Update: See DPS response at the bottom of this post.
Denver school board member Andrea Merida, in high dudgeon, has leaked on her blog the following letter from the Denver Public Schools administration to board members. It was supposed to be embargoed until next week.
Merida is deeply offended by the contents. I think a lot of it sounds progressive and promising – and not all that new. My concerns about DPS and charters have more to do with whether the district is becoming overly proscriptive vis a vis charters. Read on, and then comment away.
Dear Board Members,
On December 6 and 7, Denver Public Schools will be hosting leadership from the Gates Foundation and almost a dozen school districts throughout the country, including LA, New York, Nashville, and New Orleans, to announce a new initiative created to strengthen district-charter collaborations in the participating districts (please consider all of this information to be embargoed until Tuesday, Dec. 7).
DPS has been a national leader in establishing a core set of equity principles articulated in the Denver Plan that guide all of Denver’s public schools: equity of access, accountability, and opportunity:
· All students must have access to all schools.
· All schools must be held accountable to the same standards of performance.
· All schools must have the same opportunities to utilize district resources and facilities.
The creation of a center-based program at Omar D. Blair charter school and an attendance area for West Denver Prep’s campuses in NW Denver are evidence of this commitment.
In the last few months, DPS, along with 8+ big-city districts, developed a district-charter collaboration compact that embodies these key principles and identifies future areas of partnership to guarantee all schools provide all students with access to a high quality education. Through this compact, DPS and Denver charter schools committed to the belief that all students can achieve and deserve the highest quality public schools. It is the collective responsibility of all public schools in Denver, district-led and charter schools to ensure all students have access to an excellent education that successfully prepares them for college and career.
Driven by these shared beliefs, this District-Charter Collaboration Compact represents an unprecedented commitment among district and charter leaders to improve the ways they work together for the benefit of all students in the city. Through its bold agenda to increase the number of high quality school choices, Denver has served as a national leader and model in this work, which is why it is fitting that the Gates Foundation would choose to launch its national initiative in Denver. Denver Public Schools has worked with the charter community to make real our core principles of equity of opportunity, equity of access and responsibility, and equity of accountability, as illustrated in the following recent measures:
· Charter schools, in aggregate, serve students populations that nearly mirror district averages in terms of free/reduced lunch status (73%), ethnic minority percentages (75%), English language learner status (30%), and special education status (11%).
· In 2010 Omar D. Blair became the first charter school in DPS to open a special education center program for students with multi-intensive needs in a charter school, and additional center programs are slated to open in charter schools this fall.
· Charter schools share equitably on the same pro rata basis as district run schools in funding the cost of center programs for severe needs students throughout the District. To ensure all students in DPS are afforded the highest quality education, Denver has committed to closing or restructuring the lowest performing schools, including the 6 lowest performing charter schools in the last 3 years.
· The District’s multi-measure School Performance Framework (SPF) treats district-run and charter schools equally; three of the top five performing schools in Denver Public Schools in the fall 2010 SPF are charter schools. Statewide, four of the top five schools demonstrating the most academic growth in the 2009-10 school years were DPS schools, of which three are charters.
· District and charter leaders serve on joint teams to ensure equity regarding special education and the enrollment practices and procedures.
Further commitments Denver charter schools have agreed to in the Compact include:
· Locating new schools in the highest-need areas, aligned to district plans and connected to district feeder patterns. Demonstrate parent support for new school applications and participate in ongoing parent engagement.
· Providing access and high quality support services or programs for all student populations, including English language learners, high risk students, students with mild-moderate needs, and students transitioning out of alternative schools. Commit to providing access and high-quality support services for students with severe needs as appropriate, guided by an equitable allocation process of center-based programs and corresponding resources. Support the comparable representation of all student populations in charter schools
· Providing access and high-quality support services for mid-year entry students in accordance with the district administrative transfer process and agreed upon district-charter school enrollment policies. Ensure that mid-year entry students are provided equitable access to schools across the district.
· Partnering with Denver Public Schools to implement a common and coordinated choice enrollment system.
· Make available to district educators, where feasible and at cost, professional development opportunities.
In recognition of Denver’s leadership, the Gates Foundation is hosting a breakfast especially for the Denver Public Schools Board of Education and DCTA representatives. This will provide you an opportunity to dialogue with Gates Foundation leaders, Vickie Phillips and Don Shalvey, about Gates’ on-going investment in Denver, including this district-charter initiative and Denver’s educator effectiveness grant. Breakfast will take place from 7 – 8 am on Tuesday, December 7th at the Westin Tabor Center. Please rsvp to (redacted by me).
Finally, the two-day Gates Foundation event will culminate on December 7th with a national press call and local press conference to launch its national district-charter initiative. Until then, all information regarding the District-Charter Compact and initiative is embargoed. Should you have any further questions, please do not hesitate to contact (redacted by Merida) and please do keep all information regarding this subject confidential until the official press release on Tuesday, December 7th.
We are encouraged by the district-charter commitments and confident future collaboration proposed will address students’ and parents’ demand for increased quality, access, and resources.
What are Merida’s objections? Here is a bit of what she wrote:
Since when does the Superintendent have the authority to enter into far-reaching agreements with any entity, in a move that could drastically change the makeup of our “portfolio of schools”? This potential sweeping change is a policy decision that only the Board of Education can authorize.
We have just received a very stern warning from the Colorado Department of Education about our ratings. According to the newly released data, the Denver Public Schools is categorized as “accredited with priority improvement.” This is the second-to-last rating from CDE, and we are the only large school district to get this rating. This means that we are to supply an improvement plan to the CDE by January 15, 2011. Why are we making backroom deals when we should be giving serious thought to improving these ratings instead?
This development is flat-out deplorable, and it’s a further indication of how much we’re failing our students. Instead of making these deals, we should be thinking very hard about how much we’ve veered away from the promise of the Denver Plan.
So, whaddaya think?
UPDATE: Here is a response sent by DPS chief of staff Amy Friedman to the school board Wednesday night:
Dear Board Members:
Several questions have been raised about if and when the Board will discuss and vote on the district-charter compact. We have this topic scheduled for the December meeting and look forward to the Board discussing whether or not they want the district-charter compact or any portion thereof to be codified in policy. As indicated in the previous email, the Denver Plan, which was unanimously approved by the Board in the Spring of 2010, clearly articulates the equity principles included in Denver’s district-charter compact:
We will ensure that all of our schools—whether district-run, charter, contract, or innovation—have a level playing field of opportunity, of access and responsibility, and of accountability.
- Opportunity: All our schools should have access to district facilities (including co-locations in our larger buildings) and equitable per-student funding.
- Access and Responsibility: All our schools must offer equitable access for all our students, regardless of socio-economic, disability, or language status; all our schools must contribute financially on the same basis to use district facilities and for district obligations, such as pension obligations and district-wide special education fudning needs.
- Accountability: All new schools are subject to the same accountability framework (the School Performance Framework), including the potential for school closurei nthe event of a failure to demonstrate student achievement growth.
(Denver Plan 2010, p. 29)
Furthermore, your actions over the past 12-18 months have been consistent with the vision articulated in the Denver Plan whether it was the recently approved enrollment zone in FNE that includes consistent enrollment practives for district-led and charter schools, the condition in Odyssey’s renewal to ensure equitable services for English langauge learners, WDP taking an enrollment boundary in NW, or placing a special education center program at Omar D. Blair.
Finally, in addition to the breakfast with Gates the morning of December 7th, we’d like to also invite you to a cocktail hour on December 6th from 5:30-6:30 at the Westin Tabor Center (1672 Lawrence Street). In addition to mingling with the leadership team from the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, you will have the opportunity to meet district and charter leaders from the other cities participating in this work.
If you have any questions, please let me know.
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