Liz Fagen and Kevin Larsen spoke on KHOW 630 AM last week to address the fact that NO Douglas County School District (DCSD) schools were ranked on the US News and World Report Best High Schools list, for the second consecutive year. Fagen and Larsen claim that DCSD schools aren’t on the list because US News unfairly “weights” poverty (free and reduced lunch eligible) and therefore DCSD schools don’t qualify. The host of the radio program, Mandy Connell, agreed, and commented that Cherry Creek (CCSD) also didn’t have schools on the list. That, however, is not true–CCSD does have schools ranked on the list, although CCSD has a higher free and reduced lunch percentage (30%) so it’s irrelevant to the argument.
Fagen says, on the KHOW recording, that she believes it was last year that US News changed their methodology–adding a “weighting” for particular students (at risk and minority). Interestingly, US News did change their methodology this year to make it easier for schools to appear on the lists (see screenshot below explaining step 1).
Connell explains that “weighting” means that schools with higher free and reduced lunch percentages “start out ahead,” that the methodology “give[s] them extra points.” Fagen says, “right.”
Fagen goes on to say that schools have “to show that those students [at risk, poverty, minority] perform high in these metrics, so if you are a district that has fewer your schools are penalized in the formula . . . you are unlikely to be able to be in the ranking.”
This portion of the conversation starts out about 75% of the way through the interview, available here.
Well, one might start to feel sorry for DCSD–it seems that the chips are stacked against a district with only 11% of students who are eligible for free and reduced lunch and has a student enrollment that is 76% white.
However, the sixth ranked school in Colorado is Aspen High School (ranked 214 Nationally). Aspen school district has a 5% free and reduced eligible population (and less diversity) while DCSD has 11%,–so much for the argument that schools with low free and reduced eligible students aren’t eligible for ranking.
Below are the Free & Reduced Lunch statistics for some districts in Colorado whose schools did show up on the ranking.
Here are a few other examples that negate the argument that Fagen and Larsen insist is the reason DCSD doesn’t have any schools ranked on the list.
US News and World Report outlines the methodology used in the rankings. In Step 1–districts must have students perform “better than statistically expected for students in their state.” Clearly, Aspen and Lewis Palmer, with lower free and reduced eligible percentages, and Cheyenne Mountain and Academy 20, with percentages three and two points higher, respectively, than DCSD, all met that criteria. (See step 1 of the methodology below).
Step 2 in the methodology is determining if a district’s “disadvantaged students – black, Hispanic and low-income – were outperforming disadvantaged students in the state.”
Provided that a district (or school) met the step 1 and 2 criteria, the final step involved college readiness, including Advanced Placement and International Baccalaureate data. Fagen and Larsen seemed to be blaming the methodology in step 1 or 2, rather than 3. However, step 3 is below.
The methodology also takes into consideration the minority population of the schools. Below is district minority statistics found on Colorado Department of Education’s website. DCSD has a similar ethnic make-up to the other districts as well.
|%White||%Black||%Hispanic||%Asian||%American Indian or Alaskan Native||%Native Hawaiian or Pacific Islander||%Two or more races|
Interestingly, US News and World Report states that it was actually easier to pass step 1 this year than last year. And yet, still no DCSD schools were ranked, whereas other districts with comparable poverty and minority students (some with less poverty and less diversity) did make the list. Perhaps these districts are truly “world class” and DCSD should be learning from them.
We know how hard the students and employees of DCSD are working each day. However, the bottom line is, the reforms being forced on the students of DCSD are not working and these are the results.
Previous to the Liz Fagen era (July 1, 2010 to present), DCSD superintendents conducted annual “culture and climate” surveys of their staff.
In 2011, after hearing increasing concerns from members about a negative culture and climate in DCSD, the Douglas County Federation contracted a third-party vendor to conduct a “climate and culture” survey of DCSD staff during the 2011-2012 school year. Those results showed a high level of dissatisfaction among staff working in DCSD.
After five years of waiting for another DCSD staff survey, it became apparent that Dr. Fagen has no intention of doing so. Therefore, the DCF decided to once again fund a third-party survey of DCSD staff and in February hired Strategies 360 (S360) to conduct an anonymous survey of teachers and staff.
According to S360, the sample size of respondents was robust enough to make well-informed assessments about attitudes across the district. S360 also reported that the survey attracted responses from across the spectrum in terms of length of employment in DCSD.
Strategies 360 (S360) conclusions from the survey:
Below are some of the results, please click here for the complete report.
The highest priority of a school district should be the quality of education its students are receiving, therefore the following conclusion of the survey is very concerning:
Turnover continues to be a problem in DCSD and the survey results indicate it will continue to be a problem. DCSD stands to lose veteran and new teachers.
DCSD claims that their “market pay” system attracts and retains the best employees–however, their employees don’t agree.
The working environment for teachers and staff is the students’ learning environment, which is what makes the following results very concerning.
Another initiative the district claims is attracting and retaining the best employees is the “Pay for Performance” plan. Survey results indicate the opposite.
Collaboration is one of the “4 Cs” that DCSD claims they value–however, according to these results, what they are putting into practice is not encouraging collaboration.
Additionally, the results of the survey indicate that only 3% of teachers find CITE, DCSD’s teacher evaluation system, to be a valid and reliable instrument to measure their effectiveness.
Finally, in response to a question about confidence in their Superintendent, DCSD employees have given a definitive response.
It appears, based on this data, that teachers and staff members who are working daily with students believe the reforms being imposed by Liz Fagen and the DCSD Board of Education are negatively impacting their students and the climate of DCSD.
On March 13, 2015, employees received the following email asking them to donate a gift of “any amount” to register their “name for a future payroll deduction with the Douglas County Educational Foundation (DCEF)” for a chance to win Garth Brooks concert tickets.
Financial experts often recommend that people investigate any charity before donating money. However, finding a rating for DCEF is difficult; they are not listed on Charity Navigator. A quick Google search for DCEF brings up some interesting articles:
In 2013, the DCEF paid the majority of a fee charged by Rick Hess of the American Enterprise Institute to write a white paper titled the Most Interesting School District in America with the remaining cost covered by DCSD, violating Colorado’s Fair Campaign Practices Act.
To be fair, the new director of DCEF Jason Christensen, who is paid $7,500 a month or $90,000 a year (about $35,000 more than the average DCSD teacher–see screenshot below), has promised that “under his direction and a newly created strategic plan, the DCEF has no intention of following a similar path.” And that the good work of the DCEF has gotten lost in “so called controversy.”
Of course, it is completely up to employees if they want to donate to an organization that in the past has worked to tout the current reforms in DCSD and has paid experts to share how well the reforms are working.
Perhaps the DCEF, under new leadership, will finally open their books to show exactly which groups are donating and how those donations are being spent.
Previous to the Liz Fagen era (July 1, 2010 to present), DCSD superintendents conducted annual “culture and climate” surveys of their staff, the most recent was during the 2009-2010 school year. In the five years she has been superintendent, Dr. Elizabeth Fagen has never surveyed her staff.
During the school year before Dr. Fagen was hired, the district conducted a total of seven surveys of every conceivable “stakeholder.”
In 2011, after hearing increasing concerns from teachers and staff about a negative culture and climate in DCSD, the Douglas County Federation contracted a third-party vendor to administer a “climate and culture” survey of DCSD staff during the 2011-2012 school year. The results showed a high level of dissatisfaction among staff working in DCSD.
After five years, it has become obvious that the the BoE and superintendent still have no intention of conducting a staff survey. Therefore, the Douglas County Federation has decided, once again, to fund a third-party survey of DCSD employees.
While the DCF commissioned this survey, it will be administered, housed and analyzed by Strategies 360. The survey window will be open from February 20th through March 13th.
We have no idea what this survey will reveal, but feel strongly that it’s been too long since teachers and staff have had a chance to share their perceptions of the learning environment in DCSD.
There has been an increase in unfilled sub days in Douglas County School District (as shown in the chart below). Teachers report having to cover classes for sick teachers leaving office staff scrambling to make sure classes are covered.
Below is a chart of jobs for substitutes for the first five months of this school year. Remember, in October schools are closed for one to two weeks and in December for one and a half weeks.
|August, 2014||September, 2014||October, 2014||November 2014||December, 2014|
|Total sub jobs||1,864||4,503||3,743||3,924||3,460|
“The primary root cause for this challenge is same-day teacher absences, for example employees who have woken up sick or have a sick child.” (source: 2/3/15 email to DCSD substitute teachers).
However, this has always been a reason teachers would need a same-day scheduled substitute. This is not a new phenomenon. Sadly, teachers tell us their increased stress levels have caused them to take more sick days.
With stress comes lowered immune systems and more illnesses. Stress compromises the immune system. According to The American Institute of Stress, workplace stress is associated with “ . . . having little control but lots of demands–” which sounds like the definition of working in the Douglas County School District.
DCSD updated their Board Policy this year. The policy states that “Employees who expect to be absent from work for more than three (3) consecutive days should discuss their circumstances with the Benefits Department to determine if a leave of absence is appropriate for the absence situation.” If a teacher has the flu, for example, and really needs five days to fully recuperate, having to apply for a leave of absence after the third day might be motivation to return to work ill.
Additionally, several schools are piloting a program (Substitute Budget Pilot 2014-15) where participating schools are given a lump sum to pay for subs for the year. If the schools don’t spend all of the lump sum, they get to keep the remaining money at the end of the year.
Teachers have shared with us that they feel pressured not use their sick days–knowing that essentially, every day “costs” their school directly. And with schools continuing to ask parents for direct donations and holding “fun-runs” and other events to pay for running their schools, this money is quite the carrot for both principals and staff.
Here’s an idea, why doesn’t DCSD address this possible cause of teacher absenteeism. The negative culture and climate of DCSD may be making employees physically ill. And as all of us know, a teacher’s working environment is a student’s learning environment. Of course, DCSD could conduct a staff climate and culture survey–and then everyone would know the truth about what is happening to staff and students in DCSD.
One might argue that the growing concern of parents, guardians, teachers, and school staff members about the implementation of Common Core is tied closely with concerns about the standardized testing that comes along with it.
In answer to these growing concerns “Dr. Liz Fagen wants Douglas County School District parents to know that the Common Core Standards are not rigorous enough for our kids” (emphasis added). In fact, the district often refers to the common core as the “common floor.”
As part of this introduction of rigor, and exceeding the floor of Common Core, DCSD has their own GVCs (Guaranteed and Viable Curriculum) for preschoolers and WCOs (World Class Outcomes) for kindergarteners.
According to the GVCs, our preschoolers are supposed to
“Evaluate evidence to distinguish relevant and non-relevant information to support a position”
“Create meaning strategically in reading and writing”
“Reason abstractly and quantitatively.”
According to the WCOs, our kindergarteners are supposed to
“Construct viable arguments and critique the reasoning of others”
“Analyze the principles of personal well-being”
“Develop emotional and situational perspectives of self and others”
While the prominent researcher in child development, Jean Piaget, explains that abstract reasoning occurs in the formal operational stage at about age 11-12, DCSD’s
World Class System will be churning out 3 year olds who are expected to “reason abstractly and quantitatively” and 6 year olds who are going to be “critiquing the reasoning of others.”
According to DCSD, GVCs and WCOs “surpass the state standards by requiring students to use higher levels of thinking,” apparently regardless of whether or not it is developmentally appropriate or even feasible.
The Colorado Model Content Standards for preschool (which have Common Core State Standards embedded) sure do sound easier. Are they, perhaps, more developmentally appropriate for 3 to 5 year olds? In fact, “the mother of early childhood literacy,” Marie Clay’s Concepts of Print are part of the State Standards for literacy.
Here’s where it gets confusing. Dr. Fagen recently retweeted this article, which seems to contradict the rigor of the GVCs and WCOs.
The article supports “ . . . a rich, stable, and safe world, with affectionate and supportive grown-ups, and lots of opportunities for exploration and play.”
It sure seems that describing early childhood education as “…a rich, stable, and safe world, with affectionate and supportive grown-ups, and lots of opportunities for exploration and play” sounds more reasonable than the realities of what is being pushed by the upper administration of DCSD these days, which is a rigorous education for Douglas County 3-6 year olds.
Are we to think that Fagen believes early childhood education should be “affectionate and supportive” or “rigorous?”
Do we think Fagen understands the real concerns of parents and teachers about Common Core? About standardized testing?
Do we think Fagen might seek to understand through a staff survey? A parent survey?
Perhaps we should be asking, does she care?
It appears the answer is no.
A report on Cherry Creek School District’s website tells the story of Cherry Creek’s new-hires for the 2014/15 school year; it is interesting reading. The report lists turnover rates for CCSD and surrounding districts, as well as the number of new-hires who taught previously in other districts.
Sadly, no another district provided a greater number of experienced teachers to Cherry Creek than Douglas County. According to Cherry Creek School District’s website, and an article by Jane Reuter, seventeen percent (90 total) of Cherry Creek’s new licensed staff members are from DCSD.
While CCSD has made an effort to show exact numbers and details around their new hires and turnover, the opposite continually seems to be the case when DCSD releases limited information about their hiring and turnover numbers.
Prompting us to ask, is this world class math?
For example–the DCSD Human Resources report presented at the September 2, 2014 Board of Education meeting shows that only 65 DCSD “effective or highly effective” licensed employees left the district to work in another district. Littleton Public Schools reports that 17 of their new teachers (out of 78) are from DCSD and CCSD reports 90, for a total of 107 licensed employees. Without considering other area districts, the number is already 42 licensed personnel higher than Cesare accounts for. Apparently one is to assume that CCSD and LPS hired a combined total of 42 less than “effective” teachers?
Cherry Creek also published a chart with licensed staff turnover percentages for surrounding districts.
DCSD uses their own “logic” to place their turnover closer to 13%; however, it seems that other districts use the accepted actual logic of numbers–all available from the Colorado Department of Education.
The BoE Vice President, Doug Benevento, even wrote an opinion piece for the Denver Post, in which he uses this alternative logic to state that DCSD’s turnover rate was 13%, while the actual amount is 17.28%.
There were 897 postings for the 2014/15 school year, compared to 356 in the 2010/11 school year. DCSD hasn’t built any new schools or significantly reduced class sizes across all levels. At the September 2, 2014 BoE meeting Brian Cesare was asked if DCSD had added more positions and if that would explain why the number of postings has increased. He responded, “We believe there’s been growth but we don’t have that exact number for you.”
If turnover is not an issue for DCSD, why then a jump in numbers of positions being posted? The inarguable, logical even, point is that DCSD’s actual turnover numbers are higher than most other districts and the state’s average.
Of course, DCSD believes the final word is spoken when they claim that they are getting rid of ineffective teachers. But–again, the way they present the numbers is illogical. They say they got rid of 100% of the ineffective teachers.
And, how many teachers is that? According to Douglas County Parents 256 teachers who were rated effective or highly effective left the district, while 74 teachers who were rated partially effective and 9 teachers who were rated ineffective left the district. In other words, of all the teachers who left DCSD, 76% of them were rated effective or highly effective.
From all of this, what should be the logical conclusions?
More than 17% of teachers left DCSD at the end of last school year.
The majority of these teachers (76%) were effective and highly effective.
CCSD benefited from the purposeful chaos and disorder in DCSD by hiring 90 of these great teachers and other certified staff.
Ignoring what is really happening in DCSD is hurting both our students and our community–a fact that can’t be explained away.
The Colorado Department of Education publishes District Performance Frameworks. One of the purposes for the Frameworks is to “hold districts and schools accountable for performance on the same, single set of indicators and measures.” The 2012/13 Frameworks are found at here on the CDE website.
The first table shows performance of Denver area school districts in 2010 and the most recent results from 2013.
Another way of looking at the Frameworks is to compare districts with a similar 2013 Framework index. This table lists Colorado school districts with scores from 72.2-72.8 (DCSD’s score was 72.4). These are districts that are now comparable to DCSD. Take note of the Free and Reduced Lunch percentages from these districts with similar scores.
Currently, there are forty nine school districts in Colorado with a better performance framework percentage than DCSD. Four years ago that number was twenty.
It’s important to rank DCSD with districts that have a similar Free and Reduced Lunch Percentage because those districts are DCSD’s comparable districts.
The Schools Teachers Leave, The University of Chicago
On the Path to Equity: Improving the Effectiveness of Beginning Teachers, Mariana Haynes, Alliance for Excellent Education
A total of 455 teachers left DCSD at the end of the 2012-2013 school year, or about 222 MORE teachers than other Denver-area suburban school districts. In real school terms, this means an additional 5 full elementary schools of teachers left DCSD last year.
Finally, let’s consider the continuing attacks on teacher’s unions. If we really care about our students and we want a “World Class” educational system, it’s time to pay attention to the research.
Is this just the DCF trying to spread propaganda?
If the leaders of DCSD truly cared about improving our schools, they would read Lessons from PISA for the United States and follow the advice from the OECD (Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development).
But don’t believe us, do the research for yourself.
The full Powerpoint presentation can be viewed here.
In a recent interview, Kevin Larsen stated that $150,000 is “. . . truly a drop in the saltshaker to us.”
Leading us to ask, where is this magic saltshaker? Maybe we could use this saltshaker to repair some of our schools.
But alas, no. The district has a better idea about how to use this saltshaker money–spend $85,000 on VIDEOS!
Apparently, the district “is in need of professional assistance in the area of video photography and editing . . . .” Surely we have talented high school students who could make high quality videos for our schools. MVHS has an award winning journalism department. HRHS has a website completely developed by their students. Our students are professional caliber. Videos of each school would be a great project for Project Based Learning. But, if not students, isn’t there someone in the communications department who can make videos?
Nah, not when there is a saltshaker of money!
The district decided to pay RelyLocal $85,000 to make videos to market schools. Part of the “choice” plan includes competing for students–so if schools are competing, they will need marketing.
Let’s face it. If the district wants the community to support their ridiculous reforms, they will need to put some money into it. Their webpage spells it out, “DCSD has expanded support and enthusiasm for reform.”
Below is “Exhibit A: Scope of Services” for the independent contractor. Please note that DCSD’s contract reads, “ . . . the approximately 80 Douglas County School District Schools?” Is DCSD unsure of how many schools it has?
The contractor for RelyLocal is Michael Harrity–who used to work for 9 News. Randy Barber, Internal Communications Officer for the DCSD Community Relations Department, also used to work for 9 News.
Perhaps a DCSD parent said it best, “maybe he (Kevin Larsen) needs to watch the sodium content of the BOE’s fiscal irresponsibly. We are quickly developing wasteful spending ‘heart disease’ and pet project ‘high blood pressure’ in DCSD schools!”
What’s wrong with spending $85,000 for marketing–businesses do it.
However, successful businesses spend money where it is needed the most to keep the business operating. Some might think DCSD should be spending money to decrease class size, increase curriculum time, perhaps lessen the burden on parents of paying for bus transportation for their children–not to make videos of schools, redesigning the Board Room (see the Boardroom upgrade RFP), or continuing the implementation of unproven reforms and “flavor of the week” initiatives.
Too bad the district continues to prove they can’t be trusted to show fiscal responsibility when spending the public’s money. But hey–there will be some super videos to watch, however they may just have to edit out the areas of our schools in need of critical repair.
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!
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?
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.
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.
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