Industrial Schoolhouse Action: Denver Teachers On Strike

Striking teachers in Los Angeles, 12/2018.

Colorado Public Radio reports on the final breakdown of negotiations last night between Denver Public Schools and the Denver Classroom Teachers Association, ending with teachers heading for the picket lines for tomorrow morning–the first strike by DCTA in a quarter century that has seen enormous change in the operating philosophy of DPS, and a “reform” agenda that has delivered much more controversy than increased achievement:

Tensions boiled over Saturday night as several hours of discussion between the teachers union and Denver Public Schools aimed at averting a strike came to a halt and a Monday walkout appeared inevitable.

Exasperated negotiators for the Denver Classroom Teachers Association ended talks after they asked whether or not Superintendent Susana Cordova would agree to their concept of a salary schedule that gives teachers more opportunities to advance and rewards them for professional development classes.

Cordova wouldn’t give a specific answer and asked for time to consider their counter-proposal. DCTA lead negotiator Rob Gould tersely responded that they “can have some time, they can have until Tuesday!”

What does this mean for almost 80,000 kids who attends Denver Public Schools, not to mention their working parents? Without those thousands of hard-working long-suffering and no matter what they’re getting not paid nearly enough teachers, the district is doing whatever it can to provide a suitable warehouse educational setting–Denver7:

Denver Public School Superintendent Susan Cordova reassured parents in late January that the district is committed to keeping schools open during the strike and said an announcement would be sent Sunday notifying parents whether their child’s school would be open the next day.

That will not be the case for all early childhood education classes, which will be canceled due to the district’s inability to meet the rigorous requirements for licensed staff in those classrooms, Cordova said, adding they would try to provide opportunities for the 4,714 children currently enrolled in the district’s early childhood education programs.

Additionally, a DPS spokesperson said a daily assessment would be made as to whether there is an adequate number of teachers and substitute teachers — as well as supervisors from the central office — to keep schools in the district open during the strike.

The school district is expected to have every nonunion employee with a college degree serving as a substitute teacher tomorrow, with an unknown number of temporary teachers hired on the promise of a large daily rate to cover the indignity of crossing a picket line. Obviously, the educational value of the substitutes is going to vary widely, and in many cases it’s reasonable to expect to see whole student bodies watching movies in the gym Monday.

The breakdown between the sides continues to be over the district’s bonus system to achieve staffing goals versus the teachers’ demand for broadly higher pay to offset the growing shortage of teachers and Denver’s skyrocketing cost of living. Underlying this standoff is a larger philosophical disagreement over reforming public education, with the DPS “ProComp” compensation plan and the later “teacher effectiveness” law SB-191 passed in 2010 representing a controversial shift toward blaming teachers for the whole range of aggregate social and economic factors that affect student achievement. Without a positive correlation of better educational outcomes for students to justify this approach, and with a demonstrable and growing shortage of qualified college graduates willing to take on the challenge of a career in public education…what are we doing?

Look, folks, we have no idea how deeply this is going to be reckoned with in the current standoff at Denver Public Schools. But it’s critical to understand–on both sides–that this is much more than an argument over a few percentage points more or less in a contract. This is about a fundamental disagreement over the hardships teachers face in their jobs, and how their work should be both valued and evaluated by society.

If you think you have a slogan that answers all these weighty questions, you don’t.

18 Community Comments, Facebook Comments

  1. PodestaEmails says:

    Leftist teachers, pussified America. Homeschool your kids.

    No we can’t judge teachers because EVERYONE is a winner in beta Cuckmerica.

  2. Smoking Mirror says:

    Homeschooling it is then. My kids will not be crossing a picket line to spend their days with a stressed-out, likely unqualified scab sub. Oh, and fuck you PE, BTW.

  3. DENependent says:

    I saw a Westword RWNJ comment about how private schools only cost $5,000 per student. That seemed low, so I have been on the look out for what private schools actually cost. I found a website called private school review where they say average tuition for private schools in Colorado in 2018-2019 is $11,421. For High School the average is $14,819 and elementary school it is $8,221. I am wondering how grants and donations to the school might not be reflected in the figures. Still, I found it interesting to look over the actual "sticker price" on private schools.

  4. I think the conclusion here deserves to be emphasized: this is partly about a growing tension over the direction of education. I'm not even sure DPS has the tools they need to resolve this strike, and worse, I'm not sure the state Legislature has the maneuvering room to help out.

    But it sounds like the district does have to unwind a bit while the union figures out just what limits the district has in raw ability to offer things.

    • mamajama55 says:

      It's not just about bringing in new dollars; it's about how to allocate existing dollars and the pay structure. Per Denver Post: ProComp, the complicated system of teacher incentives and bonuses, comes up for renewal this year.

      Teachers want pro-comp bonuses to be more predictable and tied to things like getting advanced degrees, (pretty much the way every other district does it). Right now, teachers in "hard to serve", i.e. high poverty, low-achievement schools get a $2500 incentive right off the bat. It's better for the kids in those schools, since they don't get stuck with ineffective teachers.

      But it isn't fair to the teachers in other schools, who may be raising student achievement, and grinding away at those advanced degrees.

      I have my own DPS pro-comp story, which I won’t go into right now; suffice it to say that there are way too many random elements in it as it exists now. Teachers would like to feel more in control of their financial futures.

      My point is that the whole system of rewarding and retaining teachers has all too many random factors; whether you have "good kids"; whether your principal likes you; the discipline climate in your building; whether the school you're at has a lot of low – income kids, and yes, good teaching, which I think I did.

      But DPS teachers now want the system to be more predictable and fair for a greater number of teachers. The way this impasse has been solved in prior years has been to empower teachers to create teacher-run schools; to tweak SB191 by comparing schools to "like schools" with equally high numbers of free/reduced lunch kids, and to reward things like increasing graduation rates and reducing discipline referrals and suspensions.

      So if DPS could see its way to sharing power and trusting teachers more, this impasse could be solved without bringing in huge amounts of new money. Cancelling some "silver bullet" ed consultant contracts, or laying off a few top level bureaucrats, or  making do with last year's furniture in the central office, could probably make existing dollars go further.


  5. mamajama55 says:

    The DPS strike was one of the lead stories on Maddow tonight. At about 2 minutes into the show intro – Video should be up tomorrow.

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