Thursday, November 5, 2009

Denver and DougCo school board elections set the stage for an interesting comparison

Looking through the election results on Tuesday it is interesting to compare and contrast the school board elections in Denver and Douglas County. In Douglas a slate of four free-market reformers were elected in a district that, while generally viewed favorably, has stagnated in its CSAP gains in recent years. In Denver, a district which has raised it's CSAP performance considerably in recent years, voters elected a pro-union, anti-charter majority.

Denver has made great leaps and bounds in recent years in CSAP scores but the district still has terrible graduation issues. It's a very typical urban district - huge numbers of kids on free and reduced lunches (meaning huge numbers of kids living in poverty) and subsequently poor graduation rates. Douglas County is the polar opposite, it's a very wealthy district which graduates it's kids. Denver has actually made larger CSAP gains that Douglas in recent years though. To be fair, Denver was starting from a far lower base.

In Douglas Country voters decided to bring on board a slate of reformers, apparently believing that the district needs major reforms in order to increase their already high achievement. In Denver voters demonstrated that they want to back away from the sweeping reforms (read, Charter Schools) that are pushed by education reform elites - including the governor's office. As the Denver Post noted,

Charter-school advocates had framed this election in stark terms: If union-backed candidates were elected, the district's momentum toward improvement would suffer and that could ruin Colorado's shot at a share of the U.S. Department of Education's competitive $4.35 billion "Race to the Top" fund.

The Lt. Governor has been charged with spearheading the "Race to the Top" here in Colorado. The candidates who were defeated on Tuesday have ties to various education foundations that the Lite Gov has worked closely with over her many years working on childrens' issues in the state. I doubt that the governor's office will make any sort of statement on the Denver school board elections but the results do leave one to wonder what impact the election will have on the governor's bold education reform agenda. It appears that Denver voters have sent a clear message - keep your hands off of our neighborhood schools. Can charter advocates look past their blinders and begin to see school reform as part of the broader set of socio-economic challenges facing our working poor?

We'll have to keep an eye on Douglas County as well. Are bold reforms coming? What impact will those reforms have on an already highly achieving district?

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