by John Rofer
A number of times at a recent school board meeting, Board Member Lesley Dahlkemper asked, “Who is running our schools?” Answering her own question, she stated that it should be the elected officials to whom the voters entrusted the governance of the school district.
Later at the same board meeting, neither Ms. Dahlkemper nor her colleague Jill Fellman voted to apply for a waiver from the performance-based PARCC assessments, despite repeated calls from teachers and parents to roll back the amount of standardized testing. Why might this be?
The Jeffco community has fought hard to maintain local control of our schools. When former Superintendent Cindy Stevenson revealed her plan to partner with inBloom to turn over staff and student data and allow the Gates Foundation initiative to deliver lesson plans into Jeffco classrooms, the community outcry was overwhelming. Despite the PTA’s lack of willingness to help, parents organized, spoke up, and told their friends. Just after the November 2013 elections, the community had applied so much pressure that Jeffco leaders opted to withdraw from the inBloom project. That may not be the end of the story. Shortly after November 2013, Ms. Dahlkemper was hired by the Colorado Legacy Foundation, now called the Colorado Education Initiative (CEI) as the Vice President of Strategic Engagement and Communications. One of CEI’s major funders is the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation. According to a video on the CEI website, narrated by Ms. Dahlkemper, CEI is “using data to improve both teaching and learning,” and “providing curriculum aligned to state standards.”
The Gates Foundation has invested millions of dollars into advocacy and support groups promoting the adoption of Common Core-aligned curricula and the tests to measure students’ knowledge of those curricula.
Is that why Ms. Dahlkemper did not vote to apply for a waiver from the PARCC performance-based assessments?
In January 2015, the State Board of Education opened the door for districts to apply for waivers from the first round of the PARCC tests, which are scheduled to be given next month.
Superintendent Dan McMinimee shared that between 6.7 and 8.3 hours of instruction time per student would be recovered if students didn’t have to take that first round of tests. In Jeffco that equates to at least 380,000 hours of instruction.
While it is unclear if those waivers can be legally granted, it is clear the instruction time regained would be significant. Even if the Attorney General deems that the State Board overstepped its authority in offering the waiver, the resolutions adopted by Jeffco and other school boards sends a powerful message to state lawmakers who are currently weighing how to address the state’s testing system.
Wouldn’t every local school board member want that instruction time back when the results of the performance-based assessments will not be back in educators’ hands until the fall of 2015, providing no useful information to teachers for this year? Growth scores reportedly won’t be available until early 2016, and there is a one year timeout from using the data in teacher evaluations.
If CEI is using data and providing curriculum, who is providing the data to CEI? Will CEI have access to the PARCC data? How much has the Gates Foundation spent on the PARCC tests? Who is providing the curriculum that our teachers are using to teach?
In short, who is running our schools?