Archives for category: Denver

Jeannie Kaplan, a former member of Denver’s elected school board, has warned for years about the subversion of Denver’s school election by well-funded, out-of-state “reformers.” Their money makes it difficult for ordinary citizens to run for the school board.

In this post, Jeannie reports that Dark Money is back and is prepared to fund candidates who support charter schools and other elements of the failed “reform” agenda. She has identified the groups that act as pass-throughs for Dark Money, she has tallied the total (to date) of $360,000, but it’s usually impossible to identify the original source of the money.

Melanie Asmar of Chalkbeat reports that the the Mayor of Denver is requiring that all of the city’s school teachers and staff should be vaccinated, whether in public or private schools and universities. President Biden has ordered all federal employees to be vaccinated. Meanwhile, major businesses like Walmart are requiring their employees to be vaccinated.

Personally, I believe that everyone who is eligible to be vaccinated should be required to get the vaccine as a matter of public health. States that have passed laws to “protect the rights of the unvaccinated” are experiencing a surge in hospitalizations and deaths. Florida is leading the nation in new cases of COVID. Governor DeSantis is an outspoken defender of those who refuse vaccination.

Asmar begins:

School and child care personnel in Denver will be required to be fully vaccinated against COVID-19 by Sept. 30, Denver Mayor Michael Hancock announced Monday.

Hancock’s order applies to staff at all schools within the city of Denver, including public schools, private schools, colleges, and universities, said City Attorney Kristin Bronson.

In addition to school personnel, the order covers all city employees, people who work in high-risk occupations such as hospitals and long-term care facilities, and people who work in high-risk settings. School and child care personnel fall under the last category. 

The order applies to all employees of Denver Public Schools, which is the state’s largest school district and serves more than 90,000 students. Denver Public Schools had nearly 15,000 employees last year, but that count did not include contract employees or employees at independent public charter schools who are also subject to the mayor’s order. 

To be fully vaccinated by Sept. 30, employees will need to receive their final doses of the vaccine by Sept. 15. Employees who don’t comply “will not be permitted to work onsite or in the field,” according to a press release from the mayor’s office.

Jeanne Kaplan is a veteran civil rights activist who was elected to serve two terms on the Denver school board. She has been active in multiple campaigns to stop privatization and over-testing and energize a genuine effort to improve the public schools. She wrote this piece for this blog.


  THE SISYPHEAN TASK IN DENVER

The dictionary defines Sisyphean task as something you keep doing but never gets completed, an endless task.  In Greek mythology Sisyphus is punished by the god Zeus and is tasked with endlessly pushing a rock up a steep mountain, only to have it roll back down each time he nears the top.  I will leave the deeper philosophical meanings to others.  Simply interpreted, public education advocates residing in the Queen City of the Rockies, “transformers” if you will, will find similarities to this story as we reflect on our battle to defeat “education reform.”  In Denver’s case the Sisyphean task master has not been a vengeful god, but rather a school board member or a school board itself which through their betrayals continues to keep “transformers” tasked with pushing the education transformational rock up the mountain.

Call it the Sisyphean Challenge, Groundhog Day, a Broken Record, Déjà vu.  However you describe it, these “transformers” are experiencing another setback in their attempts to stop or at least slow down the business-based “education reform” model. In 2009 Denver voters thought they had put an end to the then still budding “education reform” movement.  “Transformers” won four of seven seats on the school board but quickly lost that advantage when, within hours of the election, one supposed “transformer” flipped sides.  For the next ten years education reformers had free reign in Denver. Four to three boards became a six to one board, became a seven to zero board.  All for “education reform.”  Forward ten years to today.  “Transformers” once again gained control of the Denver School Board in theory.  This time the transformer majority was believed to be 5-2.  But local education reformers – with a lot of help from national reform partners – once again figured out how to get their privatization agenda through this hypothetically anti-privatization 5-2 Board.  By consistently voting to renew and re-establish privatization policies and projects, today’s Board has deprived Denver voters once again of reaching the mountain top, and usually by a 6-1 vote.  And from today’s perspective the rock has once again rolled down the mountain.

The below listed organizations, initiatives and foundations have all had their hand in preventing educational transformation in Denver. The list is thorough but not comprehensive:

1 – A+ Colorado30 – Empower Schools
2 – Adolph Coors Foundation31 – Gates Family Foundation
3 – Anschutz Family Foundation32 – Janus Fund
4 – Bellwether Education Partners33 – KIPP – Knowledge is Power Program
5 – Bezos Family Foundation34 – Koch Family Foundations
6 – Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation35 – Laura and John Arnold Foundation
7 – Bloomberg Philanthropies36 – Laurene Powell Jobs – Emerson Collective
8 – Boardhawk37 – Leadership for Educational Equity
9 – CareerWise38 – Lynde and Harry Bradley Foundation
10 – Chalkbeat39 – Lyra Learning – Innovation Zones
11 – Chan Zuckerberg Initiative40 – Michael and Susan Dell Foundation
12 – Schusterman Family Foundation41 – Moonshot
13 – Chiefs for Change42 – PIE Network (Policy Innovators in Ed)
14 – City Fund43 – Piton/Gary Community Investments
15 – City Year44 – Relay Graduate School of Education
16 – Colorado Health Foundation45 – Richard and Helen DeVos Foundation
17 – Colorado Succeeds46 – RootEd
18 – Community Engagement & Partners47 – Rose Foundation
19 – Daniels Fund48 – School Board Partners
20 – Democrats for Education Reform49 – Stand for Children
21 – Denver Families of Public Schools50 – Students First
22 – Denver Foundation51 – Teach for America
23 – Denver Scholarship Foundation52 – The Broad Academy/The Broad Center
24 – Donnell-Kay Foundation53 – Third Way
25 – EdLeadLeadership54 – TNTP
26 – Education Pioneers55 – Transform Education Now (TEN Can)
27 – Education Reform Now56 – Wallace Foundation
28 – Education Trust57 – Walton Family Foundation
29 – Eli and Edythe Broad Foundation

Below are some of the reform ventures coaxed through by these groups.  Many have been used to maintain the failing status quo.  Some have been used to make money for friends and colleagues.  Some have been outright failures.   But by its failure to address them or by its continued tolerance of them, the DPS Board has sanctioned the continuation of privatization in our city:

·      At a time when education reform was truly hanging on by a thread in Denver, the Board assured its continued existence for the foreseeable future by voting to renew the use of the racially biased state accountability system, going even further into reformland by promising to develop a new accountability “dashboard” (a key “reformer” tenet).  While testing is state mandated, the District did not even explore the possibility of waiving its obligation to rely on this system. This one decision has also allowed the proliferation of many of the above listed groups and has given new life to the overall privatization movement.  A lot of new players are making a lot of new money from the public education system in Denver. After all, what is the business model really about if it is not about making money?  This one vote has allowed the continuation of some of the most divisive and punitive practices such as:

1.     Relying on high stakes testing even though the Board has given lip service to wanting a waiver this year due to COVID; 

2.     Relying on a non-transparent Choice system, which some believe is being used to fill unwanted charters;

3.     Ranking of schools and continued competition resulting in winners and losers among students and schools;

4.     Relying on Student Based Budgeting where the money follows the student;

5.     Marketing of schools, whereby wealthier schools and schools with their own board of directors (charters and Innovation Zone schools) have a distinct advantage;

6.     Giving bonuses to employees of schools based on test scores.  

Other recent reform-oriented Board decisions include:

·      Voting to renew or extend all 13 charter school contracts that were up this year even when some were struggling for enrollment and academic success.  The Board claimed it did not want to disrupt kids and families.  Portfolio model.

·      Promoting school MERGERS as opposed to school CLOSURES for under enrolled neighborhood schools, somehow thinking voters won’t notice that merging schools results in the same failed policy as school closures, that campaign promises have been broken, and that charter schools are being treated differently.  Portfolio model.  

·      Voting to approve new Innovation Zones, the hybrid portfolio model that supposedly gives schools more independence while, unlike charters, is still under the control of the school board.  These Innovation Zones do, however, have their own administrative staff as well as their own boards and have ushered in their own cottage industry. Portfolio Model.

·      Working with City Fund funded School Board Partners for Board training. City Fund is a relative newcomer to the education privatization world and is largely financed by Netflix Reed Hastings and John Arnold of Laura and John Arnold Foundation.  Locally, City Fund has dropped $21 million into Denver’s own RootEd to assure “every child in Denver has the opportunity and support to achieve success in school, college and their chosen career.” This needs to be done equitably, of course!  And only within a non-union school!  Grant funding from private sources to promote private interests.

·      Hiring a Broad trained Superintendent search company, Alma Advisory Group.  Alma has also been involved in executive searches for both City Fund and The Broad Academy, two quintessential privatizers.  More than four months have gone by since DPS Superintendent Susana Cordova resigned.  Four metro Denver school districts have had superintendent vacancies this winter.  Two have already found their leaders.  Denver is still holding community meetings which if they follow DPS history, will end up be ing rather meaningless.  Most importantly, will this “reform” inclined group be able to bring a wide-ranging group of candidates forward? The Broad Academy, training leaders in education reform.

·      Continuing to allow and expand non-licensed teachers and administrators from programs such as Teach for American and Relay Graduate School of Education into DPS’ schools and continuing to tell the public they are just as qualified as professional educators.   Anyone can teach!

Why do these examples matter, you might ask?

For starters, review the list of organizations and people pushing privatization.  The sheer number is staggering.  Then check out the similarity of language in their missions, visions, and goals and the uniformity of strategies and messaging.

·      Every child deserves a great school. 

·      Every school deserves all the support it needs to ensure equity.

·      Every school should have parent and community partners.

·      Every school should be anti-racist, celebrate diversity, be inclusive.

These are all worthy goals, albeit very general ones.  But what is the overall strategy to achieve them?  Privatization and the business model focusing on innovative and charter schools using an accountability system based on high stakes testing to define success seems to be their answer.  And in spite of claims that “reformers” are agnostic as to the type of school they foster, there are a few common characteristics they demand in their privatized schools:  

·      the ability to hire and fire anyone at any time; employees do not have to be licensed; at-will employees if you will.  That’s right.  No unions in innovation or charter schools.  Anyone can teach. 

·      an accountability system based on high stakes tests; schools and employees evaluated and punished by the results of these racially inappropriate tests.

·      market-driven criteria used to define school success.  Winners and losers, competition, closures, choice, chaos, churn.

·      “learning loss,” the pandemic-based slogan, must be addressed by unrelenting dependency on high stakes testing.  No test waivers for this crazy school year.  “Reformers” must have that data, and they must remind everyone that in spite of Herculean efforts on many fronts, public education has failed. 

Add to this scenario the amount of money being spent to further this agenda. Determining this takes some patience because the tax records are often difficult to find and decipher. Then try to deduce who is benefitting from each program.  This also takes some digging, for let me assure you, public education has spawned not a cottage industry but rather a mansion industry!  Search the group you are interested in and check out its board and staff.  And finally, look at the effect all of this has had on kids.  Yeah, yeah, yeah. Isn’t it always about the kids?  In reality few of these extra ventures have had any effect on kids.  Fewer still touch kids directly.

Each privately funded unit on this list has had a privatized DPS connection of some sort.  Some initiatives are duplicative. Some are very narrowly focused. Some purport to be THE ANSWER to public education’s struggles.  There is no tolerance for differing beliefs.  Yet, after 15 years of experimentation Denver’s students remain mired in mediocrity, suffering from an ever narrowing curriculum and dependent on evaluations, ratings, and a definition of success based on racially biased tests.  Nationally, Denver Public Schools remains a leader in implementing “education reform” but alas, it also remains a leader in teacher and principal turnover and home to one of the largest achievement/opportunity gaps in the nation. 

We in Denver have been subjected to the high-octane version of “education reform” for more than 15 years.  Choice, charters, competition, closures have resulted in three unequal tiers of schools (charter schools, innovation zones, neighborhood schools).  Reformers call this “the portfolio model.”  I call it structural chaos. Michael Fullan calls it fragmentation, a system wrongly focused on “academics obsession, machine intelligence, and austerity.”  To those privatizers who say, “but you have no solution,” Fullan has one that would turn public education on its head and could possibly produce what all of us involved in the public education scene say we want: robust, equitable education for all.  Fullan has a solution for whole system success that would be focused on the human elements of public education:  learning and well-being, social intelligence, and equality of investments.   But in order for anything like this to work the superintendent and the board must be on the same page.  Elections matter.  And candidates need to understand what is at stake and what they have been elected to do.

Public education is the cornerstone of our democracy. (Given today’s America it might have slipped to second place behind voting rights). I ran for school board on that belief, I witnessed its importance through the lives of my immigrant parents. I do not believe our democracy will survive without public education, but the cornerstone must change. Radically.  Dramatically.

Imagine if all of the efforts of those 50 plus organizations were combined into one united movement focused on an anti-racist, equitable systemic change.  And imagine how truly revolutionary, transformative and unifying this movement could be if it included voices and ideas not aligned with the business model but with people who are willing to truly look at things differently, people who were willing to be honest and show leadership.  Imagine how during this unique time in our nation’s history this new system could have resulted in a new and exciting way of delivering and evaluating teaching and learning, well-being, equity and equality.  Imagine how exciting this unique time in Denver could been had we taken advantage of this opportunity.  , Instead, DPS decided to continue with the status where money and power continue to rule, where a business model has been buttressed to portray a non-existent success, and where an elected Board of Education has turned its back on its mandate.

Historically “transformers” in Denver have been dogged in their attempts to get that rock to the mountain’s peak.  We have kept fighting even when betrayed by school board members, even when organization after organization has put down roots to continue the mirage of success, even when untold millions of dollars have been invested in programs that have yet to make a significant difference in educational outcomes.  Can we in Denver defy Greek mythology and end this Sisyphean nightmare? Or are there too many yet unknown obstacles in our path to stop us once again?  Elections will decide. Time will tell. 

The superintendent of Denver Public Schools, Susana Cordova, resigned abruptly, and her departure was followed by finger pointing. Denver has been a hot spot for “reformers,” and it’s school board elections attract DFER, “Education Reform Now,” and other big-money donors from out of state.

I asked Jeanne Kaplan, a former DPS board member, to explain what’s going on. She sent me her comments and a statement released by the Colorado Latino Forum.

Kaplan writes:

In spite of the cacophony of adulation from education reformers there is no evidence that Susana Cordova has been pushed out by the Board of Education. Susana Cordova left in the middle of the school year in the middle of a pandemic because Susana Cordova wanted to leave for reasons unknown. (Ms. Cordova has been silent so far except for her initial letter of resignation). Was the Board at odds with her and her reformer staffers? At times, yes, but that should be expected when education reformers consistently sought to thwart the decision of the people and the mandate to the Board through two election cycles. In fact an argument can be made that these education reformers are in fact the reason for Ms. Cordova’s exit, for it is they who have sewn chaos and dissent within the District.  

Since Ms. Cordova’s announcement reformers have gone into a full court press to push a story line that says, “Mean board pushed out a local woman of color superintendent. Bad Board would not work with superintendent” with a clear undercurrent message: “ board needs to be replaced.”  Letters of support and social media postings for Cordova have poured in from a former and the current mayor (both of whom it should be noted are strong education reformers),  education reformer extraordinaire, Arne Duncan (former Secretary of Education), 14 former DPS women school board members, historically reform oriented organizations like Donnell-Kaye, A+ Colorado, and a myriad of other smaller reform organizations. Again, with no evidence the “superintendent pushed out by the board” storyline has become the storyline.  But is this case? Or is this just a last ditch effort for education reform to continue to push to be the driving philosophy in Denver? Or, are one or more of these scenarios possible? Is this

o   An attempt for mayoral control of Denver’s public Schools?

o   An attempt to lay the groundwork for a no holds barred school board election cycle in 2021 where the current board is blamed for the chaos?

o   An attempt to blame teachers for her exit?

o   An attempt to blame Susana for the failures of Michael Bennet and Tom Boasberg?

o   A subtle attempt to undermine Denver’s women school leaders, since the Superintendent, Board president and Board vice president are women? And finally,

o   Did Susana’s departure lead to the departures of her education reformer staffers, Mark Ferrandino and Jen Holladay, or did their impending departures lead to Susana’s departure? The Colorado Latino Forum, whose mission is to increase the political, social, educational and economic strength of Latinas and Latinos, just released a statement regarding the current situation.  CLF has documented the situation and speaks for many of us.  Thank you to the Board of Directors for the honesty and bravery.

Statement Regarding Resignation of Denver Public Schools Superintendent Susana Cordova

The sudden resignation of DPS Superintendent Susana Cordova has sparked a small but politically powerful group, led by Mayor Michael Hancock, to decry Cordova’s resignation as a far-fetched racist and sexist conspiracy — a charge so outrageous that it can not go unchallenged. Therefore, the CLF Board is compelled to set the record straight with several facts omitted by the Mayor in his campaign to smear duly elected Board of Education members, who, unlike Mayor Hancock and his wealthy allies, are unpaid public servants.

First, Superintendent Susanna Cordova resigned last week of her own accord. According to her public announcement, she is taking a high-level position at a school district in the Dallas, Texas area. Ms. Cordova will benefit from a hefty pension from the DPS budget that will allow her to comfortably transition into a presumably well-paying new salary. However, unlike Ms. Cordova, many under-paid teachers and their students will continue to languish during a pandemic without adequate resources, such as basic internet access for remote learning. Further, their parents will continue to financially struggle to secure adequate childcare, and to make ends meet. It is disappointing that the Mayor does not express the same level of outrage for these teachers, students and their families.

Second, when selecting former superintendent Tom Boasberg’s replacement, Board members with close ties to the Hancock administration ensured that Cordova, as Boasberg’s protege, was the sole finalist after an expensive and superficial national search process. However, these same political insiders are now demanding an “independent” community engagement process — an opportunity that they denied to public education advocates during a succession of politically-connected superintendents dating back to over fifteen years. It is worth noting that neither Boasberg nor Bennet had education backgrounds, but were selected anyway over strong community objections.

Third, to blame teachers for hastening Cordova’s departure is irresponsible and mean spirited. Last November, the remaining Hancock-aligned board members opposed the teacher’s strike. These politically connected insiders also opposed raises and better working conditions for teachers while funneling increased resources to charter schools. For more than a decade, the Boasberg-Hancock-Cordova alliance forced overworked teachers to take a backseat to multimillion-dollar construction projects, while a corporate-backed board siphoned an increasing share of the $1.4 billion dollar school district budget to expand charter schools while destabilizing our public education system.

Fourth, Hancock — like most career politicians — is facing the end of his political reign due to term limits. The influence he once had to control DPS through mayoral appointees who held dual positions on the school board and within city government is coming to an end. It explains his outrageous Trumpian letter that mirrors some of the dysfunction in Washington politics. We wish to state unequivocally that Denver taxpayers would be better served if Mayor Hancock focused on managing the unprecedented crises facing

the City of Denver including the pandemic, racial unrest, economic recession and deepening housing crisis rather than interfering with the business of the DPS board.

Fifth, CLF dispels the myth that there is a monolithic Latino group that speaks for the interests of all Latinos in Denver, including the signatories of recent letters to the media from the same small circle of usual suspects. Given that, we strongly object to the Mayor weaponizing race and gender to smear volunteer school board members composed, in part, of dedicated people of color. Screaming “racism” and “sexism” by politically connected wealthy insiders hurts the movement for racial, social and education justice. If the Mayor wishes to go there, CLF reminds him that the staff of outgoing superintendent Cordova t​ hreatened striking teachers​, who were disproportionately Latinas, with deportation.

Further, we remind the Mayor that an inequitable system of economic disparities and institutional racism continues despite having a Latina superintendent according to statistics from the DPS and the Colorado Department of Education websites: 

  • ●  Only 38% of DPS students attend a ‘Blue’ or ‘Green’ school (SPF labels), compared to the goal of 80% by 2020.
  • ●  Only 68% of Black and Latino and 49% of Native students graduated high school in 4 years last year compared to the 81% of white students that graduated high school in 4 years. This is only 1800 out of 6200 seniors actually graduating from a DPS high school on time.
  • ●  Latino students continue to be under-enrolled in AP courses. Latinos make up more than 54% of the student population but they receive only 39% of AP credits. This percentage has decreased in the last 4 years. Meanwhile, White students receive 43% of AP credits, but only make up 25% of the student population.
  • ●  Approximately 1 in 5 teachers and principals left DPS. It is almost double the turnover rates of Adams-12 and Jefferson County districts.
  • ●  Reports of unfair, inequitable HR practices leading to disproportionate pushout of Black and Latino teachers have increased.
  • ●  There has been a 0% increase of Latino/Chicano teacher representation in the past 5 years — and only a 1% increase in Black teacher representation. Latino teachers only make up 17% of teaching staff in 2019-2020, and this percentage holds from five years ago. Black teachers make up 5% of the teaching population, only 1% higher than five years ago.
  • ●  The percentage of Latino principals has decreased by 1% in the past 5 years (from 19% to 18%); Black principals have not increased at all from 12%.These disparities occurred during Ms. Cordova’s tenure as Deputy Superintendent and Superintendent. The reinforcement of oppression of teachers, students and parents of color is inexcusable. It is a disservice to DPS teachers, students and families to mischaracterize her lucrative departure as the result of racist and sexist victimization. Instead of the Mayor tearing down members of a duly elected seven-member Board of Education, he should be encouraging the community to come together and engage in a search for a nationally-acclaimed superintendent of the highest caliber. We do not need another back-door, handpicked crony by opportunistic and meddling politicians who should stay in their lanes.Denver deserves top-notch candidates who can steer the billion-dollar DPS behemoth on a course of independent governance that takes our students to their highest educational and social potential. Let’s stop calling racism when millionaires don’t get their way. Instead, let’s get on with the business of supporting the Denver School Board’s search for an equity-driven, pro-public education candidate for this critical position. 
  • Signed,
    CLF BOARD of DIRECTORS

Chalkbeat reports that charter schools in Denver collected $16 million from the federal Paycheck Protection Program, intended to help small businesses.

Across the country, charters are collecting federal money intended to save small businesses faced with economic collapse. Public schools are not eligible to get money from this program. Charter schools also receive state and local funding earmarked for public schools.

Aren’t they lucky to be both small businesses and public schools!

Denver charters knew this looked bad, so they suggested they might share future funding with the public schools.

Charter school critics nationally have balked at charters receiving federal Paycheck Protection Program funding, which is not available to traditional public schools.

But Denver charter leaders have committed to reckoning with any inequity created by the funding — a move the memo identifies as unique to Denver. Leaders said that could mean charters taking less than their share of other federal coronavirus relief funds earmarked for Denver schools, leaving more money for district-run schools.

Many charters have been unwilling to acknowledge that they have applied and received PPP money. In Denver, the charters released their federal funding at the request of a board member, Scott Baldermann.

Jeanne Kaplan served two terms on the elected board of education in Denver. She has been an outspoken critic of the Disruption policies of the Michael Bennet-Tom Boasberg era, and she worked with other parents and activists in Denver against the monied interests that promoted Disruption, high-stakes testing, and charters in that city.

Miraculously, a new board was elected last fall which had a majority of advocates for public education. But they have implemented none of the changes they promised.

In this post, she wonders why the new, supposedly pro-public education board has been so passive.

Her post begins:

On November 5, 2019 Denver voters gave education reform an “F” which was reflected by the election of three new board members, none of whom was supported by the usual suspects in Denver’s education reform landscape: DFER (Democrats for Education Reform), SFER (Students for Education Reform), Stand for Children or as I recently heard referred to as STOMP ON CHILDREN. The three winners – Tay Anderson, Scott Baldermann, and Brad Laurvick, joined two other non-reform members to make what should have been an easy 5-2 majority. Taking action to undo the District’s business model of education reform should have been a gimme. It is now four months later, and while there are members who want to see the District go in a new direction, the sense of urgency is definitely not there. The new majority appears to be unwilling or stymied as how best to make essential change and how best to honor the voters’ desires. I have attended various DPS events these past few weeks, and I was struck by how easily it could have been 2009 or 2013 or 2017. Many of the same people are in charge, most of the same policies are being pursued, the same policy governance baloney is being pushed. Education reform continues to dominate the conversation and decision making. The window of opportunity for this board to act is closing rapidly and before we know it, a new election cycle will be upon us. Denver Board of Education – it is incumbent upon you to act now. If you continue to drag your feet, we will lose another generation to education reform and its portfolio model. Some possibilities as how to proceed and achieve change quickly follow:

The Board must begin a search for a new superintendent. Superintendent Susana Cordova and all of her senior team must be replaced. For a short while I believed Ms. Cordova could stay without her current senior staff, but it has become apparent that that would be an unworkable situation. All who are so deeply vested in the education reform direction the District has followed need to be replaced by qualified leaders who are not afraid to admit the failures of the last 15 years and who are willing to develop a bold, new direction for the District. The current leadership in DPS is wedded too heavily to the past (some might call it the status quo). Denverites want change and have said so clearly in the past two elections. The only way for that to happen is for a complete change in top leadership. In a recent post written specifically for Loving Community Schools Newsletter, The CURE, education historian and hero of the transformers’ movement Diane Ravitch said this:

“The new Denver school board should use this unique opportunity to repudiate the failed “reforms” of the past decade. They have not closed achievement gaps; they have not improved the opportunities of all children. They have failed.

“It is time for the school board to find new leadership willing to strike out in a new direction. That means leaders who do not define schooling by deeply flawed standardized tests and who understand that a great public education system benefits all children, not just a few.”

The Board must take back power it has ceded to the superintendent.

It must:

*decide what board meeting agendas should look like.
*direct the superintendent to direct the staff to follow up on Board Directors’ subjects of interest.
*consider returning to two public board meetings per month. That used to be the norm until the Bennet/Boasberg regimes. The reduction in meetings has resulted in less transparency and fewer meaningful public discussions.
*revise policies DJA and DJA-R so the threshold for Board approved purchases is lowered from the current $1 million.
*reduce the number and length of PowerPoint presentations. One thing DPS has improved over the past 15 years is its PowerPoint presentations. They are now very colorful, very long, and very, very obtuse. No more “Death by PowerPoint.”

The Board must change the budget and educational priorities from one based on reform-oriented tenets and expenditures to one that reflects priorities voted for in the elections of 2017 and 2019.
SPF – Accountability based on data, data, data which is based on testing, testing, testing. Why is the District continuing to pursue and spend taxpayer money on a flawed, racist, punitive, inequitable accountability system upon which most of its other educational decisions are based? While the SPF is being “re-imagined” and the possibility of using the state system is being considered, few board members seem willing to tackle real change which could result in a wholly different accountability system. Why is the Board not directing the staff to develop an entirely new accountability system focused on “school stories,” for example, based on things other than test scores? Why is the Board unwilling to make real change but instead seems satisfied to just nibble at the edges?

Choice – A complicated, expensive to operate, stressful system where the number of “choices” has increased from five schools to twelve schools per student. Who could really be satisfied with a number past even five? Is this just another way for DPS to pretend a reform is working by saying “XX% got one of their top choices. Look. It’s working!” And why is the Board majority allowing the District to continue to ignore focusing on most family’s first Choice, their neighborhood schools? What are the costs of Choice from implementation to transportation and everything in between? And how could that money not be better spent in the classroom?
Charter Schools – these “publicly funded, privately managed ‘public’ schools” seem to have it both ways; they are funded with taxpayer dollars, yet they are not overseen by our duly elected officials. The Board must work with the legislature to bring more transparency, oversight and accountability to charter schools in general. (See next section). Just last week in a 2 hour, 27 page PowerPoint presentation, DPS had a Focus on Achievement study session devoted to “Positive Culture Change for Educators of Color.” None of the data reflected Charter School recruitment, hiring, demographics, retention, turnover. Nothing. The head of Human Resources actually said, “We do not include charters in this data. Charters are not required to provide their employee data or demographic data to the District.” (minute 39) WHAAAT?? Sixty out of 200 schools are charters. 20%. No accountability to the Board. As for bond and mill levy monies? Same thing. DPS is touted for sharing these funds with its charters, yet once again there is no oversight and accountability for the charters.

Bonuses – Awarding bonuses is one of those business practices that works better in the private sector than the public sector. As DPS has plowed forward with all things reform, bonuses have become a huge part of its model. Teachers earn bonuses based on criteria established in the 2019 strike settlement. The dollar amount per year starts at $750 and can go as high $6000 a year. Administrators earn bonuses based on criteria established by, one assumes, by the superintendent. Denver’s Inter-Neighborhood Cooperation (INC) has engaged a financial analytics consultant to analyze salary and expenditure trends within the DPS budget. Detailed compensation data for the fiscal years ending 2014 – 2019 was provided by DPS to INC through a Colorado Open Records Act request.

From this data, DPS is showing that the largest beneficiaries of Bonus Compensation were those in the “Administrator” job classification. For the six-year period, Administrators received 82% ($3.8 million) of the total bonuses paid ($4.6 million). What’s more, the 20 highest bonused Administrators received 33%, or $1.4 million of the overall $4.6 million. Let that sink in – $1.4 million paid from 2014-2019 went to 20 Administrators. In a District strapped for cash. In a District that is asking teachers to make up a budgetary shortfall by increasing their pension contributions.

Please read the rest of the post. It is all sensible and reasonable. It is time for the board to represent the constituents who asked for a change in the status quo.

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?

Jennifer Berkshire and Jack Schneider reveal the secret ingredient to the success of the Resistance to privatization/portfolio district strategy in Denver in this podcast.

For years, Denver had been a feather in the cap of DFER and other advocates of privatization. Betsy DeVos lauded Denver for its commitment to school choice, although she was disappointed that it had not yet adopted vouchers. the Brookings Institution praised Denver for its deep commitment to choice.

Michael Bennett rose from Denver superintendent to the U.S. Senate and still touts his success as a school reformer.

But in the last school board election, the critics of school closings, portfolio strategies, and charter schools won the seats to control the board, to the amazement of everyone.

How did it happen?

Jennifer Berkshire wrote: It’s a fascinating and inspiring story. The movement to “flip the board” started in Denver’s Black community and was then taken up by teachers. But the most amazing part of the story may be how young people – the products of the Denver reform experiment – have risen up to demand change. I don’t think that’s what DFER envisioned! 

Listen to the podcast.

Jane Nylund, parent activist in Oakland, wrote the following warning after reading about the ouster of the Disrupters in Denver. Parents and activists and concerned citizens must organize and oust the agents of Disruption:

 

Oakland also must flip 4 board seats next year. The Walton-bought board has recently closed two schools, Roots and Kaiser Elementary, and there is talk of accelerating the “Blueprint process”, which is basically a plan to close and consolidate schools. Oakland’s portfolio model, which was only supposed to close “low performing” schools (nearly all of which were privatized into charters), has now morphed into the Citywide plan, in which no school is safe from the threat of closure. Kaiser was an exemplary model for a popular, well-supported, diverse neighborhood public school that attracted families both within and outside its boundaries. It also supported a significant number of LGBT families. It’s enrollment had been steady for years. Its closure (and planned consolidation with Sankofa, a struggling elementary school several miles away with a freeway in between) means that the beautiful piece of property where Kaiser is located (with SF bay views) will either be sold or handed over to a charter. Kaiser’s closure was a sacrifice, a political pawn in the school closure game, to show that the school board can be “bold” and not just close schools in high-needs neighborhoods. Look at us, we can close anything, and we will! This is the not-so-new normal for OUSD.

Jeannie Kaplan served two terms on the Denver school board. She spotted “reform” as a hoax from the beginning. For ten years, she has urged her fellow citizens to reject the regime of “test-punish-close schools-privatize.”

Today she feels vindicated.

Over the past 10 years millions of dollars from outside Denver have been spent to prop up a failed educational experiment. And failed it is.

But a new day has dawned in Denver, for on November 5, 2019 Denver voters said no to the outside money, no to the failure of the past ten years, no to education reform. They said it loudly, clearly and unequivocally…  

Some lessons gleaned from the November 5, 2019 School Board Election

 

  • Reform candidates lost by margins of 2-1 in all three races. WOW. Just WOW.
  • Denver’s teachers lead the way in the successful flipping of the board. When teachers struck in February, they energized and organized fellow teachers, parents and community members. Their activism carried over into the election cycle. Teachers ROCK!
  • Educational outcomes have NOT improved in the Michael Bennet/Tom Boasberg era despite press attempts to make it appear so.
    • The latest NAEP scores released late last month show 32% of 4th graders in Denver Public Schools can do grade level math, 35% can read at grade level. For 8th graders 29% are at grade level in both subjects .[editors’ note: “proficient” on NAEP is not “grade level”]
    • Denver as usual had the largest achievement gap of the entire 27 urban school cohort in the NAEP study.
    • DPS’ implementation of school “Choice” has been criticized repeatedly because it not only is inequitable, it has been found to actually add to the inequities in DPS.
    • The highly touted Denver Plan 2020 with its lofty goals made virtually no appearance in the reformers 2019 election messaging.
  • Reformers appear to win only when they have money and candidates with high name recognition. While the amount of money spent this cycle will most likely break records, reformers ran out of big names to run this time. And the reality is at large transformer candidate Tay Anderson had the most name recognition from the beginning of the election cycle.

So, the “transformers” beat the “reformers.” Thrashed them.

Or put another way, the “constructors” beat the “disrupters.”

Either way, it is an amazing turn of events for a city that has been feted by advocates for privatization for a decade.