Teachers and Staff–we want to hear your voices

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.”

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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.



DCSD struggles with unfilled sub days

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
Total filled 1,832 4,345 3,652 3,769 3,224
Jobs unfilled 29 147 84 147 228
Job fill-rate 98% 96% 98% 96% 93%

“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.




Early Childhood Education: “affectionate and supportive” or “rigorous?”

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.


  • Hold books in upright position, turn pages sequentially, recognize correct orientation (top to bottom, left to right)
  • Recognize print in the environment
  • Draw pictures to generate, represent, and express ideas or share information
  • Orally describe or tell about a picture
  • Use shapes, letter-like symbols, and letters to represent words or ideas


  • Quantities can be represented and counted
  • Shapes can be observed in the world and described in relation to one another
  • Measurement is used to compare objects

Here’s where it gets confusing. Dr. Fagen recently retweeted this article, which seems to contradict the rigor of the GVCs and WCOs.

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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.


  1. strictness, severity, or harshness, as in dealing with people.
  2. the full or extreme severity of laws, rules, etc.
  3. severity of living conditions; hardship; austerity:the rigor of wartime existence.
  4. a severe or harsh act, circumstance, etc.
  5. scrupulous or inflexible accuracy or adherence: the logical rigor of mathematics.
  6. severity of weather or climate or an instance of this:the rigors of winter.
  7. Pathology. a sudden coldness, as that preceding certain fevers; chill.

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.

World Class Math

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.

CCSD New Hires 2014

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?

DCSD turnover HR report 2013-14

Cherry Creek also published a chart with licensed staff turnover percentages for surrounding districts.

CDE turnover per CCSD

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.

DCSD CDE turnover "logic"

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.”

DCSD staffing requisitions 

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.

DCSD turnover by rating

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.

DCP teacher turnover real story


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 Real “World Class”– A Review of Independent Research

The Real

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.

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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.

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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.

Below are the Performance Framework scores for these districts.  Notice that DCSD’s score has dropped 7.4% between 2010 and 2013.
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When looking at teacher turnover, research proves that it harms student performance.
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The Schools Teachers Leave, The University of Chicago

How Teacher Turnover Harms Student Achievement, Matthew Ronfeldt, Hamilton Lankford, Susanna Loeb, James Wyckoff, The National Bureau of Economic Research

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.

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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.

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Is this just the DCF trying to spread propaganda?

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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.



A drop in the saltshaker


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!

District in need of video ass.

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?

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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.

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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?


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.

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):

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“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.


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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).


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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?