Troubling Stories That Broke During Holidays about Education in Denver and D.C.

The holidays are a busy time.  It is easy to miss important news, and it is also a good time for unsavory news to be released quietly.  Here are two tidbits you may have missed in the past week.

DENVER—According to the Denver Post and Denver’s ABC Channel 7 News, on Christmas Eve, a judge in Colorado ruled that the Douglas County School District (Denver, Aurora, Boulder) violated campaign laws when white papers were commissioned to praise the school board’s conservative, so called “corporate school reform” practices in the lead up to the November school board election.

Rick Hess, education policy staffer at the American Enterprise Institute (AEI), was hired to “‘research, create and publicize’ a white paper that would describe the district’s reforms, explain what made them unique, and ‘describe some of the advantages of the model.'”  Hess and AEI were paid $30,000—half from the school district’s public funds and the other $15,000 from the Douglas County School District Foundation, a 501(C)(3).  The school district circulated Hess’s paper to 85,000 subscribers.  According to Channel 7 News, “The final report uses superlatives like, ‘unusually ambitious,’ ‘remarkable,’ ‘bold,’ ‘illuminating’ and ‘cage-busting leaders,’ to describe the reform agenda.”

The judge also found against the school district for inducing the Douglas County School District Foundation to pay former U.S. Secretary of Education William Bennett $50,000 to produce another report “that was an endorsement for the District’s reform agenda and was intended to influence the outcome of the Board election.”  The Denver Post  reports that all four of the candidates supporting the “school reform” agenda (endorsed in the Hess and Bennett papers) were elected.

WASHINGTON, D.C.—On Monday, December 23, the District of Columbia Public Schools announced that 44 teachers last year received faulty teacher evaluations due to an error by Mathematica Policy Group, the contractor calculating the value-added contributions of teachers according to their students’ test scores.  Nick Anderson, the Washington Post‘s reporter, explains: “The value-added calculations are complex.  The first step is to estimate how a teacher’s students are likely to perform on the citywide D.C. Comprehensive Assessment System, based on past test results and other information.  Then the predicted classroom average is compared to the actual classroom average.  The difference is what school officials call the value that a teacher adds.”

According to Anderson, half of the teachers were rated too high and half too low.  The school district will retroactively raise the scores of the teachers whose scores were too low, and it will rehire the one teacher who was fired due to the mistaken rating.

Valerie Strauss, the Washington Post columnist who also reported this story, quoted Randi Weingarten, president of the American Federation of Teacher whose affiliate, the Washington Teachers Union represents teachers in Washington, D.C.: “It is very troubling when the district continues to reduce everything about students, educators and schools to a nameless, faceless algorithm and test score.”

Strauss reports that  Washington, D.C.’s  IMPACT evaluation system, introduced by Michelle Rhee in 2009, used students’ test scores for 50 percent of a teacher’s evaluation until this year when the current chancellor, Kaya Henderson, reduced the weight of students’ test scores to “at least” 35 percent.

Strauss comments: “Testing experts have long warned that using test scores to evaluate teachers is a bad idea, and that these formulas are subject to error, but such evaluation has become a central part of modern school reform.  In the District, the evaluation of adults in the school system by test scores included everybody in a school building; until this year, that even included custodians.”

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One thought on “Troubling Stories That Broke During Holidays about Education in Denver and D.C.

  1. Yikes, my husband’s name was Rick Hess and he would never agree to do what this one did. Thanks for sharing these articles. Lucy Hess from Fort Wayne

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