Voice: Dick Wadhams

Dick Wadhams is a political consultant and former chairman of the Colorado Republican Party.

“The drop-out rates are very high and you drop out of school, you’re confined to a life of poverty. That’s the bottom line.”

First thing that comes to my mind, I think this is one of the direct consequences of an educational system that is failing minority kids, not only the drop-out rate which is much higher in Colorado among Hispanics and African American kids than it is for Anglo kids. I think the mediocrity of the educational system in so many ways has failed those kids and I think that’s been reflected in statistics.

I’m sure there are many other factors, but boy, that’s the one that comes to my mind. And I think that’s why you’re starting to see more and more Hispanic and African American leaders embrace the concept of education reform like charter schools and possibly even vouchers, which I know was rejected by voters 10 years ago or longer.

But I think that’s why the education reform is becoming more of a topic in those two communities.

I think Denver Public Schools, the way they’re moving towards fundamental education reform, are headed in the right direction. They’re a long ways from solving the problem but I think it’s education reform across the board. I think it was George W. Bush, what was his phrase, “the soft bigotry of low expectations.” It’s almost the writing off of these kids. I think that more than anything contributes to this problem.

The drop-out rates are very high and you drop out of school, you’re confined to a life of poverty. That’s the bottom line.

I think there are some other social problems that contribute to it. Daniel Patrick Moynihan argued back in the late 1970s that the illegitimacy rate among African Americans was going to adversely affect African Americans and I think it would be very hard to find anybody who would challenge that at this point. There has been a lot talked about and written about that problem. That probably goes back to the education system again though. I think there are a lot of social problems. I really think the education problem is the biggest one.

If education reforms would be enacted today, it would be slow progress, but you’d see it over time. This problem didn’t happen overnight. I don’t know that it’s going to get any better in the short term, but I do think some of the things Denver Public Schools is doing is a step in the right direction. But it goes beyond just Denver Public Schools. You can find it in Jefferson County, or Cherry Creek, or in rural counties. It’s the same thing. There’s something wrong with this education system right now. I think it’s failing kids across the board. I think it’s even more pronounced among minority kids.

DPS has improved a lot of charter schools. They’re tackling head-on failing schools. They’re not tacitly sitting by now. I’ll give some credit to Michael Bennet. A lot of this started under him before he got appointed to the Senate. I’m not crazy about him being a senator, but I’ll give him credit about some of the things he started before he got appointed to the U.S. Senate. I really believe more choice is going to be a big part of the solution and holding schools accountable, holding teachers accountable. That’s got to happen.

I know Colorado voters rejected vouchers before, but you know, I’ll bet you right now among Hispanics and African Americans, that’s going to be a lot more attractive than it might have been a few years ago.

Roy Romer, to his credit, started some education reforms towards the end of his governorship. Bill Owens picked them up. Unfortunately, I think Bill Ritter reversed some of the reforms. He pulled back on some of the testing to quantify kids’ progress or lack of progress.

When you think how so many kids are being failed right now in the schools, it probably leads to these other discrepancies with home ownership, income, poverty, etc.

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