My name is Donna Morganstern. I am running for Colorado State Board of Education in Congressional District 1, representing Denver, Glendale, Englewood, Sheridan, and Cherry Hills Village. I have a doctorate in Social and Environmental Psychology, and my early career was spent teaching. As Douglas County School District's data analyst, my role included introducing the district to the No Child Left Behind accountability structure. I spent 11 years at the Colorado Department of Education, evaluating policy, collaborating with superintendents and staff to keep Colorado compliant with Federal and State statute and ushering in the Every Student Succeeds Act signed by President Obama.
Twenty-seven years ago my husband and I adopted a beautiful baby who, we were to discover, had special needs. We soon realized we would be faced with many challenges navigating the education system with our special-needs child and student of color. Colorado has struggled to ensure that all children are provided with a toolbox of resources to ensure their educational success. My unique combination of educational training, work experience, and parental investment demonstrate commitment and understanding to get this done.
I would be honored to serve as your representative and will do my utmost to ensure that every ECE-12th grade Colorado student attends a safe and healthy school, that policies to ensure equity for each child, educator, and school are in place and enacted, and that legislated financial and academic accountability systems are enforced. I will work hard, pay attention to details, and do everything in my power to make sure that Colorado puts our students first.
Colorado and Federal laws stipulate that ALL students receive a high-quality education. Despite the hard work of Colorado’s dedicated teachers and educational organizations, State and Federal accountability measures show that students of color and economically disadvantaged, English learner, and special needs students lag behind. Hard-fought legal and political battles notwithstanding, educational equality is not enough; educational equity is the goal.
Equality is important; but students who are far behind require more resources to catch up and close the gap. Providing equal resources to students who lag academically has not closed these gaps. But equitable access to exceptional teachers and funding sufficient to provide the highest-quality education will get us on track. Another source of inequity is that students of color and those with special needs are disproportionately suspended, restrained, or removed from the classroom. This promotes alienation, increases the dropout rate, and promotes the school-to-prison pipeline.
As your CD 1 representative on the State Board of Education, I will analyze every charter school appeal, statute, grant program, committee creation, and piece of guidance that comes to me through an equity lens, as an educational policy professional as well as a mother of a special needs student of color.
Current accountability systems are far from perfect. Language arts, mathematics, science, and social studies teachers feel pressured to “teach to the test” because school ratings depend on how students perform in these content areas. But factors beyond the school and teacher impact Colorado student test performance. Some parents are able to afford private tutoring, which raises their children’s scores. Some students don’t have access to courses that cover advanced test content. It is inevitable that some material will be covered toward the end of the school year, after the tests are taken.
All of these factors negatively impact students, are not conducive to positive school environments, and distract from quality teaching and learning efforts. There is mounting sentiment that we should dispense with standardized tests, return to the “good old days,” let teachers get back to teaching, and stop squandering valuable instructional time on testing, which doesn’t seem to be doing anyone much good. Plus, it seems like testing only shows what schools and districts are not doing right; what about all of the positive progress being made?
The academic gaps we confront today were there in the “good old days” as well, but now we are looking at them under a microscope. And to continue to shine a spotlight on students who consistently fall behind, so we can fulfill our legal and ethical responsibility to educate every Colorado student, regardless of family income, ethnicity/race, English proficiency, and disability, we need an accountability system that includes some standardized measures. Can we improve the system? Can we reduce the amount of time that testing takes?
I believe we can, and as your CD 1 representative on the State Board of Education, I will take every opportunity available to help improve Colorado’s accountability systems: increasing their validity, decreasing the time they take students out of the classroom, and making sure they are not used inappropriately just because they are all we have.
Another area of accountability that burdens school and district staff is the paperwork and “red tape” required to receive State and Federal formula funds and grants. Sometimes the amount of money at stake does not seem worth the trouble, especially for small districts. These funds typically come from State and Federal budget appropriations, which means that Colorado and its districts are accountable to legislators regarding how the money is used, and whether or not such use is effective. Demonstrating that Colorado and its districts and schools are in compliance with statute is critical to making sure that we continue to receive these resources.
As your CD 1 representative on the State Board of Education, I will use my extensive district and CDE experience around data analysis, reporting and management, and accountability to make sure that Colorado and its districts comply with State and Federal requirements in order to continue to receive these funds, and that we do as much as possible to learn how we can best leverage them to benefit Colorado students.
Nothing weighs more heavily on parents than worry about their children’s emotional and physical safety. As if navigating childhood and adolescence is not challenging enough, today’s students are bombarded by the internet, social media, peer pressure, and bullying in overcrowded classrooms and schools, especially at the middle and high levels. A 14-year-old enrolling in Denver’s East High School this past fall was one of 702 freshmen in a school of 2,603. DPS’s George Washington, North, South, and Thomas Jefferson High enrollments exceed 1,000.
Unfortunately, “school safety” has become synonymous with school shootings. School shootings are devastating, but relatively rare. There are many common safety and health issues that impact students daily: depression, anxiety (sometimes about a potential school shooting), substance abuse, violence, suicide, sexual orientation and gender identity, among myriad others. Colorado schools are in dire need of nurses, counselors, social workers, and psychologists. Students in healthy schools do not go hungry because they get free nutritious meals, have teachers and staff who do not turn a blind eye to bullying or students in crisis, learn in environments that encourage parent and family involvement, and know their teachers care about them and share responsibility for them.
As your CD 1 representative on the State Board of Education, I will staunchly support all efforts to make Colorado schools as safe and healthy as possible, so that every student can realize their full potential and graduate ready for their next stage of life.
Dec 27. Blog Post, Education Research Lessons, Chalkbeat article
Chalkbeat Analysis — Publicizing information on student “growth” could encourage school integration.
Why I will take action — Both the Colorado Department of Education (CDE) and Denver Public Schools (DPS) School Performance Frameworks (SPFs) weigh academic growth heavily. But disaggregating growth by race/ethnicity, English learners, low-income students, etc. shows that these students continue to fall behind. Colorado needs to assure educational equity! ~Donna Morganstern
Dec 27. Blog Post, Education Research Lessons, Chalkbeat article
Chalkbeat Analysis — Students of color really benefit from working with adults of color.
Why I will take action — Students say that feeling that their teachers like them, care about them, and are concerned about their success is their most important quality. Access to teachers and guidance counselors with whom students share race or ethnicity removes some barriers to this. Diversity in school staff is good for white students too; a win-win! ~Donna Morganstern
Dec 24. Blog Post, Education Research Lessons, Chalkbeat article
Chalkbeat Analysis — Black students in mostly non-white schools are under-identified for special education; those in predominantly white schools are more likely to be over-identified.
Why I will take action — Mostly non-white schools have more novice teachers, higher student-teacher ratios, and less money. They serve students most critically in need while those with relatively less need go unserved. Black students in predominately white schools are more likely to be over-identified with emotional disabilities, feeding into the insidious racial bias that pervades American culture and its schools. ~Donna Morganstern
I am struck by the universality of DPS teachers’ concerns: low salaries, over-crowded classrooms, and flawed effectiveness ratings. I support teachers being paid fairly, provided sufficient resources, and treated like the hard-working professionals they are. I am “Donna for Colorado Kids” and know that what is best for teachers is best for students!
Douglas County’s annual Senior Survey included the question: What is the most important quality in your best teacher? Consistently and overwhelming students said “teachers who care about you and want you to succeed.” What might hinder teachers showing they really care about each student? Maybe salaries insufficient to cover their bills and basic needs, and the health and family burdens of side jobs. Maybe over-crowded classrooms that make it impossible to personally attend to each student. Perhaps stress that poor performance on standardized tests will lower school ratings and jeopardize your job, or that your low-income students cannot afford the outside tutoring and enrichment activities that make your cohorts in higher-income schools look even better in comparison?
As CD1’s future State Board of Education member, I share the concerns that bring teachers to the bargaining table and picket line, as should parents, district administrators, and legislators! ~Donna Morganstern
I recently returned from an extended trip and was enjoying catching up on the Denver Post. I noticed two Letters to the Editor in response to Amie Baca-Oehlert’s November 30th column. I immediately submitted the message below to the Denver Post. I wonder if they will print it!
“I am surprised and disheartened by the disrespect for teachers expressed in both letters published in December 8th‘s Opinion section, regarding a potential teacher strike. I attended the CEA event where these teacher survey results were revealed, well before Proposition CC was defeated. Baca-Oehlert was informing the public about teacher sentiment, not threatening us! Teachers who cannot afford to remain in the classroom cannot possibly be there for the kids. The second letter writer’s derision is palpable. Teachers have been doing exactly what he suggests, and future teachers are being dissuaded from entering the field, which is why there is a critical teacher shortage that is expected to increase. Everyone in education knows very well that schools cannot function without teachers.” ~Donna Morganstern
DPS was one of many districts awarded an Opening Doors, Expanding Opportunities Federal grant for school integration, before the program was cancelled under the Trump administration. DPS was one of the districts contacted regarding the status of its progress now that funds were not longer available. Chalkbeat article here.