Conservative, Suburban School Reform: Can it work?

AEIA suburban Colorado county, Douglas County, has taken conservative school reform efforts farther than any other large school district has before. Douglas county, which has 65,000 students, making it larger than Washington DC schools and as large as Detroit schools, has pursued an aggressive program of school vouchers and market-based pay for teachers. Furthermore, they have avoided the Common Core and created their own, they claim more rigorous, curriculum called the “Guaranteed and Viable Curriculum.”

Rick Hess and Max Eden of AEI Education have written a new report entitled, “The most interesting school district in America?: Douglas County and the Pursuit of Suburban Reform,” which suggests that Douglas County “provides a stark counterpoint to the conventional reform narrative.”

Whereas most districts undergoing significant school reform are urban and trying to go from poor to passable, Douglas County’s distinctive aim is going from good to great. With a unanimously Republican school board, this district has been able to implement its own set of curricular standards, custom-built student assessments, and rigorous, but innovative, teacher evaluations. Word is spreading about Douglas County’s success, receiving national attention for using state charter law to institute the first-in-the-nation suburban voucher program and pursuing market-based pay for its teachers.

Can these results be replicated, helping other districts, teachers and students nationwide?

Hess and Eden note:
“While it’s easy for those focused on the urban agenda to dismiss suburban reform as a distraction or a novelty, it may be more useful to think of high-performing communities as terrific laboratories for bold solutions… Douglas County is serving as the site of what may well prove a critical chapter in the story of contemporary school reform. Attention ought to be paid.”

With new elections and a Colorado State Supreme Court case looming, it is possible that the reforms in Douglas County will be amended or curtailed before they have had a chance to take their full effect; however, leaders in Douglas County remain optimistic about the continuation of the work they have started.

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