Outspoken Denver Public Schools board member Andrea Merida will not run for re-election. In a blog post on her website (the full text of which is below), she explains why: "I cannot, in good conscience, serve on a board whose only function now is to give tests."
Merida was the subject of a 2010 Westword cover story that detailed her background, her controversial swearing-in, her frequent questioning of the administration and how she survived a recall attempt. Three years later, she's looking to a new role.
"What's been clear to me is that parents hold all the cards" when it comes to standardized testing and other aspects of public education, Merida says. "Parents can simply decide to drop their end of the rope and the tug of war is over."
After her stint on the board ends, Merida plans to do some grassroots organizing with parents who question whether state-mandated tests are beneficial. "This is a ball that parents need to pick up at this point, and I want to help them do that," she says. "They want to do it; they just need to be organized. And I'm a great community organizer."
Overall, Merida says she's not disillusioned with DPS. For instance, she says, the district has made some great strides in helping English language-learners, a population of kids she feels passionately about. But she is disheartened with the emphasis on testing and the district's adoption of the so-called Common Core Standards, a national initiative to bring state curriculum in line with one another. And she's turned off by the what she says is too much outside money being spent in the DPS school board race, a phenomenon she sees as connected to the proliferation of standardized testing.
"The reason that outside money is being spent is to perpetuate standardized testing, because it's lucrative for people," she says. "That's not in the best interest of kids."
Merida is proud of her three years on the board. She notes that none of the schools in southwest Denver, which she represents, have been closed or converted to charter schools during her tenure. "I've created a firewall around my schools," she says. "I've forced the district to look at our communities as being capable of handling our own solutions."
Below, read what Merida posted on her website on Thursday. It includes a call for parents to attend a meeting she's organizing in February 2014 on how parents can opt their children out of DPS's standardized testing.
One thing is for certain: Without Merida, the school board will be much less interesting.
Continue to read the full text of Merida's blog post.
I'm not running for re-election
After much heart-wrenching deliberation, I have decided not to run for a second term as the southwest representative on the Denver Board of Education. I believe that high-stakes standardized testing is destroying public education today. Simultaneously, giant dollars from outside Denver, and outside Colorado flood into local school board races. In good conscience, I will not continue to be a part of this system.
Just a few years ago, school board races were small-time, local, politics. That meant parents and neighbors had a say in what happens in their schools. Now, it is a big-time political bloodsport, and probably a million dollars will be spent in this year's races, including shadow money laundered through shadow groups like Stand for Children and Great Schools Denver. Word is that New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg has already put in nearly a half-million for such a group. Why the powerful, billionaire mayor of New York cares enough about the schools and children in my district to put in more than twenty times the average household income of southwest Denver neighborhoods is beyond me. It also should be a criminal act.
A Dennison Montessori school parent invited me to a parent meeting to be held tonight to discuss the fact that FIVE new standardized tests are being forced onto students, which could have serious implications for the amount of Montessori-centered education needed to maintain the school's Montessori certification. I will be supporting them, but mostly for solidarity. I have no power to impact or bargain, as their democratically-elected school board member.
The Common Core Standards were first marketed by the U.S. Department of Education to the National Governors Association. Common Core was created and marketed by the Council of Chief State School Officers and Achieve, Inc., with funding from the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation. Colorado's Race to the Top application stated that, "Colorado also has embraced the rigorous Common Core Standards, which will be presented to the State Board of Education for adoption in August 2010." On August 2, 2010, the state board of education voted to accept the standards, effectively circumventing the constitutional authority of local boards of education. In hindsight, it seems clear that the decision to adopt the CCSS was already made far away from Colorado, at the behest of Bill Gates and his money.
But what if school boards don't agree that the CCSS are appropriate for their student populations? Some critics have pointed out that the standards are actually less rigorous than the standards Colorado adopted just a short time before 2010. In my opinion, the CCSS do not properly provide support for developing English learners or students with cognitive disabilities.
Former State Board of Education Chair, Bob Shaffer, correctly points out that "(a)ccording to a study published by Pioneer Institute, a Boston-based think tank, the transition will cost the states at least $16 billion. The study estimates Colorado's transition costs at nearly $100 million for teacher professional development, just under $50 million for new textbooks, and more than $130 million for new technology - a total of about $280 million.
Shaffer goes on to ask, "and just what will Colorado get for its money? Even according to the DC-based Thomas B. Fordham Foundation, which itself has received $1 million from the Gates Foundation to advocate for Common Core, 'Colorado's standards for literary and non-literary text analysis are more thorough and detailed than the Common Core, addressing specific genres, sub-genres, and characteristics of both literary and non-literary texts.' Their review goes on to say that 'Colorado's standards for oral presentations are also clearer and more detailed than those presented in the Common Core.'"
t seems strange for Denver's only elected official registered in the Green Party to agree with a former Republican congressman, but as Malcolm X said, "I'm for truth, no matter who tells it. I'm for justice, no matter who it is for or against. I'm a human being, first and foremost, and as such I'm for whoever and whatever benefits humanity as a whole."
Section 15 of the Colorado Constitution states that school board members "...shall have control of instruction in the public schools of their respective districts." Further, in Section 16, the state constitution says, "Neither the general assembly nor the state board of education shall have power to prescribe textbooks to be used in the public schools."
By accepting the federal intrusion in local school districts by signing onto the Common Core State Standards, the governor and State Board of Education have stripped away the power that my constituents have, through their democratically-elected representatives, to provide an effective, whole-child education for their children that isn't focused on testing and test prep. The decision-making authority has been taken out of our hands.
In my opinion, because school boards no longer have power to control instruction, the entire arrangement of the CCSS is unconstitutional, and it could set up an opportunity for parents to both opt out of testing and also seek relief from the courts to restore decision-making power to their democratically-elected representatives. With that result, a school board member could impact the number of assessments that schools implement and thereby protect the special designations of certain school programs.
I cannot, in good conscience, serve on a board whose only function now is to give tests.
Right now, the only real power to counteract the onslaught of high-stakes testing lies in the hands of parents, who have the power to opt out of state-mandated testing. While school boards are legally obligated to administer the test, families are not required to take it.
I leave my beloved southwest Denver schools in a better place. Unlike other board districts, no neighborhood schools have been closed or overtaken by charters. Special school designations, like International Baccalaureate, have been preserved at Sabin Elementary, Henry Middle School and Kennedy High. Our third-grade reading scores, an indicator of high school graduation, show nearly the only growth in the entire school district. I am proud to have created a firewall of protection from corporate and profit-seeking interests. I only wish that my authority could have protected students, teachers and families from the consequence of too much testing, and performance outcomes that are determined not by the teacher or the student, but by outside power mongers. It is with sad reluctance but a stronger sense of resolve that I continue my leadership in a different direction.
I offer my deepest gratitude to those who have stood with me in service to education and our future embodied by our Denver students, especially the scores of veteran teachers and committed parents throughout the city. I'd like to take this opportunity to invite parents to an informational meeting regarding opting out of state and federal mandated tests. You will have the opportunity to hear from parents who opt out each year and to better understand your rights in preserving a public education system that honors its learners.
Date: February 4, 2014 Time: 5 p.m. Location: Ross-Barnum Library, 1st Avenue and Lowell Boulevard
I hope to see you there. Let's take back public education.
More from our Education archive: "Coy Mathis's mom: No family should have to fight for respect for transgender children."
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