NAACP opposes charter co-locations with a lawsuit

The NAACP of New York City has filed a lawsuit against the NYC Department of Education because of the inequities in space allocation, funding, etc, that occur when a charter school is co-located in a public school building.

The NAACP of New York City has filed a lawsuit against the NYC Department of Education because of the inequities in space allocation, funding, etc, that occur when a charter school is co-located in a public school building. The video above is lengthy but lays out the premise that is prompting the lawsuit.

Many Denver schools are facing this same issue, even with supposedly district-run co-locations. Remember Lake International (middle) school? That was a restarted IB program, a phase-out IB program, and a West Denver Prep co-location. The phase-out IB program was running on fumes, even running out of copy paper, while the other programs were showered with resources and space.

Denver doesn’t do co-location any better, either. Watch the video, and tell us what you think by commenting here.

Struggles at Smiley Middle School

Below is a letter from a parent of a student a Smiley Middle School.  The letter below protests the removal of both the principal and the assistant principal from Smiley Middle School. The principal was hired at Smiley just after a charter school, Envisions Leadership Academy, was collocated at Smiley. (Envisions Academy would fail spectacularly and then rise again with a new name as another under-performing DPS charter school.) During this crisis to Smiley’s culture, the school’s principal provided strong leadership, helping to heal the community.

The letter was addressed to the principal at Smiley as well as to the Board of Education.

Over the last several years Park Hill parents have had to make active choices for their childrens’ schools. The parents currently at Smiley and those coming to Smiley next year made the active choice to be there.  We choose our neighborhood school, we choose the IB, we choose to ignore the charter-of-the-day next door.  And we chose Smiley because of the principal.  We trusted the administration to honor our choice.

But again, the administration, inside and downtown, doesn’t honor these choices.  The parents are betrayed — we have been used.  The administration is not a partner at this school and does not own their role at this school.  Can a school be successful without this partnership?

Andrew Rotherham, a leader in the charter movement, states that the single most important factor in making a successful school is intentionality –everything matters, nothing can be left to chance.  And yet, this change of administration, both principal and AP, defies this one, most important intentional action.  DPS administration throws a stone into the pond, unaware or uncaring of the ripple effects that their action causes.  And after so many stones being cast, the parents not only bear witness to the effects, but can predict them, and can scream them out loud, but no one hears.  The administration has walked on, casting stones in other ponds, and walking away from them too.

Does it matter who initiated this loss of the principal at Smiley?  Not really — both inside and downtown administration are complicit in not fulfilling their compact with the parents who made Smiley their choice.  And so it goes- we make our choices but they are empty because we cannot trust that the school we choose is going to be the same school when we walk in the door or the same school two years later when our child is there, trying to finish and get to the next choice.

What else will the administration do to Smiley?  Parents live in the realm of the unknown, only sure that we don’t know and we are not going to be told, included or considered. We have learned not to trust. What other insults await? IB and Singapore math at Stapleton.  Overflow students from the far northeast, where money goes for half a dozen new administrative hires repair the tidal wave of damage, money that could go into classrooms. And at Smiley, cuts so deep that we loose our school adviser; our art, music and PE are reduced to puffs of air- breathe in once, then their gone. Cast those stones and move on.

The administration will deny this is so and refuses to own the effects their actions on our school.  But even when the administration denies it, everything matters.  Everything matters — in every school, successful or trying to be successful — everything matters. The parents know this and we did our part.  We can only conclude that the administration doesn’t know or doesn’t care….

Christmas in May for Far Northeast Children

May 5, 2011

DPS Board of Directors, and Superintendent,

No Christmas for Montbello students

You have seen me at board meetings, some of you have seen me at events and   locations within the Far Northeast as well as in other  communities. Director Pena, we spoke at one of the A+ meetings held in the  Far Northeast where I asked you to “do the math” before supporting the  “turnaround” plans for Far Northeast.

I joined the board meeting/conference call held Monday, May 2, 2011;   subsequent to that call, I want you to know that I am  disappointed in and disgusted by your willful and blatant disregard  for the law, the teachers, the staff, the students, the parents, the community  members, and the school process mandated by SB 08-130 to govern approval of  innovation (autonomous) schools.

I am whole-heatedly supportive of improving education, the access to   education, and the system of education for ALL students in the  existing public schools which are supported by 60% of my personal property tax  dollars.

I am supportive of sincere and honest efforts to respect and  include students, teachers, parents and communities in the development  and implementation of educational plans which affect us as  stakeholders in the Far Northeast.

I am supportive of the DPS board, administrators, and staff –  including yourselves – respecting and following the requirements  of Senate Bill 08-130 Innovations School Act in all matters concerning  the application and approval of such schools.

On Monday, May 2, 2011, Superintendent Boasberg, DPS  President Easley, along with Directors Pena, Hoyt, and  Seawall demonstrated a blatant disregard for the process of  consent – by administrators, teachers, other school employees, students,  parents, school advisory councils, and community members – required by SB  08-130 to approve innovation schools.

I object – along with thousands of other residents in the Far  Northeast –   to the mass privatization of our public schools in the  Far Northeast where I live.

I object to subjecting teachers; especially those who are minority and pension-invested, employed in the Far Northeast “turnaround” schools, to at-will firings and the so-called reduction in building process. I  object that you and other proponents of the “turnaround” process did not  have to sit before those teachers to see their faces when they cried.

I object to mass, ivy league, non-credentialed, 5 and 6-week  trainees being hired to replace stellar, credentialed,  experienced, mostly minority teachers in the Far Northeast.

I object to the blatant disregard of the expressed wishes and needs of   students, parents, and community members in the Far Northeast.

When you visit your doctor or designated hospital, God forbid that you   and/or your family will be forced to be treated by non-certified, non-licensed,  inexperienced, 5-6 week trainees who have been hired to replace   certified, licensed, experienced physicians, nurses and staff because  corporatist think that somehow the goal is all that matters. Intelligent people  realize that the goal is important but, who takes you there and how you get  to your destination are essential.

As elected officials of the “people” who elected you, you owe your   constituents the respect and dignity to be PRESENT in your  communities, to LISTEN, and to VOTE THEIR WISHES – that is why you were  elected.

Speaking OF the children does not equate to working FOR the  children. Supporters of the so-called “turnaround” plans, school reform,  and the charter school movement seem to operate as though they  are preparing for a poor kids Christmas party (charter schools)  where exciting “presents” (various school curricula) can be opened,  and there, the children and families will sing Christmas songs (hale to the  charter schools) and the communities will realize how wonderful the givers  (turnaround/reform supporters) are. Ignored was that the givers  didn’t ask the parents what the kids needed or what they wanted them to have.  The kids are pleased for only a short time because the “presents” were  not what they really needed, or wanted.

The DPS board of directors and superintendent tip-toeing around 900 Grant  Street hiding injustices is not the same as parents tip-toeing round  their houses, hiding Christmas presents.

“The power of the people is more  powerful than the people in power.” Perhaps that is what you are fearful of; however, if you are  a part of the people, you are a part of the power.

Earleen Brown
Far Northeast Denver resident
Concerned Citizen
DeFENSE member

The New York Times on Education

We may have to add the New York Times to the list of DeFENSE’s list of community friendly media.  In the past few weeks, the NYT has published a number of interesting stories about education reform and how it is failing. This past Sunday, the paper out did itself, however.

In A New Measure for Classroom Quality, the Times addresses the ill-advised notion of measuring teachers’ performance based on test scores:

Test scores are an inadequate proxy for quality because too many factors outside of the teachers’ control can influence student performance from year to year — or even from classroom to classroom during the same year. Often, more than half of those teachers identified as the poorest performers one year will be judged average or above average the next, and the results are almost as bad for teachers with multiple classes during the same year.

The alternative? Amazingly simple — measuring the amount of time a teacher spends delivering relevant instruction. According to R. Barker Bausell, the piece’s author and biostatistician in the School of Nursing at the University of Maryland —

Thirty years ago two studies measured the amount of time teachers spent presenting instruction that matched the prescribed curriculum, at a level students could understand based on previous instruction. The studies found that some teachers were able to deliver as much as 14 more weeks a year of relevant instruction than their less efficient peers….

There was no secret to their success: the efficient teachers hewed closely to the curriculum, maintained strict discipline and minimized non-instructional activities, like conducting unessential classroom business when they should have been focused on the curriculum.

Of course, if we want more efficient and more talented teachers in the system, we have to recruit them and make sure we hold on to the one’s we’ve got.

In the second education piece in Sunday’s New York Times, Dave Eggers and Ninive Clements Calegari address The High Cost of Low Teacher Salaries. The opinion piece’s opening paragraph is pithy, to say the least.

WHEN we don’t get the results we want in our military endeavors, we don’t blame the soldiers. We don’t say, “It’s these lazy soldiers and their bloated benefits plans! That’s why we haven’t done better in Afghanistan!” No, if the results aren’t there, we blame the planners. We blame the generals, the secretary of defense, the Joint Chiefs of Staff. No one contemplates blaming the men and women fighting every day in the trenches for little pay and scant recognition.

And yet in education we do just that. When we don’t like the way our students score on international standardized tests, we blame the teachers. When we don’t like the way particular schools perform, we blame the teachers and restrict their resources.

If we are to attract truly talented teachers to America’s schools, we have to first change the culture of blame for the predicament we are in. Second, the authors argue, we have make becoming a teacher a lot more attractive.

At the moment, the average teacher’s pay is on par with that of a toll taker or bartender. Teachers make 14 percent less than professionals in other occupations that require similar levels of education. In real terms, teachers’ salaries have declined for 30 years. The average starting salary is $39,000; the average ending salary — after 25 years in the profession — is $67,000. This prices teachers out of home ownership in 32 metropolitan areas, and makes raising a family on one salary near impossible.

With data like that, it isn’t hard to understand why (1) it is very difficult to attract top talent to the teaching profession and (2) keep the talent in place when it is in the classroom.   In fact, if money would really help solve the issue of improving public education systems being unable to attract “top talent,”  then any good business would find a way to get the talent through the door and reward that talent once it was in front of the customer, in this case, kids.

And looking at Denver Public Schools’ own situation, a real difference could be made just based on District a management’s own claims related to our school district’s fiscal standing. Yes, it could be done even with the state’s cuts in the education budget…

Let’s say we really want to increase teacher pay in DPS in a meaning manner. I like the number $10,000 rather than a percentage of a teacher’s salary.   If the average teacher’s salary in DPS is currently ~$50,000, it would go up to $60,000. Lets do the math:

  • Say DPS has 4,000 full-time teachers (I know, the number is probably high, but go with me for a minute)
  • We want to inject a noticeable salary increase for teachers who fit the quality model, the ones who are really making a difference
  • Let’s be generous and say that 60% of all teachers fit the model of excellence, and we want to reward that with an extra $10,000 per year, salary, not bonus
  • The math works like this — (4,000 * 60%) * $10,000 = $24 million, or roughly the amount saved by the 2008 retirement funding transaction (aka the PCOPs), at least that is our superintendent Tom Boasberg keeps telling us

While $24 million sounds like a lot of money to you and me, it is only 2.6% of DPS’ overall 2009/2010 revenues of $922 million.

In fact, the District spends about $680 million at the classroom level of the system based on it student based budgeting numbers reported to the school board.  That leaves $242 million running around the halls of 900 Grant Street.

If 10% of this $242 million were spent on a real teacher performance reward system, you’d see DPS skyrocket to the top of public schools systems for job seekers.  Heck, you might even be able to hire a few hard working professionals from other walks of life, especially if those professionals didn’t have to drive a Yugo, subsidize the pantry with government cheese, and serve as the scapegoat for all of our school systems’ failures for the past 40 years.

It’s something to think about, isn’t it?

‘The Limits of School Reform’

On Monday, The New York Times published a column about the dangers of thinking teachers can cure the disease of poverty in our public schools. The basic thesis of the piece is this: Good teaching alone can’t overcome the many obstacles a student faces when he is not in school and when his family is struggling economically.

While the idea that teachers cannot overcome all the issues in a student’s life makes sense to the majority of thinking people, it seems to be a fact forgotten by the education reform crowd, most of who seem to believe that “good teachers” can overcome any and all out-of-school issues faced by their students.

Going back to the famous Coleman report in the 1960s, social scientists have contended — and unquestionably proved — that students’ socioeconomic backgrounds vastly outweigh what goes on in the school as factors in determining how much they learn. Richard Rothstein of the Economic Policy Institute lists dozens of reasons why this is so, from the more frequent illness and stress poor students suffer, to the fact that they don’t hear the large vocabularies that middle-class children hear at home.

Yet the reformers act as if a student’s home life is irrelevant. “There is no question that family engagement can matter,” said [Joel] Klein,” the former superintendent of New York City’s public schools. “But they seem to be saying that poverty is destiny, so let’s go home. We don’t yet know how much education can overcome poverty,” he insisted — notwithstanding the voluminous studies that have been done on the subject. “To let us off the hook prematurely seems, to me, to play into the hands of the other side.”

Klein’s comments are illuminating, as they show the “us” vs. “them” mentality of education reformers across our country. While it is not clear who Klein means by “the other side,” it is clear that he, like most “reformers,” feels that anyone who says teachers are not 100% responsible for their student’s academic performance is probably “anti-reform.”

The fact of the issue is pretty simple, really. Kids in impoverished neighborhoods have needs that the school system generally cannot meet. In cases where the system is able to meet these needs, an enormous financial investment is made so the resources can be brought to bear on the community.

When placed in this context, the question is no longer about education reform. The question is about how do we reform our society so as to level the playing field for the “haves” as well as the “have nots.”

In Denver Public Schools, we know definitively that the ~$4,800 per student received by the school simply cannot possibly overcome the issues faced by our students whose families are struggling economically.

The column is definitely worth a read.

Recall organizers question Denver Elections Division findings, vow to continue fight

Below is a statement issued by John McBride, chair of the Northeast Community Congress for Education and spokesman for the Nate Easley recall effort:

Considering that Nate Easley had over $60,000 in campaign contributions from wealthy donors who didn’t even live in his district, our unfunded volunteer effort signals the beginning of the end for DPS officials who are tone-deaf to the needs of their constituents.

While we do have significant concerns about the Denver Elections Division’s process regarding fairness, accuracy, professional conflicts of interest and alleged leaking of information to Nate Easley’s operatives, the fact remains that more people signed the petition to recall Nate Easley than voted to elect him.

If anyone thinks that those 6000 voices don’t matter just because the Elections Division threw out their names, they had better think again. Our grassroots effort should put Mr. Easley on notice that whether through another recall effort or by voting him out of office, his days are numbered as our District 4 school board representative.

The public has no tolerance for elected officials who are bought and paid for. The recall initiative mobilized thousands of people who are dissatisfied with decades of DPS experiments resulting in school shut downs and phase outs that disrupt our communities, displace our children and scapegoat our teachers.

We have built significant political capital within the Northeast and Far Northeast communities, and we intend to use it to improve our schools the right way – in true collaboration with the community.

58 percent of Denver citizens rate Denver Public Schools’ performance as either ‘fair’ or ‘poor’

In a recent survey of Denver residents, Ciruli Associates found that the majority of Denver’s residents believe Denver Public Schools are performing either fair or poor. Overall, 21 percent of those surveyed rank the District’s performance as “poor,” and 37 percent called the district’s performance “fair.” The survey’s statistical range of error is ±4.4 percentage points.

Poll Results

Twenty-eight percent of Hispanics gave DPS a poor rank, 34 percent of African Americans said poor and 19 percent of white respondents rated the district as poor.

None of this comes as a shock to parents whose children attend DPS schools and who exposed to the great DPS reform experiment conducted under the guise of The Denver Plan.  Since 2005, when the plan was put into place, graduation rates have increased from 51.7% of eligible students graduating to 53%.  In 2010, DPS had 5,083 students in its graduation base.  Of these, 2,634 students graduated as the class of 2010.   Based on the goals set forth in The Denver Plan, DPS’ graduation rate is 29 points below the District’s goal.

Of equal concern is the fact that post-graduation remediation rates for DPS students attending college have increased by 13%. Overall, 59% of DPS’ graduates needed to enroll in some form of academic remedial course work upon entering college. Between the 2005/2006 school year and the 2009/2010 school year, the percent of DPS graduates needing to take remedial course work at the collegiate level has increased from 46% to 59%.

When writing the story of this survey’s results, The Denver Post reports, “Denver has cut its dropout numbers, increased its graduation rate and attracted more students than it has had in decades. Standardized test scores are improving and growth rates on those tests are better than ever.”

DPS has relied on dropouts reported by the Colorado Department of Education to indicate the success of reform programs implemented by the district. However, the CDE data do not measure what the public typically understands as dropouts. Under Colorado law, a dropout is defined as —

…an annual rate, reflecting the percentage of all students enrolled in grades 7-12 who leave school during a single school year without subsequently attending another school or educational program.

According to the most recent CDE report, DPS has a dropout rate of 6.4%, down from 7.4%, indicating that DPS is getting better at completing CDE’s student transfer paper work.

According to this year’s student census, DPS saw an increase of approximately 2,000 students, or about 2.5% of the overall DPS student population, resulting in an increase of roughly 2% of the District’s overall revenue stream under the Colorado Student Based Budgeting formula.

Van Schoales, executive director of Education Reform Now, is quoted as saying, “Historically, no one has ever thought (DPS) is doing great. Now, all you hear is the bickering on the board, whether it is the pension swap or turnarounds. I would totally expect uniformed [sic] people believe the district is adrift. I don’t think that is true.”

Schoales was the architect of the first Manual High School reform effort, wherein three schools were placed in the Manual building. After 3 years, Senator Michael Bennet, then DPS superintendent, shut the entire building down for 1 year, restarting the school in 2007.

In 2008, Schoales supported bringing Envision Charter Schools to DPS.   The first of these schools was placed at Smiley Middle School, where the principal was fired in the first 3 months of operation and then the school was shuttered and reopened the next school year as Venture Prep Middle/High School. Students at Venture Prep currently do not meet the State of Colorado’s expectations for academic performance in reading, writing, and math.

Lead Denver Public Schools reformer leaves district for Chicago

Many will not know the name Noemi Donoso.  Donoso led the DPS Office of School Reform and Innovation for just about 10 months, which isn’t a long time, but it appears it was long enough.

On Tuesday, DPS announced that Donoso will become the chief academic officer of Chicago Public Schools.   Donoso is the second member of DPS’ senior staff to leave the district in the past 6 weeks.  Denver Public Schools Chief of Staff, Amy Friedman, recently left the District to become the executive director of a not-for-profit organization in Fort Collins.

As director of OSRI, Donoso had a reputation for being hard charging and passionate about her work, impressing many in the education community with her ideas and ability to get things done.  Unfortunately, not many in the Denver community got to see Donoso in action.

In an email to DPS staff, Superintendent Tom Boasberg said Donoso would begin her job in Chicago in June and that DPS will begin an “intensive” search to find a replacement, a process that is demonstrated by the DPS employee recruitment training video provided below.

Caution: video contains DPS-proprietary and confidential business information

Riddle: What do today’s ‘education reformers’ have in common?

St. Albans dinning hall, aka The Refectory
The Refectory at St. Albans School in Washington DC.

According to a story in today’s New York Times, the “…one thing that characterizes a surprisingly large number of the people who are transforming public schools: they attended private schools.”

The list of reformers provided by the story’s author, Michael Winerip, is long and distinguished, including people like Senators Judd Gregg and John A. Boehner, software tycoon Bill Gates, governor Mitt Romney, Education Secretary Arne Duncan, and our president and first lady, Barack and Michelle Obama. Of course, the list neglects Denver’s two best known “reformers,” Michael Bennet and Tom Boasberg, both of whom when to St. Albans School in Washington DC. (The picture above of St. Albans’ dinning hall, aka “The Refectory,” was sure to prep Bennet and Boasberg for life in the public school lunch room.)

The story asks an important question, one raised by a number of education activists — if you never went to public school, how do you know what will fix our public education system?  Given Denver’s continued flat student academic performance over the past 5 years, it would appear that attending a school like St. Albans doesn’t provide an answer.  After all, the Michael Bennet/Tom Boasberg school reform plan, also known as The Denver Plan, for Denver Public Schools is now in its 6th year and student performance continues to be flat.  DPS’ graduation rates hover just over 50% and post-secondary remediation rates have risen by 13% during the past 5 years.  There is little evidence that these numbers will improve this year.

For our money, however, this is the quote of Winerip’s story, taken from the list of private-school-educated reformers:

Michelle A. Rhee (Maumee Valley Country Day School, Toledo, Ohio), the former Washington schools chancellor and a founder of StudentsFirst, an advocacy group, is probably the No. 1 celebrity of the reform movement. She is education’s Sarah Palin.

Amen, brother.

Hancock’s fundraising problem

It appears that the Hancock for Mayor campaign is accepting contributions from companies that don’t actually exist, which is not “kosher” in the campaign finance world.

According to the Cherry Creek News:

The Hancock campaign provided the Cherry Creek News with addresses for both businesses, and spokeswoman Amber Miller claimed both businesses were legitimate, but would not provide further documentation. The Cherry Creek News went to both addresses. No evidence of either business at either address could be found. In one case, the leasing agent said he had never heard of P.O.W.E.R., at the other, a neighboring business owner said he had never heard of America’s Children Dental Management. At best, the addresses provided by the Hancock campaign were inaccurate, at worst long dead corporations are among Hancock’s maximum donors.

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