survey says

Denver school board candidate used others’ words in campaign questionnaire, Chalkbeat review finds

PHOTO: Nicholas Garcia
Denver school board candidate Kristi Butkovich.

Denver school board candidate Kristi Butkovich on multiple occasions used the words and work of others in filling out a Chalkbeat Colorado election questionnaire without crediting the sources.

Portions of the southeast Denver education activist’s answers were nearly identical matches to passages from a blog post from education historian and writer Diane Ravitch, a prepared statement from a national union leader and an opinion piece by another DPS board candidate.

In an interview, Butkovich said she didn’t see a problem with “using someone else’s wording to get a point across” and doesn’t consider it plagiarism. Later, she sent a statement taking “full responsibility for not attributing the professionals for the work I respect and commend.”

“It is my writing style to quote the experts,” Butkovich wrote. “I know I cited several sources. In my haste to send in the questionnaire (it was already one day late), I should have asked someone to proof it before I hit submit. It was never my intention not to credit the appropriate author.”

Chalkbeat identified the passages in question — seven in all — while preparing the DPS board candidates’ responses for publication. In replies to the 10-question survey sent Sept. 24, Butkovich did include attribution in two instances in quoting extensively from Ravitch and the National Education Policy Center at the University of Colorado Boulder.

Among the instances in which Butkovich did not cite source material, and the sources:

Butkovich response:

Students are individuals and human. Not data points in a multi-level statistical model.” 

From May 2013 blog post from Ravitch:

“Students are individuals and human. Not data points in a multi-level statistical model.”

Butkovich response:

“Diversity is a key component to equality and opportunity. Where there’s a diverse teaching workforce, kids thrive.” 

From American Federation of Teachers president Randi Weingarten in a 2015 press release, quoted in The Huffington Post:

“Diversity is a key component to equality and opportunity. Where there’s a diverse teaching workforce, all kids thrive.” 

Butkovich response:

“On June 18, 2015 the DPS school board voted 6-1 to replace neighborhood school boundaries with a wider “enrollment zone.” The board majority ignored objections of the one school board member who represents Northwest Denver, Arturo Jimenez. If elected, my voting record will reflect the desires of DPS parents, students, neighbors, taxpayers and teachers.” 

From Denver Post June 27 guest opinion piece co-written by DPS board District 5 candidate Michael Kiley:

“On June 18, 2015 the DPS school board voted 6-1 to replace neighborhood school boundaries with a wider “enrollment zone.” The board majority ignored objections of the one school board member who represents Northwest Denver, Arturo Jimenez. If elected, my voting record will reflect the desires of DPS parents, students, neighbors, taxpayers and teachers.” 

Chalkbeat reviews of the other five DPS candidates’ replies using the same search methods turned up nothing similar.

In an interview Thursday, Butkovich said she has a network of people providing information for her to use in her campaign.

Kristi Butkovich
Kristi Butkovich

“I don’t think it’s problematic because those of us that are speaking publicly on this topic area are all using the same language. We are trying to get the same message across,” she said. “ …. This has not just come up in education but it has come up with other issues. Immigration, the gun laws. That language that has been expertly written that clearly gets the message across is used over and over again by other people so that we all are speaking the same language.”

She cited other circumstances, too, including the length of the questionnaire, its timing during “the busiest time of the campaign” and that she lost her original replies because of a computer issue and had to start over after the deadline had passed.

When told that Butkovich had used his work, Kiley, who is running for an open DPS board seat in northwest Denver, said that if he were to quote someone, he would follow “the established protocol.” He said he isn’t sure what that would be in this case.

“I think everyone when they write should follow generally accepted practices about that — and if you don’t, it’s a mistake,” said Kiley, who like Butkovich opposes the district’s direction under the current board majority. “In the heat of a political battle, mistakes are made. And I have made them, too.”

Butkovich in her responses also used large sections of a piece published by Angela Engel, a local author and former teacher, without citation. Engel said she is volunteering help to the campaign and gave Butkovich permission to use any of her language or work.

“This is a David vs. Goliath issue,” Engel said in an email. “Kristi is a mom running for a volunteer school board position, her campaign doesn’t have the resources to hire a PR firm or a communications director. She is not a journalist and she is not trying to get something published for profit, she’s relying on experts and trying to answer the questions as best she can.”

Elizabeth Skewes, an associate professor at the University of Colorado Boulder’s College of Media, Communication and Information, reviewed Chalkbeat’s findings and said she considers it a case of “significant plagiarism.”

“If you’re going to be taking somebody else’s words — and more importantly, their ideas — you have to tell people it is not your original thought,” Skewes said.

“I understand it’s not running for the presidency,” she said. “But it’s not that hard to stop and think, ‘What do I really think about this?’ Even running for school board, you have to step back and ask, ‘How does this come together for me?’ … If I am a voter, I want to know what she thinks — not what a good friend thinks or what Diane Ravitch thinks.”

Skewes said attitudes about plagiarism vary depending on the context. While the realms of academics and journalism have their own standards, interpretations are looser in politics, where ghostwriting and talking points penned by staff are the norm, she said.

Butkovich, executive director of the Denver Alliance for Public Education, is taking on incumbent Anne Rowe for the seat representing southeast Denver. Butkovich has said too many DPS decisions are made without community input and criticizes the district for a “top-down approach” and supporting the “privatization” of education.

The questionnaire material flagged by Chalkbeat — which accounted for nearly 20 percent of Butkovich’s overall responses — has been removed from her responses published Friday as part of a 2015 Election page.

You can read the responses that were removed — and citations of the original source material and online links  — here:

defensor escolar

Memphis parent advocacy group trains first Spanish-speaking cohort

PHOTO: Caroline Bauman
Manuela Martinez (center left) and Lidia Sauceda (center right) are among 19 parents in the first Spanish-speaking class of Memphis Lift’s Public Advocate Fellowship.

Manuela Martinez doesn’t want Spanish-speaking families to get lost in the fast-changing education landscape in Memphis as the city’s Hispanic population continues to grow.

The mother of two students is among 19 parents in the first Spanish-speaking class of Memphis Lift’s Public Advocate Fellowship, a program that trains parents on local education issues.

“We want to be more informed,” said Martinez, whose children attend Shelby County Schools. “I didn’t know I had much of voice or could change things at my child’s school. But I’m learning a lot about schools in Memphis, and how I can be a bigger part.”

More than 200 Memphians have gone through the 10-week fellowship program since the parent advocacy group launched two years ago. The vast majority have been African-Americans.

The first Spanish-speaking cohort is completing a five-week program this month and marks a concerted effort to bridge racial barriers, said Sarah Carpenter, the organization’s executive director.

“Our mission is to make the powerless parent powerful …,” she said.

The city’s mostly black public schools have experienced a steady growth in Hispanic students since 1992 when only 286 attended the former Memphis City Schools. In 2015, the consolidated Shelby County Schools had 13,816 Hispanic children and teens, or 12.3 percent of the student population.

Lidia Sauceda came to Memphis from Mexico as a child; now she has two children who attend Shelby County Schools. Through Memphis Lift, she is learning about how to navigate Tennessee’s largest district in behalf of her family.

PHOTO: Caroline Bauman
Hispanic parents attend a training with the Memphis Lift fellowship program.

“Latinos are afraid of talking, of standing up,” Sauceda said. “They’re so afraid they’re not going to be heard because of their legal status. But I will recommend this (fellowship) to parents. How do we want our kids to have a better education if we can’t dedicate time?”

The training includes lessons on local school options, how to speak publicly at a school board meeting, and how to advocate for your children if you believe they are being treated unfairly.

The first fellowship was led by Ian Buchanan, former director of community partnership for the state-run Achievement School District. Now the program is taught in-house, and the Spanish-speaking class is being led this month by Carmelita Hernandez, an alumna.

“No matter what language we speak, we want a high-quality education for our kids just like any other parent,” Hernandez said. “A good education leads to better opportunities.”

Stopping summer slide

On National Summer Learning Day, Memphis takes stock of programs for kids

PHOTO: Helen Carefoot
Torrence Echols, a rising first-grader in Memphis, builds a tower with giant legos at the Benjamin L. Hooks Library on National Summer Learning Day.

When it comes to summer learning, it’s been a better year for Memphis, where a range of new programs have helped to stem learning loss that hits hard in communities with a high number of low-income students.

On Thursday, Mayor Jim Strickland celebrated that work in conjunction with National Summer Learning Day and against the backdrop of the children’s reading room of the city’s main library.

He estimated that 10,000 children and teens are being reached this summer through learning programs spearheaded through Shelby County Schools, Literacy Mid-South, Memphis Public Libraries, churches and nonprofit organizations across the community.

That’s a record-breaking number, Strickland says, in a city with a lot of students struggling to meet state and local reading targets.

Summer learning loss, also known as summer slide, is the tendency for students to lose some of the knowledge and skills they gained during the school year. It’s a large contributor to the achievement gap, since children from low-income families usually don’t get the same summer enrichment opportunities as their more affluent peers. Compounded year after year, the gap widens to the point that, by fifth grade, many students can be up to three years behind in math and reading.

But this summer for the first time, Shelby County Schools offered summer learning academies across the city for students most in need of intervention. And Memphis also received a slice of an $8.5 million state grant to provide summer literacy camps at nine Memphis schools through Tennessee’s Read to be Ready initiative.

Literacy Mid-South used Thursday’s event to encourage Memphians to “drop everything and read!”

The nonprofit, which is providing resources this summer through about 15 organizations in Greater Memphis, is challenging students to log 1,400 minutes of summertime reading, an amount that research shows can mitigate learning loss and even increase test scores.

Reading is a problem for many students in Memphis and across Tennessee. Less than a third of third-graders in Shelby County Schools read on grade level, and the district is working to boost that rate to 90 percent by 2025 under its Destination 2025 plan.

The city of Memphis, which does not fund local schools, has made Memphis Public Libraries the focal point of its education work. This summer, the library is offering programs on everything from STEM and robotics to art and test prep.

Parents are a critical component, helping their kids to take advantage of books, programs and services that counter the doldrums of summer learning.

Soon after the mayor left the Benjamin L. Hooks Library on Thursday, Tammy Echols arrived with her son, Torrence, a rising first-grader at Levi Elementary School. Echols said they visit regularly to read books and do computer and math games.

“We always do a lot of reading and we’re working on learning sight words,” Echols said as she watched her son build a tower out of giant Lego blocks. “Torrence is a learning child and it’s easy to forget what you just learned if you’re not constantly reinforcing.”

You can find summer learning resources for families from the National Summer Learning Association.