Our Commitment to New Teachers and Staff in Douglas County

We are committed to reclaiming the promise of public education in Douglas County. A priority of the DCF is to make sure that new teachers and staff succeed in our district. They can count on the membership of DCF as a resource for information and support–our shared core values and passion about children and education unite us in a commitment to strengthen the professionalism of education.

Our members and retirees have a wealth of knowledge and experience.  Your Federation is committed to providing mentorship opportunities and support for all new staff, including teachers, support staff, and administrators.

Our members, your new colleagues, will be offering classroom management and instructional strategies classes for all staff. Look for more information on these ER&D classes soon.

Join us, we are a team of professionals putting kids first!

Turnover: What’s Normal?

What’s “normal” when looking at the turnover numbers for principals and administrators in a school district? What is a “normal” school district? Was DCSD a normal school district five years ago?

Then:

Five years ago DCSD was leading the state in student achievement, hiring principals with years of experience from districts across the state, and employing people who planned to spend the rest of their careers in education with DCSD.

Now:

At the building level, DCSD has seen a 70% turnover in principals under Fagen. There have been 19 principal resignation announcements so far this year–with more announcing their departure daily.

If Dan McMinimee is hired to be Jeffco’s next superintendent, there will not be a single upper administrator* remaining who was working for DCSD when Fagen took over. That’s 100% turnover under Fagen’s regime.

DCSD’s PK12 Department, charged with evaluating our principals and providing them with direction and support, has seen 100% turnover THIS YEAR (provided that McMinimee is hired in Jeffco).

Next year, all administrators in PK12 will be new to that level. Who will train this new department? Will Ted Knight? He started this year as the Chief Academic Officer for Elementary and ended up as Assistant Superintendent of Elementary after Christian Cutter left.

After this year, the only two people with more than one year of experience in DCSD as upper administrative academic leaders–in the third largest school district in Colorado serving 67,000 students–will be Liz Fagen and Dr. Dana Johnson-Strother.

Turnover–what’s normal? If what DCSD is experiencing is normal please bring back the days of “abnormal,” when the voices of professional educators and principals were valued–when education leaders wanted to come to DCSD, not flee from it.

 

*Upper administrators–those who supervise principals or above

DCSD’s pay philosophy is a misinterpreted result of a fallacious study

At the last BoE unplugged meeting Craig Richardson, when discussing the DCSD salary bands and why they are working, said (beginning of video):

Screen Shot 2014-05-14 at 2.48.07 PM.png

“I’ve cited the Harvard study, forty-year longitudinal study, the difference between a highly effective teacher and an ineffective teacher at fourth grade, produces on a present value basis, a quarter of a million dollar difference in lifetime income for each student in that classroom. Say twenty-five students in that classroom, we’re talking seven million dollars in incremental GNP [gross national product] on a present value basis, from that highly effective teacher.”

Wrong!  Not only did he cite this study incorrectly–the number is not per student but for the entire classroom of 4th grade students–the study itself has been found to be deeply flawed by several education policy researchers.

Further, Richardson contradicts his own understanding of this flawed study by stating “it is scandalous in this country that we are paying that highly effective teacher $52,000” (2:30) and “I’d like to get to a point where we are paying them $152,000 and more” (2:40). Has he not noticed that 4th grade teachers in DCSD are in the lowest “salary band?”

Richardson, earlier in this diatribe, referred to a scarce calculus teacher as the teacher who should earn $152,000 “and more” while he is misquoting a study about 4th grade teachers. Does he know that most 4th graders don’t take calculus?

According to this misleading study, and referenced in this article from the New York Times,  the added income value of one highly effective 4th grade teacher (for a student’s lifetime earnings) would be $4,600. That’s $245,400 less than Richardson quoted.

Moshe Adler of Columbia University and Empire State College, SUNY in Review of Measuring the Impacts of Teachers, published by the National Education Policy Center (NEPC), calls the report “misleading and unreliable” and argues five key points.

  • An earlier version of the study found that there was no income difference at age 30; this version of the study neglects to mention that. In fact, they claim that they don’t have enough data to come to a conclusion in the second study (sample of 220,000 wasn’t enough–sound familiar?)

  • The math is misleading, and may in fact prove a DECREASE in income after the age of 30.

  • The large discrepancy between the income per-year for the students in the first study and the second study indicates that the correlation between teachers and potential income for students is random.

  • The study assumes that the yearly increase in income continues after age 30, but doesn’t show that to be factual, and therefore is unjustified.

  • The study shows the effect of the “teacher value-added on test scores fades out rapidly. The claim is both wrong and misleading.”

In another review on this study published by (NEPC) and written by Dale Ballou from Vanderbilt University, it is concluded that the study did not go far enough to determine if other factors, such as good parenting, were the cause of the increased lifetime earnings, rather than the teacher. The report concludes that the study “falls short.”

The American Statistical Association (ASA) cautions

  • “Ranking teachers by their VAM (Value Added Model) scores can have unintended consequences that reduce quality,”

  • teachers account for between 1%-14% of test score variability,

  • these scores have large standard errors which make teacher ranking unstable,

  • and reminds educators that “the quality of education is not one event but a system of many interacting components.”

Not only are Richardson’s grossly inaccurate statements supported by a misleading and fallacious study, his comments are insulting to our professional educators by basing a teacher’s value on the amount of money a student will eventually make in his/her lifetime.

Given that teachers are notoriously under-paid, would Richardson conclude that DCSD’s teachers didn’t encounter any effective teachers as part of their own education?

DCSD BoE’s version of reform: misquote, mislabel, misunderstand, and implement with no research or knowledge of impact.

Despite all of this, our dedicated teachers and support staff continue to act as professionals putting kids first, even when our BoE and superintendent are putting them last.

Innovation Summit–not for DCSD employees

DCSD’s Center for Professional development claims their mission is to “ . . . assure professional growth opportunities that increase employee job skills and knowledge . . . “ (emphasis added).

Notice that in the Staff Development Catalog, the 2014 Innovation Summit reads: no DCSD staff please.

 

Screen Shot 2014-05-12 at 1.57.02 PM.png

 

When a parent and community member brought this to Fagen’s attention at the BoE Unplugged meeting on 5/6/14, Fagen argued that it did NOT say that employees couldn’t attend. She was adamant that this community member was wrong, and then eventually conceding that it was a possibility, and if so, it was somebody else’s fault and Fagen would see to it that it was fixed.

By noon the next day the Innovation Summit was available for employees to register for (at a cost of $200).

However, employees were sent an email on Monday morning, May 12, 2014, (the following week) letting them know about the Innovation Summit, and again making it clear that the summit is for “Anyone outside of DCSD interested in our innovations” (emphasis in original quote).

 

Screen Shot 2014-05-12 at 2.03.10 PM.png

Why does Fagen prefer that employees not attend this summit that she describes as being a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity–but not for DCSD teachers? What does she have to hide? Why isn’t she honest with our community members?

Fagen misses the point, yet again

Interesting: ADJECTIVE

  • Arousing curiosity or interest; holding or catching the attention: ‘an interesting debate. It will be very interesting to see what they come up with.’

Some examples of things that arouse curiosity or interest: the Kardashians, The Bermuda Triangle, “Tattoo Nightmares,” and “The Real Housewives of New Jersey”.

Funny. Interesting does NOT mean: favorable, successful, admirable, beneficial, worthy, research-based, proven, or advantageous.

Yet, interesting is the word Liz Fagen chooses to use when describing the reforms in DCSD. It’s also the word chosen for a politically motivated and biased report used illegally by DCSD for campaigning for school board members.

When writing to parents about the PISA (Program for International Student Assessment) Fagen declares,  “If you look at Douglas County Schools [sic] scores against the rest of the country, we’ve done some really interesting things and may be performing better than Finland in some of our high schools . . . “ (emphasis added).

Wait! What? “May be” performing better?

How are parents supposed to interpret Fagen’s comment? That she doesn’t know how to read the PISA report? That she is hiding something?  That the report is really just such a mystery that it’s anyone’s guess?

When in reality, it is not a mystery.  The two DCSD schools participating in PISA in 2012–Highlands Ranch HS and Ponderosa HS–both scored higher than Finland in mathematics literacy, and HRHS scored higher than Finland in reading. Both scored equal to Finland in science.

However, dichotomously, Fagen and the BoE have referenced the PISA studies as a reason that reform is needed. A report,  Douglas County: Building a Better Education Model, written by Ben DeGrow of The Independence Institute (after the 2012 PISA tests) cites the following quote–“the nation’s students rank 32nd in math and 23rd in science among developed countries.”

Which is it?  Douglas County schools rank among the highest performing nations’ schools, or, Douglas County schools rank far below when compared with other nations and therefore immediate and drastic reforms must be made?

It is unfortunate for our students that Fagen, the DCSD BoE, and Ben DeGrow have missed the most important lessons from the PISA study:

  • that systems with “more accountability arrangements” have diminished student performance;

  • that competition between schools is harmful to student performance;

  • that systems with high teacher morale have higher performing students;

  • and, our favorite, that systems with unionized teachers and collaboration between the school system and their union increase student performance.

Below are more in-depth quotes about these factors (click here to watch a five minute video summarizing the lessons we can learn from PISA):

  • “Across OECD (Organization for Economic Co-Operation and Development)  countries on average, schools with more autonomy over curricula and assessments tend to perform better than schools with less autonomy when they are part of school systems with more accountability arrangements and greater teacher-principal collaboration in school management” (Lessons from PISA, 2012 for the United States, page 8).

  • “Around three-quarters of students in the United States attend schools that compete with at least one other school for enrollment (similar to the OECD average) yet there is no evident cross-country relationship between the degree of competition among schools and student performance” (page 8).

  • “However, once the socio-economic status and demographic background of the schools and students are taken into account, only in the Czech Republic, Estonia, Macao-China and Montenegro do schools that compete for students tend to perform better on average” (page 40).

  • “Schools and countries where students work in a climate characterized by expectations of high performance and the readiness to invest effort, good teacher-student relations and high teacher morale tend to achieve better results on average . . . “ (page 33). (emphasis added)

  • “PISA’s top-performing countries show us that the way forward is by elevating the teaching profession; by identifying, supporting, and advancing effective teaching. High-performing countries have strong unions. They also support teachers and engage them in the reform process. In Finland, Singapore, and other nations, collaboration with teacher unions has been a keystone in their successful efforts to improve student achievement – along with vigorous policies to recruit, retain and support their teachers” (Looking beyond simply scores: Observations about PISA).

Why, then, do the DCSD BoE and their superintendent continue to ignore the lessons that can be learned from other top-performing countries and instead implement unproven top-down reforms that are quickly destroying our once thriving school district?

Want a TRULY overwhelming response? We suggest a community survey.

What is an “overwhelming” response? What rate of response would be considered “amazing?”

  • Would a teacher consider one or two students in a class of thirty overwhelming participation?

  • How about two teachers in a school of forty teachers?

  • How about reading growth of 5%?

Are these numbers “overwhelming?”

When 5% of DCSD’s teachers volunteered to participate in a paid training, a district email called the response “overwhelming:”

We had an overwhelming response, so if you are not able to attend, please let me know as soon as possible so that we may add a teacher from the waiting list to the training.

Another email called the response “amazing:”

Response to Performance Palooza was amazing and took us by surprise.

One hundred eighty five DCSD teachers volunteered to attend a two day training for a stipend of $500. That’s 5%–apparently an overwhelming and amazing response.

However, looking back to April 2012 when 6.4% of DCSD’s parents responded to a survey, the district deemed the results “inconclusive” because of the low response rate; even though 6.4% exceeded the goal set by the National Center for School Leadership, the group contracted to conduct the survey.

Apparently, when 5% of teachers respond–it’s considered amazing–but when 6.4% of the community responds, it’s too little to be valid.

After marking that survey “invalid,” the district promised many times to offer a follow-up survey.

June, 2012: “Morgan would like to resend the survey this fall, and launch a campaign to encourage more responses.”

June, 2012: “District officials plan to better communicate with parents and students about the importance of responding to the surveys this fall, Barber said.

June, 2012: “Morgan, who is in charge of the district’s surveys, recommended they be redistributed in the fall, accompanied by a strong marketing push to parents.”

March, 2014: “It’s something I think we could look at.” (Kevin Larsen about a community survey).

Unfortunately, 2012 and 2013 have come and gone and still no parent survey.  Dare we hope for a survey in the fall of 2014?

Wouldn’t this be a great job for our new School-Community Partnership Coordinator? Given that she makes $58,000–putting her at a salary that is higher than 64% of all DCSD teachers–it seems she would be able to coordinate the survey that has been promised since June 2012.

Please, DCSD, offer another community survey. We promise there will be an overwhelming and amazing response rate!

And don’t get us started on the need for a Staff Climate and Culture Survey.  Dr. Fagen has never surveyed her employees, despite requiring her principals to conduct surveys of their leadership in their buildings.

In November/December 2011, the Douglas County Federation paid for a staff survey and the results were dismal–and that was two and a half years ago.  Imagine the results now.

Is there any wonder they don’t want to conduct surveys?  The results just might reveal that the reform agenda of this school board and superintendent IS NOT WORKING!

For Profit Education

Before the current school board and Fagen took over our school district, DCSD attracted outstanding administrative talent from across the state.  However, the current climate they have created for students and employees has led to nationwide advertisements for new principals from outside Colorado.

principal advertisement.png
They have now decided to train their own principals “in-house.”

The Denver Post reports that DCSD is working with Argosy University to train their own principals. Of course, DCSD claims that they are so different from other districts that it’s necessary for them to have their own program. According to assistant superintendent Dan McMinimee, “having a district-specific program was important because the district does things differently than others around the state, including their teacher evaluation system and site-based planning.”

It is questionable how well they will train administrative students, given their apparent lack of ability to train their current principals on CITE (see below for a report by Teaching and Learning Solutions, commissioned by DCSD):

Screen Shot 2014-04-03 at 12.02.25 PM.png

Like themselves, DCSD’s new partner in education, Argosy University, is no stranger to lawsuits. According to a Channel 7 News story from December, Deputy Attorney General Jan Zavislan said “’Our investigation revealed a pattern of Argosy recklessly launching doctoral degree programs without substantiating or supporting that they led to the advertised outcomes . . . That is illegal under Colorado law and why we are holding Argosy accountable.’”

“In one particular case, ‘Many students withdrew from the EdD-CP program saddled with debt and to date, no Argosy-Denver EdD-CP student has become licensed as a psychologist in Colorado or any other state.’”

Argosy is managed by EDMC (Education Management Corporation).  According to an article in The Washington Post, “For-profit or ‘career’ colleges have grown in enrollment from 365,000 students to nearly two million over the past several years.”

EDMC was under investigation by the U.S. Government Accountability Office (GAO) in 2010 for reports of recruiters of Argosy University in Chicago misleading students about tuition and the quality of the program. The website, GetEducated.com has an article explaining the charges in detail, as well as links to the U.S. GAO’s report.

According to an article from The Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, EDMC’s stock price has dropped in recent years after the high of $20.05 in February 2011. Currently the stock is selling for $4.47 a share, continuing to lose value following an investigation by the SEC in March, 2013.

The President of Argosy in Denver is Richard Boorom, PhD. He owns the Subway restaurant at Santa Fe and Florida in Denver. He is also the owner/operator of Boorom Consulting–however there is no readily available information about Boorom Consulting.

Knowing the background of Argosy and EDMC, it’s not terribly surprising to learn that DCSD’s upper administration will be teaching classes for this program.

From the Denver Post article: “What also makes the district’s program unique is that the majority of the adjunct professors are district staff or administrators, including district superintendent Elizabeth Celania-Fagen and district system performance officer Syna Morgan, and courses on law and human resources being taught by the district’s lawyer and chief of human relations, respectively.”

Keep in mind, DCSD often hires outside attorneys for litigation. Additionally, DCSD’s HR Department came up with the infamous salary bands as well as most recently attempting to force regular-status teachers into resigning their positions from the district.
Joe to rob ross.png

Further, Dr. Fagen–with only a few years of experience as a Superintendent and fewer still as a school principal–would hardly seem to be an expert in the field of effective school leadership. Does #firefagen look familiar to those of you who follow Twitter?

Seems that there is a great deal of money to be made in for-profit higher education, and because for-profit colleges have different accreditation requirements than non-profit colleges, it should come as no surprise that DCSD upper administration and their BoE would want an opportunity to benefit from that profit and lack of accountability.  Another step towards the privatization of public education?

 

How many overpaid communications directors does it take to evaluate a source for credibility?

Beginning in our elementary schools, when DCSD’s educators teach students about research, a primary objective is for students to learn how to evaluate the accuracy of a source. (Evaluate is a high level Blooms taxonomy objective–DCSD loves that!) Now, more than ever, it is important to evaluate sources for validity. Anyone with a computer can publish online, and, as the students hear repeatedly, just because it’s online doesn’t make it true.

Here is where it becomes confusing.  DCSD calls itself a “world class” district, however their communications department doesn’t seem to understand the “world class” skill of evaluating the credibility of a source.  The biased affiliations of The Colorado Observer are common knowledge; therefore, why would DCSD choose–in an email to parents–to link to The Colorado Observer when writing about a Colorado Supreme Court decision to hear the private school voucher case, yet link to the mainstream media outlet, 9 News Denver, for a human interest story about burritos? Screen Shot 2014-03-20 at 3.32.30 PM.png

 

Why indeed, when they could have linked to any of these credible media sources:

The Denver Post: Colorado Supreme Court to hear Douglas County school voucher debate

Chalkbeat: Colorado Supreme Court will hear Dougco voucher case

Colorado Public Radio: Colorado Supreme Court to hear Douglas County school voucher case

7 News Denver: Colorado Supreme Court agrees to hear Douglas County school voucher appeal

Colorado Community Media: State’s Supreme Court to hear voucher case

CBS 4 Denver: Colorado Court To Hear School Voucher Appeal

9 News Denver: Colorado court to hear school voucher appeal

The Colorado Observer was the “paper” that published stories like this:

Screen Shot 2014-03-21 at 4.40.30 PM.png

 

If the district’s communications department didn’t already know that The Colorado Observer was a biased source, there are skills they can use to determine that.

One resource for helping students (and DCSD’s communication department) determine if a source is reliable and valid is Purdue University’s OWL (Online Writing Lab). Some of the advice from the OWL:

  • Try to determine if the content of the source is fact, opinion, or propaganda. If you think the source is offering facts, are the sources for those facts clearly indicated?

Bias and special interests

Internet Sources: The purpose of the online text may be misleading. A Website that appears to be factual may actually be persuasive and/or deceptive.

Authorship and affiliations

Print Sources: Print sources clearly indicate who the author is, what organization(s) he or she is affiliated with, and when his or her work was published.

Internet Sources: Authorship and affiliations are difficult to determine on the Internet. Some sites may have author and sponsorship listed, but many do not.

In the case of The Colorado Observer, it is tricky to determine the affiliations of the publication that began as a news website launched in 2012 in Denver.

Douglas County Federation did some research last fall–this is what we learned:

Screen Shot 2014-03-21 at 5.23.31 PM

As you have no doubt inferred, The Colorado Observer coordinates with out-of-state entities to promote a partisan agenda at the state and local level.

It is also helpful to evaluate the authors of the articles in the publication. The Colorado Observer staff includes active contributors to highly partisan state-based blogs, such as MediaTracker.org and CompleteColorado.com. Guest contributors include Dustin Zvonek, a political operative and the State Director for Americans For Prosperity: Colorado.

Another indicator that The Colorado Observer might not be the most reliable source would be that it is often riddled with errors.

. Colorado Observer error.png

So, how many overpaid communications directors does it take to evaluate a source for credibility?

comm.png
*Strong Schools Coalition

Teachers on the floor. Prensky in a limo.

Remember Marc Prensky–the guy who called our teachers past-ucators while some of them sat on the floor at the Douglas County Events Center? Remember when we promised to CORA the expenses for his “visit” with our educators?

Imagine our surprise when we found out tax dollars paid for him to fly first class and ride in a limo while getting paid $12,000 to tell our teachers that they are wasting the capability of their students (see the receipts and contract below):

Prensky first class highlighted.png

Prensky limo.png

Prensky contract.png

If your MONTHLY pay-stub looks like this, upgrading someone to first class and paying for a limo service might not seem extravagant.

Fagen pay-stub.png

It appears that the objective of the session was “to talk about innovation, creativity and technology in education, specifically classroom instruction and how that needs to look different.”

Our tax dollars were spent for a professional development day with THAT objective? If that was the objective on a “backwards design unit,” would it be considered highly effective? According to the “Information Form” below, the message the “audience” was expecting or wanting to hear was “how they can go about doing this,” and what the district listed as the message they would like the audience to hear was “how students are different today and what they need [in order] to be successful in terms of education.”

Twelve thousand dollars to tell our teachers that students are different “today” and what students need in order to be successful academically?  Twelve thousand dollars, first class plane tickets, and limo rides to a speaker who taught over four decades ago for three years, from 1968-1971? When in truth, our children’s teachers understand “today’s” students and they have proven that they know exactly what our children need for academic success.

Below is the “Information Form” for Prensky, where these questions are answered by a representative of the district.

prensky info form highlighted.png

Here is an introduction email from Dana Strother explaining, or rather attempting to explain, DCSD’s curriculum.

Screen Shot 2014-03-12 at 2.49.53 PM.png

Maybe Ms. Strother should proofread her email signature next time before acting as ambassador for our school district.  However, chances are Mr. Prensky’s iPad read it correctly to him and he didn’t even notice.

Time–it’s relative, right?

The District’s published communications about the time and date for next week’s BoE meeting have been, to say the least, confusing. Is the meeting on Monday, March 3rd or Tuesday, March 3rd, as shared in an email blast to parents? Is it at 6:00 p.m., 6:30 p.m. or 5:00 p.m.?

This communication reads: Tuesday, March 3, 2014 at 6:30:

Screen Shot 2014-02-28 at 9.39.57 AM.png

This one reads Monday, March 3, 2014 at 6:00 p.m.: Screen Shot 2014-02-28 at 9.48.21 AM.png

Today, when we checked the District’s website, we found Monday, March 3, 2014 at 5:00 p.m.

Screen Shot 2014-02-28 at 9.50.20 AM.png

Sadly, this is not an isolated example of confusing communications about dates and times. For weeks we have been trying to catch Liz Fagen’s radio show, but that’s a hard event to nail down as well.

“Let’s Talk Education”–but at what time?

If you read this email, you might tune in on Thursday at 1:00 p.m.

But, if you click on the link, which takes you to the DCSD website, you’ll tune in at noon on Thursday.

Maybe, because you’re confused about the exact time, you’ll click on the link for Velocity Radio. Unfortunately, that’s even more confusing because that webpage indicates the show is on from 2:00 p.m. – 3:00 p.m. on Thursday.

We once again ask:  how many communications directors does DCSD have? How many will it take to get it right?

Screen Shot 2014-02-28 at 9.54.25 AM.png

(Strong Schools Coalition)

The Unthingable Blog

DCSD: “World Class” Communications

DCSD has three communications directors, with a large communications staff supporting them. In fact, the price tag to taxpayers for the communications department has increased by 1,435% since the 09-10 school year (source: strongschoolscoalition.org).

DCSD is proud to provide “World Class” education that prepares students to “be the best in the world.” Do world-class employers value correct spelling or proofreading? Would Marc Prensky think spelling or proofreading is important, or are those things of past-ucation? Prensky would at least want to count on spell-check to point out errors like “unthingable” or “dealy.” Why doesn’t DCSD’s communications department have squiggly red lines under misspelled words?

The screen shot below is from DCSD’s Human Resources page:

Obviously, since this is an article from Choice Media TV, the errors were transferred from the original source, right? Nope. These are DCSD’s communications department errors.

Now, people make mistakes, so maybe we shouldn’t be so quick to judge. But these people make an awful lot of mistakes . . .

What is the “dealy” anyway?

 And while it is not a mistake, per se, to suggest alternate transportation options when conditions are bad, it is hard to find alternatives for walking, riding a bus, or driving in suburban Colorado. Therefore, we asked others to brainstorm ideas for “alternate transportation options:”

  • teleport
  • x-country skiing
  • catapult
  • trebuchet
  • horse
  • transporter
  • snowshoes
  • helicopter
  • ice skates
  • floo powder
  • snow mobile
  • dog sled
  • horse-drawn sleigh
  • portkey
  • zamboni

We brought some other issues to the attention of DCSD’s communications department. Stay tuned to see if they will make those corrections.