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Union leader critical of education reform

Former district teacher speaks to local teachers’ union members

Posted

A national teachers’ union representative gave a slide presentation to some Douglas County teachers that casts a negative light on the school district’s education reform policies.

Rob Weil, director of field programs for the Washington, D.C.-based American Federation of Teachers, said the American education system needs improvement. But he said market-based reforms similar to those under way in the Douglas County School District, have been tried and have failed in other countries. He pointed specifically to Sweden and Chile — the education systems in both countries have prompted hot debate and some turmoil.

Weil presented research on international, national and local impacts of education reform during a Sept. 15 talk at the Centennial Embassy Suites hotel. The public presentation followed the Douglas County Federation’s annual general membership meeting.

The DCF, whose contract with the school district expired in 2012, is the local chapter of the AFT. Weil is a former Douglas County teacherwho frequently paused in his presentation to point out his apparent conflict of interest.

“You can’t count on me, because I’m tainted,” he said. “I ask you to take the time to look this stuff up. It’s all open source.”

Doug Benevento, school board vice president, said via email of the presentation, “Once again, this is yet another attempt by the union to stir controversy and create chaos where there simply is none.”

Data from the Colorado Department of Education showed a decline in DCSD’s performance framework scores from 2010 to 2013. The performance frameworks measure indicators of educational success, including academic achievement, academic longitudinal growth, academic gaps and postsecondary and workforce readiness.

DCSD’s performance framework scores dropped 7.4 percent from 2010 to 2013.

The school district did not comment on the change in its CDE performance framework statistics.

But DCSD spokeswoman Paula Hans wrote in an email, “DCSD is reinventing American education. Our focus remains on providing a world-class education to all students with the 21-century skills students will need — communication, collaboration, critical thinking and creativity — to succeed in whatever college or career they choose.”

Weil said DCSD’s state-recorded teacher turnover of 17.3 percent is about 7 percent higher than the average turnover of four districts: Boulder, Cherry Creek, Jefferson County and Littleton. While that number may sound small, Weil said, it added up to 222 more teachers leaving DCSD, on average, than each of the other suburban districts in 2013-14.

He pointed to academic research that indicates teacher turnover has a negative impact on students’ education.

“It matters,” he said. “You want that number as low as possible.”

The school district disagrees with the state’s most recent turnover figures because the CDE measures a calendar year instead of an academic year, doesn’t account for in-district promotions or transfers, temporary employees or retirees. When those factors are included, the school district’s figures show 13.1 percent of licensed staff left the district in 2013-14. The national average for teacher turnover is also about 13 percent.

DCSD notes its turnover of teachers rated highly effective and effective is less than 10 percent, allowing it “to put the very best teachers in front of students,” reads an emailed response from Hans.

“With a new school year underway, DCSD continues to raise the bar in education,” reads an emailed response attributed to Benevento. “A strong school district is not dependent on a union. The district’s retention rate for highly effective and effective teachers is significantly higher than the union’s retention rate.”

Weil agreed with several teachers who said it’s difficult to communicate such statistics to the community, saying DCSD’s communications department does an admirable job of presenting positive information to parents and community members.

“I’ve read some of their press releases; they have great PR people,” he said. “Those people need to get a raise.”

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