Author Archives: dougcofed

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.

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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):

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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.
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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:

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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:

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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.

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

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*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):

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

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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.

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

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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:

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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.

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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?

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(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.

Reinventing American Education–for anyone except our own students

DCSD overhauled their website, again. This time it cost $225,000. Some parents and community members are outraged at the price tag for a website that has functional problems on smartphones. Many find the website to look like a marketing piece, rather than a resource for families. Of course, a large part of DCSD’s vision to “reinvent American education” includes competition, so to upper administration, it would make sense to spend money on an expensive marketing piece like a website. A great deal of parents and community members don’t agree. Unfortunately, the website doesn’t really work. Try using it on your smartphone and you might see something like this:


Or, perhaps if you would like to search for an employee, like, Elizabeth Fagen, for example, you might get no results:
Here’s a link to the page–try it. Put in the last name of anyone you know who works for the district and see if you get a result. We haven’t found any name that works, yet.

Highlands Ranch HS is proud that its website was completely designed by students. It’s a great site, and a great model for the district. Kudos to HRHS for giving students practical instruction while investing district resources into the teachers who help the students, rather than giving hundreds of thousands to an outside company with no direct connection to any of our students.

We have to question, why would DCSD spend $225,000 on a new website, when they had a functional website already that could have been updated? Why indeed. The company that was paid to design the website, Educational Measures, LLC, is a company whose primary business isn’t designing websites, but rather to help companies analyze data, or one who “helps companies capture outcomes, or the impact of educational programs.” Why would DCSD hire a company that “captures outcomes” to design a website?

Here’s a screen-shot from Educational Measures website:

But, to be fair, perhaps web-design is something else this company does–so we searched their website for information on hiring them to design a website. Here is some of what we found.

Under “Services:”

Under “Industries:”

And under “Products:”

Well, that might explain why the website isn’t a big hit with many in the community, this website is clearly not aimed at our current students, employees and families–instead it appears to be a marketing tool aimed at selling a product. Next time, we suggest DCSD hire some of their own brilliant students; they might actually end up with a “product” that works.

A stark counterpoint to the reform agenda?

Let’s face it, if you were a principal in Colorado, would you be excited at the prospect of getting a new job with Douglas County Schools? The latest issue of Education Week has an ad for principals–great administrators across the nation don’t really know what they are getting into–so maybe they will want to work for DCSD?

The ad reads: “Are you a principal looking for a school district that ‘provides a stark counterpoint to the conventional reform narrative?’ Douglas County School District RE-1 just may be the change you’re searching for!”

Well, parts of the ad are true–this district provides a stark counterpoint, but the differences exist in comparing DCSD to functioning public school districts, rather than the “conventional reform narrative.” DCSD’s reform narrative follows ALEC’s prescribed agenda:

  • get rid of the teachers’ union (the ones who will stand in the way of anything that threatens what is best for kids),

  • get rid of the typical salary schedule and put in an “innovative salary band” system,

  • claim to “motivate” teachers while actually putting in a pay for performance system that is, at best, flawed and at worst erodes what was once a collaborative environment,

  • bring in vouchers and call them “choice scholarships,”

  • and use nebulous words like “world class.”  However, there is nothing unique in DCSD’s style of school reform, just destructive policies.

DCSD just better hope that none of the prospective candidates looks to Glassdoor before flying out to Colorado for an interview:

Nobody puts teachers on the floor!

It’s time (long past time) that we once again respect teachers for the professionals that they are. THEY know what is best for children, not paid “national experts” who spent a few years in the classroom decades ago. In this case the “expert” spent three years in the classroom between 1968-1971.

(teachers sitting on the floor today at the Douglas County Events center to hear “education expert” Marc Prensky)

 

Here are some things Marc Prensky said at the teacher keynote presentation today, paraphrased from teacher text messages and posts:

  • A room-full of books is a waste.

  • The goal of education isn’t learning but becoming.

  • The role of the teacher is NOT to teach, but to respect, motivate and encourage kids to learn for themselves.

  • You are wasting the capability of your students.

  • Education is not preparing our kids.

  • The goal of education is not learning.

  • Future-cation, rather than past-a-cation.

Here are some reflections from the audience:

  • I’m in such a state of shock that our district has come to this. I can’t believe that they think it’s ok to do this to our precious children!

  • Prensky used a lot of “HAVE TO” language with the teachers.

  • Prensky belittled teachers.

  • He completely insulted teachers!  He said we’re not teaching our kids for the future, and we should no longer be teaching content.

  • Prensky said children should pick their own learning.

  • I guess according to Prensky I can get rid of my classroom library.

  • I’m sick to my stomach.

  • I am so very sad for my kids.

  • I’m embarrassed for DCSD.

  • Prensky basically said kids want to get rid of books.

  • There was plenty of parking–they bussed us here so we would be trapped.

  • The internet at DCHS isn’t working, so we have to take notes on paper (a comment from later in the day at the next location).

  • Prensky made fun of Boulder, which I found insulting. Boulder schools actually respect their teachers.

  • This is a joke.

  • Fagen’s agenda is more important than our kids.

  • I feel humiliated.

  • I’m confused–”books are a waste,” but he wants us to buy his book.

  • It was an awful day.

  • It was a waste of time.

  • Degrading.

Mr. Prensky met on Thursday afternoon with a group of students. The students were excited to share their honest feedback with Mr. Prensky. Sadly, he didn’t share most of their message with teachers in his address.

Here are some comments from parents and community members:

  • We support our teachers and this is not okay.

  • Teachers: we are here for you.

  • Keep tax dollars in the classroom.

  • This is a waste of teachers’ time and a waste of taxpayer money.

  • Our schools need more student contact hours–the money should have been spent on that.

  • What the district leaders are doing is shameful.

  • Hang in there teachers, we love you!

  • This is absurd.

  • I feel so bad for our teachers.

  • I am disgusted that some teachers are sitting on the floor. In no other profession are people asked to sit on the floor.

  • We are proud of our teachers.

  • They have money for Prensky and for lunch, but will our World Class educators have to eat it on the floor?

  • Teachers will never get back these hours of their lives.

  • What a monumental waste of money.

  • I am feeling so sad right now.

  • I am so disheartened.

While the above teachers’ texts and posts were not direct quotes of Prensky’s keynote speech, perception is reality, and this is what teachers heard today. This is another example of school district leadership pushing their agenda, one aimed at demoralizing the educators who built this district.

While THINK, sent to employees at 9:39 this morning, provides a link to Mr. Prensky’s key-note speech, as of 4:47 this afternoon, the video is not available. World class?

 

According to DCSD’s speaker for next week, teachers may not even need to teach reading anymore!

Information on the Professional Development Day Keynote speaker, Mark Prensky

For those of you who remember Liz’s presentations about Digital Natives, where she used this video (made in 1999), next Friday (January 17th) teachers are going to hear all about Digital Natives from Marc Prensky, the author of Teaching Digital Natives: Partnering for Real Learning (Corwin, 2010)

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We assume they will also learn more about his term: imag-u-cation

Reading and Writing, According to Prensky

Teachers and parents don’t have to worry about teaching reading or math anymore, and if kids are struggling with reading, a computer can do the reading for them. Prensky asks:

“In these digital times, is it still worthwhile to teach students how to write by hand, calculate in their heads, read, and define words and concepts . . . Or is that like teaching kids how to hunt for their food? That was useful—once.”

“In a world where you can point a scanner at any text and hear it read to you at any speed in any language, in an age when more and more ideas are distributed only on screens, do we still need to teach reading the way we do now?”

Further, Prensky asks why would we have kids write an essay on Romeo and Juliet (well, if they had a computer read it to them, that is) when, “the tweet ‘Romeo and Juliet is an ironic, poetic, and emotional look at how misunderstandings and societal problems can turn innocent love into tragedy’ reveals a depth of understanding.”

Why indeed?  According to Prensky’s writing, the gist of Shakespeare’s tragedy is all captured right there in exactly 140 characters.

Parenting made easier?

As Prensky writes, “When my 2nd grader needs to know the meaning of a word, I tell him to use my iPhone to ask Siri, an artificial intelligence program that’s always happy to look it up for him.”

Technology, the key–when it works

Prensky makes another point: ”So when young people say, ‘When I lose my cell phone, I lose half my brain,’ they mean it literally. And they’re right.”

Per Prensky’s logic, this means that Douglas County teachers and students are working with half their brains at any given time, since DCSD’s internet is notoriously unreliable.

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 Science

Prensky has thoughts about areas other than reading and math, he includes science as well: “The only way to do almost all science today is with technology. No human can handle or analyze the volumes of data we now have and need.”

Does this mean that teaching science is not really necessary anymore, now that we have computers?

Test Prep

Great news! All of our kids can score perfectly on standardized tests. “Teachers would no longer have to “teach to the test” because technology can.” 

Prensky writes: “Instead of guarding high-stakes state achievement tests as if they were state secrets until the day they’re administered, why don’t we use technology to ensure that all kids can get nearly perfect scores by permitting them to take the test only after they’ve mastered the app?”

Prensky’s vision of our country’s future?

Does this make sense? Kids don’t really need to hunt for food anymore, so why would they need to write, read, define words or calculate anymore?  Are we comfortable with this vision for the future leaders of America?  Do people want the lawyer writing up their wills to only be able to use “pithy paragraphs and tweets” to get the point across. Gone are the days of lengthy speeches that contained words that defined our nation, like I have a Dream or Ask not what your country can do for you?

While some may believe that teaching reading, writing, and math is becoming obsolete, some of us may still believe this:

meme ipad proud

Cost?

Perhaps a pool should be started about how much this appearance is costing the district? According to his website, he is here for a two day professional development workshop. When determining your bet, you should know that all teachers will be bussed to and from the Douglas County events center, the events center will charge for the space rental, and Mr. Prensky probably has a pretty hefty speaker’s fee. Who wants to make a guess? The winner will be determined by the soon-to-follow CORA request.

You can enjoy even more Prensky-isms at this website. All the Prensky quotes on this page are taken from his article, Our Brains Extended. The article is quite lengthy, not written in pithy paragraph or tweet, nor, disappointingly, in a haiku.

 

Nothing like inviting employees at the last minute

In three separate emails sent to employees today, Randy Barber and Liz Fagen are excited to announce a series of Strategic Planning Meetings in order to review goals and strategies for the next three years; however, it turns out these meetings may not have been so strategically planned. This is the first that many teachers are hearing about a meeting that is scheduled for a few hours from now.  In fact, a look at the calendar on THINK today (January 8, 2014) doesn’t show tonight’s meeting. The emails even have conflicting information about the locations of subsequent meetings.

THINK calendar 1/8/14

THINK calendar 1/8/14

Questions we have:

1. If you truly want “stakeholder input” why not give employees more than a few hours notice?

2. Will there be other meetings for “stakeholder input” for other stakeholders (parents and community) and will they get more than a few hours notice?

3. How many communications directors does it take to effectively communicate with employees? (Sorry, there is no punchline).

This is simply another example of a district that claims to want and value teacher input, but whose actions don’t show that.

Judge rules DCSD violated fair campaign act

A Denver judge has ruled in a case brought against DCSD by former BoE candidate Julie Keim around unfair campaign practices.  The judge has found that the district spent public funds in order to “influence the outcome of the Board election” when paying for reports by Rick Hess and William Bennett and sending the reports out to parents of students in DCSD.

This is yet another example of the upper administration of our school district choosing to act against the best interests of students and instead focus on their own political agenda.

While Keim’s complaint did not ask for any punitive damages and therefore none were awarded by the court, this is another wake-up call to the wider Douglas County community that they need to focus on what is actually happening to our schools.

Below is local coverage of the ruling:

Our Colorado News: Judge Rules School District Violated Campaign Act with Report

7 News: Administrative Law Judge Rules Douglas County School District Broke Fair Campaign Practice Laws