But Denver Public Schools’ new 17-page protocol — crammed with the language of social activism — met with anger and resistance from parents and has now been scaled back.
Under the original document, teachers were reviewed against a standard that measured their ability to encourage students “to take social action to change/improve society” and “to challenge and question the dominant culture.”
Denver Public Schools encourages activism in class
Superintendent Tom Boasberg did not return phone calls from Watchog.org, and several PTA presidents would not comment on the impact this program would have on the classroom.
The mandate, titled “DPS Framework for Effective Teaching Evidence Guide,” was emailed to teachers last month and listed distinct teacher and student behaviors that ranged from “not meeting” protocol to “distinguished.”
The language gave the green light to the district’s 81,870 students — who may be hostile, angry and moody — to challenge teachers in the classroom.
When the social-activist protocol met with criticism, the district hastily prepared an update that now “Encourages students to think critically about equity and bias in society, and to understand and question historic and prevailing currents of thought as well as dissenting and diverse viewpoints.” The new document requires teachers to “Cultivate students’ ability to understand and openly discuss drivers of, and barriers to, opportunity and equity in society.”
“We believe that an important role of our schools and our teachers is to help our students develop their critical-thinking skills,” Susana Cordova, DPS’ chief academic officer, said in an email. “We want our students to understand history — to understand the thoughts and ideas and movements that have changed and shaped our country.”
This critical-thinking curriculum comes to a district that graduates on time only 56.1 percent of its students compared to 73.9 percent statewide. Only 49 percent of district fourth-graders read at grade level.
The new mandate got its foothold two years ago when legislation was approved that held teachers and principals more accountable for the success of education. Within that bill were two crucial components: tenure is not guaranteed, and evaluations will be conducted on a yearly basis instead of every three years.
The guide does little to promote hard work and study. Instead, it offers such instructional guidance as:
- Behavior may include differentiation of interactions based on knowledge of cultural differences.
- Organize students in a variety of groupings to include interaction.
- Allow students to choose how they will communicate and/or collaborate.
- Students independently engage in accountable talk to challenge thinking, push for evidence.
In defense of the program, Cordova offered this:
“We want students to be able to think critically about public policy and about the issues and choices we face as a country. These critical thinking skills are vital both to prepare them for college and career, as well as helping them become thoughtful, participating citizens in our society.”