Duncan: doing more with less

U.S. Secretary of Education, Arne Duncan
U.S. Secretary of Education, Arne Duncan

Ok, you know you’re doing things incorrectly when even your greatest ally, the Secretary of Education, is urging something different from what you’re doing.  A statement released today by the U.S. Department of Education follows (emphasis ours):

November 26, 2010

…a bi-weekly update on U.S. Department of Education activities relevant to the Intergovernmental and Corporate community and other stakeholders

At a recent American Enterprise Institute forum, Secretary Duncan opened with a bold statement.  “I am here to talk today about what has been called the New Normal,” he said.  “For the next several years, preschool, K-12, and postsecondary educators are likely to face the great challenge of doing more with less.  My message is this challenge can, and should be, embraced as an opportunity to make dramatic improvements.  I believe enormous opportunities for improving the productivity of our education system lie ahead if we are smart, innovative, and courageous in rethinking the status quo.  It’s time to stop treating the problem of educational productivity as a grinding, eat-your-broccoli exercise.  It’s time to start treating it as an opportunity for innovation and accelerating progress.”

There are productive and unproductive ways to meet this challenge of doing more with less,” he noted.  Cuts that damage school quality and hurt children are the “wrong way,” like reducing the number of days in the school year, slashing instructional time spent on task, eliminating the arts and foreign languages, abandoning promising reforms, and laying off talented young teachers.”  He also identified as “necessary but nowhere near sufficient” various district-level cost efficiencies, such as deferring construction and maintenance projects, cutting bus routes, lowering the costs of textbooks and health services, improving energy use and efficiency in school buildings, and reducing central office personnel.  “By far,” he explained, “the best strategy for boosting productivity is to leverage transformational change in the system to improve outcomes for children.  To do so requires a fundamental rethinking of the structure and delivery of education in the United States.”

“Broadly speaking, there are two large buckets of opportunity for doing more with less,” he continued.  “The first is reducing waste throughout the system….  The second…is doing more of what works, and less of what doesn’t. That is a simple sounding idea.  Yet, as experience shows, that simple mantra is often not followed.”  Among the transformational productivity reforms that can also boost student outcomes, he advises rethinking policies around seat time requirements, class size, compensating teachers based on their educational credentials, the use of technology within the classroom, inequitable school financing, and the over-placement of students in special education.

“I want to be clear.  I am not recommending a specific course of action today to any state or district,” the Secretary concluded.  And, he added, the federal government has a role, “to cut red tape that diverts dollars from improving student outcomes and to focus our resources on those areas with the greatest potential impact.”  Then again, “It is important to remember that boosting productivity can cost money.  In some cases, government may have to spend more now, to get better returns on our current investment.  Race to the Top and i3 are good examples of programs that are important to continue in FY 2011 and beyond.”  FOR MORE INFORMATION, PLEASE GO TO http://www.ed.gov/news/speeches/new-normal-doing-more-less-secretary-arne-duncans-remarks-american-enterprise-institut.



AFT president on the truth about tenure

This video is a great, easy-to-understand piece of information about what “tenure” really is, what good evaluation systems should do, and the overall state of the teaching profession in America. In Denver, teachers can be terminated in as little as 90 days. Their DCTA contract spells out the process for documenting deficiency, as well as a grievance process.

Randi Weingarten is the president of the American Federation of Teachers, one of the two teacher’s unions (the NEA is the other).  Here in Denver, the lion’s share of unionized teachers belong to the NEA (DCTA is the local affiliate).

This video is a great, easy-to-understand piece of information about what “tenure” really is, what good evaluation systems should do, and the overall state of the teaching profession in America.

Let’s get one fact straight, though.  “Tenure” is what university professors get as a result of publishing works and other value they bring to a higher education institution.  This is not the same as a union contract that basically provides due process and the rights to fair hearings before termination, etc.  K-12 teachers that are members of a union receive these basic workplace protections.  They do not receive immunity from firing, and in Denver, teachers can be terminated in as little as 90 days.  Their DCTA contract spells out the process for documenting deficiency, as well as a grievance process.

Anyway, here’s the video. Watch, then discuss in the comments section.

Join us for a showing of “Race to Nowhere,” Dec. 2

“Race to Nowhere” is an important film that shows the impetus behind such high-stakes testing charter schools like West Denver Prep and KIPP, as well as some of our public neighborhood schools, unfortunately. It’s a by-product of No Child Left Behind, and we have to be aware of the negative consequences so we can advocate with all the facts.

We’re excited to be co-sponsors of a showing of the documentary, Race to Nowhere, on Thursday, December 2.  We’re sponsoring this showing with Uniting4Kids, the Institute for Democratic Education in America and more.

Here’s a preview of the film:

Natalie is profiled in the film

Tickets are available here, priced at $10 (or $5 for students with ID), or $15 at the door. The program includes displays and student work starting at 5:15 p.m., and the movie (followed by a panel discussion) begins at 6:30 p.m. Don’t miss DeFENSE’s own Lisa Calderon along with the other guests, moderated by our author/activist friend, Angela Engel (her book is available for purchase on the right, toward the bottom of this page).  The Oriental Theater is at 4435 W. 44th Avenue in Denver.

This is an important film that shows the impetus behind such high-stakes testing charter schools like West Denver Prep and KIPP, as well as some of our public neighborhood schools, unfortunately.  It’s a by-product of No Child Left Behind, and we have to be aware of the negative consequences so we can advocate with all the facts.

Join us!

Parents, Teachers, and Community Members “Take To the Streets”!

Since a majority of Board members have not indicated a willingness to replace the district proposal with the Coalition plan, members of the Coalition will be joined by parents, teachers and other community members in a demonstration Thursday night.

For Immediate Release:
For more information contact Carolyn Crowder
720-308-0998(cell); ccrowder@coloradoea.org

Parents, Teachers, and Community Members “Take To the Streets”!

A coalition of Parents, Teachers and Community members are calling a press conference for Thursday, November 18, at 5:30 pm.  The press conference will be a part of a protest that will be taking place between 4:30 pm and 6:30 pm in front of the Denver Public Schools Administration Building at 900 Grant Street.  Thursday is the night the Board is supposed to vote on a plan that could displace approximately 400 teachers and disrupt the education environment for students in the following schools:  Ford, McGlone, Oakland, and Green Valley elementary schools; as well as Rachel B. Noel Middle School and Montbello High School.

Many community and parent voices were heard speaking against the current district proposal at the November 8th public comment session.  A coalition of community groups including:  the Black Education Advisory Council (BEAC); the Denver Classroom Teachers Association (DCTA); Northeast Community Congress for Education (NCCE); Northeast Parents and Democrats for Excellent Neighborhood Schools (DeFENSE) presented an alternative plan.  Since a majority of Board members have not indicated a willingness to replace the district proposal with the Coalition plan, members of the Coalition will be joined by parents, teachers and other community members in a demonstration Thursday night.  The demonstration will immediately precede the November 18, public comment session and the scheduled vote.
“The district did not include an inclusive recommendation process nor the research necessary to make this kind of high-stakes decision.  Our proposal is a blueprint of what research based reform should look like.” Statement by Henry Roman, president, DCTA.

Larry Borom, chair of BEAC, sent a letter to the school board stating, “We feel that teachers, and particularly Black teachers are being made scapegoats for a lack of DPS competence over the last decade in delivering educational services to these communities.”
“The current DPS plan was not developed with genuine community input, nor is it based on a true understanding of the challenges and strengths of each individual school. Without that understanding, this plan has little chance for success,” says Sabrina Stevens Shupe, a member of DeFENSE.

“The District needs to understand that they cannot create a plan and then use an outside organization, with no ties to the community, to make it look like the community is on board with their decisions. The District’s obligations are to the people. The power is in the people, and if the Board doesn’t understand their role as a check and balance to the administration, then we the people will do what is necessary to get a Board that does,” add members of NCCE.
“I am especially concerned about the difference in services between Oakland elementary and the charter school the district wants to replace it with – regarding the services available to our Spanish speaking children.  I am also concerned how the transition from Oakland to the SOAR charter school will interrupt the great progress for all students that is currently being made by the new principal and her staff.  Oakland suffered for several years under  poor school leadership and an atmosphere that was negative towards teachers as well as parents.  The new principal has worked with the staff —to both change the atmosphere and the academic offerings to our students.  Oakland is a different place!  That is why I support the Coalition plan.   This progress should not be stopped!”  Mario Ramirez, Parent from Oakland Elementary.

“As a parent of a fourth grader at one of the affected schools and a member of the A plus committee, I am disappointed in the final outcome as some of the options to consider such as transformation was removed from the table somewhere in the process.

As part of the A plus committee I think we came up with some great values and ideas we want for our children, however there is a significant consensus that believes these decisions were made long ago prior to having any input.  Prior to the summer break transformation was still on the table for these schools. Sometime shortly after returning transformation was no longer an option for these affected schools.  I expected that we would have more input on this decision rather than it being eliminated from the options for us by the district.

I do have concerns regarding the oversight of all these changes coming at once, considering another area charter school has already failed twice and is currently under investigation for allegedly breaking the law.  What happened to the oversight there?

The message we continue to hear from the district is that we want parent engagement and involvement, yet the message that is received seems to say just the opposite as we continue to receive letters or phone calls regarding meetings and other things going on at the schools or within the district either the day of or after the fact.  I am an informed and involved parent, I know how to get this information but the majority of parents and guardians don’t.  Although all the A plus meetings were made public, this type of poor communication leads to the many concerns that not enough input from the community was heard or received throughout the process.”

Statement by Rick Gorham, Northeast Parent, and member of the Far Northeast Community Committee, facilitated by A plus Denver.

The Coalition proposal recommends an inclusive process; stakeholder oversight in the design, evaluation and implementation of school turnaround plans; and a timeline that gives neighborhood schools a chance to transform prior to replacement or closure.

Cherry Creek News answers Gottlieb

Community is alien to some.We have more from the “take me to your leader” file.  This time, the publisher of EdNews Colorado, Alan Gottlieb, wrote to us to find out more about who we are. We decided to let Cherry Creek News take a stab at answering, since being a community-friendly publication has obviously given them the keen insight into why a group like ours should exist.

Is the corporate-reform crowd really so tone deaf that they don’t understand the deep discontent they sow?  Are their ears really so closed to the oft-stated preference of Denver residents for well-resourced neighborhood schools?

Here’s just a tidbit:

Q. Why is it so hard to find out who your leadership is? In fact, you even turn off the Facebook function that allows someone to “see all” of the people who “like” you. Why? I really believe that you have nothing to hide, so why do all this stuff that seems like subterfuge? When reporter Nancy Mitchell (SIC) asked these questions no one ever replied. But when she asked for the alternative plan for FNE, someone responded immediately.

A. Classically, Alan is unable to conceptualize of an organization that is truly grounded in the community and its concerns. Groups can operate on a consensus basis, with no leaders. In fact, Alan, you don’t have to have a six-figure salary, based upon million-dollar donors, and a stack of org charts to have an organization. And Alan, if you “like” DeFENSE on Facebook, you can see who also “likes” DeFENSE. What you take as subterfuge is your own incompetence.


Read the rest of Cherry Creek’s defense of, well, DeFENSE, here.

We also find Gottlieb’s opinion piece of today, in which he basically calls community “babies,” pretty tiresome too.  “Grow up,” he admonishes.  Read more about why he thinks community needs to be in time out, here.

Then come back and let your comments rip here.

You see, we’re not interested in working within the corporate-reform paradigm.  They have long forgotten our voices, the cries of our children, and the promise of collaborative reform.  They have tried to co-opt the hard-fought gains of real civil rights struggle by using its imagery to fool unsuspecting communities into buying their failed bill of goods (only 17% of all charters are even marginally better than a neighborhood school).  “Education is a civil right,” they cry.  “Poverty doesn’t matter,” they rail.  But we’ve tried it their way, and we have nothing but dismantled neighborhoods and distressed students languishing in even worse schools to show for it.

“Fool me once,” one man said.  “You’ve been led astray,” says the other.  No thanks.  We’re reclaiming equitable education for our kids, regardless of their race, creed or income level.  We’re taking back Denver’s schools for Denver’s kids.

Proposed censure of pro-collaborative reform school board members without merit

As you probably heard, board president Nate Easley is in a lather about three board members accepting an invitation from the Colorado Lawyers Committee to attend a meeting about their concerns about the plans for the Montbello area schools.  They are accused of violating the Colorado open meetings law, which we feel is a charge without merit and which is a distraction from the real business of the board.

Apparently, the teacher’s union has gotten a legal opinion about this situation.  This just in from the DCTA website:

“We felt it necessary to set the record straight as soon as possible,” stated Henry Roman, DCTA president.  “Thursday night, the DPS school board will be deciding the fate of several schools, hundreds of teachers and a large number of our student population.

This time ought to be spent carefully listening to DPS patrons on these issues – instead of wasting time on internal DPS Board issues.  If there had been a violation of the law – there might be a reason to discuss it – but this legal opinion clearly states that is not the case.    We urge the Board to concentrate on the business they were elected to do Thursday night –  instead of engaging in false accusations of one another.”

You can download the legal opinion here.

Instead of targeting members that are pushing for more community engagement and the equitable treatment of English-language learners and special-needs students, why not instead focus on these areas? Nate Easley, don’t you have better things to focus on?

Diane Ravitch pops more “Superman” bubbles

Denver Post editor Dan Haley should have watched this video before he published his baseless editorial today.  Here, Dr. Diane Ravitch pulls apart some of the myths perpetuated in Waiting for Superman, the movie best known for it’s simplistic analysis about How to Fix Education.

Dr. Ravitch’s speech starts about 10 minutes in.  Enjoy.

REEP, KIPP and TFA Lecture Series from Jon Paul Estrada on Vimeo.

On motivation in the educational sphere

You gotta watch this video from Dan Pink on the science of motivation.  We watched it keeping ProComp (teacher pay for performance) in mind.

This is really groundbreaking theory, especially as we grapple with the concept of effective teaching. We know, based on recent accounts, that teachers do really well when they have the freedom to take ownership of their work product and when they have meaningful opportunities to get better at their craft. We already know that they have a sense of purpose; they wouldn’t have chosen the most maligned and ill-paid professions  in all of American society had they not had a sense of purpose.

By the way, a charter school teacher passed this video to one of our friends, who told us about it. We’re open to wisdom from all corners.  Are YOU listening, corporate reformers?