“Assimilationist ideas are racist ideas. Assimilationists can position any racial group as the superior standard that another racial group should be measuring themselves against, the benchmark they should be trying to reach. Assimilationists typically position White people as the superior standard.”
-- Ibram X. Kendi, How to Be an Antiracist
Every system is perfectly designed to get the results it is getting. It would be impossible to re-imagine Denver's School Performance Framework without confronting the assimilationist ideas and values upon which it was designed. Recommendations for a "Re-imagined School Performance Framework" have been submitted to the Denver school board for approval. But these recommendations were developed without any clear purpose or guiding principles and are incongruent with the district’s stated value for equity. If implemented, they will further codify the policies and practices that perpetuate the myth of meritocracy which is a proxy for Whiteness. I was a member of this committee and I am also part of the “small, but vocal faction” that is advocating for the board to vote against two of the three recommendations. Contrary to what is being asserted by committee representatives, the recommendations do not represent committee consensus. Dissenting perspectives and serious concerns have been misleadingly reframed as simple objections and the push for a yes vote has become a PR campaign designed to halt further inquiry and drown out legitimate discourse.
I’ve been active in the DPS education community since 2004 and have attended numerous parent and community meetings, volunteered for committees and attended focus groups. In all that time I have never experienced a legitimate community engagement process. Perhaps that is by design because the current policies and practices within DPS would not hold up to authentic community scrutiny. If we actually had transparent data, then we would know about the inequitable funding across schools. We would have concern for the high attrition rates in our “high-performing” charter schools and we would question the outcomes and expense of a school choice system that is dependent on schools competing with each other for survival. If we had transparency, we would understand how decisions are made and how we got to where we are today. We would know that special interest non-profits, investors and donors have more influence in how this district is run than the experienced education professionals who are doing the work.
The Re-Imagine SPF committee was convened to placate a community that has expressed significant concern with the direction of this district and the committee was eager and ready to take on the challenge. It was clear early on that the magnitude of the work the community wanted to tackle far exceeded the time allotted. However, instead of responding to the actual input from the committee, the timeline became the driving factor and the committee work was compromised to fit within the pre-determined plan. The coordinated and aggressive push to approve these recommendations now is not because they are so powerful and timely, but because any further work on this will expose more deeply the underlying flaws in what has become a corrupt and deeply inequitable system that benefits some and harms most.
A true, community-led process starts with a clear vision, guiding principles and expert facilitation. In a community-led process, expertise is valued, and dissent is welcomed because it sharpens thinking and leads to authentic commitment.
The SPF committee meetings were planned and facilitated by the district and a district-managed facilitator team. Over the course of nine months, the membership changed, and attendance varied. When schools closed due to the global pandemic, work continued despite the fact that principals, teachers and parents were overwhelmed with managing the crisis. Participation on the committee dropped, sometimes to the single digits but the process moved on with the final report hastily drafted by a small sub-group. The recommendations that will be voted on are not the result of a community led process and there is no evidence to back up claims of overwhelming support from the community.
The recommendations presented will not drive change because the proposal does not address the underlying systemic racism that our accountability system is built upon. There are no guardrails that would ensure the demise of our portfolio model system which requires families to rank and sort schools in order to participate in school choice.
The Re-imagine SPF committee was formed and facilitated to serve the current system. Any new dashboard or improvement process will be inserted into that system, still using measures designed and benchmarked against the achievement of predominantly white students. The decision before the board is not a choice for or against data transparency. It is a choice to uphold or dismantle the policies and practices of the current system. The board should reject these recommendations, not because they are wrong, but because they are insufficient and will not impact the racist paradigms of academic success.
It's time to end the faux community input committees and engage our education professionals, families and community members in authentic, meaningful work together so that all of our schools are places where children thrive.