Archive | February, 2018

Destroy Public Education (DPE) for Dummies

22 Feb

America’s public education system is being deliberately destroyed. If you graduated from high school in the 1950’s, 60’s, 70’s or 80’s, it is such an unthinkable concept that it is difficult to even imagine. Not only is it possible, it is happening and a lot of damage has already occurred.

Just this morning, I learned that a Republican legislator has proposed privatizing all the schools in Muncie, Indiana. Almost all the schools in New Orleans were privatized after hurricane Katrina. Half the schools in Washington DC and a quarter of the schools in Los Angeles are privatized. However, ninety percent of America’s K-12 students attend public schools. (Note: Charter schools are not public schools, they are schools run by private businesses that have government contracts.)

DPE Movement False Taking Points

  • Public schools are failing.
  • Teachers’ unions fight for the status quo and against education reform.
  • Standardized testing is a tool that fairly holds teachers and schools accountable.
  • Standardized testing proves America’s schools are not competitive internationally.
  • Teacher quality can be assessed with value added measures.
  • University professors of education are out of touch and an obstacle to school improvement.
  • Teacher training and professional development is better run by non-profit organizations and consultants than universities.
  • A college graduate with five weeks of training is qualified to be a teacher.
  • Experience over rated when it comes to good teaching.
  • Advanced training such as a master’s degree in education is not worth extra pay.
  • No excuses charter schools are superior to neighborhood public schools.
  • Business principles and experience are the key ingredients needed for reforming public schools.
  • Market forces and competition are the principles required to improve schools.
  • Public education needs disruption.
  • Schools districts should be managed using the portfolio model – close failing schools and replace them with higher performing charter schools or voucher schools.
  • Failing schools should be transformed into successful schools by changing the administration and replacing the existing teachers.

None of these points are true but they are repeated so often by extremely wealthy people and their sycophants that they sound true. It is all a part of the one great lie, “public schools are failing!”

Seminal Events Along the Destroy Public Education (DPE) Trajectory

In 1983, Terrel ‘Ted’ Bell, the 2nd Secretary of Education in the United States, created the “National Commission on Excellence in Education.” It gave us the infamous “A Nation at Risk.” Beyond just claiming that public education in America was failing and needed drastic reform; the claimants said that reform needed the leadership of people who were not professional educators.

A Nation at Risk: The Imperative for Education Reform” looked deceptively like a genuine peer review research paper, however, it was not. It was a political polemic attacking public education written by businessmen and a famous Nobel Prize winning chemist, Glenn Seaborg. Without substantiation they said, “the educational foundations of our society are presently being eroded by a rising tide of mediocrity that threatens our very future as a Nation and a people.” And claimed, “If an unfriendly foreign power had attempted to impose on America the mediocre educational performance that exists today, we might well have viewed it as an act of war.”

In 1991, Julie Miller wrote about a research study conducted by the Sandia Laboratory in New Mexico. Her Education Week article, “Report Questioning ‘Crisis’ in Education Triggers an Uproar,” is one of the few reports on this government study that seriously questioned claims in “A Nation at Risk.” Miller’s lead paragraph reads,

“Three researchers at a federally funded research center in New Mexico have sparked an uproar with a study of American education that concludes that policymakers and pundits who bemoan a system-wide crisis are both overstating and misstating the problem.”

“A Nation at Risk” propelled us down the road toward education standards, testing and competition as drivers for education reform. A huge mistake.

The Washington Post ran a retrospective article asking “experts” which president deserves the moniker “education president?” Christopher T. Cross, chairman of an education policy consulting firm replied:

“… The unlikely duo of George H.W. Bush and Bill Clinton were the driving forces to put education on the national map in a significant way. Bush did it by convening the Charlottesville Summit in September of 1989, Clinton by securing passage of the Improving American’s Schools Act as an amendment to ESEA and the Goals 2000 Educate America Act, both within a few months of each other in 1994. What Bush had begun, with Clinton’s support as then-governor of Arkansas, Clinton saw to fruition.

“The significance of these actions is that they did cast the die for accountability in the use of federal funds, made an attempt at national assessments in math and reading, and did create national goals for education.”

Charlottsvill Summit 1989 Bush

President Bush and the nation’s Governors on the steps of the University of Virginia at Charlottesville, September 28, 1989. – Picture from the Bush Library

The Charlottesville joint communiqué listed the four areas of agreement reached at the summit:

“The President and the nation’s Governors have agreed at this summit to:

  • Establish a process for setting national education goals;
  • Seek greater flexibility and enhanced accountability in the use of Federal resources to meet the goals, through both regulatory and legislative changes;
  • Undertake a major state-by-state effort to restructure our education system; and
  • Report annually on progress in achieving our goals.”

In 1998, Bill Clinton wrote:

“We have worked to raise academic standards, promote accountability, and provide greater competition and choice within the public schools, including support for a dramatic increase in charter schools.”

The philosophy of education these “education presidents” put forward accelerated the harm being perpetrated on public schools. It was completely misguided and undermined local democratically oriented control of schools. At least with local control vast harm to the entire nation is not possible.

From 2002 to 2011, The Committee on Incentives and Test-Based Accountability in Public Education established by the National Research Council studied the results and unintended consequences of test based accountability. When looking at high school exit exams they concluded, “The evidence we have reviewed suggests that high school exit exam programs, as currently implemented in the United States, decrease the rate of high school graduation without increasing achievement.”

A 2013 study by Tom Loveless at the Brookings Institute stated,

“Education leaders often talk about standards as if they are a system of weights and measures—the word “benchmarks” is used promiscuously as a synonym for standards. But the term is misleading by inferring that there is a real, known standard of measurement. Standards in education are best understood as aspirational, and like a strict diet or prudent plan to save money for the future, they represent good intentions that are not often realized.”

In 2001, Ted Kennedy and George W. Bush united to complete the federal takeover of public education. The federal education law rewrite that they promoted was called No Child Left Behind (NCLB). It mandated standardized testing, incentivized charter schools and demanded schools be held accountable; judged solely by testing results.

Standardized testing is not capable of measuring school or teacher quality, but makes a great messaging tool that can misleadingly indicate that schools are failing. The education writer, Alfie Kohn, wrote in his article, “Test Today, Privatize Tomorrow:

“We now have corroboration that these fears were entirely justified. Susan Neuman, an assistant secretary of education during the roll-out of NCLB, admitted that others in Bush’s Department of Education “saw NCLB as a Trojan horse for the choice agenda – a way to expose the failure of public education and ‘blow it up a bit’” (Claudia Wallis, “No Child Left Behind: Doomed to Fail?”, Time, June 8, 2008).”

Barak Obama and the Democratic Party’s embrace of neoliberal ideology in regard to education became apparent at the 2008 Democratic National Convention in Denver. The hedge fund dominated group Democrats for Education Reform convinced Obama to dump his presumptive Secretary of Education nominee, Linda Hammond-Darling, and appoint Arne Duncan. Obama and Duncan put into place the test centric and competition oriented Race to the Top (RTTT) initiative. For the first time ever, in accord with neoliberal theory, states were forced to compete for education dollars.

RTTT was all about objective measures and competition. To win RTTT monies, states had to agree to enact Common Core State Standards (or their equivalent), evaluate teachers and schools based on testing results and open a path for more privatized schools (charter schools). The Democratic governor of New York, Andrew Cuomo, enthusiastically embraced RTTT even parroting Milton Friedman, saying he wanted to destroy “the public-school monopoly.”

Consistently in the background of the DPE movement from the late 1970’s on has been an evangelical Christian disdain for public schools. Writer Katherine Stewart’s book, The Good News Club, The Christian Right’s Stealth Assault on America’s Children chronicles the undermining of the separation of church and state in school.

Stewart witnessed the infamous Texas school book selection process in 2010 dominated by evangelicals. She describes attending evangelical missionary conferences aimed at infiltrating schools and converting students. She describes President Trump’s lawyer, Jay Sekulow, winning at the Supreme Court arguing against the separation of church and state in public schools. All Americans concerned about – freedom of religion; Shielding children from unwanted religious indoctrination at school; and protecting public education – should be concerned.

U.S. Secretary of Education, Betsy DeVos is a devout member of an evangelical church, Mars Hill Bible Church. It seems apparent that our education secretary has an evangelically based anti-public education agenda. Arguing the relative merits of school policies with her misses the point.

It is more likely that religious ideology is the point.

A Large Group of Billionaires are Funding and Steering the DPE Movement

Charter Schools have proven to be second rate, unstable and plagued by fraud. There are some exceptions but the experiment would have been abandoned as a failure without the unrelenting support of billionaires.

It is the same with voucher schools. Only high end expensive private schools compete well with public education but a poor person with a voucher still cannot afford the tuition. Affordable voucher schools are substandard. However, vouchers have opened the door for government support of religious schools and that is probably why voucher laws keep getting proposed.

There are many billionaires pouring money into the DPE movement. The following is a little about just a few of them.

Bill Gates (Microsoft founder – Harvard dropout) – Spends about $500 million a year on education – he pushes portfolio district theory, charter schools, Teach for America (TFA), standards, testing, teacher merit pay, and the list of bad ideas goes on. He has spent multiple billions of dollars on the writing and institution of the common core state standards. He also spends big money influencing education research and education journalism. Makes large political contributions.

Reed Hastings (Netflix Founder and CEO) – Charter school advocate who served on the board of the California Charter School Association; was the primary advocate of California’s charter school co-location law; Investor in DreamBox Learning a company creating software to teach kids at computers. Has said that elected school boards need to be done away with. Supports TFA. Makes large political contributions.

Michael Bloomberg (Publisher and former New York mayor) – Charter school supporter, supports education technology and TFA. Makes large political contributions.

John Arnold (Made a fortune at Enron and with a Hedge fund; retired at 38 years old) – Supports the portfolio model of education and school choice, gives big to charter schools and TFA. Makes large political contributions.

The Walton Family (Wealthiest family in America, owns Walmart) – Support charter schools, vouchers and TFA. Makes large political contributions.

Eli Broad (Real Estate Developer and Insurance Magnate) – Supports charter schools, TFA and other efforts the undermine the teaching profession. Makes large political contributions.

No less important are Mark Zuckerberg, Laurene Powell-Jobs, Doris Fisher, Michael Dell and several more.

This billionaire group all gives large contributions to TFA. Although, these youthful college graduates have no training in education, they are useful troops on the ground in a cult like environment. Most TFA candidates are unaware of their complicity in undermining public education in America.

The super wealthy can legally contribute large sums of money for local elections without publicity. They take advantage of federal tax code 501 C4 that allows them to give to a dark money organization like Betsy DeVos’s American Federation of Children which then funnels the money into the current hot campaign.

Across the United States, school board elections have become too expensive for most common citizens to participate. Elections that used to cost less than $5,000 to run a successful campaign are now costing over $35.000. In the last school board election in Los Angeles more than $30 million was spent.


It is unlikely that government spending on education will end any time soon. However, as schools are increasingly privatized, public spending on education will decrease.

Today, we have come to expect high quality public education. We expect trained certificated teachers and administrators to staff our schools. We expect reasonable class sizes and current well-resourced curriculum. It is those expectations that are being shattered.

Many forces are attacking public education for diverse reasons, but the fundamental reason is still rich people do not like paying taxes. Choice and the attack on public education, at its root, is about decreasing government spending and lowering taxes.

Standards Based Education Reform is Toxic

14 Feb

In 1983, lawyers, business titans and famous scientists ushered in the era of standards based reform with the infamous “A Nation at Risk.” This political polemic masquerading as a scholarly paper proclaimed a crisis in American education. It propelled us careening down a path of harm. Harm for children; harm for educators; harm for communities; harm for schools and harm for democracy.

During my first quarter at UCSD’s teacher education program, I was assigned many readings including Alfie Kohn’s The Schools Our Children Deserve. By 1999, the time of the books writing, Clinton’s Goals 2000 was in force and many states were already adopting high school exit exams and other standardized testing practices. Although not impressed by this theory of education improvement, Alfie was more focused on improving education practices in public schools.

He asked, “Is it possible that we are not really as well educated as we’d like to think? Might we have spent a good chunk of our childhoods doing stuff that was exactly as pointless as we suspected it was at the time?”

Kohn believes in progressive education and opposes behaviorism. He embraces the ideas of Dewey and Piaget; he is a constructivist. He railed against traditional classroom management, teacher centered instruction, homework and grading policies. One of his criticisms of education reform in 1999 was “The dominant philosophy of fixing schools consists of saying, in effect, that ‘what we’re doing is OK, we just need to do it harder, longer, stronger, louder, meaner, and we’ll have a better country.”

Less than five years latter Kohn would write:

“I just about fell off my desk chair the other day when I came across my own name in an essay by a conservative economist who specializes in educational issues. The reason for my astonishment is that I was described as being ‘dead set against any fundamental changes in the nation’s schools.’ Now having been accused with some regularity of arguing for too damn many fundamental changes in the nation’s schools, I found this new criticism more than a bit puzzling. But then I remembered that, during a TV interview a couple of years ago, another author from a different right-wing think tank had labeled me a ‘defender of the educational status quo.’”

Standards Based Education Reform is Based on Bad Theory

Professor Ellen Brantlin of Indiana University was an early critic of standards based education reform (SBR). Unlike the promoters of SBR, Brantlin was a scholar whose work was peer reviewed. In a 1997 paper published in Review of Education Research, she observed that ideology preserves “existing social structures and power relations” and that SBR was based on uncritical ideology that venerated the dominant culture and subjugated minority cultures.

In another article, “An Application of Gramsci’s ‘Who Benefits?’ to High-Stakes Testing”, Brantlin wrote:

“It seems reasonable to conclude that a number of parties reap rewards from high-stakes testing. Turning to Gramsci’s idea of hegemony (that powerful groups in society strive to maintain and strengthen their dominance by offering new evidence to justify it), it is plausible to assume that high-stakes tests facilitate the win/lose situations that justify hierarchical social relations and dominant groups’ material and status advantages.”

After the Common Core State Standards were released, Tom Loveless of the Brookings Institute conducted a study to ascertain the expected benefit from the new standards. He concluded, “Despite all the money and effort devoted to developing the Common Core State Standards—not to mention the simmering controversy over their adoption in several states—the study foresees little to no impact on student learning.”

He came to this conclusion in part by looking at the effect on testing results due to varying quality in state standards on the National Education Performance Assessments (NEAP).

Loveless also noted:

“Education leaders often talk about standards as if they are a system of weights and measures—the word “benchmarks” is used promiscuously as a synonym for standards. But the term is misleading by inferring that there is a real, known standard of measurement. Standards in education are best understood as aspirational, and like a strict diet or prudent plan to save money for the future, they represent good intentions that are not often realized.”

Loveless countered one of the more loudly proclaimed reasons for national curriculum guided by national standards:

“In the U.S., advocates of a national curriculum have for years pointed to nations at the top of TIMSS and PISA rankings and argued that because those countries have national curriculums, a national curriculum must be good. The argument is without merit. What the advocates neglect to observe is that countries at the bottom of the international rankings also have a national curriculum.”

Mathew DiCarlo writing for the Shanker Blog cited the work of Eric Hanushek, Jonah Rockoff and others to note that family background constitutes more than half the cause for scholastic achievement. He reported:

“But in the big picture, roughly 60 percent of achievement outcomes is explained by student and family background characteristics (most are unobserved, but likely pertain to income/poverty). Observable and unobservable schooling factors explain roughly 20 percent, most of this (10-15 percent) being teacher effects. The rest of the variation (about 20 percent) is unexplained (error).”

Professor Paul Thomas from Furman University shared his conclusion in an article published by Alternet “Corporations Are Behind the Common Core State Standards — And That’s Why They’ll Never Work.” He wrote,

“Noted earlier, the evidence from standards-based education has revealed that standards, testing, and accountability do not succeed in raising test scores. Related, the evidence on teaching shows that focusing on direct instruction and content acquisition is also ineffective. …. Additionally, we have ample evidence that standards and high-stakes tests do not create the democratic outcomes we seek in schools such as critical thinking, creativity, and equity of opportunity.”

Geometry Standards Posted

Teachers Are Forced to Post Standards and Teach to the Test – Photo by Ultican

Harming Students, Teachers, Schools and Communities

The real standards in a standards-based education system are the standards that get tested or as Center for Education Policy President and CEO Jack Jennings put it, “What gets tested gets taught.” A natural narrowing of curriculum occurs.

Professor Julian Vasquez Heilig of California State University Sacramento recently shared some corroboration of Jennings point on his blog “Cloaking Inequality.” In a piece he called “From Segregated, to Integrated, to Narrowed.” there is a documented account of a first-year chemistry teacher so focused on Texas testing that “The entire chemistry course was solely designed to drill students for science exit testing by utilizing multiple-choice worksheets.” The article included this outcome from Julian’s research:

“Vasquez Heilig (2011) studied majority-minority urban and rural schools in Texas and found that teachers (11 of 33) and principals (6 of 7) in his study detailed aspects of “teaching to the test” and the impact of exit testing on the narrowing of the curriculum. A high school administrator in the study acknowledged that schools are paying attention to constraints created by the current educational policy system: There’s no way around it, I mean you’d be a fool if you did not play that game, I guess you can call it … . You can easily end up being labeled unacceptable if you did not prepare the students to take the test … . Two weeks before the TAKS [Texas standardized tests] date we pull out the kids … . We let the teachers know you’re not going to see these kids for 4 days. For 4 days we do what we call the TAKS blitz.”

The National Research Council (NRC) is a part of the National Academies. It was founded in 1916 to study issues related to coordinating science and technology research for America’s possible involvement in World War I. The NRC conducted a nine-year study of the standards based education reforms mandated by the No Child Left Behind (NCLB) law. Here are a few of its findings:

“Incentives will often lead people to find ways to increase measured performance that do not also improve the desired outcomes.”

“The evidence we have reviewed suggests that high school exit exam programs, as currently implemented in the United States, decrease the rate of high school graduation without increasing achievement.”

“To help explain why test-based incentives sometimes produce negative effects on achievement, researchers should collect data on changes in educational practice by the people who are affected by the incentives.”

Standards Based Education Reform Destroyed Schools in Poor and Minority Neighborhoods

In an article he called “Test Today, Privatize Tomorrow – Using Accountability to “Reform” Public Schools to Death” Alfie Kohn shared,

“As Lily Tomlin once remarked, ‘No matter how cynical you become, it’s never enough to keep up.’

“I try to imagine myself as a privatizer. How would I proceed? If my objective were to dismantle public schools, I would begin by trying to discredit them. I would probably refer to them as “government” schools, hoping to tap into a vein of libertarian resentment. I would never miss an opportunity to sneer at researchers and teacher educators as out-of-touch “educationists.” Recognizing that it’s politically unwise to attack teachers, I would do so obliquely, bashing the unions to which most of them belong. Most important, if I had the power, I would ratchet up the number and difficulty of standardized tests that students had to take, in order that I could then point to the predictably pitiful results. I would then defy my opponents to defend the schools that had produced students who did so poorly.”

Jessica Bacon an Education Professor from City University, New York and Professor Beth A. Ferri from the school of education Syracuse University studied the demise of Westvale, a K-5 urban elementary school in New York state. Their paper is called “The impact of standards-based reform: applying Brantlinger’s critique of ‘hierarchical ideologies’.”

It is a story that has repeated itself too often. Westvale served a population that does not test well. The demographics of the school: 95% free and reduced lunch, 40% limited English proficiency, and 20% students with disabilities. The racial makeup of the school was: 50% Hispanic or Latino, 35% Black or African-American, and 10% white.

Because Westvale elementary could not meet the testing targets set by the NCLB law, the state of New York categorized them as “Persistently Lowest Achieving” which meant the district had to select one of four remediation methods. The district chose the transformation model.

The paper reports, “Unfortunately, during this process, Westvale also ‘transformed’ from a school that had been moving towards a fully inclusive model, to one that reverted to a variety of segregated, tracked, and pullout classes.”

Today, many schools in communities that test poorly are being privatized as either charter schools or voucher schools.

In an Education Week article, “‘Defies Measurement’ Illustrates Failures of Test-Focused Policy,” David B. Cohen writes,

“In ‘Defies Measurement,’ teacher-turned-filmmaker Shannon Puckett gathers the recollections and reflections of twenty-three former students, parents, and teachers from Chipman Middle School in Alameda, California, and illustrates how a nurturing school community was gradually dismantled by the test-and-punish dynamics of education reform under No Child Left Behind. Puckett, who taught at Chipman and quit because of the changes following from NCLB, also contextualizes the eventual closure of the school, and the devaluation of what it stood for, in the broader context of education reform and accountability efforts nationwide.”

A school in which I had worked was closed because of the NCLB law. I wrote of about the “Unwarranted Demise of Mar Vista Middle School.” The piece began:

“In February, while attending a science teacher’s professional development at Mar Vista High School, I first heard the rumor that Mar Vista Middle School (MVM) was going to be closed, all of its staff dismissed and the school reopened as a charter school. Since 1961, this venerable institution has been a treasure in the poverty-stricken neighborhood situated one mile north of the world’s busiest border crossing (San Diego-Tijuana). At the March 11, 2013 board meeting (Sweetwater Union High School District) the rumor was confirmed, a restructuring plan for MVM was approved. Or as one person observed, ‘they legally stole an asset belonging to a poor community for their own purposes.’”

It turned out that the community successfully fought off the charter school conversion. The remedy became close the school and reopen it as a focus or theme school with a transformed staff. Fifty percent of the original staff was sent packing. The school is not much changed today because it is still serving the same community, but it is now called Mar Vista Academy and many lives were disrupted.

Some Last Words

Last September, the Labour Party in New Zealand captured control of the government. The news service Stuff reported, “Labour campaigned hard on scrapping National Standards in the lead-up to the September election on the basis they were neither ‘national or standard’.” Labour has rid the country of standards based education reform.

Last week brought a new initiative from the Labour government to rid the country of charter schools. Stuff quotes Education Minister Chris Hipkins,

“Both National Standards and charter schools were driven by ideology rather than evidence. Both were rejected by the vast majority of the education sector. The Government’s strong view is that there is no place for them in the New Zealand education system.”

There are twin lies supporting standards based education reform and the destruction of public education in the United States. The first lie promotes the illusion that public education in this country is failing. It never was failing nor is it failing now. The second lie is driven by market based ideology. It posits that privately-run charter schools are superior to “government schools.” A group of researchers in Massachusetts studied the results after 20 years of the 1993 state education law enactment. They reported:

“While some charter high schools with a large percentage of low-income students score high on MCAS [Massachusetts standardized tests], these schools rank much lower on the SATs. What’s more, research indicates many students from high-scoring charter schools do not fare well in college, as measured by six-year college completion rates.”

Hopefully, a political party in the United States will also realize that protecting public education is good politics. I don’t care what letter they use after their name – D, G, I or R – they will have my vote.

Denver’s Schools are a Dystopian Nightmare

4 Feb

A group of Democratic politicians aligned with local monied interests decided to “save” Denver’s public schools. The man chosen to turn-around the “failing” school system was Michael Bennet, now the junior senator from Colorado. His history of success working for Philip Anschutz and his complete lack of experience in education somehow made him the choice.

For the two years prior to becoming Superintendent, Bennet served as chief of staff for Denver’s new Democratic mayor, John Hickenlooper. John is now the governor of Colorado replacing Denver’s former district attorney, Bill Ritter also a Democrat. Bill chose not to run for a second term.

This group of liberal Democrats initiated the Destroy Public Education (DPE) movement in Denver.

Bennet originally came west with Susan Daggett, also a Yale law graduate who he soon married. She had accepted a job with the Sierra Club Legal Defense Fund in Montana. Michael grew up in Washington DC, his childhood witnessed a who’s who of Democratic Party luminaries because his father served as an aide to Vice President Hubert Humphrey, among others. Bennett was born in India where his father was aide to Chester Bowles, then the US ambassador to India.

The Rocky Mountain News reported on Bennet, “He worked six years for billionaire businessman Philip Anschutz, helping engineer lucrative oil and movie-theater deals, making himself wealthy in the process.”

In her wonderful book Why is You Always Got to Be Trippin? Ciedie Aech explains how these liberals sold DPE style reform.

“… ‘I wouldn’t send my children there.’

“Progressive declarations like this one, coming as they did from privileged-class and generally non-minority but avowed open-minded citizens, oh, they just made so much sense – to other privileged-class and generally non-minority but compassionately troubled advocates. Holding test scores high, progressive thinkers waved what they argued to be incontrovertible truth.”

“What was undoubtedly required? Was the immediate “non-negotiable” reformation of our nation’s lowest-income, lowest-scoring schools.”

Bad Ideology Based on Bad Assumptions

David Osborne writing in the reliably pro-DPE publication Education Next stated,

“In 2005, DPS was floundering. Out of 98,000 seats, 31,000 were empty, and many school buildings were half full. Almost 16,000 Denver students had left DPS for private or suburban schools. A financial crisis loomed, in the form of pension contributions the district could not afford.”

The DPS superintendents position was open, graduation data looked bad and so did testing data. The Denver Public Schools (DPS) board wanted radical change. They blithely ignored two highly qualified female candidates – Dr. Patricia Harvey, Superintendent of Saint Paul Public Schools and Christine Johnson, President of the Community College of Denver – choosing Michael Bennett to be the next Superintendent.

In 1997, I took some business trips to the big Connor Corporation disk drive factory in Longmont about 35 miles north of Denver. IBM and other tech companies had built several large factories out on the grassy planes where the buffalo used to roam. These facilities were so big they had Burger Kings, Pizza Huts and other fast food outlets in the factory lunch rooms.

Several sizeable single-family housing projects were visible during the drive between Denver and Longmont. Housing and industrial policy made suburban living appealing, which meant DPS was losing students.

Concurrently with my visits, the state of Colorado started using standardized testing with its public schools.

Osborne’s Education Next article continued:

“DPS was so dysfunctional, Bennet concluded, that he could not fix it without significant outside pressure. So he asked several foundation leaders to create an organization of civic leaders, chaired by two former mayors, to push for change and support the board when it promoted reform. They called the initiative A+ Denver, and it has championed the portfolio strategy, along with the Piton, Donnell-Kay, and Gates Family foundations.”

A key DPE playbook move is to leverage out of town money with local money and political muscle to purloin control of public schools. DPS schools were not dysfunctional nor were they failing. In several Denver neighborhoods, the schools were the only functional government entity.

Ms. Aech identified the perceived problem in Why is You Always Got to Be Trippin?.

“With great fanfare, these vigorously charted and impressively color-coded scores were poignantly presented to the nation. Here, citizens, was ironclad proof. Proof that poor and minority schools – oh, undoubtedly, my, just look at those test scores; these schools were surely, wall to wall? – Filled with bad teachers.”

To retrain all those bad teachers in Denver, Bennet turned to the high priestess of the bad teacher movement, Michelle Rhee and her The New Teacher’s Project (TNTP). He also started importing Wendy Kopp’s Teach For America (TFA) candidates.

More wisdom from Why is You Always Got to Be Trippin?.

“Good teachers; well, good teachers, and oh surely this was obvious – even glaringly self-apparent in the fast pace of magical days devoted to a truer national compassion: Good teachers? – Were young.”

The portfolio management theory of education councils paring away the losers the way a stock portfolio is managed. Close failing schools and replace them with a more efficiently managed charter school like a KIPP school.

The year that Bennet became superintendent, the heirs of the Walmart fortune opened the Charter School Growth Fund just 20 miles up highway-25 from downtown Denver.  Carrie Walton Penner, sits on the board of the fund and Carrie’s husband, Greg Penner, is a director. Annie Walton Proietti, niece of Carrie, works for a KIPP school in Denver. There are other Walton family members living in and frequenting the Denver area.

Joining the Walmart school privatizers is Bennet’s business mentor Philip Anschutz. He has a billion-dollar foundation located in Denver and owns Walden Publishing. “Walden Publishing company was “behind the anti-teachers’ union movies ‘Won’t Back Down’ and ‘Waiting for ‘Superman.’”

These wealth powered people along with several peers promote school privatization and portfolio district management ideology.

There is a widely held fundamental misconception that standardized testing proves something about the quality of a school. There is a belief among people who have never studied the issue that testing can be used to objectively evaluate teacher quality. It cannot! A roulette wheel would be an equally accurate instrument for measuring school and teacher quality.

Another Non-Educator with No Training

In 2007, Bennet asked Tom Boasberg, a childhood friend, to join DPS as his chief operating officer. Trained as a lawyer, Boasberg had worked closely as chief of staff to the chairman of Hong Kong’s first political party in the early 1990s, when the colony held its first elections in its 150 years of British rule. Before DPS, Boasberg worked for eight years at Level 3 Communications, where he was Group Vice President for Corporate Development.

In the spring of 2008, Bennet and Boasberg were ready to tackle the pension crisis seen as sucking money out of classrooms. One month after the collapse of Lehman Brothers, Boasberg and Bennet convinced the DPS board to buy a $750,000,000 complicated instrument with variable interest rates. During the melt-down of 2008 Denver’s interest rates zoomed up making this a very bad deal for DPS. (Banking was supposed to be Bennet and Boasberg’s strength.)

A brief produced at the Harvard Graduate School of Education provides some history (and cheers the privatization of Denver’s schools).

“In 2008, DPS launched its School Performance Framework (SPF), used to rate schools’ performance based on a series of indicators, the most important of which was the year to year academic growth of students on state assessments.”

“In 2009 Bennet was elected a U.S. Senator and the board appointed Boasberg as superintendent.”

Somehow, Boasberg graduated from the unaccredited Broad Superintendents Academy in 2009 while serving as Chief Operating Officer of DPS. He has since become a member of Jeb Bush’s national DPE oriented group, Chiefs for Change as has the new Colorado State Commissioner of Education, Katy Anthes.

When Michael Bennet was running for his Senate seat, Colorado Pol studied his effect as Superintendent by analyzing Colorado’s CSAP data. They noticed that “the composite, 2000/2001 – 2003/2004 was the best run for DPS.” That run spans the years just before Bennet became Superintendent.


Colorado Pol’s Graph of the CSAP data.

The Portfolio Model of School District Management is Ridiculous

I recently went to Idaho for my high school reunion. There were six of us there from my first-grade class of eleven. Nearly all the living members from the 47 of us who graduated together were there. A special bond develops between people who spend their formative years together.

During my fifteen years teaching at Mar Vista High School, I witnessed the same phenomena occurring with my students. Students would often tell me stories about each other from grade school and middle school. When those children graduated, they had formed the same difficult to describe deep human bonds I experienced.

Destroying human development opportunities by closing schools to “fix” education does not just seem foolish; it seems inhumane.

The need for stability in education is overwhelmingly documented. Brooke Havlik writing for Nova Education’s Science and Learning published Psychologists Find School Stability a Factor in Achievement Gap. Brooke wrote in the lead paragraph, “Two new studies published this month suggest that changing schools may have a negative impact on cognitive development and student performance, especially for students experiencing chronic, high-levels of poverty.” (emphasis added)

Yet we read in the Tom Boasberg’s biography at, “… each year it [DPS] closes a half-dozen schools and creates 10 to 15 new ones, all while raising the “on-time” graduation rate from 60 to 70 percent.” This is not a heartless educator; this is a banker.

A questioning observation from Ms. Aech in Why is You Always Got to Be Trippin?.

“Why was it, the question kept rising up over the years. Well, why was it that those schools most quickly and aggressively labeled as “drop-out factories” – schools slated for closure or an endless chain of reforms, schools forced through the fatal destabilization of restructure and redesign, schools branded publicly as being underused failures, schools negatively marked with the highly publicized letter grade of an F – well, why was it that such a large percent of these schools (shoot, pretty much all of them) had traditionally served as a home to non-dominant-culture, non-privileged-class, minority students?”

Running Multiple School Systems Adds Cost

The basic breakdown of K-12 schools in Denver; 104 traditional public schools, 58 innovation schools and 59 charter schools.

The 58 innovation schools belong to DPS but have contracts with the district giving them more autonomy. There is a process in place where a principal can write a plan about how his school will do things differently and will meet some specific testing targets. If the plan is accepted, the principal is free to run the school according to the plan and does not need to follow district operating procedures.

If the district operating rules are not important, why do any schools need to follow them? It looks like the district is abrogating its responsibilities to lead schools and institute wise policies through this Innovation school scheme.

The 104 traditional public schools have been led for the last thirteen years by non-educators.

The 59 charter schools have their own administrations. Some of them are independently run. Most of them are in various charter management organizations.

The fact is this kind of a system costs more to run. To hire competent teachers and maintain reasonable class sizes – taxes and spending need to be increased for a hybrid-system of both public and multiple private managements. Multiple management systems are more costly.

TFA Teachers are Untrained and Ineffective

According to Teach for America Colorado, this year there are 145 more TFA teachers in the Denver area. These kids get five weeks of training in the summer and then they are called teachers.

Putting untrained people in classrooms used to be against the law and it is still immoral.

Another observation from Ms. Aech in Why is You Always Got to Be Trippin?.

“As a journalist followed the teaching year of a suddenly deployed troop of Teach-For-A-Minute miracle workers, ultimately, he found only one greenhorn to be exceptionally able. (And so many others who were both frighteningly and disastrously unprepared.)”

TFA has effectively become storm troopers for the billionaires trying to disrupt, privatize and end public education. They are cheap, young and follow orders, but they are not even minimally trained educators.

Some New Data

This past December the New York Times ran an interactive article about a new way to compare schools. Reporters Emily Badger and Kevin Quealy describe:

“It’s true that children in prosperous districts tend to test well, while children in poorer districts on average score lower. But in this analysis, which measures how scores grow as student cohorts move through school, the Stanford researcher Sean Reardon argues that it’s possible to separate some of the advantages of socioeconomics from what’s actually happening in schools.”

I ran a simulation comparing Anne Arundel County, Maryland, Milwaukee, Chicago and Denver. I only picked Denver. The New York Times picked the comparison schools. This simulator tries to correlate years of learning. The average between third and 8th grade should be five years. After 13 years of disruption and “reform,” Denver is not quite average.

National Eighth Grade Test Scores

Interactive Simulation result from the New York Times.

It is time for common sense to prevail. Bankers and Billionaires don’t know how to run schools. College graduates with no training do not know how to teach. Running multiple school administrations costs more.

Denver’s public schools were never failing. They probably needed more resources especially in poorer neighborhoods, but the schools labeled as failures were the anchors of poor-minority neighborhoods. Destroying their schools was akin to a hate crime. Maybe it would be fairer to call it a stupidity crime.

I have become a one issue voter. I do not care if you have an R or D after your name on the ballot. I want to know if you are ready to defend public education against charter schools, vouchers and fake teachers? Do you respect professional educators or do you think politicians should run schools by top down fiat? Are you ready to stand up to the out of control billionaire class for the sake of students?