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The board received a very interesting letter from A+ Denver, a local organization of Denver’s political elite who convene to sound off on education issues in the Denver Public Schools.  They have made some important observations about the Denver Plan (which I share), and they are suggesting some fairly broad changes.  I want to share this letter with you, in excerpts (and a link to download).

To wit:

We are asking you to revise and update the strategic plan for Denver Public Schools with a clear set of goals and a well-defined set of strategies that will drive academic improvement. Denver Public Schools has begun to make progress but we have little understanding of what strategies, programs, and efforts are working. Until the broader community is presented with a clear strategic plan and corresponding set of processes for evaluating each of the district’s strategies, it will be impossible to adapt strategies to accelerate progress.

Agreed.  And turning schools into test-prep factories is no strategy.

We are concerned that the Denver Plan does not address the need for ongoing systems to measure the impact of the plan’s strategies, programs or initiatives throughout the district.

Also agreed, especially for having the right supports in place to bring SW Denver’s English learner population, some 41% of all our SW kids, to full English proficiency.  The stellar success thus far has been about principal and teacher gumption.  Gumption is not a plan.

The connections among the 13 goals established by the Board, the strategies employed through the Denver Plan, and the practice of these strategies at the school and classroom level are poorly established within the Plan. The goals themselves are a disjointed list of deliverables. The fact that so few of them are within reach, even though many are quite modest in aspiration, must suggest that the strategies employed to achieve them are inadequate in design or in practice.

The Denver Plan has, of late, become really just a curriculum whip to be cracked.  Teachers and principals are increasingly having to navigate competing priorities from different central administration departments.

And also:

In your introduction to the 2010 Denver Plan, you describe the Denver Plan as the “basis of individual school improvement plans and central office departmental plans which in turn drive budgets, timelines and individual performance goals”. As a group of civic leaders, we have struggled to use the Plan to rally support for district improvement and in turn hold the district accountable for results. (emphasis mine)


In addition to making the relatively broad statements such as these, they also offer the board some specific points of guidance that make rock-solid sense to me:

  • Improve goals and their corresponding accountability measures.
  • Redraft the plan to reflect current priorities.
  • Redraft the plan to match the Theory of Action.
  • Add a section that addresses subjects other than math and literacy.
  • Add recruitment, training and support of school leaders.

There are a few areas of focus that I would add, including a redrafted strategy for supporting English learners at the school level, a system to rank schools based on “whole child” measures, and a complete overhaul of the School Performance Framework.  We need to stop punishing whole school communities for the test scores of kids who aren’t English-proficient enough to take the CSAP/TCAP.

Here is the whole letter.  Thoughts?