Hall Pass: Your Ticket to Understanding School Board Politics, Edition #80

Welcome to Hall Pass, a newsletter written to keep you plugged into the conversations driving school board politics and governance.

In today’s edition, you’ll find:

  • Deep Dive: The science of reading debate 
  • School board filing deadlines, election results, and recall certifications
  • Seven candidates are running for three school board districts in Douglas County School District, Colorado
  • Extracurricular: education news from around the web
  • Candidate Connection survey
  • Candidate canvass: survey responses from around the country

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Deep Dive: The science of reading debate 

Recent reading test score declines in the wake of COVID shutdowns have raised concerns about the quality of reading instruction in public schools and have elevated debate around the most effective approaches to teaching children how to read. 

Throughout October, we’re diving into the current debate on the science of reading and the question: How can policymakers and administrators promote effective reading instruction in classrooms? 

Over four weeks, we’ll take a deep dive into debates surrounding the science of reading, including what it looks like in practice, the level of scientific support, whether state or local governments should require its use in schools, and whether government policies requiring instruction based on the science of reading have been effective.

Week 1: What is the science of reading?

While the science of reading doesn’t have a single definition, it broadly refers to the body of cross-disciplinary research into how the brain learns to read and the instructional approaches supported by those findings. Reading instruction based on the science of reading is generally rooted in phonics—an approach to reading instruction that teaches children how to sound out or decode words, allowing them to connect them to words they may already know. 

The debate: Applying the science of reading in the classroom

While evidence from scientific studies shows at least some phonics are important for teaching reading, fierce debate persists on what level of phonics instruction best applies the science of reading in the classroom. 

This week we start the deep dive by examining arguments about instructional approaches to the science of reading. Is a greater emphasis on phonics sufficient to improve reading outcomes? Or should phonics be taught alongside other instructional methods? Let’s dive in:  

Emily Hanford argues that scientific research into how the brain stores the written forms of words demonstrates the importance of emphasizing phonics instruction in reading education. Hanford says focusing on phonics instruction allows children to connect spoken language, which she says children learn naturally, to written language, which she says is not intuitive. Hanford states, “Once a typically developing reader has looked carefully at a word a few times and sounded it out and identified or figured out what the word means, the written form of that word gets mapped into their memory,” When children connect the words they read to the words they speak, according to Hanford, they can quickly recognize and comprehend them. 

  •  Leadership Brief: Children Experiencing Reading Difficulties The International Literacy Association’s Literacy Research Panel writes that an emphasis on phonics instruction alone is not sufficient for teaching reading. Citing the RAND report Reading for Understanding, the panel argues that “students who learn to decode words accurately and quickly may, nevertheless, have comprehension difficulties.” The panel instead argues in favor of an instructional approach that “also involves oral language development, writing and spelling, and a focus on comprehension.”

Stay tuned next week for part two as we continue to explore this topic further.

Share candidate endorsements with us! 

As part of our goal to solve the ballot information problem, Ballotpedia is gathering information about school board candidate endorsements. The ballot information gap widens the further down the ballot you go, and is worst for the more than 500,000 local offices nationwide, such as school boards or special districts. Endorsements can help voters know more about their candidates and what they stand for. 

Do you know of an individual or group that has endorsed a candidate in your district? 

Click here to respond!

School board update: filing deadlines, election results, and recall certifications

Ballotpedia has historically covered school board elections in about 500 of the country’s largest districts. We’re gradually expanding the number we cover with our eye on the more than 13,000 districts with elected school boards.

November elections

Nov. 7 is the biggest election date of the year, and voters across the country will decide state and local races—including for school boards (subscribe to our Daily Brew newsletter for Ballotpedia’s coverage and analysis of elections up and down the ballot). 

We’re covering school board elections in the following 16 states on Nov. 7:

In seven of those states—Colorado, Kansas, Minnesota, Ohio, Pennsylvania, Virginia, and Washington—we are covering all school board elections on Nov. 7. We’ll be bringing you detailed coverage of many of those elections, starting today, with elections in the Douglas County School District, just south of Denver, Colorado. 

Seven candidates are running for three seats on the Douglas County, Colo. School Board

Seven candidates are running for three districts on the Douglas County School Board on Nov. 7, 2023. The district had approximately 63,000 students as of the 2020-21 school year:

Heading into the election, the board has a 5-2 conservative majority. Four members of the conservative majority were elected as part of a slate in November 2021. 

The board’s two liberal members, Susan Meek and David Ray, hold two of the seats up for election this year. Conservative member Jason Page holds the third.

Seven candidates are running for Districts A, C, and F. 

  • Meek, who was first elected in 2019, and Andy Jones are running in District A.
  • Page, David DiCarlo, and Brad Geiger are running in District C. The school board appointed Page to the office in June 2023 to replace former board member Elizabeth Hanson. Hanson resigned during a school board meeting in May while the district was debating revisions to its equity policy.
  • Maria Sumnicht and Valerie Thompson are running in District F. Incumbent Ray is term-limited.

Candidates must live in the district they represent, but every voter in the school district votes in every race, as if each is an at-large election. As of 2022, 73% of the school districts in Colorado elected their school board members at large, while 21% elected their members by sub-district, and the remaining 6% elected their members through a combination of both.

Jones, Page, and Sumnicht are running as the “Best DCSD” slate of candidates and align with the existing conservative majority. On the slate’s website, the candidates say they “are passionate about [their] public school district and everything [they] do will focus on academic excellence and alternative pathways to student success.”

The other four candidates are not running as part of a slate. Of those: 

  • DiCarlo said his focus is on preventing school tax increases. 
  • Geiger said he was running “to help the board work together to address…important concerns without rancor and avoiding outside political influence.” 
  • Meek said her top priorities were supporting “safe and welcoming schools, stable teaching and learning environments, locally-driven innovation, and equitable learning opportunities.” 
  • Thompson said she was running “to provide stability for our district through informed decision-making, following processes and protocols, and operating in a manner that welcomes an engaged community.”

Click here to read summaries of the candidates’ key messages.

Ray, the term-limited member of the board’s minority, endorsed one candidate in each race—Meek, Geiger, and Thompson. The Denver Area Labor Federation and Douglas County Parents also endorsed those three candidates. (If you are aware of other endorsements, please email us!)

The elections follow two noteworthy events. In February 2022, the board voted 4-3 to terminate the contract of former superintendent Corey Wise, which resulted in a $830,000 settlement. In spring 2021, amid delays in returns to in-person instruction for grades 6-12, members of the board’s liberal minority were targeted in unsuccessful recall attempts. To read more about both of those events, click here.

Voters elect school board members to four-year terms in odd-numbered years. The filing deadline for this election was Sept. 1, 2023.

Extracurricular: education news from around the web

This section contains links to recent education-related articles from around the internet. If you know of a story we should be reading, reply to this email to share it with us! 

Take our Candidate Connection survey to reach voters in your district

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Everyone deserves to know their candidates. However, we know it can be hard for voters to find information about their candidates, especially for local offices such as school boards. That’s why we created Candidate Connection—a survey designed to help candidates tell voters about their campaigns, their issues, and so much more. 

In the 2022 election cycle, 6,087 candidates completed the survey. 

If you’re a school board candidate or incumbent, click here to take the survey.

The survey contains over 30 questions, and you can choose the ones you feel will best represent your views to voters. If you complete the survey, a box with your answers will display on your Ballotpedia profile. Your responses will also appear in our sample ballot.

And if you’re not running for school board, but there is an election in your community this year, share the link with the candidates and urge them to take the survey!

If you’re a school board candidate or incumbent, click here to take the survey.

Candidate canvass: survey responses from around the country

In this section, we feature school board candidate responses to surveys and questionnaires from political organizations and news outlets. Know of a survey or questionnaire in your area that we’ve missed? Reply to this email to share it with us! 

Colorado will hold school board general elections on Nov. 7. Colorado is also one of 10 states in which we are covering school board elections in every district. 

Today, we’re going to take a look at survey responses from two Colorado candidates running in the general election for Cherry Creek School District Board of Education District A. Cherry Creek School District is located in Arapahoe County, near Denver, and includes parts of the city of Aurora. With a student population of around 56,000 students, Cherry Creek is the fourth largest district in the state.  

The excerpts we’re featuring here come from a Cherry Creek School District questionnaire provided to all candidates. The district posts the responses on its website for voters. 

Anne Egan (incumbent; first elected in 2019)

I am seeking re-election to the Cherry Creek School District Board of Education to continue my service to sustaining our District’s excellence. I will continue to prioritize the critical mental health policies this District has put into place during my tenure, including opening the Traverse Mental Health Day Treatment School, and I remain committed to the critical safety and security upgrades in our buildings. I will continue working toward providing each and every student with equitable and challenging learning experiences, including exploring innovative pathways toward graduation, and after, whether that is a career, the military, or a college education. I will continue my commitment to recruiting and retaining the high-quality educators in this District, and paying them among the highest teacher salaries in the metro area.

Read Egan’s full statement here

Steve McKenna

I am running because I am concerned about slipping academic performance, safety and security, and a lack of partnership with parents in our schools. If elected, I pledge to prioritize these three issues, and to use my experience and expertise to work with the other board members and make improvements in all three areas.

Read McKenna’s full statement here.