Going negative is easy. How about some actual ideas?

Former Denver school board member Jeannie Kaplan is mad, and she wants everyone to know it.

Mad that Michael Bennet was ever superintendent of schools. Mad that Tom Boasberg succeeded Bennet, and continued and enhanced many of his policies.

And now, apparently, mad that the school board she wanted so desperately to flip did flip and failed to burn down the house in its first 90 days. In many ways they’re trying to do just that, but Jeannie wants a bonfire. Right now.

In a remarkable-for-its-vacuousness 2,000-word screed on her blog March 11, Kaplan called out the new board for being too timid, and insisted that new members lead the charge to fire Superintendent Susana Cordova. Right now.

That’s neither surprising nor remarkable. It’s the same tune Jeannie has been singing for years. Throw the bums out.

What is remarkable is that Jeannie can pen 2,000 words and offer not a single affirmative idea about how to improve Denver Public Schools. She can recite a litany of the district’s shortcomings. Too much testing. Too many bonuses for administrators. Too much reliance and money spent on Relay Graduate School of Education and other “alternative licensing companies.” Too little focus on neighborhood schools. Too much adherence to ”reform policies such as Innovation Schools, Co-Locations, Testing, Student Based Budgeting.” Too little board control over meeting agendas. Too few board meetings (really??).

I’ve read through the piece and gained a good understanding of what Jeannie thinks is wrong. What I can’t find anywhere is a single idea about what we SHOULD do about any of the woes plaguing DPS. What policies would she propose? What should the district actually be doing? What would this theoretical new superintendent do to make things better? 

Don’t look for an affirmative answer from Jeannie. “It is time for the school board to find new leadership willing to strike out in a new direction. That means leaders who do not define schooling by deeply flawed standardized tests and who understand that a great public education system benefits all children, not just a few.”

What does that even mean?

I’ve read countless articles over the past couple of years about how the so-called “education reform movement” lost its edge and intellectual underpinnings and has gone into full retreat. There’s some truth to that. But in Denver at least, it’s striking the extent to which the counter-reform movement operates almost entirely on negative energy. Jeannie, as one of its chief spokespeople, exemplifies this lack of specific, actionable ideas.

Let’s hear from Jeannie and her allies about what would comprise a public education system that works for all kids. Let’s dispense with the name-calling, the cancel culture, the deficit mindset.

I’m waiting. But I won’t hold my breath.

**Update, April 15 **: Doubling down during a pandemic, Jeannie insists on Facebook that Susana Cordova must be fired because she had the audacity to participate in a webinar focused on schooling in the era of COVID-19, co-sponsored by A+ Colorado and Education Reform Now. Jeannie loathes ERN because  “it is affiliated with Education Reform Now Advocacy AND the PAC Democrats for Education Reform (DFER). All are quintessential reform players.”

Let’s see if I have this right. Susana should not participate in a discussion of an important and timely topic because Jeannie disapproves of one of the sponsors? Wow. So much for free speech. Meanwhile, in the real world, Cordova is being widely praised for leading DPS through a challenging period, trying to figure out remote learning for 92,000 kids.

Alan Gottlieb
Alan Gottlieb
Alan Gottlieb is Boardhawk’s editor. Alan has been a Denver-based journalist for more than 30 years. He covered DPS for the Denver Post in the mid-1990s, worked as an education program officer for The Piton Foundation, and co-founded Education News Colorado and Chalkbeat. For the past five years, he has worked as a contract writer and communications consultant.

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