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NCLB Outrages

Taking off the chains

This story is loaded with anti-teacher innuendo. No matter how many times they get rid of the teaching staff and find "new directions," they will still be left with the reality of poverty: 94 percent of students receiving free and reduced lunch.

The school has been designated a "Superintendent's School." Among other things, this means "Students are tested regularly so faculty can set benchmarks and goals for student learning. Teachers, in turn, are rewarded based on their results in accordance with the new DPS ProComp compensation plan."

By Dan Haley

It would hardly seem to be a champagne moment, but last week the teachers and staff at Bruce Randolph School officially learned that their school would be rated "low" by the state.

Uncork the bubbly.

Just two years ago, the school on Denver's northeast side was rated the worst in the state. The district ordered up a massive transformation to stave off a state takeover. The school "reopened" that year with a new principal, Kristin Waters, and new teachers.

And, thankfully, a new attitude and a new direction.

Education reform can move at a glacial pace, which makes their gains even more staggering.

Something, clearly, is working.

But Waters thinks they've "maxed out" what they can do for students under the auspices of a traditional public school.

So last week, amid a flood of other education-related news in Colorado ΓΆ€” from Gov. Bill Ritter's sweeping K-12 reforms to the annual release of School Accountability Reports ΓΆ€” came a simple request from Bruce Randolph School that could revolutionize public education in this state.

School officials, including leaders of the school's teachers union, filed for a waiver, hoping to be freed from most of the provisions in the overly bureaucratic and often nettlesome teachers' contract.

The contract between the Denver teachers union and the district is about 100 pages long. To compare, Sports Illustrated runs about 86 pages. And there aren't as many giant glossy color photos taking up space in the teachers' contract.

To call it a dense, thick document would be an understatement. And very little, if any, of the contract deals with student achievement. It does guarantee teachers a right to a chair. No joke.

By waiving certain provisions, Bruce Randolph officials would quickly gain some of the autonomy that makes many charter schools so successful.

Waters would have more control and flexibility over hiring teachers. (DPS now can place a district teacher there, even if Waters doesn't think he's the right fit.) More budget decisions could be made inside the school. (Teachers who now volunteer to teach an extra class could actually be paid for it.) And exactly how teachers spend their time would become a school-based decision. (They could choose to spend a district in-service day actually in the classroom.)

Essentially, teachers would have more power to do what's best for their students ΓΆ€” an idea long championed by teachers unions.

The school presented its request to union leaders last week, and as expected, there were lots of questions. The waiver must be approved by the Denver Classroom Teachers Association board, and the Denver Public Schools board.

Getting two big bureaucracies to sign off on something that strips away bureaucracy could be difficult. But in reality, it's a no-brainer.

It's understandable why the union might be hesitant, but ultimately it could be positive for their organization. Nearly all of the school's teachers are dues-paying members and that will continue. Education reform isn't going away, and to embrace this possibility would show parents and taxpayers that the union is fully engaged and is not an obstacle.

The upcoming discussions can't be about unions. Or DPS administrators. Or even teachers.

It has to be about kids.

Not every school is ready for this, nor would it help every school. But if a group of professionals has a proven track record of keeping more kids in school and boosting achievement levels, they ought to be given the tools needed to kick it in high gear.

Dan Haley can be reached at dhaley@denverpost.com.

— Don Haley
Denver Post


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