Parents’ rally brings in national speakers

‘Education reform’ is called ‘hijacked’ term

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A pair of education experts who spoke during an Oct. 5 rally said the term “education reform” has changed in recent years.

“Before the corporate reformers, Shaun and I would have identified ourselves as reform supporters,” said Tim Slekar, co-host of an Internet show on Blog Talk Radio called “At the Chalk Face.” “Education reform … let’s first admit the word has been hijacked. It’s a corporate mentality. The reform in Douglas County is very corporate.”

“It’s like a microcosm of what’s happening nationally,” said co-host Shaun Johnson, who believes education reform “is essentially a marketing slogan.”

“Choice is essentially divorcing money allocated to the public system so they can (direct) that money to the market,” Johnson said.

“It’s being taken over by the reform movement,” Slekar said. “If you’re not looking closely, they’re ripping (education) apart. You already had a great education system in Douglas County.”

The two Pennsylvania residents spoke during a parent-coordinated rally Oct. 5 at Highlands Ranch’s Civic Green Park. Blogger Jennifer Berkshire, a Massachusetts-based communications consultant whose “EduShyster” blog focuses on corporate education reform, also spoke to the approximately 200 people gathered for the event.

The event occurred 10 days before mail ballots drop for the contentious Nov. 5 school board election. Parents at the park support a change in the board.

All three speakers were flown in to speak at the rally and at an Oct. 4 ThunderRidge High School showing of the documentary “The Reformers.” The movie by Castle Rock parent and filmmaker Brian Malone criticizes the current school board and questions the wisdom of its model of education reform.

Douglas County High School graduate and college freshman Abby Kimball, who appeared in the film, also spoke at the park about problems during her senior year after changes were made to the high school schedules.

Berkshire said discussions about changes in education are under way in her home state of Massachusetts.

“Our conversation is moving into a Douglas County direction,” she said. “They’re saying we need to make schools more like businesses.”

Berkshire said she’s been communicating with a group of concerned Douglas County parents for about a year, and said she was “honored” to be invited for the weekend’s events.

“Whatever happens in November, they’ve tapped into something big,” she said, referring to the school board election. “People’s eyes have been opened.”

Though the national speakers donated their time and stayed with community members, their flights were paid for with donations collected by Voices for Public Education, said the group’s co-founder, Stephanie Fuhr. The group, which paid $1,189 to fly the three speakers to the rally, has sponsored a series of public education talks since June and is sponsored by Taxpayers for Public Education, the nonprofit that filed suit against the Douglas County School District’s voucher program.

Donations to Voices also paid the park rental fee.

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