The Campaign for Truth in DPS and The Denver Post

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by Edward Augden, retired teacher and community activist

Reading Alicia Caldwell’s commentary on Sunday, Feb. 6, 2011, one could easily believe her assertion that the campaign to oust Denver Board of Education chair Dr. Nate Easley was just about his voting record as a board member and that the effort is a “big money campaign” spearheaded by “education anti-reformers.” Many voters and taxpayers might be shocked and/or offended by such an effort if they only read the Post. Unfortunately, her column, as with a previous one by Ms. Caldwell on the topic, included mostly half-truths and omissions. As a former journalism teacher, and after reading this and other editorials on public education, I’ve concluded that The Denver Post editorial staff
has become a purveyor of propaganda for Denver Public Schools (DPS) rather than a seeker of truth.

For example, Sunday was, probably, the first time that Post columnists have even mentioned that Easley might have a conflict of interest. For the record, Mr. Easley, as board president, supervises Tom Boasberg, DPS superintendent. Boasberg, as ex officio member of the Denver Scholarship Foundation board of directors can influence Easley. A pertinent fact omitted by Ms. Caldwell, is that Theresa Pena, another school board member, also serves on that board, of which Dr. Easley is the deputy director. In that capacity, Ms. Pena has influence and control over Easley’s  employment. During the campaign Mr. Easley stated that there would be no conflict of interest. Since his actions as board chair contradict his campaign rhetoric, it would seem that the influence of his bosses is having its effect.

There are several glaring half-truths and omissions, but the slur against Diane Ravitch, a “darling of the anti-reform movement”, – really exposes the Post and DPS as being too blind to see what real reform is or – as still in denial that a student’s family background and poverty are greater factors in student achievement than teacher quality. Even more important, advocates of real democratic and creative reform reject the false notion that testing should play the dominant role in evaluation of student achievement. Ms. Ravitch, in her book The Death and Life of the Great American School System, debunks many of the myths being perpetuated by so-called “educational reformers” such as the
myth about testing and choice. An ethical, well-trained, journalist seeking truth would investigate whether or not Ms. Ravitch represents true reform or not. Ms. Caldwell, in her column, provides no evidence of that kind of curiosity.

“Choice” is being offered to parents in northeast Denver and that means school closures, teacher firings and/or  reassignments, hardship for students and parents who may be required to “choose” another school other than the one they currently attend. Such a choice is likely far away from the neighborhood school that may be converted to a charter school they would not be eligible to attend.

Another factor consistently ignored by the Post and DPS is that of ethnic and socioeconomic segregation. Despite the fact that the 2006 Harvard Civil Rights Study Project, “Denver Public Schools: Re-segregation, Latino Style”; has been published and is available on the internet, that study and its possible ongoing effects have never been mentioned either by DPS or the Denver Post. What might capture the attention of these two collaborators as to the destructive effects of segregation and poverty on disadvantaged, impoverished children? What might convince the Denver Post to report all the truth about Mr. Easley, his conflict of interest and how it’s influenced his voting record and behavior toward his constituents (missed meetings, unreturned phone calls, etc.)?

Although this commentary is less than the 780 words written by Ms. Caldwell, it will not likely be printed in the Denver Post because it exceeds the 150 word limit for letters to the editor and, most significantly, it “speaks truth to power” as do other letters to the editor that the Denver Post fails to print even those within the 150 word limit.

As the only major daily newspaper in the Denver metro area, the Denver Post could and should be a beacon of truth instead of propaganda on educational issues. Sadly, it is not.

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