate developers in New York State, Carl Paladino, ran for re-election and was nearly upset by a high school senior, Austin Harig. (When Paladino ran against Cuomo, he became noted for his outrageous statements.) Paladino won his school board seatby only 100 votes out of 3,000 cast. He lashed out at the student, saying that Harig had been suspended from school for tardiness. How did Paladino gain access to Harig’s record. Harig threatened to sue, but the multimillionaire school board member laughed.



Students in Douglas County, Colorado, walked out and picketed to express their outrage at the high rates of teacher turnover in their school. Teacher turnover may be caused by the demoralizing policies enacted by the state and the district. Colorado teachers have suffered since 2010 under State Senator Michael Johnston’s legislation to tie teacher evaluations to student test scores. DougCo has had a conservative school board, which destabilized the schools.


A boisterous crowd of 100 or so students walked out of Ponderosa High School on Wednesday morning to highlight what they say is an excessive departure rate among teachers at the school and within the Douglas County School District.


They waved signs on school property that read “We love teachers” and “Keep DCSD Great,” while chanting “best teachers, best students.”


Several passing drivers honked their horns in support.


“We don’t find it fair that our teachers are leaving the district, and we want to know why,” said senior Lisa Culverhouse, who was skipping math, English and Spanish to rally with classmates. “We hope the district will realize it’s a problem — students want to be heard….”


Courtney Smith, president of the Douglas County Federation, said teacher morale has never been lower. She counts the teacher evaluation system — which she said was mostly about “uploading evidence” rather than true assessment of teaching skills — among the chief problems.


Good work, Senator Johnston. When does your promise of “great schools, great principals, great teachers” come to pass? How much longer shall we wait?



The Democratic-controlled House Education Committe in Colorado rejected a bill that would have modified the state’s draconian and pointless teacher evaluation system.

Key testimony against the bill was provided by leaders of the privatization movement who masquerade as reformers.

“Lobbyists from three education advocacy groups — the Colorado Children’s Campaign, Colorado Succeeds and Stand for Children — testified strongly against the bill. Another major reform group, Democrats for Education Reform, was neutral, Arndt said.

“But other witnesses from the Poudre school district — as well as board certified teachers and representatives of the Colorado Education Association, the state’s largest teachers union — urged the committee to pass the bill.
In closing statements before the vote, some committee members clearly were torn.
“I’m really struggling with this one,” said Rep. Dominick Moreno, D-Commerce City.

“With the defeat of the House bill, no other pending bills would alter the state system, which requires that principals and teachers be evaluated half on their professional practice and half on student academic growth.”

FYI, from a Denver source:

“The founder of the Colorado Children’s Campaign is a current Denver Public Schools’ board of Ed member, former lieutenant governor, current CEO of the non-Union schools’ principal training program Catapult. President of Colorado Succeeds is former leg aide to Johnston and helped write SB-191.”

In 2010, I was in Denver the day that the Legislature was debating S. 10-191, a bill sponsored by young Senator Michael Johnston. It was a bill to base 50% of teachers’ evaluation on test scores, a new, untried, and very controversial idea. Teachers were strongly opposed, and the Legislature was deeply divided but the bill passed. I was supposed to debate Johnston at a lunch in downtown Denver, but the debate didn’t work as planned. There were about 60 civic leaders in the room, and we waited patiently for Johnston. We finished lunch and still no Johnston. So I got up and gave my talk and explained why it was wrong to evaluate teachers and principals by test scores (at that time, I was working with Richard Rothstein on a statement against test-based evaluation that was signed by a bevy of testing experts). No sooner did I finish, then presto-change-o, young Senator Johnston strides through the doors in the back of the room. He had carefully managed not to hear anything I said.


He then proceeded to talk for 20 minutes or more about the glories of using test scores to judge teachers, principals, and schools. He predicted that the passage of his bill would bring about miraculous improvements in education across the state of Colorado. He praised his legislation as the dawn of a new day. Michael Johnston is an alum of Teach for America (were you surprised to hear that?). The title of his bill was something grandiose and completely fraudulent, something like “Great Schools and Great Teachers Act of 2010.” Gosh, it is six years later, and almost everyone except Michael Johnston knows that test-based accountability flopped. It flopped in Colorado and it flopped everywhere else, despite the billions pumped into by the federal government, the Gates Foundation, states and local districts.


Just in the past few days, both John Merrow and the team of Checker Finn and Michael Petrilli independently agreed that teacher evaluation by test scores was Arne Duncan’s worst mistake. John Merrow said, “Tying teacher evaluations to testing was a mistake, probably Arne Duncan’s biggest mistake.” Petrilli and Finn said that the federal mandate for teacher evaluations was “politically poisonous.” But not in Colorado, it seems.


A group of legislators proposed revising his bill to eliminate evaluation by test scores, and it appeared to have the support it needed. But at the last minute, two of the Republicans changed their minds about dropping the teacher evaluation by test scores, and Michael Johnston’s failed idea survived by a vote of 6-3. So Johnston and five Republican Senators managed to preserve this program, which has not worked in Colorado nor anywhere else in America. Six years after passage, there is not a whit of evidence that it improves teaching and learning.


Do you think Michael Johnston read the statement by the American Statistical Association in 2014 warning that using test scores to evaluate individual teachers is not a reasonable idea, because teachers influence between 1-14% of the variation in student test scores? I don’t think so. Do you think he saw the statement by the American Educational Research Association last fall against the use of this method? I don’t think so. Do you think he read the statement by Edward Haertel, the Stanford University testing expert, on the flaws of value-added assessment? Do you think he knows that it has been dropped by district after district because it costs millions and it has failed everywhere to identify the best or the worst teachers? Apparently not.


Michael Johnston doesn’t know what he doesn’t know. With this last-ditch effort to preserve the bad idea he sponsored, he has proved that he neither reads nor thinks.


Message to Colorado parents: Opt out. Resist. Do not let the state impose bad policies on your children or their teachers.