"You Keep Using that Word"

Elections | 11/05/2015

Jeani Frickey Saito
Executive Director

Jeani is the executive director of Stand for Children Colorado.

This week has been pretty exciting. Our team’s hard work over the last several months culminated in the election of three strong reform leaders to the Denver Public Schools Board of Education. Voters had clear choices between candidates and chose the stay the course in Denver, endorsing candidates who are all committed to putting kids first and will fight to ensure that every student in Denver has access to a high-quality school.

Voters outside of Denver made their voice heard, too. I’ve been following headlines, commentary and pundits trying to make sense and draw conclusions about the overwhelming loss of “conservative reformers.” As the leader of an education reform group who just worked to support the election of a pro-reform Board of Education in Denver (news conveniently left out of this Washington Post piece and others) I found these headlines overly dramatic and pretty maddening.  Not to mention, they all miss a significant point.  The vast majority of candidates who were tossed out of office this week, were not what we would call “education reformers.” As they say in the Princess Bride: “You keep using that word. I do not think it means what you think it means.”

So, before any of us get too carried away, it’s important to take note that the results in many schools board elections were not a rejection of true education reform any more than it was a wholesale endorsement of a new agenda. 

The election results on Tuesday are not a rejection of reform! They are a rejection of the ridiculous antics and caustic tones that dominated many of these board meetings.  On Tuesday, voters across Colorado made it clear that this is not behavior becoming of elected officials. 

A number of these board candidates had lost the public’s trust long ago through poor decisions and high profile blunders like calling out AP U.S. History curriculum, but then stating that you are not familiar enough with the specifics to explain your concern.  If there’s anything I’ve learned from my twenty-plus years of being engaged in intense public policy debates, it’s that process matters.  When voters, parents, and teachers feel ignored, patronized and shut out of the process, they will react. 

But let’s be clear about what started the reaction.  It wasn’t a reaction to elected officials fighting for high-quality school choice or elected officials working hard to ensure that teachers have the resources and training they need to succeed in the classroom.  It wasn’t a reaction to elected officials fighting to ensure that every child had the benefit of high standards and expectations so that they could graduate from high school ready for college, even if they live in poverty or English isn’t their first language.

Many candidates who won on Tuesday said they wanted to restore civility and strong leadership to the board rooms.  Well, now they have their chance to make good on their commitment to voters so we can all focus on what matters: our students.


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