Douglas County, Colo., may not sound familiar if it isn’t your home, but if you have been to the Centennial State, the location — about halfway between Denver and Colorado Springs — is probably familiar.
It’s a wealthy suburban area, and not surprisingly, it has one of the highest-performing school districts in Colorado. Students tend to excel and go on to college. Even so, the residents of Douglas County came to a very enlightened conclusion in 2009.
They decided that good wasn’t good enough.
And so voters overwhelmingly elected reformers to the school board. The new board decided that striving to be the best in Colorado no longer was sufficient. Instead, it set a goal of competing “against students across the nation and the world for the most sought-after careers.”
Now, Douglas County is taking on Massachusetts and Maryland, Finland and Singapore.
To achieve this, the district moved quickly to enact a bold set of reforms, unprecedented in a suburban school district with 65,000 students. It has aggressively pushed policies that give parents choice, reward and retain the best teachers, bring technology into education, and hold students to the highest expectations.
The lesson here is a valuable one. Our students are falling behind students from other nations in an academic race that will determine our place in the 21st-century global economy. Our children are, at best, mediocre performers on international assessments in science, math, and literacy.
We have become complacent, and complacency is the bridge to stagnation and mediocrity.
It can no longer be an option for kids at any academic level.
Reform is often associated with turning around failing schools. But in Douglas County, it is being used to turn good schools into great schools.
A pair of American Enterprise Institute researchers recently wrote: “Douglas County is serving as the site of what may well prove to be a critical chapter in the story of contemporary school reform, and the nation should pay close attention.”