Archives for category: Denver

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.

Tom Ultican shares a delightful and very satisfying story of what happened in Denver, where voters chose three non-corporate reformers to fill out a majority of five on the district’s seven-member school board.

Denver has had a solid decade of corporate reform (or as I call it, Disruption) control.

Schools opened and closed; charter schools opened; students shuffled around.

Apparently, the voters decided that enough was enough.

The Disruption candidates were backed by billionaires Phillip Anschutz (the evangelical producer of “Waiting for ‘Superman'”) and Emma Bloomberg (daughter of billionaire Michael Bloomberg). Others of the usual suspects showed up to funnel money to the supporters of the “reform” status quo.

But the Disruption candidates lost. All three seats up for grabs were captured by supporters of stability and public schools.

The victory of 21-year-old Tay Anderson was the most dramatic:

The board of directors’ at-large seat is voted on by the entire city. There were three candidates vying for the at-large seat: Tay Anderson, Alexis Menocal Harrigan and Natela Alexandrovna Manuntseva. Anna DeWitt filed for the seat and raised some money but was not on the ballot. Manuntseva did not have enough resources or organizational support to compete. The race was essentially between Anderson and Harrigan.

Harrigan was the most politically connected of the nine school board candidates. A Denver Post biography noted,

“Menocal Harrigan currently works in advocacy for expanding computer science education. She previously was an education adviser to then-Gov. John Hickenlooper, a Denver City Council aide and a staff member for Sen. Michael Bennet, who helped launch DPS’s current reform agenda during his time as superintendent.”

Anderson’s biography on the other hand looks anything but formidable. The Denver Post reported,

“Anderson, a Manual High School graduate, ran unsuccessfully for the District 4 seat in 2017, when he was 18. He currently works as restorative practices coordinator at North High School.”

Tay is now 21-years-old.

Harrigan received large contributions from Colorado billionaire, Phillip Anschutz, and from a billionaire daughter living in New York Emma Bloomberg and from a billionaire Teach For America champion from Silicon Valley, Arthur Rock. In total, she had over $350,000 supporting her campaign. Three independent expenditure committees spent more than $190,000 dollars in her support including $127,000 from Students for Education Reform (SFER).

It should be noted that Phillip Anschutz has a billion-dollar foundation located in Denver and owns Walden Publishing. Walden Publishing  was behind the school privatization movies ‘Won’t Back Down’ and ‘Waiting for Superman.’

Surprisingly, Tay Anderson had more than $125,000 supporting his election including $40,000 from the Denver Classroom Teachers Association (DCTA). Committees that bundle many individual contributions are allowed to make large direct donations.

At-Large Votes

 

Tay Anderson was outspent by $350,000 to $125,000, but he won anyway.

Read the rest of the article.

It is a great reminder that the Resistance can win despite big money if it persists and persists and educates the public.

It is a new day in Denver.

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.)

 

 

Candidates for Public office endorsed by NPE Action won big. 

We didn’t give them money.

We gave them our valued Seal of Approval, demonstrating that they are the real deal, genuine supporters of public schools.

We also celebrate the apparent victory in Kentucky of Andy Bashear and the apparent defeat of Governor Matt Bevin, who mistreated teachers and sought Betsy DeVos’s approval. Kentucky has a charter law but no funding for charters.

And we congratulate the brave Democrats in Virginia, who won control of the legislature.

And salutations to the new school board members who won control of the Denver school board. Aloha   to Senator MIchael Bennett and other pseudo reformers.

November 5 was a great day for public schools and teachers!

Denver is one of the jewels of the Corporate Reform/Disruption crowd where outside the state money has purchased board seats in the past.

This election, however, three seats were up for grabs and the corporate reformers were defeated in all three races.

In their place, candidates who are skeptical of charters, school closing, and high-stakes testing were elected with the support of the Denver Classroom Teachers Association.

Supporters of commonsense, real reform (not Corporate Reform) already held 2 seats on the seven-person board.

The anti-Corporate Reform, pro-Public School bloc now controls 5 of 7 seats on the Denver school board. (Time for DFER to panic!).

 

Candidates backed by the Denver teachers union held the lead in Tuesday’s election as of 10 p.m., making it appear likely that the largest school district in the state will take a new direction.

The Denver Classroom Teachers Association had endorsed Tay Anderson, Scott Baldermann and Brad Laurvick for three open seats on the seven-member board. No incumbents were running, as two reached term limits and one decided to bow out.

Currently, five members of the board generally support “reform” ideas, such as closing schools that underperformed on tests and graduation rates, and opening new options like charter schools. The Denver teachers union and allied groups saw an opportunity to “flip” the board’s majority by electing candidates who opposed closing schools and were more suspicious of charters.

In the first returns for the at-large seat, Anderson was leading with 48.8% of the vote. Alexis Menocal Harrigan was in second, with 38.2%. Natela Manuntseva was trailing, with 13.0%.

Anderson, a restorative justice coordinator at DPS’ North High School, previously ran unsuccessfully for the board in 2017, when he was 19. Harrigan works for Code.org, which focuses on technology education, and previously was a staff member for U.S. Sen. Michael Bennet, who helped launch DPS’s current reform agenda during his time as superintendent. Manuntseva works for a kombucha company.

In District 1, which encompasses southeast Denver, Baldermann led early with 49.7% of the vote, followed by Diana Romero Campbell, 31.2%, and Radhika Nath, 19.2%.

Baldermann is a stay-at-home father who previously owned an architecture business. Nath is a health policy researcher, and Romero Campbell is president of Scholars Unlimited, which offers tutoring and other services.

In District 5, which covers northwest Denver, Laurvick had a narrow lead, with 36.3% of the vote. Tony Curcio followed with 32.9%, and Julie Bañuelos brought up the rear with 30.9%.