Schools superintendent finds flaws in Littleton man's proposal

Posted 12/15/12

John Conlin believes education is the civil-rights issue of our time, and he's started a nonprofit to tackle it — provocatively called End the …

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Schools superintendent finds flaws in Littleton man's proposal


John Conlin believes education is the civil-rights issue of our time, and he's started a nonprofit to tackle it — provocatively called End the Education Plantation.

“In a very real sense, our children are slaves to a broken school system robbing them and us of our future,” says Conlin on his website. “It's time to free the slaves once more.”

He's been spending time in Washington, D.C., lobbying for a federal law that would give education funding directly to parents in the form of what he calls “Educational Freedom Accounts.” They could spend that money on any school they choose.

His plan is based on a free-market premise, in which groups of like-minded folks could band together and start their own schools. Conlin postulates ones that work would thrive, while those that don't would go away.

“It would transform the whole definition of what a public school is,” he said.

The self-employed management consultant says he had a “Rosa Parks moment” when he realized he was fed up — despite the fact that his grown son got through Littleton Public Schools just fine.

“You could say I have no skin in the game, but I do. I'm an American,” he said.

LPS Superintendent Scott Murphy agrees that education should matter to all Americans, and he would put the U.S. education system up against any in the world.

“In the '70s, we did an extremely bold thing,” he said. “We decided all children deserve an education … and we gave them the type of education that they should expect in American society.”

Murphy notes there is choice already — open enrollment, vouchers, magnet schools, charter schools, private schools — and districts provide some services for most of them. Even home-schoolers are invited to participate in things like art and athletics.

He adds that with an elected school board and community involvement on accountability and steering committees, among others, the public has a lot of input now. Its voice can also be heard loud and clear during bond and mill-levy elections, consistently approved in LPS.

“We've asked our public what it wants,” said Murphy.

He thinks Conlin's proposal could lead to self-segregation, reversing progress the country has made.

“What we need to think about, public and private, is the extent to which we stratify our society and its students,” he said. “The great equalizer for all our children is public education.”

He bristles at Conlin's comment: “It's obvious the problems aren't due to a lack of funding. Funding for education has increased dramatically over the years. Spending on K-12 schools, adjusting for inflation and enrollment growth, has roughly tripled over the last 50 years.”

At that, Murphy brought out a foot-and-a-half tall pile of papers — three years of passed legislation, most of which cost money to implement. There are rules at the state and federal level, the departments of education, homeland security and transportation, the IRS and on and on.

All in all, Murphy says he welcomes the conversation.

“I'd hope we all have the same vision, the best outcome for all students,” he said. “To bring out every one of their gifts, and making them the richer for having come through our doors. And if we don't do the job, don't hire us.”

Conlin didn't expect everyone to love his idea.

“At their core, the ultimate reason defenders of the status quo fight choice is because of their fear that if the parent or child had the choice, they'd run off,” he said. “Therefore, they refuse to grant choice. Isn't that the very definition of slavery? My plan will change public schools, not destroy them. And the kind of thinking that denies people a choice because I might disagree with your choice is, again, the essence of slavery.”

Conlin's website is

littleton public schools, littleton, colorado, centennial, colorado, scott murphy


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