The muddy process of discovery in DPS (updated, with photo)
Today I finally looked closely at my district’s teacher appreciation gift to us, one which, by the way, arrived well after the end of Teacher Appreciation Week. We were given a plastic tumbler equipped with lid and straw which has a Mark Van Doren quote affixed to it, declaring: “The art of teaching is the art of assisting discovery.” Those are nice words, and ones worth applying in my own teaching practice, yet they have an ironic ring to them considering the source sharing them. My distaste for the contradictory use of this quote stems from DPS’ ongoing, increased lack of transparency. Imprinting the quote on the tumblers may suggest that the discovery process is important to DPS leadership, but recent actions tend to muddy the water, provoking additional questions, rather than answering the ones at hand. For example:
- Top-down “grassroots” effort in the Far Northeast claimed to seek community input on desired changes for area schools. The committee, which met over a period of several months, began promisingly with discussions of values and principles of the neighborhoods in question. However, final meetings culminated with District representatives unveiling a plan crafted exclusively in its administrative offices, advocating radical changes to six area schools with low test performance. To allow “feedback”, surveys provided committee members opportunities to extol or outright reject the virtues of the plan. Questions were posed as positive statements e.g.: “This plan will provide more opportunities for students”, offering response selections ranging from the enthusiastic affirmative to an emphatic no, effectively bypassing the opportunity for any real dialogue or debate on the proposal itself.
- In the grand turnaround scheme, certain principals and other leaders were assured they could keep their present positions or were promised key posts in the replacement schools only to find that, according to Colorado Department of Education, a true turnaround effort of a school requires also replacing its leader. Oops! A little shuffling à la musical chairs, moving administrators from one job or school to another, enabled DPS to keep promises on both ends. What’s wrong with that?
- Many teachers did really lose their jobs in the turnaround process. Human resources representatives vaguely offered to assist with resume building and interviewing skills but no workshops were presented, at least not before the advent of a huge circus-like job fair, in which the mob was big enough and the din loud enough to utterly distract from the interview process. To keep things even more interesting, several of the schools fashioned to replace the others were granted innovation status before obtaining consent of, or even hiring, the required (as per 2008 CO Innovation Schools Act) 60% of faculty in exceptions to the Denver Classroom Teachers Association contract. The DCTA has filed suit, contesting that innovation school hiring took place with presumption of acceptance of the waivers, obligating new hires to the conditions and constituting an abuse of the law.*
- DPS began implementation of SB 191’s “mutual consent” clause yet did not have a consistent nor clear definition for hiring cycle or for the point at which a teacher could be placed on unpaid leave.
- In the turnaround process, both the high school and middle school in the area would boast multiple programs at each site. Parents were expected to return applications in January, before they were clear on the choices available to them, and application wording suggested that they were obligated to stick with the choice made for the remainder of a student’s schooling. A complicated shuttle system to transport students in the FNE “zone of innovation” was promised, even as the district was planning for overall cuts to its transportation budget.
Questions linger for families, students, teachers, and other district employees. Events of this school year indicate that anything but the process of discovery is valued by those powers that be in Denver Public Schools. Either that, or discovery is valued so much that everything is deliberately kept vague.
In the Denver Post 7/2/11 edition’s opinion page (8B), I saw a blurb entitled:
“TEACHERS UNION STRIKES AGAIN”
No, we’re not striking, it’s merely the Post “reporting” in its typical fashion, setting aside any pretense of presenting a balanced perspective because they already have an opinion formed.
The Denver Classroom Teachers Association has an unfortunate history in recent years of talking a good reform game while obstructing or objecting to actual reform measures put in place by the district. And the pattern has continued with the union’s recent lawsuit attempting to block the creation of a number of “innovation schools” within the district that ease contract restrictions and permit greater flexibility in meeting students’ needs.
Since we support the district reforms, we obviously hope the lawsuit fails, but it does address at least one issue of interest: Can the district submit innovation plans to the state for schools that are being created and thus don’t have a full staff to vote on the matter? We’re persuaded by the district’s legal arguments that it can, but we can also see why they’re controversial.
It’s telling that while they can acknowledge the existence of a controversy, Post writers didn’t choose to better inform their readership on any corresponding details.
I have received a request from KS Teacher to share images of the cup that inspired this post. Team FSP is happy to honor reasonable requests made by our readers, so here they are. I invite you to focus your gaze on the shiny red straw, secured by the lid, as well as the close up of the quote.