Wednesday, February 18, 2015

AV#120 - Politics and education - gubernatorial campaign Nov 2014

                                                                            Peter Huidekoper, Jr.  
                                                                                         Oct. 7, 2014

An independent voter’s thoughts on the gubernatorial campaign prior to Nov. 4

"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 August 1, 1876.  (Bold mine.)
“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—to me, it should look more like a charter school governed by parents and community leaders than a vast Houston- or Chicago-style citywide agency ….  the vast majority of U.S. schools remain locked in structures that may have made sense around 1900, but not in 2014.” “American Education in 2014: Where We’ve Come, What’s Ahead,” Checker Finn, Education Week, 8/27/14.
See page 4 for my suggestion on how the Jeffco board, teachers, and students might find common ground: real “local control” through waivers.
The mistakes made by the Jefferson County school board led Lesley Dahlkemper, now in the minority on the five-person board, to say, “A lot of us believe there shouldn’t be partisan politics in education”   (Denver Post, 9/28/14).  As much as I’d like to agree, good luck with that. 

We vote for the school board members in our districts, for the seven individuals on our state school board, and then we find—surprise, surprise—they have convictions that overlap with their political beliefs and—what a shock—that those political views play a role in who the local board hires as a superintendent, and who the state board picks as our Commissioner of Education.  Leaders who then in turn work for a board elected by the polis—i.e., us.

Not only do we vote for our state and local school board, but for those state leaders—politicians in political office—who bring their partisan positions in deciding laws that impact 1,800 schools and nearly 900,000 students.

We can’t escape it. Public schools, funded with public dollars. In most Colorado districts today, the majority of funds supporting our schools are state funds, not money raised by local property taxes.[1]
This former teacher knows the mindset of many educators towards lawmakers who draw up school policy:  Please don’t stick your nose in K-12 matters! Stop with the you-think-you-know-best legislation! Leave us alone! But we’re dreaming.  Of Colorado’s general fund in 2014-15, 48.5% goes to education (see next page).  Follow the money.  Of course our elected officials will have their say, whether we like it or not.

Politics and education.  I won’t fall back on, “It is what it is,” as I am sure we can rethink the structures to create a healthier environment for public education.  Which I will only hint at here. But with Election Day four weeks away, a few thoughts from an independent voter disappointed by the bland conversation (debate? what debate?) about K-12 education in the gubernatorial campaign.

A clear vision for K-12 education? Where are we headed?

I will hardly be the first to ask who, here in 2014, stands out as our leading spokesperson for better schools?  Who offers a clear vision of the need for a stronger K-12 public education?  Who ties together the various strands of leadership and teaching, standards and assessment, choice and accountability to explain to Coloradans where we are, and where we need to go?

Does anyone find either of our two major candidates offering useful insights on the main challenges facing our schools, or any meaningful proposals for improvement?  I know, it’s terribly narrow-minded of me, a slightly education-obsessed individual, to want the person who would lead Colorado—in which P-12 Education is the number #1 item in the general fund budget (41.1% in 2014-15, compared to item #2, Health & Human Services, and where another 7.4% goes to Higher Education)—to show a strong understanding of and a deep concern for public education. 

Composition of FY 2014-15 General Fund and State Education Fund Budget, $ in Millions*
P-12 Education - $4,246 – 41.1%
Health & Human Services - $3,154 – 30.5%
Higher Education - $762  - 7.4%
*Colorado Office of State Planning and Budgeting - The Colorado Economic Outlook – Sept. 2014 (see Fig. 24)

And yes, narrow minded of me to wonder why a full page profile in the Denver Post on each man, Hickenlooper and Beauprez, managed to say nothing on K-12 education.  Zilch.  When our next governor oversees a budget where 41.1% goes to K-12.  (Or did I already say that?)  It did not surprise me that Sunday’s Denver Post endorsement of Hickenlooper made no mention of K-12 education.  Not much to say.   

We read of the Hickenlooper-Beauprez debate September 26.  Any discernment here? Any depth?

               Governor, opponent talk schools

Beauprez, Hickenlooper address curriculum flap
The Durango Herald
DENVER – The two main candidates for governor in Colorado were asked during a forum Friday to discuss mounting tensions between students, teachers and Jefferson County Public Schools….

Multiple days of student protests have gained national attention after the conservative school board majority in Jeffco proposed a new curriculum review committee….
Beauprez said it is important for the school board to evaluate curriculum, and he said if community members don’t like the outcome, then they can judge at the polls.

The Jefferson County school board tilted to the right after the 2013 election.
“An elected school board not only has the right to speak up about curriculum and what they think are the wisest choices ... but they have an obligation to do that,” Beauprez said.
Hickenlooper said lessons should include a wide range of issues.
“You want your kids to learn about Dr. Martin Luther King, but you also want them to learn about the Boston Tea Party,” Hickenlooper said. “You want them to learn about all of history.”

Somewhere, in a galaxy far, far away – or perhaps when Roy Romer (D) or Bill Owens (R) led the state –we might have heard more thoughtful comments from those who would be our governor.  Asking voters, perhaps, if “local control” by a 5-person school board overseeing 86,000 students is still a useful definition of local control.  Perhaps commenting that in 112 of our 185 districts—small rural districts that

“Local control” – a different meaning, based on size

A board of 5 or 7 – for districts of 20,000 or more students
Denver Public Schools (86,043 students)*
Jeffco Public Schools (85,983)
Douglas County Schools (66,230)
Cherry Creek Schools (54,226)
Adams 12 Five Star Schools (42,230)
Aurora Public Schools (40,877)
Boulder Valley School District (30,546)
St. Vrain Valley School District (30,195)
Poudre School District (28,439)
Colorado Springs School District 11 (28,404)
Academy School District 20 (24,481)
Mesa County Valley School District 51 (21,894)
Greeley-Evans School District 6 (20,450)
A board of 5 - 7 – for districts of 1,000 or fewer students
In Colorado, 112 districts enroll fewer than 1,000 students.

serve under 1,000 students—local control actually means just that; but in DPS, Jeffco, and our largest districts (see box), here in 2014, the words chosen in the 19th century have lost their meaning.  

In fact, the Jeffco fiasco should give Denver’s former mayor a chance to note that the DPS school board has transferred “local control” over curriculum to over one third of its 183 schools: 43 charters and 18 innovation schools.  My word choice—if you think about where that control was 50 or 100 years ago (and where it remains in most Colorado districts)—would not be transferred, but rather returned—put authority back in the hands of the principals in the other district serving over 86,000 students.  Someone needs to point out that we’re debating what three board members think is right for 86,000 students in part because the governance structure for our K-12 schools no longer represents true local control.

The Jeffco story also gives a candidate like Beauprez, eager for less “federal intrusion” in Colorado schools, a perfect opportunity to explain to his fellow conservatives that this outdated structure grants too much authority to a few school board members in our bigger districts.   He could point out that so-called local control in such communities can be as intrusive on our schools as anything Washington, D.C., has concocted.  He could be bold and propose that all public schools be granted the waivers from rules and regulations that have proved so helpful to charter schools (see page 4).  

Let’s try again. A second debate, a few days later. Any better?
Hickenlooper, Beauprez talk education funding during debate
          Chalkbeat Colorado - Sept. 30, 2014
Hickenlooper, commenting on the voters; rejection of Amendment 66:
“[T]hey want to see smaller, local based funding for their schools,” Hickenlooper said. “They want to make sure they control what can happen in their schools — how much is going to go to teachers, how much is goes to the building.”

MY COMMENT: Smaller?  And if voters want “want to make sure they control what can happen in their schools,” they won’t choose an antiquated structure where a board has “control” over 155 schools—true?

In his rebuttal, Beauprez pledged to expedite student achievement, especially third grade reading levels.
“We’re going to bring opportunity to every child that has a chance to learn how to read,” Beauprez said.

MY COMMENT: OK, but we need specifics on HOW “we’re going” to do this.  Who does it well? Following what practices? And what will be the state commitment to early childhood to help achieve this goal?

Beauprez, Common Core, and local control

In AV#115, I challenged the “marketplace” vision for schools offered by Hickenlooper and many other state leaders: “Sorry, Governor(s), but the purpose of education is not ... a job.”  So, to be equitable in my criticism, let me now challenge Mr. Beauprez.  I realize he can be more nuanced in his comments on education than we have seen in the debates.  One of the more informative pieces on Beauprez and education is available at, summarizing a Sept. 3 conference call.  I responded there to one phrase that felt inaccurate; I applaud the candidate’s commitment to choice and local control, but I do not believe they are compromised by our new standards.  Beauprez insists that Colorado should opt out of Common Core, in part, he says, as this will bring families “greater choice in education.”  I wrote there that in reviewing charter applications for the Colorado League of Charter schools for many years, I find the recent proposals continue to represent a wide range of educational choices and curriculum—all committed to meeting the Colorado Academic Standards.  

For the 100th time, “standards are not curriculum.” (My response is at
(NOTE: In AV#82-Aug. 2011 and AV#112-April 2014 I wrote on the merits of Common Core and how well it matches up to the guidelines in Core Knowledge schools, which have drawn much of their support in Colorado from conservative families.  I am happy to send any reader a copy of these newsletters.)

To our gubernatorial candidates: This is important

I taught Laura, one of my favorite students, over 10 years ago in middle school.  When I saw her this summer I was not thrilled to hear her say that some students in our class were a little scared of me.  But I didn’t mind the next sentence: “You were so into it, it seemed so important to you.”

It still is.  Gov. Hickenlooper and Mr. Beauprez have devoted a good portion of their lives to public service, and I respect them for it.  But—I hope without sounding condescending—on policies pertaining to K-12 education, they remind me of the 7th grade boys in the back row, half asleep.  As I had occasion to do in a classroom, this is my tap on their shoulder to say: “John, Bob - wake up guys. This is important.”


A suggestion for a charter-friendly school board and disgruntled teachers and students:

In light of the events in Jeffco, I imagine a number of parents and teachers might meet with their school principal and ask for some of the key waivers that charter schools have received in order to operate with greater freedom from district control.  Perhaps beginning with these two rules:                                                                 

From the Charter Schools Act

22-30.5-102. Legislative declaration.

(1)  The general assembly hereby finds and declares that:

   (b) … the best education decisions are made by those who know the students best and who are responsible for implementing the decisions, and, therefore, that educators and parents have a right and responsibility to participate in the education institutions which serve them. (Colorado School Laws)


C.R.S. § 22-32-109. Board of Education-specific duties        

C.R.S. § 22-32-110.  Board of Education-specific powers

I imagine teachers and students at Arvada West, Columbine, Conifer, Golden, Jefferson, Lakewood, Ralston Valley, and other Jeffco high schools will especially see the benefits of obtaining a waiver on C.R.S. § 22-32-109 (l)(t), which has been so helpful to charter schools seeking to commit to their own curriculum. No school board overstepping its role, as long as you meet state standards.

 C.R.S. § 22-32-109(l)(t)- Grants board of education authority

to determine the educational program to be carried on in schools of the district and to prescribe textbooks.

As Jeffco’s board majority has been so supportive of the greater school autonomy and flexibility granted to charters, it seems natural that it would support such waivers.  A step towards more genuine “local control.”  Imagine. It could become a school board’s counterpart to Mikhail Gorbachev’s “perestroika.”  Bring an end a system that is still too top-down.  Return authority and responsibility to each school, where it belongs.

Another View, a newsletter by Peter Huidekoper, Jr., 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 /

[1] Public School Finance – CDE web site – “In budget year 2014-15, this legislation provides for over $5.9 billion of funding to Colorado school districts via state taxes ($3.95 billion), local specific ownership (vehicle registration) taxes ($135.4 million), and local property taxes ($1.85 billion).” - See more at:

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