Michael Vaughn

Actually, It Was a Good Night for Reformers in Colorado

Thanks to a Kansas City Royals-esque late-inning comeback in the middle of the night, reform candidates in Denver extended their winning streak in Board of Education elections here to 7. Reform candidates were 4-0 in 2013 and 3-0 this year, again shutting out anti-reform candidates who received big money from the teachers union’s goliath political operation. The wins give the Denver Public Schools (DPS) a 7-0 all-reform board behind Superintendent Tom Boasberg. Over the past three elections, DPS reform candidates have posted a 9-1 record against union-backed candidates. And the one loss was by a total of 114 votes. Reform candidates have amassed a grand total of 259,149 votes in those 10 contests—a 62 percent mandate and 100,000 votes more than the union-backed candidates. Despite the continuing dominance in Denver—the state’s biggest district and one of the nation’s truest reform districts—the union/anti-reform crowd is claiming we had a “ bad night” here in Colorado. Not only are they conveniently ignoring the DPS winning streak, they are also mislabeling the races in Douglas County and Jefferson County as “reform” losses. Which makes me feel a little like Lloyd Bentsen at the 1988 VP debate. I look at the records, positions and funding of the losing “reform” candidates and can’t help but think: You, folks, are no education reformers. I know there’s no tried and true definition, but there are generally accepted reform stances: school choice/charter schools; Common Core; annual, federally mandated standardized testing; teacher and school accountability. Those are all a big part of Denver’s reform plan. So let’s see how the losing candidates stand on them. In Douglas County, my school district, the school board members who lost Tuesday night are uber-conservatives and virulently anti-Common Core and anti-federally mandated anything. The board voted to seek a PARCC waiver from the state board of education, even after the Colorado  attorney general ruled that such a waiver would be illegal. They favor school choice, but to an extreme that has led them to create a divisive proposal for a voucher program in a community that generally needs no financial help to exercise choice. It’s been ruled unconstitutional, but the board has vowed to fight on in the courts. They’ve gone off the deep end on teacher accountability, too—essentially busting the union and jamming a new performance-pay system down the throats of teachers, creating more discord in the community. On school accountability, their basic position—as far as I can tell—is: we’re fine. Our schools are great. And we don’t need anybody’s test but our own to confirm that. In JeffCo, known as a “purple” political swing county, the recalled board members had very similar positions and political leanings. In fact, the conventional wisdom was that they were following the DougCo playbook. One of their first big decisions was to hire a former DougCo deputy superintendent to replace Superintendent Cindy Stevenson, a widely respected educator who resigned shortly after the tea-party majority was voted in two years ago because of the lack of respect she was shown by them. That lit the fuse. When the conservative members of the board later got all red in the face about the new AP history curriculum and tried to bigfoot their way into the district’s classrooms in the name of “patriotism,” it blew up in their faces—a bright blue flame they could never put out. Not that they and the DougCo board members didn’t get a lot of money to help them try and keep their seats. Much of it came from the Koch Brothers’ Americans for Prosperity—again, far right, anti-Common Core, anti-federal testing. The losing, supposedly “reform” candidates in DougCo and JeffCo got zero support from Democrats for Education Reform, Stand for Children, or any of the bedrock reform organizations. I can see why the unions helped fund and are claiming wins in DougCo and JeffCo. They helped defeat radical right, union-busting candidates. But they didn’t defeat true reformers. Those can be found in Denver. Celebrating…again.
Michael Vaughn is Education Post's Director of Communications. An earlier version of this post appeared on his blog Great Equalizer.
Michael Vaughn
Michael Vaughn was the founding Communications Director of Education Post. Prior to that, Mike worked for 18 years in the communications offices of two urban school districts. He served in a variety of communications roles for the Chicago Public Schools starting in 1996, shortly after Mayor Richard M. Daley took control of CPS, and eventually served as the district's Communications Director until ...

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