Opinion

‘It’s time to stop turning over schools — and turn over the Denver school board’

Author: Angela Engel - October 23, 2017 - Updated: October 20, 2017

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Angela Engel

It’s time to vote out the Denver Public School board and vote in a new slate committed to kids and community. Since 2005, the DPS leadership has adopted a free-market business model in governing public education. Under the guise of quality control, neighborhood schools serving the most vulnerable populations have been closed, veteran educators have been replaced, and students have been exploited and displaced.

Over the past 12 years The DPS board’s Total Quality Management model has only served to produce negative outcomes and widen the opportunity gap. The failed efficiency model first began with evaluating schools based on a flawed measurement tool, entirely correlated to socio-economic status. PARCC tests replaced CSAP and neither have ever been independently audited or evaluated for validity or reliability. Denver spends nine times more on testing than other districts and the scores from these multiple-choice tests are the justification used to close schools in poor communities.

Sixty charter schools have been opened in DPS with recent board approval for fourteen more, decimating neighborhood schools. The charter chains operate with additional foundation and private funding and are guaranteed a five-year contract before a formal review. They aren’t even required to play by the same accountability rules as the neighborhood school they replace.

DPS has the highest teacher turnover rate in the state with half of all teachers leaving the district within three years. Charter schools cut the greatest school expense by not hiring licensed and professionally trained teachers. Once a thriving professional community of diverse educators, the current Denver school board promotes the recruitment of alternatively certified labor through RELAY and Teach for America. College graduates are placed after a six-week training program emphasizing test-based learning and data collection — all part of the TQM model.

Teacher turnover is the intended goal of the reform board members, who were the first in Colorado to adopt a merit-based teacher pay model. Pro-Comp pays teachers for higher test scores and fires teachers for lower scores. Since test scores are primarily determined by income, the most inexperienced teachers have been brought in to replace veteran educators in classrooms with the most disadvantaged and at-risk students. Of course, they don’t stick around. Data collection and micro-management requires a lot of managers, so while DPS has closed schools and gutted faculty, they spend four times more on administrators — $68 million last year alone.

While sound bites are easy to spin, DPS students actually have fewer choices in this climate of cost cutting and commercialization. Parents who selected communities for the neighborhood school now have to apply. Students have lost the choice to play musical instruments, attend an art class or participate in extra-curricular activities. Many athletic programs can no longer afford the equipment and transportation cost to attend games. One only has to visit a remaining public school to see how Denver’s school system has literally been stripped. Remaining neighborhood schools are left with outdated curriculum, broken desks, bathrooms without stall doors and darkened libraries.

So, if closing schools and firing teachers is bad for kids and bad for our community, why does the school board make these decisions? The answer is best explained in campaign financing. Education Reform Now is comprised of capital investment managers charged with directing hedge fund dollars to Democrats for Education Reform Now and Stand for Children. In the 2015 DPS election cycle, the two organizations spent $381,000 to elect and maintain a pro-reform majority. Totals for this election won’t be reported until January, but Tracer has already revealed $350,000 of dirty money. With the support of Citizen’s United, corporations are buying school boards because the economic returns are greater than the investments. The DPS board has wasted millions of public dollars on digital learning, online schools, charter education management organizations, consulting firms, alternative teacher prep programs, and data tracking and exchange software.

Buying school board races has simply become a way to corner markets. Like predatory lending and the mortgage collapse, reformers promote all levels of failure because it creates a perceived need for their products and services. Investors are banking on public education because it moves tax revenue streams from a safely guarded and guaranteed public trust into free market opportunities. It didn’t matter that families lost their homes and it doesn’t matter that schools are closing and children are suffering, education reform is about making money for themselves.

If we want leaders who care about students, teachers and schools, we have to elect the candidates who are not financed by corporate and investor interests. It requires that we as voters look beyond the glossy flyers, carefully messaged radio spots, television commercials and social media advertisements. It’s time to stop turning over schools — and turn over the Denver School board. Mail ballots already have been delievered. The Our Denver Our Schools slate — Dr. Carrie Olson, Tay Anderson, Robert Speth and Xochitl Gaytan — includes a 33-year veteran teacher (who would be the first educator ever to serve on a DPS board), an African-American student leader, a longtime DPS parent who helped to pass Denver’s mill levy and a Hispanic community organizer. It’s a slate that not only reflects Denver’s cultural demographic but also represents the real stake holders in education.

Angela Engel

Angela Engel

Angela Engel is executive director of the Colorado nonprofit advocacy organization Uniting4Kids (www.uniting4kids.com) and is a published education author with experience as a teacher, parent, school administrator, speaker and policy adviser.