Douglas County, Colorado, one of the nation's most affluent communities and a Republican bastion, provides a stark counterpoint to the conventional US school reform narrative. What makes the county perhaps the most interesting school district in America is not its ability to engrain reforms that are imposed upon it, but rather its innovative efforts to try to take its schools from good to great.
In an AEI-sponsored Google Hangout on Tuesday afternoon, Elizabeth Celania-Fagen of Douglas County School District argued that the Common Core State Standards were not designed at a high enough level for her students. AEI's Rick Hess pointed out how this embodies an unspoken tension that is likely to further develop as suburban schools react to reforms that were not designed with them in mind.
Former US secretary of education Bill Bennett, however, suggested that Douglas County's school voucher program is the natural outgrowth of the school choice movement. He predicted that more suburban schools will start emulating Douglas County's innovative use of state charter laws to create voucher program for their students.
Although it will take several years to truly evaluate the effect of Douglas County's reforms, the Hangout participants agreed that more high-achieving school districts are nonetheless likely to begin following Douglas County's reform model to take their schools to the next level.
For a decade or more, school reform has been an urban tale dominated by cities with high poverty rates and dismal academic achievement. As such, most urban school reform efforts try to simply take schools from failing to passing. Colorado’s Douglas County School District, however, is turning the school reform story on its head. A large, suburban district, Douglas County is trying to take its schools from good to great by implementing its own set of curricular standards, student assessments, and teacher evaluations while instituting a voucher program and pursuing market-based pay for its teachers.
Tune in to a Google Hangout with a distinguished panel as they discuss what may be one of the most interesting school districts in America.
If you do not have a Google Plus account, we invite you to watch the livestream on this page on September 17 at 4:30 PM ET.
William Bennett, Former US Secretary of Education
Elizabeth Celania-Fagen, Douglas County School District
Frederick M. Hess, AEI
Michael Q. McShane, AEI
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William Bennett is one of America’s most important, influential, and respected voices on cultural, political, and education issues. He is a senior adviser to Project Lead the Way, is on the advisory board of Udacity.com, and is chief education adviser to Beanstalk Innovation. Bennett is an award-winning professor in academia, having taught at Boston University, the University of Texas, and Harvard University; served as secretary of education under Ronald Reagan and was America’s first drug czar under President George H.W. Bush; is the author of more than 24 books, including two New York Times number-one bestsellers and two of the most successful books of the 1990s; and is the host of “Bill Bennett’s Morning in America.” Bennett’s latest book is “Is College Worth It?” (Thomas Nelson, April 2013). His three-volume set on the history of the US, titled “America: The Last Best Hope” (Thomas Nelson, 2007), has been widely praised. In 2002, he was named by focus groups and leading analysts as the “Best Communicator of 2002” and the most well-received public commentator on the issues of “pride, patriotism, faith, and moral conviction.” In April 2005, the Sunday New York Times named Bennett the “leading spokesman of the Traditional Values wing of the Republican Party.” But Bennett has often crossed party lines to pursue important common purposes, including working closely with Democratic leaders such as Senator Joseph Lieberman (I-CT) to fight the decline of popular culture and to end worldwide religious persecution. He is the recipient of more than 30 honorary degrees.
Elizabeth Celania-Fagen is the superintendent of Douglas County School District (DCSD), Colorado’s third-largest school district, serving approximately 60,000 students. She is responsible for ensuring accomplishment of the DCSD Board of Education’s goals and vision for the district. Celania-Fagen has broad experience in various educational roles. She began her career as a high-school biology and chemistry teacher in Centerville, Iowa, where she progressed into positions from associate principal and principal to executive director of high schools before becoming associate superintendent of Des Moines Independent School District. In 2008, Celania-Fagen became superintendent of the Tucson Unified School District in Tucson, Arizona, a district of 56,000 students with 105 schools. In 2010, after conducting a national search, the DCSD Board of Education unanimously named Celania-Fagen superintendent for DCSD.
Frederick M. Hess is resident scholar and director of education policy studies at AEI. An educator, political scientist, and author, Hess studies a range of K–12 and higher education issues. He pens the Education Week blog Rick Hess Straight Up and has authored influential books on education including “Cage-Busting Leadership” (Harvard Education Press, 2013), “The Same Thing Over and Over” (Harvard University Press, 2010), “Education Unbound” (ASCD, 2010), “Common Sense School Reform” (Palgrave Macmillan, 2006), “Revolution at the Margins” (Brookings Institution Press, 2002), and “Spinning Wheels” (Brookings Institution Press, 1998). He has edited widely cited volumes on education philanthropy, urban school reform, how to stretch the school dollar, education entrepreneurship, what we have learned about the federal role in education reform, and No Child Left Behind. He also serves as executive editor of Education Next; as lead faculty member for the Rice Education Entrepreneurship Program; on the Review Board for the Broad Prize in Urban Education; and on the boards of directors of the National Association of Charter School Authorizers, 4.0 Schools, and the American Board for the Certification of Teaching Excellence. A former high-school social studies teacher, Hess has taught at the University of Virginia, the University of Pennsylvania, Georgetown University, Rice University, and Harvard University.
Michael McShane is a research fellow in education policy studies at AEI. He is coauthor of “President Obama and Education Reform: The Personal and the Political” (Palgrave MacMillan, 2012). His scholarship has been published by Education Finance and Policy and in various technical reports. He has contributed to more popular publications such as Education Next, The Huffington Post, National Review, The Chronicle of Higher Education, and the St. Louis Post-Dispatch. He is coeditor of the forthcoming book "Common Core Meets the Reform Agenda" (with Frederick Hess), slated to be published by Teachers College Press in November 2013. He began his career as an inner-city high-school teacher in Montgomery, Alabama.