Carried by momentum from February’s teachers strike and a broader backlash against the status quo, candidates opposed to the policies that made Denver Public Schools a national exemplar for education reform now control the school board for the first time.
Instead of five members backed by pro-reform organizations and two backed by the teachers union, the seven-member board will now feature five members backed by the teachers union: Jennifer Bacon and Carrie Olson, who won seats in 2017, and Tay Anderson, Scott Baldermann, and Brad Laurvick, who won seats this week.
The question now is what this “flip” will mean for teachers, students, and parents.
Those who have supported the district’s approach to school improvement fear that families will have fewer choices and schools won’t be held accountable for how well they serve students. Backers of the new board majority say the previous approach still left too many students behind. They’ve pledged to put more dollars in the classroom, make faster progress against achievement gaps, and not close neighborhood schools.
“Schools are reflections of the community,” said Tiffany Choi, a high school French teacher who recently became president of the Denver Classroom Teachers Association. “If we call a school ‘failing’, it’s almost like we’re calling the community ‘failing.’”
Denver Public Schools is Colorado’s largest school district with nearly 93,000 students. Once the lowest-performing large district in the state, Denver’s student test scores have improved to within a few points of the state average. But the district is still plagued by persistent problems of equity. For example, 74% of white students, but only 29% of black students, in grades three through eight met expectations on the state literacy test this spring.