Reform Advocates, Union Backers Spar in Douglas County Over Schools

March 27, 2013

A flyer distributed by a pro-union group is just the latest salvo in an ongoing conflict between reformers and their critics

DENVER — In most school districts, any group of “engaged parents and community members” running a campaign against their own district might be considered a breach of school spirit protocol.

But that may not be the case in Douglas County, where critics of the reform-minded school board appear to be teaming up with the teachers’ union to mount an aggressive attack campaign.

A recent walk piece distributed by Douglas County Classrooms, a group created by the teachers’ union to oppose the board’s reform efforts, is just the latest salvo in an ongoing conflict between the union and district policymakers.

The flyer, like many of the attacks leveled by pro-union groups, draws heavily from information provided by the innocuously named Strong Schools Coalition (SSC).

The group has close ties to the union, and furnishes the detractors of education reform with what they believe to be ammunition, according to a recent MediaTrackers investigation.

The walk piece generated controversy by claiming that the district lost its “most distinguished accreditation… given by the Colorado Department of Education” in 2012.

Critics have vigorously disputed that claim, citing documentation from 2010, 2011 and 2012 that contradict the SSC claim.

According to district accreditation ratings provided by the Colorado Department of Education, Douglas County School District has maintained their “Accredited” rating for the past three years.

SSC and other critics do not mention that  the 2009 Education Accountability Act (SB 163) significantly changed the factors and methodology used in the District Performance Framework.

In 2009 the district was accredited with distinction, but according to  “SB 09-163, along with 2008’s Colorado Achievement Plan for Kids, marked the end of an accountability system that basically relied on schools’ CSAP scores for a given year. Over time new performance measures such as student and school improvement over time, dropout rates, student performance on pre-collegiate tests and other measures will determine a district’s accreditation – and what’s reported to the public.”

Pro-union groups also do not mention that each of the 19 districts that achieved “Accredited with Distinction” are small in size, with total school populations ranging from 200 to 23,000 total students.

Douglas County was also recently ranked tops among the state’s large school districts by an independent group.

Backers of the board’s reform efforts note that Douglas County posted the highest scores in reading in the state on the standardized Transitional Colorado Assessment Program test, scoring 13 percentage above the state average on the overall test.

Supporters point to DougCo’s on-time high school graduation rate, which has increased from 83 percent in 2010 to 87.4 percent in 2012, as measured by the Colorado Department of Education.

They also cite the district’s share of A-level schools — more than any other Colorado district with 5,000 or more students — and note that DougCo is home to 19 “Schools of Excellence” recognized by the state in 2012, up from 14 in 2010.

“The accreditation rating is clearly not an indicator of our school district.  The fact of the matter is there are multiple other measures that we are excelling at like lowering the dropout rate and increasing graduation rates and getting kids ready for the work force, like concurrent enrollment,” Dan McNinimee, Assistant Superintendent of Secondary Education at DCSD said.  “Douglas County is the leader in concurrent enrollment across the state and has been for years, but it’s also of the many things that we do that are simply not measured by the state performance frameworks.”

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