Teachers union bosses have continued to push false claims against the Douglas County School District (DCSD) and the local Board of Education (BOE) during the past month, asserting that student achievement and classroom performance have declinded despite public data to the contrary. Leaders of the local American Federation of Teachers (AFT) affiliate and the state wing of the National Education Association (NEA) have both targeted DCSD.
Brenda Smith, president of AFT local the Douglas County Federation of Teachers (DCFT), made assertions in a public statement that student achievement and instructional time were both on the decline in the school district, though she referenced no evidence to support her allegations. Smith used the recent appointment of Dr. Carrie Mendoza, the new BOE member chosen to replace retiring member Dan Gerken, to cast aspersions upon reforms recently enacted by the DCSD.
After claiming the school board had failed the district, Smith said that the DCFT “looks forward to working with Dr. Mendoza to strengthen our schools and give our kids the great education they deserve.”
Smith went on to make a series of false statements about DCSD, concluding, “we are greatly concerned that the district has been moving in the wrong direction under current board leadership student achievement and instructional time are both declining and hope that Dr. Mendoza will work with us to put as many tax dollars as possible in the classroom, something this board seems to have lost sight of.”
Despite Smiths claims of a drop in student achievement, graduation rates have increased in recent years. In 2012, the DCSD boasted an 87.4 percent graduation rate; nearly ten points higher than the national average and a whole 12 points more than the Colorado graduation rate.
Since 2009, dropout rates have been on a steady decline. Three years ago DCSD saw 367 students, or 1.3 percent, drop out of high school. Last year only 222, or 0.8 percent of all students, dropped out in Douglas County.
Even though standardized test scores have declined throughout Colorado and the rest of the nation, DCSD students’ test scores have seen some improvement. For example, TCAP scores for grades three through ten in Douglas County have risen in the last few years in most cases.
DCSD students continue to hold a 21.4 ACT average, compared to a Colorado state average of 19.4. Statistics from the district also show that since 2010 more DCSD students have taken Advanced Placement (AP) tests, as well as concurrent enrollment classes.
Douglas County has also continued to receive high rankings and placements for its overall performance as a school district in recent years. DCSD received an A- grade from the Sunshine Review for its transparency and accountability. School Digger, an online resource to assist parents in finding the best schools, has ranked Douglas County 8th out of 123 school districts in the state of Colorado and the best in the Denver metro area.
Thunder Ridge High School in Douglas County recently had a student join an elite group of students accepted into the University Colorado School of Medicine directly out of high school.
In addition to DCFTs president Brenda Smiths misleading claims of a decline in Douglas County student achievement, Tony Salazar, executive director of the Colorado Education Association, also spoke strongly against the Choice Scholarship Program created by DCSD. Salazar went so far as to call it a tool for segregation and a scheme to draw money away from public schools.
In reality, the Choice Scholarship Program as implemented by the district provides only 75 percent of the per-pupil revenue from the state to private schools in the district, which means public schools that lose students are paid 25 percent for students they no longer have to educate.
Media Trackers Colorado spoke with Dan McMinimee, Assistant Superintendent of DCSD, about recent union criticism. “I think its unfortunate that people are trying to twist facts to create a position,” McMinimee said.
McMinimee continued, “Im a big fan of data, and it’s that data that tells me were a high performing school district and I am crystal clear that achievement has been increasing.”
“We believe in using data to get better, but what were seeing here is people twisting data to indict,” McMinimee explained. He went on to say that every time AFT and NEA affiliates attack the district using false information, “we have to take time from doing our jobs to serve students, parents and teachers to handle these accusations and point people back to the data.”
McMinimme concluded, “I dont mind answering questions and helping people out, but the people who attack us already have the data and they choose to ignore it.”
Last summer, the DCSD and the local BOE ended the collection of union dues by the district itself, stopped the payment of unaccountable union officers with tax dollars, and suspended the districts Collective Bargaining Agreement (CBA). This means that the Douglas County School Board no longer recognizes DCFT as the exclusive bargaining agent, and instead now has the flexibility to negotiate directly with teachers.