Posted on Facebook by Debbie Gurley
(re-posted with permission)
We went on a long walk last weekend and my mother-in-law asked me:
“I know you are very upset about what is happening at [my grandson’s] school. Can you explain to me exactly what IS happening?”
me: “Well, it really is such a hard thing to explain. It takes a long to time to explain it because there are so many parts to it and what’s wrong isn’t the same for every person. Each issue in and of itself isn’t so bad. It’s the layering of one thing on top of others that is shattering our schools.
When we first started in the school, everything seemed great. I had no idea anything was wrong. Knowing what I know now, I think it’s a great credit to the teachers that they don’t bring their dissatisfaction to the classroom.
I was really skeptical that there was a problem because I thought surely it can’t be that bad because the teachers would speak up, wouldn’t they? And so I began to listen and research everything I could about the issue and I still do. For me this is not political in the least. I simply want to know what the end game is and if what they are doing is or eventually will be good for my child. I welcome change when it is appropriate. There are a lot of schools in our country failing kids, but from what I see the schools in Douglas County did not fit in that category. This is a district that is renowned for great education, so what exactly are they doing that is going to make it even better…and why?
If I find people who believe strongly in reform, I beg them to talk to me to find out why it’s good for our schools. I don’t want to argue, I simply want to hear the other side of the story. I just want to hear some meaningful, non-political conversation about why this is good for our kids.
I emailed the superintendent and school board to tell them that I thought they had a problem they didn’t know about. I tried to tell them that they have a huge proportion of teachers (I would venture to say it is nearly ALL of them) who are miserable and they are afraid to speak up because they have colleagues who have been fired for speaking up. Instead of speaking up, they are quietly, individually rearranging their lives so they can resign. There is a culture of mistrust and fear and extremely low morale. How can that be good for our kids?
Dr. Fagen returned my email within 20 minutes and asked to meet with me to give me more accurate information. Yes, please! I want to know why you are doing this! I took two parents with me because her group consisted of herself, the school board president, the district legal counsel, the lead admin of elementary schools and the head of human resources. Was she trying to intimidate me? Why all the big whigs? The meeting last over 2 hours and I left still not knowing why they are doing this.
The two main things I wanted to talk about were:
a) Why did you come in and change everything all at once in a district that wasn’t broken? Why not dabble and make sure that things are going to work before you perform this big experiment on our kids? Dr. Fagen’s response was that the district looked good on paper, but it really wasn’t performing like they thought it ought to be. I don’t think that’s true, but how could I argue with it?
b) I pleaded with them to find a way to authentically, anonymously ask the teachers if they think what the district is doing is good for kids. They told me that teachers tell them that it’s all fantastic. I said of course they do to your face because THEY ARE AFRAID OF BEING FIRED IF THEY TELL YOU THEY ARE MISERABLE! I said that I am here today to tell you they are miserable. Don’t you care? She denied that people are fired for not lock stepping with their program and I said it just happened at Rock Ridge Elementary. She told me I didn’t know the whole story, so I asked her to tell me. She said she couldn’t because it was a personnel matter. I said, “Well that’s really too bad for you because it appears that you fired the principal for not controlling the parents and stopping them from protesting outside of the school.” The current principal had already given her resignation and was finishing the school year. The new principal was told to come in early and manage the situation. She refused and resigned before she ever started.
It happened again shortly after our meeting at Buffalo Ridge Elementary. A well-respected teacher wrote his class parents and told them that he could no longer work in the environment that the school board and superintendent have created. The following day he and his children who also attended BRE were escorted out of the building by law enforcement.
The silencing of the teachers is among the biggest of my problems with reform. We live in America. I served in the United States Army and pledged to protect the freedoms of our country. I’ll be damned if I will sit back and watch the people I trust to teach my kid every day be treated this way.
The second big problem I have is how they are cutting funding for the schools. When asked about funding, Dr. Fagen says that schools are allowed local control of their money with Site Based Budgeting. Any cuts at schools are because the school chose to make those cuts. The part she is leaving out is that the district has cut schools budgets so severely that we cannot afford to buy copy paper for the school or third grade reading curriculum or $1.60 booklets that are needed for 2nd grade writing or afford to keep our Technology teacher. And the list goes on. Copy paper is on every child’s supply list so that hopefully we can get enough to last the whole year. It is true that it was our school’s decision to make these cuts, but we were forced to make some kind of cut because of the drastic reduction in funding. What kind of world class education is this? Yet, the district has a huge “rainy day” fund balance and they spend gobs of money on fancy booklets that tout how great things are and litigation to defend all of the things they are doing that courts are finding they have done wrong. They have to repay $4.2 million dollars to the Colorado Department of Education. They had this crazy idea to cut spending by having high school students only go to school part time. The CDE audited student hours and found that the district had accepted full time student funding, while not allowing students to be enrolled full time. And now they have to pay that money back. They will take it from the schools and cut funding even further.
There are so many other things:
1) Pay for Performance which means teachers’ pay is partly based on kids test scores. Will this cause more teaching to the test? Why so much emphasis on high stakes standardized tests?
2) The district also says that it doesn’t agree with all the testing so they issued a decree to the Colorado Department of Education that they are going to spend gobs of money to create their own standardized tests. Every single thing they have rolled out so far has been a huge screw up. What makes them think they have the capacity to author tests for my kid?
3) For just about every program they have rolled out, they have to send out fixes and modifications all throughout the year. The teachers are so sick of the huge administrative burdens that have been put on them. They will be told to do something and then a few weeks later, they will be told to do it a completely different way.
4) The evaluation system for teachers is crazy. Part of it is mandated by the state, but the district took the state requirements and added so much more junk to it. Teachers have had to spend huge amounts of time in training just to understand what they are being evaluated on. There is a computer program called InspirEd that they have to upload data and videos to prove they are an effective teacher. The many teachers I have talked to say the biggest fault of this system is that the teachers who are really good at uploading all of this data are not actually spending much time teaching the kids. There is simply not enough time to do both. So teachers are having to choose whether to spend their time uploading data to get a highly effective rating or actually teach our kids. Why does it have to be so complicated? Why can’t the district just evaluate on what the rest of the state does? And by the way, I don’t like the idea of InspirEd collecting so much data about our kids.
5) World Class Outcomes are these ridiculous, vague statements that all of the kids are suppose to be able to regurgitate when asked what outcome they are working on. Seriously, look up the World Class Outcomes on the DCSD website and see if you can understand them! The teachers are not supposed to re-word them in kid-friendly language. The kids are supposed to know them verbatim. https://www.dcsdk12.org/world-class-education
6) Pay bands – from what I understand it is a pay structure that says that one kind of teacher is more valuable than another kind of teacher based on how many applicants for a particular position there are. Every single teacher I have talked to HATES pay bands even if they are in a higher pay band. It appears to me that it is a way to freeze teacher pay without actually saying that’s what they are doing. Most teachers I’ve talked to are at the top of their pay band and aren’t eligible for a raise…ever! On top of being afraid of the administration, they aren’t being paid well. I don’t know much about this, but it seems to be one of the biggest problems for teachers, so maybe the district could think about getting rid of it?
7) Innovative classrooms – teachers are being forced to remove the desks from their classrooms and ask parents for donations of bean bags, floor pillows, and lap desks for the students to work on. Nearly all of the desks in our elementary school are currently in the hallway and will be taken to an off-site storage facility. I also know that they are having trouble getting anything they decide the need back from the storage facility. They are being told that many tables and desks were donated to another country in need. It is based on this notion of choice and that kids get to choose where they sit and what they will learn in school. I am not diggin’ this idea at all! If a particular teacher wants to style their classroom this way and knows how to manage it, then I would have no problem with it. My problem is that they are mandating it (they are tying teachers’ evaluations to whether or not they have no furniture in their classroom) across the entire county.
So after my long diatribe, my mother-in-law asks “Why are they doing this?”
I still don’t flipping know why. For the life of me, I cannot understand. I am told that they are trying to privatize education. That can’t possibly be so! And what does that mean anyway?
When they say that they want choice, they mean that they want to transform how tax money is used to pay for school.
The voucher program that was recently struck down as unconstitutional by the Colorado Supreme court is intended to give families 75% of their per pupil funding so they can use it to go to private school. First of all, the per pupil funding is way more than the family actually paid in with their taxes. And secondly, when you take about $5000 from a particular school for one child to use to attend private school, it does not decrease one iota the money needed to run that school. Suppose that 10 kids from different grade levels from that school use PPF to go to private school? Still haven’t changed what that school needs to function, but you have taken $50,000 from the budget. And the $5000 isn’t really going to make or break the family that can afford the other $30,000+ to send their kid to private school. They just don’t want to pay for public school because they aren’t using it.
Does that mean they shouldn’t have to pay taxes for roads that they don’t drive on?
Does that mean that people who don’t have kids in school shouldn’t have to pay taxes to support public schools?
It sure as heck seems to me that they are intentionally trying to cause the public neighborhood schools to fail.