By Ed Augden, Retired Denver Public Schools Teacher and Community Activist
In the November Denver Public Schools Board of Education election, voters have a clear choice between candidates that favor the status quo authoritarian policies of Superintendent Tom Boasberg and those who believe in innovative democratic reform that begins with teachers, parents, students and community activists.
As a retired Denver Public Schools (DPS) teacher and as a parent of DPS graduates, I still maintain an interest and passion for education, particularly what I perceive to be the inequity and mediocrity resulting from the policies of Boasberg, and his predecessor Sen. Michael Bennet, and the majority faction on the board of education.
In 2005, Michael Bennet was appointed DPS superintendent where he remained until 2010 when appointed by former Gov. Bill Ritter to his current position. He then won election that same year. In 2006, the Harvard Civil Rights Study Project, Denver Public Schools: Re-Segregation, Latino Style was published. The report concluded that DPS has, since 1995 when court ordered busing ended, through action and inaction, contributed to the re-segregation of DPS especially Latino students and the poor. Inaction certainly occurred first because no real concerted effort was made to alleviate the circumstances of those students attending segregated neighborhood schools (before Bennet and Boasberg). Bennet left to become a U.S. Senator without ever publicly acknowledging that inequity based on poverty and ethnicity exist in DPS and, further, that mediocrity also exists for those students because they lack the opportunities offered to the privileged and the lucky in select charter schools and in more affluent neighborhoods. To date, Tom Boasberg has not publicly acknowledged the existence of the Harvard study.
Another study by the UCLA Civil Rights Project, “E Pluribus…Separation: Deepening Double Segregation for More Students,” this year reveals an alarming rate of segregation based on race and poverty. What does that mean for DPS students? Mr. Boasberg has been silent on this study as well.
Nor, has he acknowledged his own policy failures, for example, the “redesign” of North High School. Following a period of slow, but steady progress this “reform” resulted in declining student achievement, increased dropout rate and a decline in North’s student population. Yet, similar turnarounds in far northeast Denver were initiated this year apparently without either assessment or accountability.
Another of his policies is co-location, placing two, or more, schools on the same campus. Smiley Middle School, now slated for closure and re-opening as another school, was an early example. No sooner had the announcement been made to co-locate Venture Charter School at Smiley than did local parents begin choicing out. Now, without recognizing that failure, another choice is made for Smiley with little community input and with no assessment or accountability. Co-location also means two administrative teams for each campus. That’s additional administrative expenses by the same DPS administration that promised reduced administrative costs.
A glance at the 2012-2013 District Map reveals a growing number of charter schools. Do they contribute to the common good or cater to the privileged and the lucky thus accelerating the re-segregation of all schools?
Many of these policies – standardized testing, charter schools, etc. – are not unique to DPS. They’re part of a nationwide trend sponsored and funded by what Diane Ravitch calls the Billionaire Boys Club including Rupert Murdoch, Bill and Melinda Gates, Eli Broad, the Koch brothers, Michael Bloomberg and other corporate reformers. Aligned with Arne Duncan, Michelle Rhee, etc., these individuals donate money to organizations such as Stand for Children (SFC) and Democrats for Educational Reform (DEFER), American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC) and to political candidates who also believe in corporate reform. Boasberg’s sister, Margaret, was a SFC board member.
In the upcoming DPS Board of Education November election, political observers expect money to flow freely and abundantly to certain candidates, already endorsed by the real status quo establishment. Former Lt. Gov. Barbara O’Brien, running at large against Michael Kiley will likely benefit from deep corporate coffers. So will Landri Taylor against Roger Kilgore in northeast Denver, Rosemary Rodriguez against incumbent Andrea Merida in southwest Denver and Michael Johnson former DPS bond attorney against Meg Schomp, longtime neighborhood and school activist running for Jeanne Kaplan’s seat. She’s term limited and has endorsed Schomp. Incidentally, Johnson has been quoted as favoring a 7-0 majority. Wouldn’t that be convenient for Boasberg?
The importance of this election is underscored by events transpiring in Chicago. Current Sec. of Education Duncan, while superintendent of Chicago Public Schools (CPS), instituted many of the reforms in vogue among the corporate reform set. Following years of Duncan’s policy failures, organized resistance began to develop from teachers, students, parents and community activists. Unrest among teachers appeared headed for a strike. So, SFC successfully lobbied the Illinois legislature for a law requiring teachers’ unions such as the Chicago Teachers’ Union (CTU) to secure the support of seventy-five percent of membership before striking. Despite that onerous law, when the time came this year, ninety-two percent of CFU’s members voted to strike. When the strike ended, Mayor Rahm Emanuel failed to gain his major goal, teachers’ evaluations based upon student test scores. So, with a forty percent approval rating, Emanuel appears to be closing as many neighborhood schools as possible and converting them to corporate controlled charter schools before his term ends. Unrest continues in Chicago. Will similar unrest come to Denver as a result of Boasberg’s policies?
Denver voters have ample reason to be attentive to this DPS board of education campaign. If the majority changes, DPS will return to neighborhood schools that include a comprehensive education with art, music and physical education. If the current majority faction prevails, it will continue to support Boasberg’s policies. I truly believe this will mean continued inequity, mediocrity and fiscal irresponsibility. Taxpayers should ask Tom Boasberg who owns East High School and why is it no longer owned by DPS? More importantly, they should ask, if academic success has been achieved in DPS, why do increasing numbers, now sixty percent, need remediation before being ready for college study? And, if corporate reform is good enough for DPS students, why aren’t Boasberg’s children enrolled in DPS?