We’re all familiar with the old adage about not trying to fix what isn’t broken. That warning holds doubly true for what’s not just working, but working very well.
Colorado has earned national recognition in recent years as a state that embraced public school reform and accountability, much to the benefit of the families and students who rely on the system. And Douglas County public schools have led the way, thanks to courageous reformers on the board who haven’t been afraid to shake-up things, or challenge the status quo, by putting the interests of students first.
But today that forward progress is under attack, and facing possible rollback, from some of the same interest groups that helped run the once-proud American public education system into the ground. Teachers unions and left-wing interest groups, angry about losing control in Douglas County, are now in the midst of an all-out summer offensive, hoping that by reversing reforms in this battleground county they can also rollback forward progress across Colorado.
They are fanning-out across the county, trying to portray success as failure and progress and innovation as something to be feared. If they can vilify reform-minded board members, or whip-up controversy over positive change, other school boards and school districts undoubtedly will take notice. This battle thus has implications far beyond the Douglas County line.
That’s why Americans for Prosperity Foundation-Colorado, a long-time champion of choice and accountability in education, is stepping in to counter the misinformation and provide families with the facts they need to make informed decisions regarding their public schools. The theme of our effort is straightforward and honest: It’s Working. The reforms are working and the district shouldn’t look back.
We’ll remind parents that reform is working for them in Douglas County, in large part because the special interests who are leading the reform rollback aren’t in charge anymore. The needs of families and students now come first. We see this in the district’s improving fiscal situation, and in test scores that continue to improve, while much of the rest of the state languishes. With the iron grip of teacher unions loosened, more responsibility now rests with elected school board members and school administrators, who are free to experiment, innovate and improve accountability without union shop rules exercising a veto.
Typical of this innovation is the district’s groundbreaking choice scholarship program, which was challenged in court by the American Civil Liberties Union for daring to give DougCo families more choice in the school they may attend. And Douglas County is also experimenting with a bold, promising merit pay program, which will reward teachers who go above and beyond in the classroom.
Under the old system, union-imposed pay rules meant high-performing, more-motivated teachers received the same pay that slackers did – something that demoralized the best teachers and drained the system of vitality. Merit pay will reward higher achievement and performance, much to the benefit of teachers and students.
Such boldness just isn’t possible in hidebound old school districts in which the foxes run the henhouse. The foxes are now beating down the door to get back in in Douglas County. Everything depends on holding them at bay.
All reforms worthy of the name must aim at one ultimate goal, of course, which is improving the product and providing a better education for the student. And by that measure, too, reforms are working.
Six Douglas County high schools were ranked by Newsweek as among the best in Colorado. Test scores in math, science and reading are all up over the last five years, showing that the new leadership in the district has taken an always great district and actually improved its performance. And there’s no reason to believe such trends won’t continue, and even accelerate, if reactionary attempts at rollback don’t succeed.
No meaningful change comes without a measure of conflict and controversy, but this is no reason to undo what is unmistakably working.
Dustin Zvonek is the Colorado State Director of Americans for Prosperity Foundation, a free-market, free-enterprise organization