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A Denver Public Schools administration building is shown. (Flickr / Jessica E. Sideways) A Denver Public Schools administration building is shown. (Flickr / Jessica E. Sideways)  

Denver Public Schools pilot program to push ‘social action,’ ‘social justice’

In addition to reading, writing, and arithmetic, the Denver public schools system are adding a fourth ‘r’ to the curriculum: rebellion.

According to NBC affiliate KUSA, Denver Public Schools is implementing a new system to evaluate teachers. In order to achieve a coveted “distinguished” rating, teachers at each grade level must show that they “encourage” students to “challenge and question the dominant culture” and “take social action to change/improve society or work for social justice.”

The new DPS teacher assessment system, called LEAP (Leading Effective Academic Practice), stems from state legislation passed in 2010 and is overwhelmingly funded by a $10M grant from the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation.

Debbie Hearty, executive director of the Office of Teacher Learning and Leadership at DPS, told KUSA that she wants kids as young as first graders to emulate Martin Luther King, Jr., Mohandas Gandhi, Rosa Parks and others.

“Education that causes action is really important,” Hearty said. “It’s what our kids do with what they learn and apply in the real world.”

John Peterson, a history teacher at Denver’s East High School, was less enthusiastic about the new metric.

“I really don’t think it’s the right place for the school district to expect teachers to push students to become activists,” Peterson said.

KUSA stressed that LEAP is a pilot program subject to change based on input from teachers and others.

“I hope it’s seen by the district as an overreach or an error,” Peterson added.

Pam Benigno, the Director of Education Policy for the Independence Institute, a libertarian-leaning Colorado think tank, said she views the evaluation criteria as an abuse of power.

Younger children could become confused after receiving encouragement from teachers to attack the dominant culture, Benigno suggested. She also wondered how the new criteria would be used to assess algebra and music teachers.

“Half of the kids in DPS aren’t even reading at grade level, yet the school district wants to make them into little social activists,” Benigno said.

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