Analysis: Julie Williams “Vindicated” By College Board? Not Even Close!

It needs no long introduction: last fall, Julie Williams proposed the following for Jeffco Schools’ curriculum, specifically with respect to Advanced Placement U.S. History (APUSH):

“Materials should not encourage or condone civil disorder, social strife or disregard of the law. Instructional materials should present positive aspects of the United States and its heritage.”

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Student walkouts followed, public outrage came right alongside, the chaos made international news, and Williams’ supporters still think it was all orchestrated by JCEA because Ken Witt called the students “pawns” and couldn’t imagine that students would actually react with outrage if they weren’t coached into it. Now, the College Board, the creators of AP courses, have made some clarifications that Williams’ supporters are hailing as vindication for her.

Don’t be fooled by the spin!

Let’s analyze. Of course, after hearing of Williams’ proposal, nearly everyone (including students!) immediately realized that the history of this country is impossible to tell without referencing civil disorder and social strife repeatedly. It is also evident that any thorough history of the United States brings forth many positive moments that we can all be proud of, and there needn’t be a big effort to artificially push more such moments onto our youth who need to understand all aspects of our history without a political agenda.

Only in her later explanations of her proposal did Williams proclaim the importance to her of “American Exceptionalism,” a stance that for her and many others goes far beyond pride in America’s best moments and finest attributes to an almost mystical, unquestioning reverence of our country being imbued with a providence that no other nation has received from the Almighty. Others believe that, but it is safe to say that there are many proud patriots who don’t quite jive with that version of American Exceptionalism.
The point is, her original proposal was the source of community outrage. Later on, she mentioned her belief in American Exceptionalism.

This past week, the College Board announced that, responding to critics, it will include mention of American Exceptionalism as guidance within its framework. Superficially this might seem like “vindication” for Williams, but remember that so much in her camp seems to revolve around the superficial; if it sounds like she might be vindicated, then she must be! Here’s why the College Board’s action has no vindicating quality for Williams:

-First, remember that Williams admitted that she never read the framework, and so didn’t understand how the course was structured. She still might not. Yet the APUSH course framework (guidelines) were originally left vague in order to allow teachers more flexibility, to encourage critical thinking as opposed to the memorization of names and dates. In the framework, some lesser known people and events were highlighted and highly recommended that students learn about them. However, that didn’t mean in any way that others like the Founding Fathers should be forgotten. Instead, the College Board set forth guidelines about what should be taught and then it was up to the instructor to flesh that out.

-The College Board did not feel the need to spell out and highlight “American Exceptionalism,” as they figured that was one concept, among many others, that could be noted and explored as part of the course. Think of all the other “isms” that have grabbed hold of segments of our population, and sometimes large segments that have defined us: capitalism, socialism, imperialism, segregationism, Darwinism, fascism, Totalitarianism, feminism, Catholicism. You get the picture. All of these elements would be at least mentioned, if not explored in depth in a year-long APUSH course. The fact that most of them were left out of the intentionally vague guidelines is not a sign that they are not worth teaching; the College Board just left the specifics up to the professional teachers and expected them to hit the major themes that related to the broader guidelines.

-Williams’ motivation was likely not purely a curriculum concern for Jeffco students, but instead a parroted talking point that some of her ilk raised in Texas. The Texas legislature, for one, had begun discussing abolishing APUSH for political points. The compromise made by the College Board in their recent revision simply expressly states what they figured was obvious, in order to appease the political motivations of Texas legislators and others. Basically, they changed wording because of money: the College Board is a business, and so many kids in Texas and other states with similar electorates take the test.

-The bottom line is that APUSH has not been fundamentally altered. “American Exceptionalism” has been added to the framework, though not of the type that Julie Williams probably ascribes to. It presents it as one worldview among many held by some in the United States: it does not promote it.

So, we have the College Board making modifications, only to make some elements explicit that were already implied. The changes are small scale and don’t add anything new other than to state the obvious for met. It adds clarification, not something new. Finally, the changes have nothing to do with Williams’ original proposal to “not encourage or condone civil disorder, social strife…” which is censorship indeed.

If you’re still susceptible to believing the Williams spin versus this analysis, there’s no squaring it with the fact that the College Board actually wrote a letter in support of the Jeffco students’ concerns last fall. The College Board, in issuing their new clarifications this year, haven’t retracted their support of the students, nor has their leadership changed dramatically. Their clarifications are superficial and political only, as opposed to the substantive support they gave the students.

Just imagine another political leader not reading the course framework of a high school calculus course, but still attacking it for not including appropriate instruction for future engineers…and then in her explanation specified that the times tables should be included in the course materials because no calculus student could be successful without knowing basic multiplication. Later, she claims victory when the textbook maker, to remain in business in the face of a bunch of Texan legislators who hadn’t read the framework either, put a times table reference in the pocket of the book.

That’s not vindication, other than in ideological fantasies and the resulting propaganda pieces.

7.30.15 Jeffco Speaks Out (Our 3rd Guest Column — Non-“Union Operative” Division)

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Remember these comments, by a former Jeffco communications director on a certain right-wing talk radio station?

The so-called parents that they’ve drummed up…

There’s no way young students could have put those together.

There’s clearly some sort of mill where they create this correspondence….

When a so-called scandal erupted, which was always created by this group, then there would be these, right away there would be this flood of correspondence about this “issue” by these same characters — the Wendy McCords, the Tina Gurdikians, their buddies, there’s a long list of names.

But we’re not “so-called” parents or “characters.” We’re parents, taxpayers and voters, and we will not be silenced.

Here’s another submission from our guest column contest:

I am a grandmother in north Lakewood and do not have any affiliation with the teacher union. I am a graduate of the Bronx High School of Science in New York City and I was raised to value science and math and to respect my teachers. I am extremely upset to see what has happened in the Jefferson County School District.

My children graduated from Jefferson County schools more than twenty years ago and now I have a grandson going into fourth grade in Jeffco. I have never seen such disrespect of parents and teachers in all the years that I have lived here.

I see these conservative members of the Jeffco School Board taking credit for Jeffco achievements that were years in the making. They are taking credit for achievements that they have not worked for, and they have lied to the public about their goals. These three members have turned the School Board into a political football! I am worried for the future of my grandson.

— Diana Suslak-Spriggs

We’d like to hear your voice too. If you are a parent, student, community member, it’s not too late to enter the contest. Details are here.

Keep fighting, JeffCo!


 

7.28.15 Jeffco Speaks Out (Our 2nd Guest Column — Non-“Union Operative” Division)

LettersClipArt

Remember these comments, by a former Jeffco communications director on a certain right-wing talk radio station?

The so-called parents that they’ve drummed up…

There’s no way young students could have put those together.

There’s clearly some sort of mill where they create this correspondence….

When a so-called scandal erupted, which was always created by this group, then there would be these, right away there would be this flood of correspondence about this “issue” by these same characters — the Wendy McCords, the Tina Gurdikians, their buddies, there’s a long list of names.

But we’re not “so-called” parents or “characters.” We’re parents, taxpayers and voters, and we will not be silenced.

Here’s another submission from our guest column contest:

First I am not a part of JCEA; I am not a teacher and have no kids at this moment attending Jeffco Schools. But, I was a student for 12 years and will have grandkids that will attend. I also have taught private preschool where the kids will attend Jeffco.

I support the recall of the three board members because I see their agenda has nothing to do with helping teachers teach and kids learn. They are arrogant and they bully everyone who opposes their insanity. There is a no bullying policy at Jeffco Schools yet they do it all the time to students, parents, teachers, the other two board members and especially Cindy Stevenson.

They meet behind closed doors and make all their decisions before they come before the public. They pass things they want passed even if everyone else mentioned above opposes it. They disrespect everyone who does not support them and they are rude, obnoxious, and overbearing, not to mention just plain uneducated as shown in their big push to remove some American history from the curriculum because they found it offensive. In truth, it was insightful and a big part our history that would teach us the mistakes we have made so we can work not to make them again.

Jeffco Schools used to be a top district where people wanted to enroll their kids. Now it is a district people shy away from because these board members are scaring them away. They are downright bullies and they have ruined its reputation as a great district.

–Anonymous Jeffco Resident

We’d like to hear your voice too. If you are a parent, student, or community member, it’s not too late to enter the contest (teachers and staff, you’ll have a turn next). Details are here.

Keep fighting, JeffCo!


 

7.22.15 Jeffco WNW Recall Facts (part 2) & join us on Wadsworth!

The World Is Run By Those Who Show Up

Join us this afternoon for Boots on the Blvd 3.0: Drive the Blvd & Sign. We’ll be out at selected intersections along Wadsworth from 3:30 to 7 pm with petitions and signs encouraging drivers to pull into a nearby parking lot and walk over to sign. Look for us Wadsworth and the following cross streets: Bowles, Belleview, Hampden, Jewell, Alameda, Colfax, 38th, 44th, 52nd, 80th, and Church Ranch/100th. Bring your petitions, wave signs and let Jeffco know how important this is.

As you gear up for this afternoon we wanted to equip you with answers to some questions sent in a recent mail by Jeffco’s Republican Party. Your neighbors, friends and coworkers might ask you these questions, so here are some points to get you started:

Do they think rewarding effective teachers is wrong?

Denver and Boulder are giving their teachers raises of more than 5%. We’re “rewarding” highly effective teachers with a 1% raise and effective teachers with 0.5% percent. Which reward would you pick?

Do they think we should increase our debt for new schools when $18 million was available to build a new school?

The board’s $18 million builds one school with 600 seats, but the district expects 2,000 to 5,000 students in the next five years. Northwest Arvada schools are already at or over capacity. The board’s decision will mean that those schools add “dry” temporary buildings (“dry” = no water, so kids have to go inside the main building to wash hands or use the restroom), which will also incur landscaping and other costs at schools to accommodate the temps. Do you want your tax dollars to pay for temporary buildings without sinks or restrooms, plus the associated costs of setting up the buildings? Or would you rather save money and do it right the first time by building schools that will last?

Do they think all children deserve access to a great public education? 

Yes, and that is why we support recalling Ken Witt, John Newkirk and Julie Williams. Their agenda is actually about slowly strangling public education and is having a negative impact on our students.

Do they think parents and local communities should have input on decisions for their school?

Yes, but the board majority has ignored that input repeatedly in favor of their own agenda. They have ignored community input on both of the last budget surveys, and on school choice because it didn’t align with their politics.

They talk about listening to parents, but actually receive almost all of their direction and money from outside of Jeffco, hypocritically touting local control while being puppeteered by financiers and policy ideologues, most of whom have little investment in Jeffco. It’s time to recall them and elect board members who support all of Jeffco’s students.

This email also made a number of claims that we’d like to start addressing. We’ll tackle the claims about students today.

CLAIM 1: The board has improved student achievement because it raised the bar for students.

FACTS:

  • Student achievement scores have remained largely steady in Jeffco for the past few years. We continue to score above the state average and are proud to have kept our scores steady while student achievement in Douglas County declined last year, but there is no discernible difference in scores before and after WNW’s election.
  • Results from this spring’s PARCC tests won’t be provided to the district until sometime in the 2015/16 year — which means there isn’t any data about how the kids did available yet.
  • At the May school board meeting, Ken Witt told district staff that Jeffco was failing its students in math. Why? Because district staff could not provide immediate data on what student scores would look like on PARCC tests (see above about PARCC results).
  • BOTTOM LINE:There is absolutely no significant data to support that achievement has been improved.

CLAIM 2: WNW worked with the Superintendent to provide students a “larger voice.”

FACTS:

  • WNW repeatedly went out of their way to deny students the opportunity to speak at board meetings through the 2014/15 school year.
  • After a student group requested a meeting with the school board, Ken Witt put a student’s social media post — with her full name — on the projector for everyone to see during a school board meeting, and used the post as an excuse to refuse to talk to the student group.
  • The Superintendent had already been talking to students in an effort to address concerns about the curriculum review committee, and the idea to include students came from him, not WNW.
  • BOTTOM LINE: WNW has spent its time silencing student opposition, with only token moves to give students a voice in school decisions.

Don’t forget to join us on Wadsworth this afternoon, and no matter what,

Keep fighting, JeffCo!


 

7.20.15 Join us Wednesday, July 22 for “Drive the Blvd. & Sign”

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It’s time to get those petitions and some signs to wave ready for the Drive the Blvd. & Sign event: Wednesday, July 22, from 3:30 to 7 pm. Petitions will be available at  intersections along Wadsworth to make it easy for commuters to stop by and sign.

And we need your help. Click HERE to sign up for a corner, or to wave a sign to let drivers know they can pull over and sign a petition. Bring your kids, bring your friends, and remind the community why we support the effort to recall Jeffco School Board members Ken Witt, John Newkirk and Julie Williams. If you don’t have petitions, we can get you some. We also really need people waving signs, including students who are too young to carry petitions.

We’ll be gathering at these locations (from south to north):

  • Bowles and Wadsworth
  • Belleview and Wadsworth
  • Hampden and Wadsworth
  • Jewell and Wadsworth
  • Alameda and Wadworth
  • Colfax and Wadsworth
  • 38th and Wadsworth
  • 44th and Wadsworth
  • 52nd and Wadsworth
  • 80th and Wadsworth
  • 100th/Church Ranch and Wadsworth

If you can’t make it the whole time, stop by when you can! We all understand how busy schedules are, but your presence even for an hour or two does make a big difference.

This is our opportunity to remind Jeffco that we support the recall as a community. We’re not “so-called parents” or “riled-up mommies,” but parents, grandparents, community members, business owners, taxpayers, voters and valuable residents of Jeffco who are tired of the lack of transparency, back-room decisions, and poor fiscal management of the district by WNW. Let’s also remind them that we are Jeffco and this is a grassroots movement — unlike Americans for Prosperity who will be knocking on doors this Saturday.

Haven’t had time to sign yet? Stop by! We’ll be there from 3:30 to 7. Can’t make it that day? There are still plenty of drive and sign locations available through July 25, and you can find those HERE.

Keep fighting, JeffCo!