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Disgruntled Union Claims about Dougco Innovation Add Up to Politics, Not Truth

It’s Friday! Which means it must be time to provide some more clarity on the bold innovations taking place in Douglas County. Today provides a great opportunity to highlight a fairly balanced 9News story, making sure to emphasize and elaborate on some key points and add one or two others that may have been left out for sake of time.

The premise of the report is an unusually high number of teachers leaving DCSD’s Chaparral High School. Two teachers and union members — including one who served on DCFT’s 2012 negotiation team — say they are departing for greener pastures because of an “adversarial” relationship with the central administration, particularly related to the development of a teacher evaluation system:

“Teachers were not a part of the process. We did not collaborate. We were not a part of the conversation of what was going to be included in it,” [Chaparral teacher and DCFT negotiator Carlye] Holladay said.

The first issue to address is the entire perception that Chaparral is representative of some massive teacher walkout. The 9News story showed a slide of district figures that indicate teacher turnover is only up ever so slightly, in line with last year’s numbers. Given the scope of changes, that’s rather remarkable. But the next slide in the presentation also tells more of the story:

While the combined number of those who “resigned” or left on an “involuntary” basis stayed exactly the same from last year, it’s not clear how much of the sharp increase in teacher retirements are from Chaparral as opposed to other sites. But one reason some teachers might find it opportune to retire is the final year of a negotiated phase-out to extended severance service benefits. In future years those payouts will be gone, fully redirected back to classrooms. But there’s also another phase-out of funds now headed back to serve students that may tell part of the story:

Using taxpayer funds to underwrite unaccountable union officer salaries was part of the status quo regime. But that doesn’t get to the heart of the particular problem. What about the alleged cause for the complaint that teachers haven’t been involved or collaborated in the innovation process? Why state something that is so easily disprovable?

As school board president John Carson pointed out to 9News, hundreds of teachers have been involved in the crafting of the CITE evaluation system (300 alone on the Standard 6 Task Force) as well as the changes to other key components, such as curriculum, assessments, and professional pathways.

The strategy for the opponents of choice and innovation seems to be a focused attack on the evaluation system — which, as the Denver Post carefully reports, is tied to differentiated compensation increases for the overwhelming majority of DCSD teachers. A few months ago, the status of the evaluation system was the one area of concern expressed by DCSD teachers amid overwhelmingly strong responses of satisfaction.

Still, critics who support the traditional union pay model over the performance-based model haven’t offered suggestions to improve the evaluations. Rather, they seem far more interested in using the situation as a political bludgeon to attack cultural and systemic changes they don’t like, changes they must fear will spread to other districts. Maybe their fears are stoked by declining union membership numbers so likely to have followed the end of union dues collections.

One thing they ought to fear, however? Telling obvious falsehoods about the role teachers have played in crafting Douglas County’s innovative changes.