We fully support the 2019 Black Lives Matter Week At School which takes place this February 4-8.
We, the Caucus of Today’s Teachers, are educators in Denver Public Schools and per state law are also mandatory reporters of child abuse and neglect.
We believe that all children’s human and civil rights need to be respected and upheld at all times, regardless of national origin, race, language, gender identity, ethnicity, ability, or socioeconomic background. As such, we strongly oppose the US government’s actions of family separation and child detention in shelters across the country like the one in Tornillo, Texas.
We strongly support the upcoming February teach-in about child detention in which educators from across the country will come together to educate each other and the public about the many dangers of child detention.
You can learn more about Teachers Against Child Detention here: https://www.teachersagainstchilddetention.org/
Colorado's Governor-elect Jared Polis recently announced his transition team appointees in seven focus areas. The committees are intended to hire staff and set the tone for priorities in the Polis administration.
Among Polis' picks for the education committee are Mike Johnston, Jen Walmer, and Bob Schaffer - three individuals directly involved with attacks on public education.
Mike Johnston unsuccessfully challenged Polis for the Democratic Party's gubernatorial nominee earlier this year, but he is most widely known for authoring Senate Bill 191 in 2011, which linked teacher evaluations to standardized test scores and added a series of unfunded mandates to local districts. His legislation exacerbated Colorado's teacher shortage and created increased administrative needs, siphoning funds out of the state's classrooms
Jen Walmer, Colorado Director of Democrats for Education Reform, has helped direct millions of dollars in dark money to influence Denver Board of Education elections and ensure the district continues to expand its already alarming levels of privatization. Notably, Democrats of Education Reform (DFER) made national headlines after Colorado's Democratic Party requested that DFER stop calling themselves “Democrats” at their state assembly.
Walmer previously worked as Denver Public Schools Chief of Staff under past Superintendent Tom Boasberg. When she left DPS to work for DFER, former state legislator Terrance Carroll said, “She was responsible for brokering agreements between key stakeholders on SB-191. Without her, we would have had an even tougher time passing this major piece of legislation.” DFER also employed its influence to help Polis get elected, questioning whether Walmer's placement on the committee is a reward for the organization's financial support.
Polis also named Bob Schaffer, a former Republican member of Congress with a track record of supporting vouchers and parochial schools. Schaffer also served on the Colorado State Board of Education, alongide Polis. On a related note, Polis himself expressed support of vouchers in 2003.
Polis' picks for the education transition team might not be surprising considering he has founded two charter schools chains, but the website set up for his transition team is asking for feedback and volunteers. So, if you are dissatisfied with his picks or want to replace any of these individuals with someone who actually believes in public schools, feel free to let the Governor-elect know.
Yesterday, Van Schoales, CEO of A+ Colorado, and Henry Roman, President of the Denver Classroom Teachers Association, released a joint statement purporting to encourage kind and civil discourse among “organizations and individuals” as the Denver Public Schools searches for a new superintendent. While Mr. Schoales is entitled to speak for his organization of five total employees, Mr. Roman is not. The executive committee of DCTA as well as the DCTA Board of Directors were never notified of such a plan and did not discuss such a broken partnership aimed at squelching the voices of stakeholders in the search for the next leader of Denver schools.
The Caucus of Today’s Teachers, and the educators and community partners we work with, vehemently rebuke the statement issued by these two men and encourage community stakeholders to continue to fight by any means necessary for power and voice throughout the search for a new Denver Public Schools superintendent.
Mr. Roman has spoken well out of turn.
To the students, families and stakeholders of DPS, let us apologize for this undemocratic and oppressive mistake in our name. We stand behind you, we stand with you, and will fight together.
The Caucus of Today’s Teachers encourages our democratically elected president to consult with members before forming major partnerships or releasing statements that potentially undermine community organizing efforts.
Earlier this month, the Denver Public Schools Board of Education (DPS BOE) released a written memo, a PowerPoint presentation, and a news release which explained to the public that the BOE’s actions for the coming year would not include any school closures. As Denver educators who are directly impacted by all BOE decisions and as community members who care deeply about the past, present, and future of Denver’s educational opportunities for our students, there are several points of which we would like the public to be made aware.
First, the BOE seems to have learned from the relentless efforts of Denver parents and families to keep their schools open. In particular, the BOE’s December 2016 decision to close Gilpin Montessori was met with outpourings of community support for keeping Gilpin open. The BOE’s decision not to listen to many hours of testimony over several board meetings from concerned, informed parents enraged many Denverites.
It is also essential to understand that for decades, Denver residents have expressed strong support for involving school communities and families in decisions that impact their schools, particularly around restructuring and closure proposals. At our March 2018 community forum, “The Illusion of School Choice,” our caucus of educators joined with dozens of Denver parents and community members to demand that the Denver BOE involve authentic, meaningful community input when considering any restructuring or closure plans for any school.
The BOE member who released this recent memo on the BOE’s new temporary policy regarding school closures, Lisa Flores, is up for reelection in November 2019. The district of Denver which she represents is home to North HS, which is currently co-located with a charter school. While enrollment at North HS has increased over the past several years, enrollment at the Strive charter school within the North building has not grown as quickly as operators anticipated, an issue which was clear at a DPS-run public meeting about use of space in the North HS building in April 2018. With tensions running hot at North - many North parents don’t believe DPS or the BOE are taking their concerns seriously - Lisa Flores is sure to have an eventful, closely-watched campaign for re-election should she seek to run again.
One major change on the DPS Board of Education since the Gilpin, Greenlee, and Amesse closures and restarts that the BOE voted for in December 2016 has been the election of Dr. Carrie Olson to the BOE to represent District 3. Dr. Olson is a strong supporter of traditional public schools, and her efforts to support underserved students - before and since her election to the school board - are to be commended and appreciated.
In summary, while we are content that no Denver schools will be closed in the coming year, we recommend that the BOE permanently adopt a moratorium on school closures and commit to consistently and equitably supporting all students in all schools - not simply pause school closures following a controversy or in preparation for an election year. As elected office holders, school board members should always be listening to and acting on community concerns - not just when they decide it might be helpful to do so.
We, the members of the Caucus of Today’s Teachers, a caucus of members of the Denver Classroom Teachers Association, state our solidarity with the striking Pueblo Education Association (PEA) and Pueblo Paraprofessionals Education Association (PPEA) members, as well as the families of Pueblo District 60.
As educators ourselves, we understand the power of a positive relationship among policymakers, school board members, school staff, and families. We encourage those in Pueblo who have decision making power to set salaries and influence policies to work hard to meet the needs of Pueblo students, families, and educators. PEA and PPEA are asking for:
- Provide a 2% cost of living increase to all teachers retroactive to September 1, 2017
- Provide a 2.5% cost of living increase to all paraprofessionals retroactive to September 1, 2017
- Provide step increase to paraprofessionals as outlined in their collective bargaining agreement.
- Provide the monthly $30 per person health insurance increase from January 1, 2018 to June 30, 2018.
- Respect educator and community voice in decision making that impacts our classrooms and students.
While school districts across Colorado are currently underfunded, it is up to local decision makers to attend to the needs of their constituents and prioritize public education funding. When students have experienced educators who can afford to live in the communities in which they work, everyone benefits.
The Caucus of Today’s Teachers
2017 Denver School Board Election Results
Response from the Caucus of Today’s Teachers
Denver’s students, educators, parents, and community members finally have a veteran educator representing them on the Denver Board of Education for District Three (Central Denver)! Congratulations to Dr. Carrie A. Olson, who defeated her incumbent and DFER (Democrats for Education Reform) funded opponent. We are thrilled for Olson’s election; it shows the power of an authentic, grassroots, volunteer-powered campaign over massive fundraising, and shows Denver and the nation that teachers are professionals who deserve a seat (preferably several) at the education policy table. Olson’s win gives us hope that people-powered candidates are indeed favored by the public and are certainly serious, viable candidates for office.
In District Two (Southwest Denver), DCTA, the Caucus of Today’s Teachers, and Our Denver Our Schools (ODOS) all supported Xochitl Gaytan, and we are disappointed to see Xochitl’s campaign come to an end. We are confident that she will continue to be an active supporter of public education in Denver despite Teach for America alum and current Leadership for Educational Equity employee Angela Cobian’s win.
The race in District Four (Northeast Denver) drew national attention due to recent DPS graduate Tay Anderson’s candidacy. We supported Tay, volunteered with his campaign, and were highly disappointed when DCTA then decided to endorse - and give a massive sum of funding to - Teach For America alum, current LEE employee, and former charter school dean- Jennifer Bacon for District Four. Tay and Bacon ran against appointed incumbent and DFER backed Rachele Espiritu, with Bacon winning the election.
The at-large race among three candidates - incumbent and DFER-funded Barbara O’Brien, Denver parent Robert Speth, and former DCTA member and Denver teacher Julie Banuelos - ended with O’Brien’s re-election. Julie Banuelos announced her plans to run for school board months before Robert Speth, and although Speth is a founding member of ODOS and supporter of public education, we are disappointed in his decision to enter the race so late and undermine a former teacher of color’s campaign. Julie is a truly progressive candidate who was clear and unwavering in her resistance to charters and school choice. Robert was fine with both, so long as they were checked and not expanded, per his ODOS questionnaire and debates. While we are disappointed in the reelection of the incumbent, we are thrilled with the voters Julie represented and engaged in the election- folks who may not have voted without a candidate that represented their values and the shared life experiences of many Denverites.
Overall, one of the four candidates that we, the Caucus of Today’s Teachers, supported was able to win in this year’s school board election. According to currently available reports, DCTA gave at least $227,000 (through the DCTA Fund, various Independent Expenditure Committees, or directly) to its four endorsed candidates, with only $8,500 (less than 4%) of that going to Dr. Olson, a veteran teacher who has paid far more in union dues over the past three decades. Both Julie Banuelos & Tay Anderson were outspent 20:1 by their opponents. Despite this, both won 25% of the votes in their three-candidate race - more evidence of grassroots campaigns becoming the way people want things to be done. The outcome of this election shows that money does not necessarily make a difference when it comes to school board elections.
Dear Denver teachers,
I just wanted to share my thoughts on our recent contract. Please feel free to share this as you feel necessary.
I am so grateful to our bargaining team for all their hard work and time bargaining on behalf of our Denver teachers. Their commitment to better environments for students and teachers is evident through the creation of the LEAP review committee, front-loaded sick days for new teachers, and that the 10 minutes before and after school are no longer considered self-directed planning. I hope that DCTA as an organization will fight for smaller class sizes, 45 minutes of recess for students Kindergarten through 5th grade, and to promote sustainability for teachers within the district.
While I am grateful for all the hard work of the bargaining team, we cannot wait 5 years to fight for our students. DPS needs to revisit our contract and make sure it is in the best interest of all students. DPS has the means to provide a world-class education for our students; we as teachers should demand nothing less.
After careful consideration of our proposed contract, I am choosing to vote no.
Denver Public Schools has an excessive amount of administrators.
Have you ever wondered what it would be like to be one?
You would get to mix and match with the political elite, work downtown in an air-conditioned skyscraper, and enjoy a high-paying salary.
Well, we can't help you with any of that, but we can help you find an important sounding job title! Check it out below and be sure to share your result on Facebook and Twitter.
Today, hundreds of Colorado educators and community members protested Secretary of Education Betsy DeVos' visit to Denver to meet with members of the American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC). During the protests, multiple speakers compared DeVos' education policies to those of the Denver Public Schools Board of Education and Superintendent Tom Boasberg.
On several occasions, mentions of the DPS Board were met with boos from a crowd filled with teachers, ESPs, parents, students, and community members.
Comparisons between DeVos and corporate Democrats are not new, but the members of the DPS Board have worked hard to distance themselves from DeVos' policies. Based on today's reactions at the protest, it seems their efforts have not been successful.
“DeVos, Boasberg, and the entire DPS Board embrace a market-based model of education where schools and teachers are ranked and sorted using high-stakes testing,” said Eve Cohen, a Denver parent and member of the community group Our Denver, Our Schools. “Schools are forced to compete against each other for favorable ratings, quality teachers, and extra funding.”
Denver students attend some of the most segregated schools in the country – even more so in privately-managed charters. In recent years, the takeover of Denver schools has been swift. One in four schools in DPS are now charters. Denver's proliferation of charter schools is not unlike the spread of charters in Michigan after DeVos' advocacy as chair of the American Federation for Children.
“Low performing public schools, attended almost exclusively by kids of color in low income areas are starved of funding and then closed to be replaced by privately managed charters,” Cohen said. She closed her speech with a call to action:
“It is time for us to say no to DeVos, no to Boasberg, and no to the Denver School Board!”
The protest of DeVos' visit was not surprising. She has been a highly controversial figure since being nominated for Secretary of Education. She was confirmed by the U.S. Senate by the narrowest margin in history, and was rejected by members of both parties because she had not attended, worked in, or sent her children to public schools.
DeVos received confirmation votes from politicians like Colorado's own Cory Gardner, who received almost $50,000 from the DeVos family. This led many Americans to believe that DeVos literally bought her position as Secretary of Education. DeVos had previously admitted that she expected politicians to carry out her bidding because of the massive amounts of money her family donated.
Erik Troe, a local radio host and community member who fought the DPS Board's closure of Gilpin Montessori this past school year, explained more similarities between DeVos' agenda and the DPS Board's agenda.
“The federal agenda of Betsy DeVos and the citywide one of our Superintendent of schools Tom Boasberg are functionally very similar,” Troe explained.
“Both DeVos and Boasberg are wild for privately operated charter schools. Both rely on excessive standardized testing and use the results of those tests as a means to reward or punish our teachers and their schools. Both are hostile to the highly-trained and certified professional educators of our teachers' unions,” Troe added.
“Worst of all, both these agenda strengthen the stratification of our society with wasteful, top-heavy so-called 'choice' programs that invariably give wealthier, whiter communities the choices and seats in well-funded magnet programs, while poorer, darker families are left to choose among the leftovers,” Troe said. “You want to resist DeVos nationally? The best way to start locally is by resisting the corporatist agenda of Superintendent Boasberg and the Denver Board of Education.”
DeVos may have criticized Denver's portfolio management strategy for not including religious and private schools, but she generally supports a portfolio strategy that utilizes school choice to drive competition between schools.
The DPS Board has been more skillful than DeVos in presenting a public narrative that is not anti-teacher or anti-union, but their policies speak louder than words. Denver has stripped more veteran teachers of due process rights than any other district in the state. DPS also relies on high-stakes testing data to decide how teachers are paid and which schools will be closed and likely replaced by privately-managed charters.
This spring, DeVos praised Indianapolis' rollout of innovation schools – a type of school meant to allow charter-like management autonomy, often by waiving teachers' job protections and collectively bargained rights. DPS has been a major supporter of innovation schools as well. According to DPS' website, the district now operates 47 innovation schools, out of roughly 200 total schools. Innovation schools have shown mixed results.
Both DeVos and the DPS Board have also been accused of favoring corporate interests over the well being of students.
“We have to start saying no to corporate interests in public schools,” said Andrea Leggett, a DPS dance teacher, to the crowd. “We have to start putting our students above their profits.”
“Please join me in making sure as we vote this fall, that their corporate interests are not being put in power – that the people that are representing us and our students know what it's like to be us and our students,” Leggett said.
The Caucus of Today's Teachers has officially released our platform.
Our platform was crafted by caucus members and is the result of months of revisions and edits. During the last school year, all caucus members were invited to write platform language and find shared values to define our mission to advocate for a more just Denver.
Our platform is listed below and can also be found here:
CAUCUS OF TODAY’S TEACHERS PLATFORM
WE BELIEVE THAT...
Open, transparent communication between members and elected leadership benefits everyone, elevates member voice, and ensures participation by all members
Democratic decision making is a best practice in schools and in the association
Educators are professionals and that educators’ time and expertise are valuable
Advocate for anti-racist policies and social justice in our schools and society for and with students, parents, community - not just for educators
Build and maintain partnerships with parents, community members, and other stakeholder groups
Defend true public education and fight for comprehensive community schools and against privatization
Inform members and the public about local, state, and national education research and news that impacts Denver and beyond
WE ARE COMMITTED TO A STRONG ASSOCIATION BECAUSE...
School choice has had drastic effects - Our association should be a model for others because of Denver’s experiences with school choice
Students are the reason we’re in this profession - Students’ well-being should be placed first in everything we say and do
A strong contract ensures an excellent education for students - Students’ learning environments are educators’ working environments
Supporting teachers is supporting students - When educators are supported, they are able to serve students better.
Dear Denver Teachers,
I am sure that you may have heard a lot about the DCTA’s elections over the last few weeks. This is in part because there is a lot at stake in these elections. I hope you will take the time to read this letter about why I am choosing to leave the classroom to advocate for our Denver schools, and I hope that you will consider giving me your vote for DCTA President.
Over the last decade Denver has become a national beacon for reform policies. Our public schools are being closed and replaced by charter schools. We are in the national spotlight for all the wrong reasons. As a Denver resident I have watched as my neighborhood school, Goldrick, has been turned around, and almost all of the teachers there pushed out. As an educator, I have experienced a charter school and an innovation school co-located in my own building – on two occasions. But I have a hard time just watching such things happen. I have fought these reform policies alongside the community and teachers invested in these schools. I’ve worked alongside the community who fought the co-location at Abraham Lincoln High School in 2016. I have fought alongside parents trying to keep Gilpin Montessori open, and will continue to do so. I marched on the sidewalks outside of DSST College View, demanding that the profiteers who operate DSST be financially transparent to the taxpayers and community. I have picketed alongside Chicago teachers who were on strike for the same things I am fighting for now.
The truth is, across the nation, a strong teacher’s union is the only thing that has been able to successfully fight back against these attacks on our public education. I love my students, I love my school, but if DCTA does not begin to fight back, I don't know how much longer public education will last in Denver.
If elected I commit to take bold action against education reforms that harm children, their families, their communities and their teachers. I commit to lay everything on the line and fight for each and every one of our schools. Each and every one of our students. I will follow in the steps of our fellow teachers across the nation in demanding the schools our students deserve.
Our students deserve bold action, but I can’t do it without you.
Please vote for me for DCTA President.
Special Education Teacher
Henry World School
Last week, the DCTA and DPS bargaining teams sat down to negotiate LEAP, the evaluation system for Denver teachers. The negotiations featured many heartfelt testimonies from teachers who have suffered under the evaluation system's inconsistencies and lack of checks and balances. Even DPS representatives couldn't help but laugh at the absurdity of what Denver teachers have had to endure over the last few years. The night featured several theatrical moments, including one where virtually all teachers stood up in an informal vote of no confidence in LEAP.
Clearly, a large number of DPS teachers are fed up with LEAP, and to address these concerns, DCTA is proposing a joint task force consisting of DCTA members and DPS officials to collaborate and create a new evaluation system.
It's a solid proposal, but before we can fix or replace LEAP, we must acknowledge the role that DCTA played in creating the evaluation system and analyze why our union was unable to meaningfully challenge the District's implementation of the system once it became more punitive. If we do not learn from our history, we are doomed to repeat it.
Our Union's role in designing and piloting LEAP
At this past November's Rep Council meeting, DCTA leaders were pushing changes to our bylaws that included making our union's highest offices exclusive to non-probationary teachers. During the discussion, a member in the audience brought up concerns that this change would enable DPS to use LEAP to selectively choose who would sit across the table from them. DCTA President Henry Roman brushed aside these concerns and downplayed our union's involvement in creating LEAP.
But while it might be politically advantageous for Roman to distance himself from LEAP now, previous news coverage and signed agreements show that he, and several other DCTA leaders, were intimately involved in the creation of LEAP.
In a 2014 interview with Chalkbeat, Roman complimented DPS Superintendent Tom Boasberg and his administration's willingness to work with DCTA on LEAP. “There are ups and downs — like any other relationship. But we’ve worked closely with DPS and the Gates Foundation with the LEAP process,” Roman said.
Roman was referring to the $10 million grant that the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation provided Denver Public Schools to pilot and implement LEAP. The grant helped DPS fund many aspects of LEAP, including “DCTA Liaisons” to help teachers adjust to the system and ensure that DPS heard teacher voices throughout the rollout.
One of the liaisons was none other than DCTA's current Executive Director Pam Shamburg.
In a 2013 report published by the Aspen Institute, Shamburg called Roman a “genius” for his eagerness to work with DPS in creating LEAP. She believed it was important to have teacher voices involved in the framework creation process to stop DPS from implementing draconian practices down the line. The report also stated that she was "elbows-deep" in the framework drafting process.
DCTA leaders' signatures can be also found on the initial LEAP pilot agreement, the Peer Assistance and Review (PAR) MOU, and the extensions of those agreements. Roman also signed off on an amendment to the PAR MOU this past August.
Roman even appeared with Tom Boasberg in a promotional video (see below) celebrating the collaboration between DPS and DCTA in signing the PAR MOU. It's important to include the PAR MOU in this discussion because DPS would eventually use its language to argue that teachers had limited rights to grieve their evaluations.
When Collaborartion Falls Apart
Roman's comments about working with DPS and the Gates Foundation are only proof that there was once a collaborative relationship around LEAP. It's hard to fault leadership for trying to ensure that teachers are part of the policy creation process, but the issues with LEAP go beyond the framework. The framework is not responsible for the uneven implementation of LEAP and the lack of reasonable checks and balances.
The reality is that a seat at the drafting table can never be a substitute for the power to challenge management's intentions. As the 2013-14 school year came to a close, teachers whose end-of-year ratings fell into “decision bands” between definitive results had their effectiveness decided by their principal. These teachers were offered a DPS-created redress process that could be used to challenge their principal's decision. This was a non-negotiated process that completely disregarded large amounts of existing DCTA contract language. In typical DPS fashion, there was no clear-cut criteria that could be argued to override a principal's rating (if the teacher could convince the principal to change the score, only then would the score be changed).
DPS argued that the PAR MOU, which was signed by Roman and Boasberg in the video above, contained language that waived Article 10 of the Master Agreement. Article 10 defines teacher evaluation and establishes checks and balances to ensure that all teachers are evaluated fairly and consistently. DPS argued that this supposed waiver allowed management to create their own evaluation policies – like the decision bands and redress process without working with the union. DCTA disagreed with that notion and even posted on Facebook the following fall, calling all teachers who fell into these “decision bands” to contact the union to be part of a class action grievance that would challenge the District's practices.
The union could have put forth a persuasive argument through the grievance process. Despite a plethora of existing checks and balances in Article 10, Article 2-6 is clear that non-contractual policies are not to supersede Master Agreement language. Even the aforementioned LEAP agreements suggest that both parties agreed that LEAP was to eventually be bargained into contract language.
So, was DCTA successful with the class action grievance? Did they even follow through with it? Like so many of our union's other initiatives, there was no further communication or explanation to members.
In the years that followed, DCTA did begin to criticize LEAP through communications, and this past spring, at a Rep Council meeting, Pam Shamburg gave a presentation on how members could grieve certain violations within LEAP. But for many, this came years too late.
In 2013, almost 250 probationary teachers lost their jobs. Last year, almost 150 teachers were non-renewed (while our school board chose not to reveal how many teachers were dismissed from innovation schools). When Senate Bill 191 allowed school districts to strip teachers of their due process rights for the first time last year, Denver had far more teachers lose non-probationary status than other districts.
LEAP was directly responsible for these outcomes, and whether or not DCTA leaders want to admit it, our union's actions and inactions played a role in allowing these harmful events to happen.
As we go forward, we must ensure that checks and balances are in place before we begin implementing a new evaluation process. It is encouraging to see that DCTA's proposal seeks to rebuild Article 10 even if DCTA membership ends up rejecting the new system. Still, we must elevate member voices separate from those on the task force to ensure that DCTA remains objective and willing to criticize when issues present within the system.
We must also be aware that DPS will again try to use our involvement in the process to validate their policies as somehow being teacher-approved. It is no accident that DCTA's logo continues to be printed on the LEAP handbook every year.
We should also be wary about partnering with philanthrocapitalist organizations like the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation. Working with these mega-foundations can be an easy workaround for public education's funding shortfalls, but this comes at the cost of pushing aside educators' voices in favor of those who hold the purse strings.
Finally, once we collaborate to design a better system, we must ensure that our union has the power to advocate for fair, consistent evaluations. This will only happen when we build democracy and raise membership throughout our union. Otherwise, we will create a new, “collaborative” system and slowly District officials will take it over and use it to propagate their own narrative and agenda all over again.
Members of the Caucus of Today's Teachers are invited to help build our organization's platform and core values on Thursday, Feb. 9th at East High School.
Caucus of Today's Teachers Platform Meeting
Thursday, Feb. 9th
East High School (Room #400)
1600 City Park Esplanade, Denver, CO 80206
We know that we need to elevate the political consciousness of DCTA members and empower rank-and-file educators (YOU!) to fight for change that benefits our students and teachers, so it's important that we make room for all voices so we can build a united movement that will last for years to come.
To facilitate the process, we will review the platforms of progressive caucuses like the Caucus of Working Educators in Philadelphia and the Caucus of Rank-and-File Educators (CORE) in Chicago. We will use these as models to create our own caucus platform for Denver.
RSVP for the Platform Meeting by filling out the Google Form below. Not a member of the Caucus of Today's Teachers yet? Click here to join.
By Hayley Breden, DPS Teacher
On Thursday, December 15, 2016, the Denver Public Schools (DPS) Board of Education (BOE) voted unanimously to close three elementary schools: Gilpin Montessori, Amesse, and Greenlee. Amesse and Greenlee will be “restarted” (replaced with different types of schools) and Gilpin’s building will be closed. Plans for the Gilpin building are unknown at this time, although one rumor is that Downtown Denver Expeditionary School wants the space. While all three schools were considered low-performing (Gilpin was rated “red” and Amesse and Greenlee were rated “orange”) by DPS, many teachers, community members, parents, and students questioned the school district’s School Performance Framework (SPF) and School Performance Compact evaluation systems.
How does DPS rate schools and decide which schools to close?
Denver Public Schools released the above video explaining the process that the school district and Board of Education use when evaluating and closing schools. According to the video, “DPS partners with school communities to ensure that their voices are heard in developing great schools to serve their neighborhood.” While the more than six hours of public comment at the December 15 DPS BOE meeting allowed for community voice, many people who opposed these school closures doubt that the BOE heard, understood, and faithfully took these community concerns into account.
Many educators and parents have accused DPS and the DPS BOE of unfairly favoring charter schools over public schools. For example, the BOE voted to renew Wyatt Academy’s charter for two more years despite their enrollment declining by 33% between 2013 and 2016, a rate greater than Gilpin’s decline in enrollment of 30%. Gilpin’s closure was especially controversial due to the school being given a score of “1” rather than “2” for teachers using assessments in class. The school scored 82% in this category, and according to DPS staff, that percentage fell in a decision zone in which the “1” score could have been rounded up to give Gilpin a “2” - which could have prevented the closure recommendation - but this was not done.
How did Gilpin Montessori community members respond to their school being slated for closure?
Parents, educators, and community members at Gilpin Montessori learned that DPS recommended their school for closure during the week of December 5, giving parents about one month to learn about other schools before the annual DPS School Choice process begins in January. A parent of Gilpin students recorded this video of Superintendent Tom Boasberg explaining Gilpin’s proposed closure to the Gilpin community on December 8. Between December 8 and the BOE meeting on December 15, over 400 people signed an online petition to keep Gilpin open. In addition, over 200 Gilpin parents, staff, and community members attended the BOE meeting and many participated in the public comment section of the meeting.
The public comment video from the December 15 DPS BOE meeting is over six hours long, most of which is community members, parents, teachers, and others voicing their strong opposition to these school closures. As early as 3:45 pm, 45 minutes before the BOE meeting was scheduled to begin, at least one local news station had a van, video camera, and reporter outside the DPS administration building on Lincoln Street. As more parents, community members, and DPS educators arrived, building staff told many members of the public that they could not enter the room where the BOE meeting was being held. As late as 5:30, there were still at least ten empty chairs out of the approximately 110 chairs that were in the room, but one DPS teacher was told she couldn’t enter the room.
What does academic research say about school closures?
During the public comment session at the December 15 BOE meeting, the voices of education researchers provided scholarly support to the parent and community members opposing the closure of Gilpin, Amesse, and Greenlee. On behalf of the University of Colorado at Denver School of Education and Human Development, two professors, Dr. Cindy Gutierrez and Dr. Sheila Shannon, spoke in favor of keeping Greenlee Elementary open and read a letter from their colleague Dr. Nancy Cummins which also recommended that the BOE allow Greenlee to remain open to keep working towards improvement using the “Possibility Plan” which was developed by Greenlee teachers, administrators, parents, and community members.
Particularly since No Child Left Behind (2001) outlined a process for school ratings, closures, and turnarounds, public education advocates and researchers have debated the fairness, validity, and appropriateness of using closure as a means to improve schools. One criticism of school closures as an improvement strategy is that closures disproportionately and negatively impact low-income students and students of color. In a 2015 study of school closures in eight of Ohio’s eight largest urban districts, 73 percent of the students at the schools that were closed were African-American, while black students made up only 59 percent of students in district-run schools and 54 percent in charter schools.
In 2016, University of Colorado at Boulder’s Dr. Terrenda White published a critique of the Progressive Policy Institute’s report on Denver Public Schools. The Progressive Policy Institute’s report argues that school closures have benefitted Denver students, but Dr. White offers multiple criticisms and reasons to reject the PPI’s findings. Further research on the impact of Denver’s school closures on children of color and student achievement is needed, although each of the three schools that the DPS BOE voted to close on December 15 have student populations that are majority students of color and majority low-income students.
What is the role of the Caucus of Today’s Teachers going forward?
The Denver Post published two letters opposing the school closures, one of which was written by current DCTA (Denver Classroom Teachers Association) President Henry Roman. Still, there are more actions and steps that must be taken to send a clear message to the DPS administrators and Board of Education that closing schools using controversial data against community members’ wishes is unacceptable. The Caucus of Today’s Teachers and others can learn and grow by partnering with community members such as the Curtis Park Neighborhood association, Park Hill parents, school PTAs, and former DPS teachers like Mary Sam (see video below).
The Caucus of Today’s Teachers can use similar caucuses and unions across the country as models for next steps and actions. For example, when Chicago Public Schools announced its plans to close several schools in 2011, the Chicago Teachers’ Union, led by their Caucus of Rank and File Educators, held a teach-in for community members which was attended by hundreds. This is just one instance of coalition building among union members and community members. Additionally, teachers in Seattle went on a 2015 strike that garnered national attention. In addition to a cost-of-living wage increase, Seattle teachers gained the support of parents and community members and were able to successfully guarantee thirty minutes of daily recess for elementary students - a win that helps students’ health, not just teachers’ paychecks. While Chicago and Seattle teachers’ unions are well-known examples of community-union partnerships, there are many other teachers’ unions across the United States that work not only for teachers’ benefit, but for the well-being of students and their communities.
Denver’s Caucus of Today’s Teachers has begun this work already with at least five members attending the December 15 DPS BOE meeting, but continued attention to social justice and equity issues in DPS and advocating on behalf of all of our students are vital to any progress the Caucus hopes to make.
Rethinking Schools topical collection on teacher unions: http://rethinkingschools.org/special_reports/union/unhome.shtml
National Education Policy Center: policy briefs, think tank reviews, academic research:
Denver Public Schools Board of Education:
Network for Public Education:
Stanford Center for Opportunity Policy in Education:
Two weeks ago, DCTA members rejected proposed changes to our union’s bylaws. Going forward, it’s important that DCTA leaders learn from this outcome and appropriately change the manner in which we amend our governing documents. Below are seven recommendations to ensure we make changes in a way that benefits all members, not just a few.
1. We cannot afford to be distracted by controversial bylaws changes when our union is heading into major negotiations that will determine the future of our master contract. DCTA Board members and Reps need to be focused on winning a strong contract for our teachers and students, alike.
2. The proposed bylaws would have dramatically impacted DCTA’s upcoming elections. Going forward, it is important that our leaders understand that it is inappropriate to propose restrictions to our highest offices roughly a month before elections are set to begin. To avoid any conflicts of interest and to ensure that rules aren’t changed at the last minute, any substantial changes to elections procedure should be implemented carefully and at an appropriate time - with consultation and feedback from the Election Committee.
3. Our Bylaws committee is currently made up entirely of DCTA Board members and elected officials. Now that a majority of voting members have rejected these proposals, it’s important that we restructure this committee to better represent our members’ interests. In editing our bylaws, we also need to ensure that we follow our current bylaws. Our bylaws call for a six-member committee with an additional chairperson on the committee, but the previous proposals came from a committee of three plus a chairperson. The committee should consist of teachers from all over the district, teaching all different grade levels, and rank-and-file members.
4. It would be beneficial to host a feedback session or conduct a survey with members. This session would allow us to learn from our members and get new ideas, beyond the committee, of what belongs in our bylaws. The debate at the previous Rep Council brought forth many important viewpoints, and it would help the process if more members could include their views in advance of new proposals.
5. In the future, the Board of Directors and Rep Council need to receive the proposed changes a month in advance, minimum. Both bodies should also have the opportunity to discuss and debate proposals and not be rushed to vote immediately after doing so. We need to remember that Board Members and Reps serve as representatives of their members. This month will allow time for building meetings to be held so that Board Members and Reps can discuss the changes with their members and get feedback. This feedback will help Board Members and Reps vote on their members’ behalf and will strengthen the end product by bringing forward questions and concerns in advance.
6. Votes to the membership should not be sent out over such an inconvenient time of the school year. We need to respect our members, their families, and their travel plans. Votes should be conducted during the working school year, and not over a holiday break.
7. Vague, undefined terms in the bylaws such as "authorized members" need to be defined before a Rep Council with a vote. Members who have never been asked to sit in a different section of Rep Council and excluded from discussion should not be surprised by changes to a Rep Council that have not occurred in years.
With these changes in our practice we could value our members, our leaders, and edit our bylaws without a rush. This type of process would allow us to properly attend to detail and create governing documents that support a democratic union.
1. Students First (for real though)
In Denver Public Schools, “students first” might have more to do with public image than reality, but that hasn't been the case for successful teachers unions in other cities.
Seattle teachers' recent strike was known for focusing on one issue: 30 minutes of guaranteed recess for all students. Pasco (Washington) teachers went on strike for appropriate curriculum for bilingual and special education students as well as smaller class sizes. St. Paul teachers successfully advocated for smaller class sizes – with smaller caps at schools more impacted by poverty.
All three unions also won better pay for their teachers, but it's important to note that these unions did not use student-centered issues as a veneer just to push for better pay. The unions legitimately focused on our primary interest: our students. When teachers unions focus on students' needs, the public is more willing to address the pay gap between teachers and workers with similar education and skill levels.
2. Engaging members is key
In 2011, the Illinois legislature enacted so-called reform legislation requiring a 75 percent vote of bargaining unit teachers (not just members) to authorize a strike. Non-voting teachers are counted as “no” votes. This legislation was intended to set the bar for legal strikes out of reach and to diminish the power of labor.
The Chicago Teachers Union, under the newly elected leadership of CORE (the Caucus of Rank-and-File Educators), responded to these lofty requirements by setting equally high goals and organizing to meet them. Through conversations about students' learning conditions and by bringing the demands of rank-and-file members into negotiations, CTU underwent a democratic revolution. To authorize the historic 2012 strike, 90 percent of Chicago teachers cast ballots and 98 percent of those voted to approve the strike.
Since the strike, CTU's engagement with members has not faltered, and the union announced in September that the membership had overwhelming approved another strike if needed. That act of power and solidarity helped reach an agreement without another strike being necessary.
3. Build community partnerships
Contracts are not won at the bargaining table; they are won in the streets. Teachers unions win when parents and community understand what is at stake for educators and students, alike.
Working up to their 2014 negotiations, the St. Paul Federation of Teachers worked closely with community to create bargaining proposals focused on inequities in their school district and on better serving students. When parents and community members began to see that the union was not a financially-motivated political entity, but rather a democratic organization consisting of people that selflessly served their community, the power dynamic in negotiations shifted dramatically. When the public demanded the school district do better for their students, district leaders did just that and both sides had a collaborative series of negotiations resulting in a strong contract for teachers and students.
Colorado law now mandates district negotiations be open to the public. Denver teachers should utilize this opportunity and bring parents and community members into the bargaining process – not just as observers, but as participants to ensure that the best interests of students are realized by our school district.
4. Take back the narrative
There's an old saying that says, “If you give them an inch, they'll take a mile.”
Denver teachers, like most others throughout the nation, have been told to do more with less for years. Powerful corporate interests are pushing for charter schools, high-stakes testing, and merit pay for educators. Many students face obstacles to succeeding in school and so-called "reformers" have taken advantage of these inequalities to push forward their agenda.
Unions cannot afford to stand idly by while these attacks on public education occur. Schools and Communities United, a Wisconsin coalition including the Milwaukee Teachers' Education Association, addressed racial inequities head-on with a detailed report about segregation in Milwaukee schools and communities. Nationally, many teachers unions are challenging the premise of outsourcing struggling schools to charters by pushing for community schools instead.
It is not enough to mitigate losses and sell concessions to the membership. As teachers, we must take the power back and confront issues like poverty, lack of affordable housing, racial injustices, and inequities in Denver schools and neighborhoods. The experts in education policy are teachers – not the politicians and lawyers influencing our elections and controlling our district.
5. Don't be afraid to stand up to big banks and corporate interests
The Chicago Teachers Union continues to demand city leaders, including the city council and Mayor Rahm Emanuel, take legal action against the predatory bank deals that have cost Chicago taxpayers more than $850 million. The same type of interest rate swaps have cost Denver Public Schools hundreds of millions.
While focused on infrastructure rather than education, the Fix LA coalition in Los Angeles continues to expose how Wall Street banks are gouging their city government through hundreds of millions in fees resulting from toxic swaps. The coalition highlights how taxpayer money should go towards “our streets and not Wall Street.”
The charter school and testing industries have a strong foothold in Denver. Looking at the amount of dark money being spent in Denver School Board elections, it suggests that private entities are protecting their financial interests and ensuring that Denver remains charter-friendly and invested in high-stakes standardized testing.
Education reformers have been more successful in taking over public interests in Denver than in other cities. Denver teachers must organize and expose the true intentions of these corporate entities, so that our public schools can remain accountable to taxpayers and community members.
“We do have on-going evidence that our African-American educators, who are needed for our most impacted students, are not receiving the support they need.”
These were the words of DCTA President Henry Roman in response to a report highlighting the experiences of African-American educators and administrators in Denver Public Schools. The report, released by Dr. Sharon Bailey, a former DPS school board member, revealed that 90 percent of participants identified institutional racism as serious issue in our district.
DCTA leaders have often spoken out on behalf of teachers of color, but the proposed bylaws amendments may present roadblocks for our slowly diversifying workforce.
The majority of Denver teachers are now, and historically have been, white. According to the Colorado Department of Education, almost 75 percent of DPS teachers are white. Latino teachers make up the next largest demographic, accounting for 16 percent of the workforce. This is in stark contrast to the student populations we serve – where only 23 percent are white and 56 percent are Latino.
While steps are being taken at multiple levels to encourage more people of color to enter the teaching profession, we need to be cognizant that if we pass bylaws that shut early-career educators out of leadership positions, we are opening the door for racial discrimination in our own union.
The problem with implementing bylaws that favor members who hold institutional power is that there are entire populations who have historically been unable to participate in those institutions.
Under the proposed amendments, members would only be eligible to run for president, vice-president, secretary, or treasurer with non-probationary status and completion of a full term on DCTA's Board of Directors.
As more teachers of color join our ranks, we cannot simply ask them to wait in line while our existing leaders serve out extended terms. The world around us is changing – and the way teachers unions operate needs to change, too. We need to lift up the voices who are speaking out against segregation and privatization in communities of color.
The idea that hard work and sufficient years of service in DCTA are enough for teachers of color to climb the ranks is false. LEAP has stripped due process rights away from DPS teachers at a far higher rate than evaluation systems in other major Colorado districts. It takes a minimum of three years to attain non-probationary status, and any end-of-year evaluation less than “Effective” will reset that clock. A term on DCTA's board also takes two years, but DPS' high turnover rate often leads to shortened terms and appointments to fill vacancies.
Many new hires end up working at “at-will” innovation schools where our bylaws committee believes they will be too at-risk of being fired to hold a high-ranking position in our union. Even in traditional schools, Senate Bill 191 and LEAP will continue to shrink the number of non-probationary teachers year after year.
These roadblocks, along with the stress and workload of the teaching profession, will prevent talented teachers of color from being able to run for their own union's offices.
We should not allow our union to create a separate and unequal membership classification for some of our teachers and SSPs. Every member who pays dues and is active in our union should be able to put forth his/her vision for our students. We need more pathways to engage our members and work together to fight back against privatization and so-called “reforms.”
We also need to be on the right side of history. When our employer is doing more to encourage teachers of color than our union is, something needs to change. DCTA leaders continue to speak up for teachers of color, but actions are louder than words.
Above image by Joe Brusky.
Most of the criticisms against the proposed DCTA Bylaws amendments have focused on restricting members from pursuing elected offices. However, there is another major change that should be just as concerning: diminishing the importance of Rep Council.
The proposed bylaws changes establish new procedures that allow the Board of Directors to take over the policy-making duties of Rep Council when a quorum isn't present at our monthly membership meetings. Under Article 6, Section 2, the bylaws committee has proposed adding the following language: “When a quorum is not present at the Representative Council, recommendations affecting Association policies will be referred to the Board of Directors.”
DCTA's elected leaders have presented these changes as necessary to bring us in line with our current practices, and that does make sense. After all, when was the last time Rep Council had a quorum and conducted any sort of official business?
However, we should question whether or not our current practices are really best practices.
The True Role of Reps
Reps should not merely be people who handle the occasional corrective action meeting or disseminate information to people in their building. DCTA Representatives are to our union what U.S. Representatives are to Congress. As our bylaws state, "The Representative Council shall be the official legislative body of the Association and shall be composed of Association Representatives and members of the Board of Directors."
Reps should be excited to engage in discussions and put forth motions on behalf of their building's members. However, low attendance and the requirement of a quorum to conduct business has mostly prevented this for several years now.
A lot of the blame in the decline of Rep Council should fall upon the politicians and private entities that have worked to strip away due process from some teachers while keeping the rest on their toes. Our members are constantly asked to do more with less – and that makes it difficult to attend meetings and get involved in our union.
The proposed bylaws amendments are proof that DCTA leaders are giving up hope in restoring Rep Council into the democratic body it was intended to be.
We must ask more of our elected officials. It is easy to create workarounds to address low turnout and participation, but it is much harder to change the way we operate and make room for members to participate.
Moving Past Service Unionism
Rep Council meetings have slowly devolved into informational seminars where our elected officials and DCTA staff present information to the membership that they deem important. At these meetings, we often discuss the latest threats of education reform and how we can go back into our individual schools and fight for our members' rights. It's a noble cause, but it's just another example of the top-down service model unionism that DCTA claims to be moving away from.
Perhaps attendance at Rep Council would be higher if there were more opportunities for members to participate. With the exception of an underwhelming discussion about opt-out two years ago, when have Reps had the opportunity to sound off about the issues that impact them everyday?
Sure, there has been the occasional DPS official who comes to hear teachers' concerns about the latest-and-greatest trend, like SLOs, but when do the membership get to bring forward their own vision for our students?
Imagine if our Reps could shape the direction of our union and forge DCTA's positions on class sizes, testing, co-location, and more. This is how our democratic organization was intended to function. It is not an antiquated idea that we should abandon.
Democracy is often messy and contentious, but as Winston Churchill said, “Democracy is the worst form of government, except all those other forms that have been tried from time to time.”