Friday, January 30, 2015

AV#123-Redefining “local control” in 2015 – A hopeful look forward -12/18/2014

Another View #123                                                                                             Peter Huidekoper, Jr.
Dec. 18, 2014

Redefining “local control” in 2015 – A hopeful look forward

“The Phantom slowly, gravely, silently approached.…. Shrouded in a deep black garment, which concealed its head, its face, its form, and left nothing of it visible save an outstretched hand…. ‘You are about to show me shadows of the things … that will happen in the time before us,” Scrooge pursued. “Is that so, Spirit?’”
Hey, you say, “I don’t need this!!!”  No ghoulish ghost, please!  It’s bleak enough out there as we approach “the darkest evening of the year”!  Bring me light! Bring me good news!

At your service.

In the spirit of the holidays, a message of hope. So rest assured, I will not echo The Economist’s bleak assessment in its annual forecast of the year ahead. “Optimism is in short supply as thoughts turn to 2015….” (Daniel Franklin, Editor, “The World in 2015,” Dec. 2014).)

I will, however, cite one modestly hopeful passage from the magazine’s analysis:
“Democracy is the worst system of government except for the others: that is another of the torrent of Churchillian quotations you can expect to hear in the year ahead. He was right: democracy is still more flexible and fair than any alternative. But that is not an excuse for failing to tackle its imperfections.  And 2015 is a good year to start.”

Yes, “a good year to start” to tackle a fundamental imperfection in how our schools are governed. Which is nowhere near as democratic as we suggest by affirming, ad nauseam, our faith in “local control.”  In 2015 we will take steps so that our schools are governed by the people who make up the school community.  Which is not—in our big districts—the school board, or the central office.
So–Happy New Year!–here’s to the GOOD NEWS! Two changes ahead for public education in Colorado!
1.      We will re-examine and redefine local control

"The general assembly shall, by law, provide for organization of school districts of convenient size, in   each of which shall be established a board of education, to consist of three or more directors to be    elected by the qualified electors of the district. Said directors shall have control of instruction in the public schools of their respective districts." Constitution Article IX, §15. Effective Aug. 1, 1876.  (Bold mine.)
In 2015 Colorado citizens will realize that what was written in 1876 in the state constitution, 140 years before anyone imagined school districts with 86,000 students (a “convenient size”?) and 185 schools (Denver Public Schools-, no longer addresses our current reality. 

We will take to heart Checker Finn’s words—and his recommendation in “American Education in 2014: Where We’ve Come, What’s Ahead”:

“The basic structural and governance arrangements of American public education are obsolete.  We have too many layers, too many veto points, too much institutional inertia.  Local control should be reinvented…. the vast majority of U.S. schools remain locked in structures that may have made sense around 1900, but not in 2014.” (Education Week, 8/27/14)
In 2015 Colorado policymakers, parents, and educators will start by acknowledging that “local control” might well apply to most of our districts (enrolling under 1,000 students), but not for most schools or students.[1]  “Local” means just that for our small rural schools.  However, in the 20 districts with between 10,000 and 87,000 students, we now see it is time for a redefinition. I suspect that those who wrote the 1876 Constitution would be shocked that anyone would call “local control” in DPS or Jeffco even remotely what they had in mind.

The Colorado Department of Education’s spreadsheet of school district size for 2013-14, Rural Definition Spreadsheet, includes data that shows, of 179 districts, we have:
106 - Under 1,000 – All small rural
41 - Under 5,000 (0ver 1,000) – 39 rural and 2 urban (Sheridan, Englewood)
11 - 10,000 (0ver 5,000)
158 school districts with fewer than 10,000 students
21 - 20 districts (and the Charter School Institute) with anywhere from 10,100 students (Westminster) to the 86,000 or so in Denver Public Schools* and Jefferson County**
*DPS reported 87,398 in 2013-14-
Perhaps the size of school districts changed so little between 1876 and 1926 that the definition in our Constitution still applied back when Babe Ruth was setting homerun records.  But growth since then has created fundamentally different organizations; see chart on next page: “LOCAL CONTROL in Agate and Campo has a different meaning than in DPS and Jeffco. True?”
And with the passage of the charter school law in 1993 “control of instruction in the public schools of their respective districts” began to change.  That phrase from the Constitution had one meaning in 1994 for the Denver and Jefferson County school board before they opened their first charters (Clayton Charter in DPS; Center for Discovery Learning and Collegiate Charter Academy in Jeffco). 

It has a different meaning in 2014 with 46 charters in DPS and 17 in Jeffco—and 218 charters across the state, enrolling 11% of K-12 Colorado students (  One example: School boards approve of a waiver request from state law in which they, in effect, outsource—or surrender—to the schools what has been the board’s responsibility: “To determine the educational programs to be carried on in the schools of the districts and to prescribe the textbooks for any course of instruction or study in such programs.” (22-32-109 – 1 (t)).  And this is just one of 23 “automatic waivers” granted most charters regarding Local Board Duties (22-32-109), Local Board Powers (22-32-110), the Teacher Employment Act (22-32-63)—and more. (See Addendum A

Obviously the local board in Denver, for example, is not in “control” of what takes place in its semi-autonomous 46 schools.  Many of us celebrate this change: no more “one size fits all,” and a healthy diversity in the curriculum and instructional practices. I have visited DPS schools that are part of the STRIVE, DSST, Highline Academy and Girls Athletic League networks, as well as Ace Community Challenge, Odyssey School, Rocky Mountain Prep, and Wyatt Academy.  “Local control,” if we wish to apply that term, is essentially in the hands of these schools—not 900 Grant Street.     (con’t on p. 4)    

LOCAL CONTROL in Agate and Campo has a different meaning than in DPS and Jeffco. True?
Same words, different meanings

"I pledge allegiance to the Flag of the United States of America and to the Republic for which it stands….”


Words have different meanings in different contexts. “The People’s Republic of China” carries a different meaning of republic than it does for us.  China makes claims to “human rights” and “democracy,” but in our country we define those terms differently. (See “What China means by ‘democracy’” -

District & # of students enrolled – 2013 figures
Agate 300

Does anyone doubt that “local control” in our small districts – left – with no more than three schools—has a different meaning than it does in our “big 12”—right?

Does anyone disagree that “local control” in the Douglas County School District, which enrolled about 12,000 students when I arrived in Colorado in 1990, has—or ought to have—a different meaning for today’s district, with over 66,000 students?

Greeley 6
Campo Re-6
Kim Reorganized 88
Mesa County Valley 51
Pritchett Re-3
Silverton 1
Academy 20
Liberty J-4
Plainview Re-2
Colorado Springs 11
Creede School District
Hinsdale County Re 1
Poudre R-1
Pawnee Re-12
Woodlin R-104
St Vrain Valley Re 1J
Karval Re-23
Aguilar Reorganized 6
Platte Valley Re-3
Boulder Valley Re 2
Arickaree R-2
Kit Carson R-1
Hi-Plains R-23
Adams-Arapahoe 28J
Lone Star 101
Vilas Re-5
Bethune R-5
Adams 12 Five Star Schools
Mountain Valley Re 1
Manzanola 3J
De Beque 49Jt
Cherry Creek 5
Walsh Re-1
Briggsdale Re-10
Deer Trail 26J
Genoa-Hugo C113
Cheyenne County Re-5
Eads Re-1
Douglas County Re1
Idalia Rj-3
Stratton R-4
Arriba-Flagler C-20
Moffat 2
Edison 54 Jt
Jefferson County R-1
Denver Public Schools
La Veta Re-2
Plateau Re-5
Prairie Re-11
Primero Reorganized 2
Ouray R-1
Elbert 200
Granada Re-1

(con’t from p. 2)
Moreover, when we see that 11 of the 22 schools rated Distinguished on Denver’s School Performance Framework are charter schools, such local ownership—schools with their own governing boards—our school boards and our central offices have to accept that greater freedom can lead to great results.
In 2015, then, the size of our largest districts and the impact of “local control” by semi-autonomous schools will demand that we re-examine this term.  It cannot be seen as a magic talisman when its definition is so amorphous—or even (in a district with 86,000 students) an oxymoron. Especially, I would add, when “local control” is now used as a defense against appropriate measures of accountability.

2.    Just as the Copernican Revolution gave us a new way of seeing our solar system—and much more—we will realize that the K-12 education system does not revolve around the school district. 

A corollary: We will realize that the school—school leaders, teachers, and staff—matter most (not the superintendent, not the central office, and not the school board).
Re-interpreting local control for today’s realities will cause us to renounce a world view that put school districts at the center of the K-12 universe.  It took us 15 centuries to accept that our galaxy, to say nothing of the universe, does not revolve around the Earth.  Call it ignorance, or arrogance—either way, the establishment sure put up a fight (Galileo facing the Inquisition) when challenged to see the Earth was NOT the hub of the wheel.  In 2015 we will undergo our own Copernican reset.  No doubt the education establishment will resist, but we will place the school where it belongs; it will no longer be seen as just one of 9—or 179!—planets spinning around the source of light and life itself: the district. 

Views of the universe: Ptolemy vs. Copernicus
Ptolemy's model:
"Earth-centered," or "geocentric"
Ptolemy (100 A.D. – 168 A.D. ?)
Copernicus’ model:
"Sun-centered," or "heliocentric"
Copernicus (1473-1543)

When we place each school at the center of the K-12 universe, with parents in the orbit of Mercury, the school’s immediate community in the orbit of Venus, and the district out there—oh say 93,000,000 miles away—about where Earth revolves around our sun, with the state much farther out, with Jupiter and Saturn, and let’s put the federal government on the edge our galaxy, near poor old Pluto, 3.6 billion miles away from the school – then we will envision the K-12 system in a better way! (As for consultants and newsletter writers, given their uselessness, I hear there’s an even more distant region of space called the Oort cloud….)

Earlier this fall, when we read the following study, was anyone really surprised?

District Leadership -  "School Superintendents: Vital or Irrelevant?" (Sept. 17, 2014)
by Madeline Will

Superintendents have very little influence on student achievement in their districts, a report suggests.
The Brown Center on Education Policy at the Brookings Institution examined the role of superintendents in Florida and North Carolina … The study found that hiring a new superintendent has little or no meaningful impact on student achievement, nor is there any association with superintendent turnover and improvements in student test scores.
It analyzed a decade's worth of 4th and 5th grade mathematics test scores in North Carolina, and found that superintendents accounted for only 0.3 percent of student differences in achievement—a statistically significant but small effect.

The same could be said, I believe, of the huge number of folks in the central office in Denver, Jeffco, and any of our 13 school districts serving over 20,000 students (page 3).  And ditto for school board members. This is not to dismiss the incredible commitment and hard work of most superintendents, board members, and district personnel. It is simply common sense, in my view. We can’t keep saying that good principals and teachers make the biggest difference in a school’s success for kids, and then pretend that decisions made some late night at a school board meeting deserve front page news.

In 2015, happily, as we rediscover that responsibility and authority for what happens in a school should largely be in the hands of those IN THE SCHOOL and IN THAT SCHOOL’S COMMUNITY (which is not the entire city of Denver or the 770 square miles of Jefferson County!), we will question the absurd amount of time spent by district leaders, staff, and board members preparing for and sitting in school board meetings, which spend an amazing amount of time on matters that have remarkably little consequence for the teaching and learning of our students.  It looks important.  Often it is not. 

Surely not as important as what takes place where parents send their kids, where students and teachers show up every day, where learning and attention to the individual boy or girl and kindness and laughter and guidance and encouragement do or do not happen.  The school.

“Ptolemy thought,” we read, “that all celestial objects — including the planets, Sun, Moon, and stars — orbited Earth. Earth, in the center of the universe, did not move at all.”

Kind of like the education system, at times.

Three cheers to 2015 – when we re-define “local control” in a way that moves our schools back to the center of K-12 education.    

Another View, a newsletter by Peter Huidekoper, represents his own opinion and is not intended to represent the view of any organization he is associated with.  Comments are welcome. 303-757-1225 /

Addendum A

Waiver Request Guidance - Charter Schools (from CDE*)

Automatic Waivers are waivers from state statute and rule that do not require approval of the state board of education. These waivers have been identified over time as those that should be easier to receive either because they contradict the intent of the Charter School Act in terms of autonomies offered to charter schools, or have been requested so frequently that it is deemed more efficient for both the state and local boards.

Last Modified: 12/14/2012

State Statute Citation     Description

22-9-106                             Local Board Duties Concerning Performance Evaluations
22-32-109(1)(b) Local Board Duties Concerning Competitive Bidding
22-32-109(1)(f)                  Local Board Duties Concerning Selection of Staff, and Pay
22-32-109(1)(n)(I)             Local Board Duties Concerning School Calendar
22-32-109(1)(n)(II)(A)       Determine teacher-pupil contact hours
22-32-109(1)(n)(II)(B)       Adopt district calendar

22-32-109(1)(t)                  Local Board Duties Concerning Textbooks and Curriculum – “To determine the educational program to be carried on in the schools of the district and to prescribe the textbooks for any course of instruction or study in such programs.”

22-32-126                          Employment and Authority of Principals
22-32-110(1)(h) Local Board Powers-Terminate employment of personnel
22-32-110(1)(i)                  Local Board Powers-Reimburse employees for expenses
22-32-110(1)(j)                  Local Board Powers-Procure life, health, or accident insurance
22-32-110(1)(k) Local Board Powers-Policies relating to in service training and official conduct
22-32-110(1)(ee)               Local Board Powers-Employ teachers' aides and other non-certificated personnel
22-33-104(4)                      Compulsory School Attendance-Attendance policies and excused absences
22-63-2011                        Teacher Employment Act - Compensation & Dismissal Act-Requirement to hold   
                                                    a certificate
22-63-202                          Teacher Employment Act - Contracts in writing, damage provision
22-63-203                          Teacher Employment Act-Requirements for probationary teacher, renewal &
22-63-206                          Teacher Employment Act-Transfer of teachers
22-63-301                          Teacher Employment Act-Grounds for dismissal
22-63-302                          Teacher Employment Act-Procedures for dismissal of teachers
22-63-401                          Teacher Employment Act-Teachers subject to adopted salary schedule
22-63-402                          Teacher Employment Act-Certificate required to pay teachers
22-63-403                          Teacher Employment Act-Describes payment of salaries

[1] Our 15 largest school district, “with a total enrollment of 596,868, represent 68 percent of the total statewide enrollment. On the other end of the size spectrum, 136 of Colorado’s 185 local education agencies (excluding detention centers) have an enrollment of fewer than 2,000 students. These 136 agencies currently enroll 7.9 percent of the total number of students in the state.”

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