Education and the Wall Street connection

by Angela Engel

This election year, Denver voters will have an opportunity to demonstrate the power of citizen engagement and the importance of direct control of our neighborhood schools. National interests are investing heavily in Denver’s school board race. The players are many, the politics ugly, and the possibilities are, well, promising.

The Players

Stand for Children established a Colorado chapter in 2010 in order to push legislation that tied teacher evaluations to test scores. Their investors include The Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, the Walton Family Foundation, and New Profit Inc., a “national venture philanthropy fund.” Democrats for Education Reform (DFER) is a newer organization that promotes charter schools, alternative certification training, and performance pay, and in addition, promotes mayoral control.  Another player, the Alliance for Choice in Education (ACE), originated in Colorado in 2000. ACE members made significant campaign contributions to the Douglas County School Board responsible for directing private dollars away from some of the most high-performing public schools in the state. Several other funders have also joined the ranks, and the one thing they all have in common are trustees and board members with corporate connections and with very deep pockets.

The Profit Motive

So why are corporate executives and wealthy entrepreneurs suddenly interested in public education?  Because they like to make money, and recent education reforms, along with “new tax credits.”  The Education management organizations (EMOs) in which they heavily invest their money have provided ample opportunity to make a dollar.

Here’s how they do it:

Private charters and online schools. Under the guise of failing test scores, EMOs* co-opt community schools or aggressively market for online students. Colorado Virtual Academy (COVA), managed by the Virginia-based company K12, projected growth in excess of 100 million dollars last year. It’s fair to note that many charter schools are district managed and publicly controlled. Still, Colorado policymakers have created a double standard favoring charter schools. Education News Colorado reported that nearly half of online student enrollments leave before finishing the year. The majority of programs are low performing and operating outside of the accountability mandates required of public schools. Online and charter schools can hire non-licensed and non-certified employees.

Alternative licensing programs have become big business. Teach for America (TFA) reported earnings in 2009 of more than $269 million. Their tax documents list their net assets at $261.5 million. This past July the Walton Family Foundation committed $49.5 million to double the number of Teach For America candidates throughout the United States; $3.1 million was designated for Colorado.

Senator Michael Bennet, DFER “Reformer of the Month” and recipient of nearly $500,000 in DFER campaign contributions, is sponsoring the GREAT Act, which calls for taxpayer dollars to fund private revenue-generating alternative certification models. In a “Statement of Principles to fix the Elementary Secondary Education Act,” Bennet stated, “We also must support programs like Teach for America…”   TFA prepares college graduates in a five-week summer training program. While their results are mediocre at best, TFA candidates are attractive to budget-strapped districts. The majority of candidates don’t last, and the two year revolving door of cheap labor keeps costs associated with salaries and benefits low. The two-year contracts and building transfers allow TFA candidates to maneuver around teacher effectiveness mandates and the accountability required of real teachers.

Tests, text books, and more tests. While education experts and innovators call for personalized learning and differentiated models of schooling, groups like Stand for Children and DFER  support national standards (Common Core is also funded by Gates) and punishments and sanctions tied to test scores. The McGraw Hill (publishers of CSAP) financial fact book mirrors the national education platform. It’s no wonder, with contracts in 26 states, that this publishing company holds a monopoly over all curriculum and assessments. The failed No Child Left Behind Act based on standardization and high-stake testing has cost taxpayers billions and delivered zero in terms of return on investment…unless of course you are a publishing company.  McGraw Hill listed revenues at $2.3 billion in 2009.

The Possibilities

While corporate revenues are growing, school budgets across the state continue to shrink. Every child in Colorado will see a decrease of 5% in per-pupil funding. The results of the millions in cuts and misdirected funding has meant larger class sizes, fewer course offerings, reductions in intervention and prevention services, elimination of gifted and special education programs, and fewer college opportunities for Colorado’s children. This election holds the opportunity for communities to reclaim their neighborhood schools.

So pay attention, Colorado!  Corporate board takeovers are targeted for Denver, Adams 50, Jefferson County, Colorado Springs District 11, Mapleton, Harrison, Mesa County and Weld County.

According to the ACE website, “we encourage everyone to pay close attention to this important election, as the pro-charter, pro-choice, pro-accountability reforms that have taken root in Denver may be at stake. Our friends at Stand for Children are a great resource on the candidates, their positions and the issues surrounding this critical election.”

Stand for Children and their investors will be directing millions at these targeted races. The question is whether the money go to our children or whether the children go to the money. Colorado deserves school boards committed to strong neighborhood schools that grow thriving communities. We need leaders that understand the importance a strong education system plays in a democratic society and an educated and empowered workforce.  Our children and their future warrant a local government dedicated to protecting and serving their interests. This election is an important opportunity to restore the “public” in public education and ensure that our school leaders put community service above self-interest. Ballots are out. Cast your vote for kids, not corporations.

Seeds of Tomorrow author, Angela Engel
Seeds of Tomorrow author, Angela Engel

Angela Engel, author of Seeds of Tomorrow: Solutions for Improving our Children’s Education, has been an advocate for children, families and the advancement of education for more than 15 years. Clear and direct, she writes from her extensive experience in the education system as a teacher, school administrator and parent of two school-age children. Her writing brings solution-based thinking and a gift to articulating complex issues in concrete, meaningful ways that connect with the diversity of stakeholders in the education system.The Executive Director of Uniting4Kids, her current work includes empowering teachers, parents, and students to honor the lives and learning of all children.



*Like the EMOs that run West Denver Prep and like the one that was pushed upon the community at Northeast Academy Charter in Montbello.

Big corporate money coming in to suppress community voices in DPS school board election

Well, the campaign finance reports are in, and just as we’ve suspected, corporate Denver, Stand for Children and DFER are coming to the rescue for their slate.

Kind of puts everything into perspective, right?

Give to the pro-community campaigns, or volunteer, today.


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Nate Easley, voucher proponent

A lot’s been said about the despicable, race-baiting campaign launched by the LiFERs (Latinos for Education Reform).  It should be noted that these persons with Hispanic surnames don’t actually send their own kids to the zero-tolerance test prep labs that are the charter schools they promote.  No, their kids get to go to cool magnets and the better schools in town, because THEY DON’T ACTUALLY LIVE IN NEIGHBORHOODS WITH HIGH NUMBERS OF LATINO FAMILIES.

Turns out that the LiFERs are really just a front for the pro-voucher movement.  You remember vouchers, right?  It’s the experiment normally tried on low-income communities to slide out of the social contract to provide a sound and equitable public education to every child in America.  You know, like the experiment in Milwaukee that never worked, not even after 20 years of heartfelt trying.

And for all the gnashing of teeth about “accountability,” LiFER’s high-powered cadre of influential folks can’t seem to get the federal nonprofit organization functions right.  They’re apparently having trouble filing the right legal documents to bash pro-community candidates and promote their corporate reform slate.

That would be bad enough, except that it’s come to light that one of the signers of the race-baiting campaign, Myles Mendoza, is a voucher proponent.  Not only does he:

But now he’s so much of a big, fat voucher proponent that he even threw a party at his Castle Rock home in May of this year when Douglas County passed their faux-charter-for-vouchers scheme.

And then he tried to cover his tracks.  That was good for a few laughs.

But upon closer scrutiny of the party pictures, who do we see gazing lovingly up at the speakers?  Well, it’s northeast Denver’s own “representative,” Dr. Nate Easley.  Himself.  In the flesh.

DPS President Nate Easley supports vouchers
Nate is enthralled by the talk about vouchers has more.

Wow, Nate.  Just when we thought you wouldn’t stoop any lower than to turn coat on your community within hours of winning your election, now we see that you’re also willing to privatize and destroy your community’s public schools.

By the way, he’s endorsed Jennifer Draper Carson, the Stand for Children poster child in northwest Denver.


Southeast Denver evaluates school board candidates

Over the din of most political campaigns, we sometimes have trouble discerning one candidate from another. We were curious about how the at-large and southeast Board of Education candidates would vote on the proposed co-location at Merrill. So, we asked each of them to answer two questions.

Our friends in southeast Denver that are fighting the impending co-location of a program nobody wants into Merrill Middle School have shared their “candidate litmus test” with us.  They’re calling it the “Candidate Performance Framework,” which we find very apropos.  Further down, they’ve shared the unedited candidate responses with us.  Read on…

At present, the Denver Public Schools administration is proposing to co-locate a new elementary school concept called “C3” at Merrill Middle School in south east Denver. I have attended countless community meetings and talked with literally hundreds of people across the south east related to this issue. Through these conversations, it became evident that the majority of south east Denver apparently does not want this co-location of C3 at Merrill.

Over the din of most political campaigns, we sometimes have trouble discerning one candidate from another. We were curious about how the at-large and southeast Board of Education candidates would vote on the proposed co-location at Merrill. So, we asked each of them to answer two questions; please see the table below.

Using a similar approach as the district does with its School Performance Framework (“SPF”), we’ve assigned the candidates’ answers color-coded ratings of “green” or “meets expectations”, “yellow” or “approaching expectations”, or “red” which means “does not meet expectations”. This Candidate Performance Framework, or (“CPF”), has colors which, for the table below, symbolize how the candidates will vote (on the co-location issue) as compared the apparent desires of the majority of the constituents they (will) represent. No response from a candidate also equals RED, since one person chose not respond to this community member’s request.

CPF Color Key
GREEN = “Meets expectations” – Candidate will vote in accordance with the community’s apparent wishes.
YELLOW = “approaching expectations” – Candidate’s answer was inconsistent/noncommittal/unclear.
RED = “does not meet expectations” – Candidate will vote with the DPS administration, or is unresponsive to community requests.


click image to enlarge

Unedited candidate responses

Southeast Candidates:

Anne Rowe

Response # 1 from Anne, Monday 10/10/11 at 2:32 PM:

As I stated at the Denver Decides Forum, Oct. 1st, I do not support C3 at Merrill. I believe the community engagement was done poorly by the District (which I’ve shared with the District and current board members Bruce Hoyt, Theresa Pena and Mary Seawell) and that the broader strategic thinking around Merrill has not been considered in the District’s proposal. We need great middle schools and I want to work with both Merrill and Grant.


Follow-up  question to Anne’s Response # 1, Monday 10/10/11 at 2:37 PM:

If the C3 co-location at Merrill is voted in by the current board, would you move to reverse that decision?

Response # 2 from Anne, Monday 10/10/11 at 3:03 PM:

That’s a tough one. I would have to see the details of the proposal voted on by the current board. Considerations would include:

  • “real” community engagement/input
  • strategic thinking/plan around Merrill
  • examples of co-location of an elementary with a middle school (I think most co-locations have been of similar age students)

Follow-up question to Anne’s Response # 2, Monday 10/10/11 at 3:35 PM:

Hi Anne,

Please see question # 2 again, exactly the same way as I first posed it to you and the other candidates.  I understand your answer to question # 1 is “No”.   I am unclear as to your definitive answer to question # 2.

Here’s the question:  2.  In the event that the current BOE votes “Yes” to the co-location of C3 at Merrill, if elected, would you move to reverse that decision immediately upon being sworn in?



Emily Sirota

1. If you were already a member of the BOE right now, would you vote “Yes” on the DPS administration’s proposal to co-locate the C3 at Merrill?

NO.  In my many conversations with Merrill parents they have made known to me they do not want co-location of C3 at Merrill.  The DPS administration “engaged” the Merrill community after the administration had already made its co-location decision.  The district must do a better job of listening to the community, taking their input and working with parents to determine the best course of action in our schools.  We need our parents to feel and be invested in our schools, and by telling them what is going to be done we potentially loose a vital component of student success.

2.  In the event that the current BOE votes “Yes” to the co-location of C3 at Merrill, if elected, would you move to reverse that decision immediately upon being sworn in?

YES – If the building has not been retrofitted.  When I am sworn in I will immediately move to reverse the decision on co-location of C3 at Merrill if no funds have been spent to retrofit Merrill to accommodate C3.  However, if the retrofit is underway or completed, I do not believe it would be fiscally sound to retrofit then move locations.

At-Large Candidates

John Daniel

Thanks for your interest in this race.  We need all the help we can get from parents and people involved with their schools.

1. If you were already a member of the BOE right now, would you vote “Yes” on the DPS administration’s proposal to co-locate the C3 at Merrill?

This has become a complicated issue.  My understanding is Merrill is under-subscribed.  There are too few students of Middle School age registered in the school..  It was designed to hold more students.  We have a number of Elementry schools that are over-subscribed.  This is a less than ideal solution to the situation.  I would vote to co-locate C3.  We only have access to so much relestate and a constrained budget.

2. In the event that the current BOE votes “Yes” to the co-location of C3 at Merrill, if elected, would you move to reverse that decision immediately upon being sworn in?

I would not vote to reverse a co-location of C3 at Merrill.  This is an important issue, but as I feel we need to maximize our use of the available buildings and resources, the co-location is an example of the type of decision we will have to make to maximise our use of funds.  I would prefer to keep the Elementry Children segregated from older children.  That is not always possible.

Frank Deserino

In answer to your first question, NO, would be my vote to have any type of school, especially a charter like C3 to co-locate at Merrill.

In answer to your second question, YES I would vote to reverse any decision that would place / co-locate a C3 at Merrill.


Roger Kilgore

I can see why you have been successful in achieving the community-based goals that you have tackled in the past and no doubt will continue to address in the future, like the issue you are raising today. I have to say, I am not a fan of color-coded ratings because they tend to simplify our discussions too much.  Given that, I would request that you distribute my comments, and those of the other candidates, not just the color-coding.

Here are my responses to your two quesitons:

Question 1: The administration has a record of poor to little consultation with the community in co-location and turnaround issues. That comes for a belief that the central administration knows best.. I am running to help strengthen school-centered decision making where parents, teachers, the principal, and the community identifiy issues, develop improvement plans, and work on the implementation of those plans, all with the supporting resources of the administration.  There is clearly a need for more elementary school capacity, but you and others had been working on a Cory-Merrill K-8 scenario that was ignored. It also appears that other options such as the use of Rosedale were not considered. From this the co-location of C3 at Merrill was premature and should not have been approved in June. If I was on the board right now, I would vote NO on the proposal.

Question 2: The board of education is currently hampered by challenged working relations internally and with the Superintendent. I firmly believe that this is not in the best interest of our children. I think it is in their best interest to have a broad range of opinions so we do not get into a “group think” about our education system. If elected, I will commit to investigate this issue immediately with my colleagues, with you, and with other stakeholders. There is more I need to know before taking a stand to reverse the previous board’s decision.  I hope you will not judge me too harshly for not providing an unequivocal yes.


Jacqui Shumway

1.   If you were already a member of the BOE right now, would you vote “Yes” on the DPS administration’s proposal to co-locate the C3 at Merrill?   Please answer “Yes” or “No” and explain if you like.

No.  Based upon all of the information you have provided here, it appears that there is not enough room, and would inhibit the efforts to expand Merrill as the community middle school option.  Another location should be explored if Rosedale Elementary is not an option.

As I mentioned in an earlier e-mail, this situation sounds very similar to the 2008 situation at Smiley Middle School.

2.  In the event that the current BOE votes “Yes” to the co-location of C3 at Merrill, if elected, would you move to reverse that decision immediately upon being sworn in?   Please answer “Yes” or “No” and explain if you like.

Yes. We would need to look at other locations and determine if space is available to house C3.  Since the “Prime Choice” time for middle school selection is November-January, we would have to move quickly to inform parents of the change which could greatly effect their child’s choice to attend Merrill.


The state of DPS

Let’s stop with the discussion about whether Tom Boasberg is a nice guy or not (he seems to be).  Let’s end the rhetoric about cheating Latino kids (or any kids, for that matter) out of their ONE CHANCE to get a good education.

Here’s the proof that what the “reformers” want is not working.  In fact, it’s hurting Denver kids.

The status quo has become Tom Boasberg’s administration.  Are you willing to defend this abysmal failure of the promise of opportunity for our kids in Denver?

We’re not.  It’s time to take back our school district.

Watch replay of SE Denver school board race forum

Are we on the right path or not? Ms. Rowe, make up your mind. If you’re this indecisive now, how can Denver’s families rely on you to make the tough decisions? Watch the first televised video.

We just have one question for Anne Rowe.  Stand for Children, the hedge-funded politics-instead-of-kids group that has endorsed her, points out problems with DPS, like the approximately 50% graduation rates and the problems our 3rd graders have with reading.  So, if Stand for Children says we need to change course, but Ms. Rowe keeps saying we should NOT derail from the path DPS is on…then, WHICH IS IT?

Are we on the right path or not?  Ms. Rowe, make up your mind.  If you’re this indecisive now, how can Denver’s families rely on you to make the tough decisions?