An open letter from a Centennial parent

Last night’s Board of Education meeting was a wild ride,and there’s so much to tell you.  First, this open invitation from one of the dads of Centennial, the school in which we stand in firm solidarity:

Dear NW Denver Parents, Teachers, Business Owners, Citizens, Press, DPS board;
This message is intended for anyone who wants to protect the NW Denver community & have great schools for our children.

I don’t want to choose the education of my child like I choose my socks at 6am. Things don’t always end up well for me when I am quietly trying to match socks up in the dark. I do a little better when I plan ahead and know what I am putting on.

So, I am holding an open meeting at Zooks Coffee Tomorrow Morning, Saturday 2/23/13 at 8:30am (MST).

You are welcome to come. I would like to talk about overall unity among our community to discuss the one thing we can unite on.
We all want what is best for our kids & what is best for our community.

Let me get to the point.
On this email, there are people for and against every issue that is rolling thru the NW Denver community. Included are Centennial K-8 parents and community members who want the principal to go and those who want her to stay. I have copied parents and community members who are very excited about innovation and those who are against the change. And many who were a little heart broken when we didn’t see the name(s) of a special teacher on the lists of returning teachers.

I am excited that NW Denver has the attention of the school district to improve our Schools in NW Denver.
I am fearful that the process and recent series of events, may seriously harm our neighborhood as it proceeds unless we unite.

Some of the ripple effects of change are AWESOME. These issues have caused community involvement in Centennial (and North High) to grow exponentially and we now have a very invigorated parent community who is involved and will fight for what is best for our children.

BUT, some of those ripples are driving a fracture in our neighborhood. And with a larger, caring community population, we now have a community that is divided.
We will never all agree on politics and religion, but I am sure that we can all agree that we want what is best for the place we call home. The handling of this matter has caused us to fracture, and divide. Even if DPS’s goal is to provide the most efficient, fulfilling and effective education to every child in our neighborhood, their methodology has caused a fracture in our home.

As admitted by a DPS board member last night at the board meeting; fractured and wounded neighborhoods are in the wake of changes DPS has made in the past. But the fracture that it has caused in our community cannot be repaired unless we unite on one thing and one thing only; We will defend our community.

Denver Public Schools will continue press change and improvement. We demand that of the School Board. However, in this case, they expect us to choose our children’s future like I choose my socks at 6am….in the dark, trying not to wake anyone.

So, the community has come together, even if it is on opposite sides of an issue. We can unite in support of our community. I owe my children the duty of ensuring I fully understand what kind of school I am putting them in.

This invite will be sent to SOS Colorado, Defense Denver, North Siders of Denver, Centennial School, Occupy Denver Public Schools, Our DPS, HUNI, Lohi and 32nt avenue merchants associations.

The worst thing that will happen is that I will have one of the best cups of coffee in the neighborhood. Or, some people will come together and discuss the things we have in common.
Location: Zooks Coffee (tied to the Denver Puppet Theatre in NW Denver) 3156 W 38th Avenue, Denver Colorado, 80211 in the Highlands.
Time: 8:30am (MST) Saturday 2/23/13.
Open to: EVERYONE

I know this time may conflict with other events in your calendar and I do apologize. The media has been invited.

If this is news to you, I have summarized my experience below

NORTHWEST Denver School removes 75% of the teachers the day AFTER parents can choose to send their kids to another school.

If your school would have told you that 75% of the existing teachers at your school would be released from their position at the end of the school year, would you choose that school for your child? Parents of Centennial K-8 in NW Denver were not given that choice. Denver Public Schools, and the current principal of Centennial K-8 in NW Denver decided to remove 75% THE DAY AFTER PARENTS COULD CHOOSE to send children elsewhere.

I am not going to passively sit back and watch this continued, calculated, deception effect my son’s education.

The process was outlined to the parents in the CEC meeting at the end of November 2012. Was this the process followed when they decided to gut our school and remove 75% of the teachers the day AFTER we were able to make our choice of schools?

This was a very strategic, and calculated move. I really worry about the true underlying motives for the timing.

Dear DPS,
Not only was that move underhanded, it was dishonest. If you say that the choice out date had nothing to do with your decision, then you are oblivious to what is important to parents. That makes me not trust you. If you did this with the date in mind, and thought of it as little important, then you are again oblivious. And I still don’t trust you.

Finally, a Majority Vote was cast last night in support of slowing the wheels that are in motion to ensure all variables have been addressed. That vote, although a majority in favor, is in question as the board is a member shy, and the Superintendent stepped out of the meeting before the vote was cast.

–Dustin Tidwell, Centennial parent

Can you come and join the meeting in solidarity too?

More about the majority vote situation last night

After last night’s public comment, Board Member Andrea Merida introduced a motion to stop the progress on the Centennial school redesign until a full community process had been had and other variables had been considered.  She pointed out that the board may have been deceived in their vote on December 20 to phase out the middle-school grades, because though the resolution does give the principal the power to make changes to staff, it was requested in the context of phasing out those three grades.  She called it another “bait and switch” from the administration.

The vote was taken, with the result of 3-2.  Board president Mary Seawell was not present.  The district’s legal counsel declared the motion failed, citing board policy BEDA, which says that “voting shall be by roll call with each member present voting “Aye” or “no” alphabetically. To pass, any motion must be approved by a majority of full membership of the Board.”

So what exactly does “a majority of full membership of the Board” actually mean?  A majority of the current existing board was present, 5 out of the 6.  The district’s legal counsel said that the motion failed because they needed 4 votes to pass.  But the board isn’t currently a 7 member board because of the vacancy created by the resignation of Nate Easley.  It’s currently a 6 member board.

So what now?  Community members are filing complaints with the Colorado Attorney General’s office, as well as with the Colorado Department of Education.  You can call too.  720-508-6000.

 

On Boasberg, blowing up Centennial ECE-8 and Cambridge Education’s hit job on neighborhood schools

Several of us had the great opportunity today to sit in and observe the meeting organized by parents and teachers to push back against the restructuring of Centennial ECE-8 school in Northwest Denver.

To recap, on December 17 the district made a recommendation to the board (start with page 7 at the link) to reconfigure the school by eliminating the middle school grades (6-8) and to “Grant full flexibility to current principal to develop and implement a new educational program and select staff.”  The justification for this drastic change was “persistently low performance over the last 5-7 years,” of course, referring to CSAP/TCAP data.

Also part of the basis for the recommendation was a review by Cambridge Education LLC, the same Boston-area company that did the hit job on Smiley Middle School.  Citing such things like lack of consistency in instruction, low expectations and lack of rigor (reformy terms that really mean a preference for standardization for widgets, making “excuses” for economic status or family issues and teaching that isn’t a slave to the test), Cambridge was paid to set the stage to convert the ethnically- and socioeconomically-diverse Centennial into an isolated, exclusive designer school for northwest Denver’s toniest parents.  Among them are Ethan Hemming, formerly of DPS’ Office of School Reform and Innovation but now the Executive Director of the Charter School Institute…in other words, high-stakes, no excuses charters for thee, but chic designer schools for me.

And they’re going to use the taxpayers’ turnaround money to do it, even though those federally-mandated funds are to be used to make things better for the existing kids in the building, not push out a third of your most troublesome kids and hoard the turnaround funds.

And who is this Cambridge Education, who has a penchant for making cookie-cutter recommendations just when more affluent parents want to take over a school?  This privately-held company and nonprofit seems to have a talent for commingling the efforts of private charter interests and public oversight conduits that creates serious conflicts of interest, causing a California state whistleblowing attorney to be “…opposed to such activities between public officials, private interests, and public charter schools.”  There is extensive information about the company here.

Coincidentally (or perhaps not), on the very day that the district made the recommendation to the board to blow up Centennial, at that evening’s public comment were parents who were obviously fully up-to-speed with the proposal, and they even offered public comment that evening to support the school reconfiguration.  There is something rotten in Denmark, because most DPS parents are caught completely unaware by drastic changes, never having a chance to be part of the decision-making process.  Typically the district calls a meeting where drastic changes are announced, as in the case of the blowup/closure of Smiley.  By the time Smiley parents realized what was happening, the decision to close it and move in McAuliffe had already been made by Stapleton parents.

How did this small group of affluent parents come to have so much information and buy-in so quickly?  Watch the full public comment section.

A recap of the conversation

It’s always best to hear the situation from a parent’s own words (emphases ours):

I am parent of Centennial Elementary School in Northwest Denver. For months we have been listening to the words of our administration, Laura Munro and Sharon Jones, tell us

  1. That our school is failing
  2. That they want our input to collaboratively redesign our school for improvement
  3. That we should come to their meetings to work on the plan for improvement.

I went to all of those meetings whether it was PTA, CSC, and community and this is what I experienced:

  1. I learned that 2 years ago a community leadership principal was removed and replaced by Munro. She had absolutely no experience as an administrator and is Tom Boasberg’s neighbor in Boulder.  (wait…WHAT??)
  2. While before Munro’s arrival our scores were in the yellow, now they are in the red. Our school had two years to make drastic changes or we were facing a turnaround. Laura Munro and Patricia Paredes assured the parent community that this was not yet a turnaround school and large amounts of teachers would not be let go.
  3. Our input was not really wanted for productive or constructive purposes but rather was a formality in this process of cleaning out our school. Two of the first meetings I attended we were not encouraged to speak and were asked to write our concerns on paper to be selectively handed to Munro for answers.
  4. After close to 10 very unproductive meetings (of which participants were not representative of Centennial families and demographics) of expressing concern with no real feedback Munro decided not to rehire 70% of the teaching staff.

I feel like I have been led through a dark maze only to find I have been duped into their cycle of cleaning house and turning over our school. A large group of parents are really upset and with the bravery of some parents handing out a flyer at afternoon dismissal we gathered and stormed the evening CSC meeting with our presence and concern. The administration tried to contain our questions, did not record our concerns this time, and was extremely defensive and suppressive to our feedback of personnel decisions. This morning those same upset parents and a few more gathered on their own at the Oriental Theater. We are looking for connections to others in our community, Northwest Denver and wider, that have also dealt with the struggle of this DPS machine breaking up community, standardizing the curriculum, and creating a machine instead of improving the quality of learning in our classrooms for ALL kids.

Sounds familiar, right, DPS community?

Their next meeting is Saturday, February 16 at 9:30 a.m. at the Oriental Theater on 44th and Tennyson.  They’ll be preparing to make public comment at the next board meeting.  Will you come and lend a hand and share your story?

Their Facebook page: https://www.facebook.com/pages/Centennial-Petitioners/442181185851856?fref=ts

Their online petition (please sign): http://www.ipetitions.com/petition/centennial-elementary/

 

Friends of Education asks your help to evaluate Superintendent Boasberg

The Denver Public Schools Board of Education has begun work on Superintendent Tom Boasberg’s annual review. Here at Friends of Education, we thought we’d help the Board’s process along by giving you a chance to voice your opinion.

From our allies at Friends of Education:

The Denver Public Schools Board of Education has begun work on Superintendent Tom Boasberg’s annual review.  Here at Friends of Education, we thought we’d help the Board’s process along by giving you a chance to voice your opinion. We’ve created a survey online, and we would like you to take 2 minutes to fill it out.  The survey is anonymous.

Click here for the survey: http://www.surveygizmo.com/s3/641920/Survey-of-Denver-Public-Schools

Feel free to forward this link to as many people you know who care about Denver’s schools.  Only one survey per computer is allowed.

Remember, it’s Our DPS, and we all have the right to voice our opinions about how we think our school district is being run.

Sincerely,

Nicolas Weiser, President

Friends of Education

Please go fill it out!

 

 

Stand for Children: Advocates for kids or corporations?

If Stand for Children and other “education reformers” truly are serious about upgrading the
quality of education for all students, they will demand that equity and justice be achieved for all students, not just the privileged and the lucky.

by Ed Augden (retired Denver Public Schools Teacher, community activist)

This fall, Stand for Children (SFC), a national advocacy organization for “education reform”, will try to elect to the Denver Board of Education a slate of candidates –Happy Haynes, Anne Rowe and Jennifer Draper Carson – dedicated to reform (high stakes testing with rote learning to prepare for testing, teacher evaluation tied to student testing, privatization of public education and the same old authoritarian governance model).

Voters may want to know more about SFC – its board of directors, principal benefactors and donors and principal local supporters. While it began in Portland, Oregon as a legitimate child advocacy organization, unfortunately when wealthy donors became contributors, its mission changed to advocating for corporations and wealthy donors and against the interests of children, especially poor children of color.

A group of Chicago African American clergy recently met with SFC members and complained they seemed disinterested in students’ issues and more interested in promoting Waiting for Superman (a film that advocates for reform and bashes teachers’ unions as reform opponents). According to an article by David A. Love, Executive Editor of Blackcommentator.com, the film “…did not fly…” in Chicago.  While the clergy advocated for more school books, SFC lobbied the Illinois legislature for “union busting” legislation.

SFC’s national board of directors includes venture capitalists and private equity investors, no educators and no “grassroots” parents. Its donors and benefactors include Bain Capital, once headed by Mitt Romney. This same firm acquired a manufacturing plant in Indiana, fired its workers and rehired them at lower wages. New Profit, Inc., a private equity firm and SFC supporter, has ties to a firm that, according to Love, has been “…running Muammar Gaddafi’s PR campaign…”

Other wealthy benefactors include the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, Wal-Mart’s Walton Family Foundation and other organizations dedicated to privatizing public schools, breaking teachers’ unions and, in my view, perpetuating the status quo these reformers claim they want to change.

Locally, SFC supporters include Van Schoales, former head of Education Reform Now, and now executive director of A Plus Denver, another advocate of “education reform.” Rupert Murdoch paid his salary as head of Education Reform Now. A Plus Denver should be counted on as a supporting organization. Certainly, Tom Boasberg, Denver Public Schools (DPS) superintendent, whose sister, Margaret, was an original SFC board member, must be counted as a supporter.

Mentioning Boasberg’s name prompts another question. Why aren’t his children enrolled in DPS so they can gain from the “education reform” measures he’s instituted? Perhaps they could be enrolled at Montbello or North High Schools?
They might help integrate Kepner Middle School which has a 95 percent Latino enrollment.

If Stand for Children and other “education reformers” truly are serious about upgrading the quality of education for all students, they will demand that equity and justice be achieved for all students, not just the privileged and the lucky. They will demand that a comprehensive education be available at every neighborhood school that includes art, music, physical education and that the community be meaningfully involved in school governance.

Those folks familiar with Denver North High School since the 1970s know that problems at the school were prevalent since that time. Yet, various administrations either couldn’t find solutions to the dropout problem, to teenage pregnancy, drugs and on and on or they didn’t try. Nevertheless, those problems existed in the 70s, 80s and 90s. They didn’t suddenly emerge in 2007. The “redesign” that occurred that year didn’t solve any those problems. In fact, student achievement declined, the dropout rate increased and student population declined. The only period of measurable success since Joe Sandoval was principal in the 1990s occurred under Dr. Darlene LeDoux who was principal just before the “redesign,” the attempted quick fix.

To contend that this nation’s schools and DPS are failing is in 60s terminology, a “cop out.” Our nation’s public schools are a reflection of our society. If they are failing, it’s because we’ve failed as a society and as a community to hold ourselves accountable. Until that happens, “education reform” will be just another failure.

Inequity & Injustice in DPS?

Parents with political clout succeed in gaining special treatment such asthose able to enroll their children in high performing and small exclusive charter schools such as DenverSchool of Science & Technology (DSST). Parents without political clout, such as Westwood parents,enroll their children at Kepner, low performing and large. For parents without political clout, “choice” is likely an empty promise.

by Ed Augden (community activist and retired DPS teacher)

According to the 14th Amendment to the U. S. Constitution, all citizens are entitled to equalprotection under the law. If one group of citizens is treated unequally, then those citizens’ rights areviolated. Do inequity and injustice exist in Denver Public Schools?

Why is all this important to the average taxpayer who doesn’t have children in DPS? Schoolclimate is one factor that determines where a future business might locate. Future residents, who dohave children, won’t move to an area where the school climate is perceived to be unhealthy, or even ifthey do, may choose another school district (e.g., Jeffco). A healthy school climate contributes to ahealthy business environment.

Linda Darling-Hammond, in The Flat World & Education: How America’s Commitment to EquityWill Determine Our Future, makes the case that the achievement gap between poor students and theirpeers is growing as the nation’s ethnicity changes from majority white to a diverse nonwhite. Mostforetelling, is her contention that the fate of ethnic minorities will mirror the fate of the rest of thecountry. Without equity and justice, “education reform” is doomed to fail. Yet, the figures that Darling-Hammond presents document the increasing appearance of “apartheid” schools across the countryalmost or at 100 percent ethnic minorities, without any real political clout.

Approximately 1100 students were scheduled to enroll at Kepner Middle School in southwestDenver while there were to be approximately 370 students at Knowledge is Power Program (KIPP)Sunshine Academy at Rishel Middle School, a building of comparable size. Is Kepner overcrowded with ahigh concentration of ethnic poor while Rishel is underutilized? Regardless of intent, are students atKepner experiencing overcrowding with, likely, larger classes and a shorter school day? If so, isn’t thatinequity and injustice for students and teachers at Kepner? More ominously, is Kepner becoming an “apartheid” school?

Possibly the most glaring of DPS’ mismanagement and possibly inequitable and unjust policy isthe ignorance of the 2006 Harvard Civil Rights Study Project, “Denver Public Schools: Re-segregation,Latino Style.” The report concluded that since 1995 when court ordered busing for integration ended,DPS has become increasingly segregated due partly to persistent segregated housing patterns andthrough action, and inaction, of DPS. Minority students, especially African American and Latino, “…findthemselves in increasingly high poverty schools with weaker academic outcomes, such as lowgraduation rates.” It is the charge of the schools, according to the Harvard report, to provideopportunities that reflect the growing multiracial nature of the community. How have the currentchanges corrected or contributed to the conclusion of the Harvard report? Without even acknowledgingthe report’s existence, DPS administrators and the Board of Education contribute, in my opinion, to thesuspicion held by many community members that DPS is indifferent to the increasing segregation andisolation of students of color and poverty.

“Education reform” in DPS and across the nation seems to occur in urban schools with high concentrations of impoverished and disadvantaged students. Rishel and Kepner typify thatconcentration. As mentioned, Rishel’s charter school, KIPP, has less than 400 students. Kepner, on theother hand, also with a high concentration of impoverished and disadvantaged students, has anenrollment of approximately 1100. Thus, while a few hundred may benefit from fewer numbers,smaller class sizes, a longer school day and school year, Kepner’s students may be in larger class sizes, a shorter day and year.

While other high achieving nations (as measured by the Program in International StudentAssessment – PISA) assure equal funding, high quality teachers and teaching, challenging curriculum,etc., many “educational reformers” and elected officials, still contend that student achievementon standardized tests should be used to evaluate teacher performance and that unequal fundingshouldn’t matter. SB 191 is evidence of that thinking. Various reputable studies, including the 1966Coleman Report provide evidence that a diverse student (school) population is more significant studentachievement than “…is any school factor.” Student achievement is dependent upon a variety of factors,not just an excellent teacher.

The conclusion is clear. Parents with political clout succeed in gaining special treatment such asthose able to enroll their children in high performing and small exclusive charter schools such as DenverSchool of Science & Technology (DSST). Parents without political clout, such as Westwood parents,enroll their children at Kepner, low performing and large. For parents without political clout, “choice” is likely an empty promise.

Democrats and Educational Equity

by Ed Augden, Retired DPS Teacher and Community Activist

Alexander Ooms may be right in his viewpoint expressed in the Denver Post on July 25, that elected Democrats may now favor so-called “education reform.” At least, Democratic politicians in Colorado’s state legislature appear to favor a conservative approach to education or acquiesce to it. SB 191, for example, was sponsored by State Sen. Michael Johnston and supported by former State Sen. Chris Romer. This is the face of the Colorado Democrats on educational issues, one that adheres to amateur educators and ignores teachers and verifiable research. Johnston represents the leadership of the Colorado Democratic Party. While most middle class and poor families with school age children seek a neighborhood school that offers a comprehensive education, corporate Democratic legislators such as Johnston, often favor replacing neighborhood schools with charter schools that many students won’t be eligible to attend because they fail to gain entrance through a lottery system that is, by its nature, discriminatory. Further, they ignore studies concluding that, while the teacher may be the most important factor in a child’s life at school, the effects of poverty diminish that influence. For example, a malnourished child who starts school at age five, lags behind peers in vocabulary development andwithout extra help will never catch up.

Ooms further accentuates this growing gap between privileged and struggling or impoverishedDemocrats in his comments regarding the 2010 Colorado primary Democratic campaign betweenAndrew Romanoff and Sen. Michael Bennet. Romanoff was likely the candidate of those folks who work for a living while Bennet represented those who apparently believe that the best candidate is thewealthiest candidate. Perhaps Bennet won because he accepted contributions from PACs and wealthycontributors. Romanoff rejected PAC money.

Ooms also represents the dubious view that “reforms” are succeeding. He uses Lake Middle School as an example of this success. In reality, it is the International Baccalaureate program that is succeeding with approximately 400 students while West Denver Prep, a charter school appears to be struggling to reach 100 enrolled students. By the district’s standards, West Denver Prep at Lake is a failing school.

Most notably, Ooms ignores the failure of the “redesign” of North High School. With great enthusiasm and little study, the principal, who had instituted reforms that were succeeding, was reassigned and the faculty forced to reapply for their positions. Most did not and were reassigned.Within two years, student achievement declined, the dropout rate increased and the school population declined. Most importantly, students lost trusted teachers who were replaced by inexperienced andoften indifferent teachers. Not since, has the district acknowledged the results and, instead, will launch a similar effort in Montbello and Green Valley Ranch this fall.

Certainly, Mr. Ooms represents the prevailing viewpoint of “reformers” – high stakes, standardized testing (that causes increased stress among poor students), charter schools that enroll the privileged and the lucky and ignore those left behind in regular schools, and teacher evaluations that link teacher appraisal, retention and promotion to student test scores despite evidence that such an approach is flawed. This viewpoint appears to be based on personal opinion and anecdotal information and rejects any evidence that contradicts the false paradigm. Educational reform in other countries such as Finland contradicts that paradigm. Teachers are highly respected and their appraisals, retention or promotion are NOT linked to student test scores.

TFA founder vs. Diane Ravitch at Aspen Ideas Festival

This is a very interesting discussion between Diane Ravitch, author of The Death and Life of the Great American School System and education historian, and Wendy Kopp, the founder of Teach for America.

Some of the basic issues keep coming up, about the effect of using inexperienced, uncertified teachers in our public schools.  But the most telling points made were from Wendy Kopp, who doesn’t seem to see a problem with building political leaders out of people that teach for two years, just as a stepping stone for something greater.

While it’s probably unfair to blame all the charterization, test mania and school co-locations on TFA, it’s strange how Kopp keeps alluding to childhood poverty as a side issue.

So why are the schools with the highest college-bound students and the lowest remediation rates often the most affluent?

We paraphrase Ravitch, “what I want for other kids is the same great education I want for my own.”

We want that, too.

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….

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?