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Those pesky facts

Posted by Dec 8th, 2010.

It’s really annoying when facts screw up a good rant, isn’t it? One argument persistently used against charter schools by critics on this blog is that they foster segregation and inequity. Well, take a look at these numbers culled by Nancy Mitchell from Denver Public Schools’ latest October count data:

DPS district vs. charter demographics, 2010

  • FRL - All district schools have a combined FRL rate of 73 percent compared to 74 percent for all charters.
  • Minority - All district schools have a combined minority rate of 81 percent compared to 81 percent for all charters.
  • ELL - All district schools have a combined ELL rate of 26 percent compared to 27 percent for all charters.
  • SPED - All district schools have a combined SPED rate of 11 percent compared to 11 percent for all charters. However, only one charter to date is serving students with severe special needs.

Perhaps the questions we all should be asking aren’t about charters vs. traditional district schools, but rather why middle- and upper-income families continue to avoid DPS — including charters — in droves?

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12 Responses to “Those pesky facts”

  1. Mark Sass says:

    Alan, what percentage of middle- and upper-income families avoid DPS and how does this compare with JeffCo and APS, and other large, local school districts?

  2. Alan Gottlieb says:

    I do not have the number at my fingertips but Nancy Mitchell did a series of stories for the Rocky a few years back that suggested that many thousands of Denver kids — somewhere between 10,000 and 20,000, I believe — don’t attend DPS. Given the FRL rate of the district compared to the poverty rate for the city as a whole, and economic realities (the poor don’t have the private option) it’s pretty clear that the bulk of those kids are lower-income. No one to my knowledge has done a comparable study of other school districts in the metro area.

  3. Joanne Roll says:

    I think the comparison of demographics of all charters and the demographics of all DPS students is helpful. Now, there are a variety of other comparisons which can be made. One would be the most successful charter demographics compared to the overall District demographic. Another would be to compare the successful charter in a neighbor to the demographics of a neighborhood school in the same area. Finally, it would be worthwhile to look at the top five charters and the top five district schools and compare demographics and ditto for the five lowest performing.

    I am not against charters. However, I think that the small size of the school may be a factor favoring success with many charters. Also, the ability of the charter school management to limit intervention from outside groups may help maintain stability. Finally, the lottery system itself creates the notion that the charter school is desirable precisely because not everyone can attend.

    • To me, the main contrast that matters is the act of choosing. Kids whose parents are concerned enough to seek out options have a huge advantage over those who don’t.

      My bottom line on the demographic issue, though, is that I agree with Alan– it’s more of a concern that the schools are this segregated overall. I think it’s incredibly unfortunate that residential segregation is still so severe, and equally unfortunate that legal and political developments over the last 20 years have limited our options for achieving socioeconomic balance in schools.

      • van schoales says:

        I agree and that’s why we need to educate more families about their options, what quality looks like while building more of this high quality schools. I have said it many times before but I doubt any parent would send their kid to schools like Montbello, North or West if they had other good options and knew that their kid only had a 1 in 20 chance of success it if they went to these schools.

    • Mark Sass says:

      I am not sure that the size of the school matters, if you look at successful, large comprehensive non-charter public high schools. That said, I have not seen a large comprehensive charter high school.

  4. Joanne Roll says:

    Would you name successful, large comprehensive non-charter public high schools in Colorado?
    I am thinking Cherry Creek and Columbine. But, I am not that familiar with high schools throughout Colorado. Would Denver’s East or George Washington be considered successful, large comprehensive
    high schools?

    • Mark Sass says:

      If we use the new state ranking system, with “performance” being the highest rating East, GW and TJ would be considered “successful.” This is just for DPS. You can check for other successful large comprehensive high schools using ED News’ handy dandy data site for schools:

      • Alexander Ooms says:

        I think East is a terrific school, but it is 35% FRL in a school district whose demographic is twice that. GW has 52% FRL, but it also has a selective admissions IB program that account for about 25% of its students and without those it is much less impressive. TJ is 43% FRL and ranked right in the middle of the pack on the School Performance Framework.

        I’d love to see an outstanding large comprehensive high school with both open-admissions and FRL of an urban district (65+). They are really rare.

  5. van schoales says:

    This strand of conversation on successful big comprehensive high school warrants a whole other blog but I do not think a school like TJ or others where most of the low-income or students of color are not at proficiency should be called a good school. Schools like Creek where the vast majority of kids are growing academically and performing at high levels are good (but understand they do not serve very many low-income kids). I am not sure it’s possible to have an excellent big urban non-selective high school. I’ve never seen or heard of one where most kids get high marks, are growing academically and go on to college. Schools like Styvesant in NYC or Lowell in SF do it by being selective in admissions. All of the high performing urban high schools I know of are are small, focused and often charters. They are also increasingly 6-12′s or have strong feeder middle schools.

  6. Joanne Roll says:

    Mark, Thank you.

  7. Mark Sass says:

    We continue to use FRL as a variable in defining good schools. Have we applied this variable to the recent PISA results being lauded by by some? Is there a way to check the FRL, or some other indicator of poverty, against the results of, say, Singapore? This data analysis is out of my scope of available resources.

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