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.