School House Rocks 

The Independent goes to class

click to enlarge Sandy Holland and her class at Ivywild
  • Sandy Holland and her class at Ivywild

The Independent's coverage of education appropriately started with local educator Elaine Yaffe's piece, "Readin, Ritin' and Retail," published in April 1994. The story analyzed the intrusion of corporate branding on educational curricula and the subliminal sales pitch given to millions of American children on a daily basis.

It's a subject we revisited often. Who, for example, can forget the infamous Coke Dude memo urging school principals to pimp Coke products?

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Cara DeGette followed that story with others examining the corporate presence in the classroom, including "Drink Up, Kids," a cover story that was referenced in Eric Schlosser's best-selling Fast Food Nation (see "Covers", page 35).

Early on, the Independent followed efforts by local parareligious organizations like Colorado for Family Values to influence curriculum at local public schools. In '94, we talked with Academy District 20 parents who were appalled to learn that CFV was lobbying to have sex education removed from the high school curriculum, to be replaced with abstinence-only mandates.

In May of '94, Cara DeGette visited Rampart High School where science teachers were forbidden -- by the school's own department chair -- from teaching the chapter in their biology texts on Darwin's theory of evolution. Signs of religious activity were rampant at Rampart: One teacher displayed a photo of an aborted fetus in the classroom to express his anti-choice sentiments; prayer was taking place openly in the hallways and where students who were not practicing Christians were treated as outcasts. The Los Angeles Times eventually picked up the story, where it was featured on page 1.

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The Independent strongly endorsed a District 11 bond issue in '96, the first one to be passed in decades. But when the district again proposed a bond issue in October '99, the Indy reported that the bond and how the money would be spent was poorly thought out and badly planned ("D-11 Bond Issue: What they're not telling us").

In 2000, Bob Campbell reported on Gov. Bill Owens' aggressive new plan for standardized testing and accountability in public schools, the CSAPs, and how low-income schools were more likely to be penalized under the plan.

Also in 2000, Kathryn Eastburn visited Ivywild Elementary, a small school threatened with closure under District 11 budget-cutting measures, but where innovative teaching and remarkable successes were taking place in the classroom of fifth-grade teacher Sandy Holland. Eastburn followed up "Ms. Holland's Opus" two years later with "The Little School That Could," a look at Holland's and Ivywild's efforts to make Ivywild a K-8 school where at-risk students could receive more personal attention during the vulnerable junior high years.

In May of 2000, Cara DeGette blew the roof off Harrison School District 2 with her expos "Rotten to the Core," an account of the district's mismanagement of funds, failure to come up with a plan to improve the schools, secret board meetings and inside feuding. The fallout was immense: Shortly after the article appeared, a high school principal who had been accused of financial mismanagement resigned and left the district. Within three months, four other top district administrators also quit or unexpectedly retired.

And, district Superintendent Clifford Brookhart -- who had removed his own children from the district he oversaw, citing a lack of quality educational programs -- resigned just after he had signed a new contract.


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