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By the way…

January 25, 2011
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…I wasn’t always a critic of 900 Grant. As I’ve said before, I originally believed in what the DPS regime says it is trying to do.

There appears to be an illogical belief among some– spread, unfortunately, by the likes of the Denver Post editorial board— that those of us who do not agree with Denver Public Schools’ leadership or the kind of school reform they endorse are just haters who lack sound reasons for our opposition. That’s not true. In my case, at least, what I learned, saw, and experienced during my time there forced me to re-evaluate what I’d previously thought and believed. (Think of it as a mini-Diane Ravitch experience ;))

As evidence, I offer this e-mail exchange between myself and Tom Boasberg, from two Springs ago. I wrote it to him after an open forum he held, to get to know more about the school-site concerns teachers and principals were having. During the meeting, he appeared to take teachers’ concerns seriously. (In my classroom, I often tried to catch students being good, writing them notes and calling home when they’d done something well, as opposed to only speaking up if they did something wrong. I also try to do that with grown-ups.)

"You're always welcome to give compliments, but criticism...well..."

Though I’m naturally skeptical of power, I nevertheless presume that other people are good-hearted until I’m confronted with evidence to the contrary. I naturally try to see the bright side of things.

My problem with the crowd at 900 Grant– and with many of the people who call themselves school reformers– is that while their words suggest their support and appreciation for teachers, their actions don’t consistently reflect that. It’s nice to say good things to and about teachers. But it’s far better to actually listen to us, by making the kinds of changes we say we need (::cough:: smaller classes, more resources, flexibility in curriculum and assessment, more-than-token input into school- and district-level decisions… ::cough::).

For instance, parents and staff members at two separate schools had to complain for ten years before anything was done about the principal who ran my last school and his previous one into the ground (and the official story is still that he went on leave; scant evidence so far that DPS holds ineffective leaders accountable). Teachers at many of the schools affected by turnarounds have presented evidence of their effectiveness, effort, and willingness to learn, but have been ignored.

The same can be said for students, parents, and community members. Though the district claims to want their input, and despite the fact that the district exists to serve them, district officials listen mostly to those who agree with the plans they already intended to implement. Parents and students who ask why their schools have fewer resources, or unstable leadership, or untrained teachers; those who stand up to defend their teachers and schools against unfair actions, get a deaf ear.

So it really shouldn’t surprise anyone when organizations that behave in a short-sighted, self-serving manner earn critics, or even make enemies. Instead of writing off dissenting voices, all people interested in real reform should work to figure out why those who disagree with them see things so differently, and how our shared good intentions and differing perspectives can be translated into meaningful change that works for everyone.

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