The problem with Democrats and public school equity

While Parents Across America is a non-partisan organization that does not advocate for any political party, I wanted to nevertheless offer what the community is saying in Denver about equity in schools.  This was originally posted at, a Denver-based organization to push for democratically-run schools and equitable education for all Denver students.

by Ed Augden, Retired Denver Public Schools 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.

Instead of swallowing the latest corporatist educational fad du jour, it’s time for parents and community to demand democratically-run schools. It’s time for those that have the true interest of children at heart to put a skeptical eye on the bright, shiny object of quick fixes and no excuses. Until we treat parents and community not as education consumers, but as stakeholders in this public good known as public education, we will never get this right.

The platform of the Democratic Party of Colorado states:

Democrats believe that state public education policies should provide every student with an opportunity to reach his or her potential and that quality public education is an investment with real and tangible return for our economy. A high quality education is not only a basic right; it is also a necessary component of a healthy democracy. People cannot be expected to participate thoughtfully and responsibly if they lack the ability to understand the complex issues facing our county, our country and the world. The United States and Colorado are increasingly involved in a globally competitive economy. Our workforce must have 21st Century skills to be innovative and solve the problems of tomorrow. Democrats believe federal and state legislation should invest in every student in order to provide a world class education, development of every student’s potential, and support for the whole child.

If you can’t get behind that, or if what you’re doing does not educate EVERY child, then you’re not a Democrat.

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