The first 6:30 of this video from the May 23 debate deal with school choice and other Denver Public Schools issues.
Popularity: 18% [?]
The first 6:30 of this video from the May 23 debate deal with school choice and other Denver Public Schools issues.
Popularity: 18% [?]
Holly Yettick is a doctoral student in the Educational Foundations, Policy and Practice program at the School of Education at the University of Colorado in Boulder.
Most of Colorado’s open enrollment students are transferring from school districts with high test scores to districts with even higher scores. This is one of several interesting findings reported in a new study by political scientists at the University of Wisconsin-Madison.
Deven Carlson, Lesley Lavery and John F. Witte examined open enrollment in Colorado and Minnesota by analyzing data from the 2002-03 and 2003-04 school years. Their test-score related findings are consistent with research conducted over the past 20 years, which suggest that districts with high test scores attract more open enrollers. What’s new and different about this study (published in the peer-reviewed journal, Educational Evaluation and Policy Analysis) is that researchers more closely examined the characteristics of the students’ home districts in two different states.
Also new: Using Geographic Information System software, researchers found that distance matters: Students in both states are more likely to transfer to districts closer to home. (The researchers state that “Virtual schools are undoubtedly an important topic of study, but are beyond the scope of this analysis.”)
Other results were mixed. Students in both states were less likely to leave high-spending districts. However, transfer students tended to move to districts that spent slightly less. Past studies suggest students are more likely to transfer to higher-spending districts but that test scores may be more strongly associated with student transfers. In Colorado, size also mattered: Students tended to transfer from smaller to bigger districts.
Past research indicates that demographics also play an important role. This can increase segregation because students tend to leave districts with higher percentages of low-income students and minorities.
The Wisconsin authors concluded that demographics were not a primary force driving interdistrict open enrollment:
“Any increase in segregation stemming from open enrollment is likely attributable to a desire by parents to increase the academic opportunities available to their children.”
However, they did find that “open enrollment may be causing greater segregation among social classes and racial groups in Colorado, but there is less evidence of such effects in Minnesota.”
This is consistent with the results of a 2009 study of the Denver metropolitan area published in the peer-reviewed Peabody Journal of Education. In that study, which actually uses more recent data from 2006-07, University of Texas researchers Jennifer Jennifer Jellison Holme and Meredith P. Richards found that “higher income students were far more likely to take advantage of interdistrict choice and to transfer to higher income school districts.” Additionally: “ On the whole, White students were more likely to transfer out of racially diverse districts into districts with higher proportions of White students.”
The impact of open enrollment is significant and growing because open enrollment is the most common form of choice in our country and our state. According to EdNews, 66,296 Colorado students (8 percent of all students) open enrolled this school year. The pool of open enrollers is now larger than all but two Colorado school districts.
The authors of the Wisconsin and Texas studies suggest several policy implications. The authors of both studies found that the most disadvantaged students were less likely to benefit from open enrollment in Colorado. Further, the Wisconsin authors noted that districts with low test scores were losing per-pupil funding as students transferred out, which potentially contributed to a downward spiral in which these districts would increasingly lack the resources needed to improve.
Popularity: 26% [?]
Some questions regarding the current Douglas County School Board push for vouchers:
Would it be appropriate, much less legal, for the governing board of a public library system to allow current library subscribers, if they so chose, to receive library funds to rent DVDs from Netflix, Blockbuster, or the local video store down the street (do these still exist)?
I am, of course, trying to make an analogy to the current push by Douglas County school board members to establish a “scholarship” program whereby families would receive tax money dedicated to public schools to use as tuition at private schools. Is my analogy off the mark, or could we even apply it to other public services? Park districts, police and fire protection, maybe even our justice system?
Does the school board of Douglas County, or any school board for that matter, have the legal authority to establish a voucher system? Isn’t the purpose of public school boards to govern the public schools under their jurisdiction? I realize that public schools contract out some services to private companies, including contract schools. But the school board still “governs” those private companies ensuring that the private companies follow contractual obligations thereby ensuring the tax payer that funds are being used wisely and effectively.
Vouchers, used as tuition for private schools, are not “governed” by the school boards.
Does it matter if the funds used for vouchers come from the state or come from the local school district taxing authority? Can the state deny the use of state education funding for vouchers?
Are we ready to admit now that vouchers are not about improving student achievement? They are about an ideology that values choice, regardless of effectiveness?
My questions are not intended to be rhetorical in nature (Yes, they are biased in nature, can’t help that since I am not afraid to let my bias show). They are intended to further provoke the discussion about vouchers and for the dissemination of information. Please keep this in mind.
Popularity: 26% [?]
This post was submitted by Cindy Barnard, a Douglas County school parent and taxpayer
Public education is a cornerstone of our nation’s democracy and strength. The Douglas County Board of Education is considering the implementation of a “Scholarship Program” that will subsidize up to 500 students currently enrolled in Douglas County public schools to attend a private religious or non-religious school. State and local public school tax dollars will be handed to the students’ parents to use as vouchers.
I keep asking the same questions of the program: For what purpose…For whom… At what cost?
Douglas County School District receives the lowest per pupil funding in the state and continues to outpace performance in state assessments as well as in college entrance exams. Success is accomplished through a vast array of choice programming: Neighborhood schools, Advanced Placement and International Baccalaureate programming, charter, magnet, online, alternative, contract, and home school partnerships.
Because these programs run on public education tax dollars, each is designed to meet state testing standards. The programs provide equity and accessibility for all students and employ teachers who meet specific certification requirements. Private schools do not share the same accountability and reporting requirements that our public schools do. There is no public accountability for private schools, whether it’s the students they serve, who they employ, or the educational standards they must achieve and there is no accountability for spending tax dollars.
Yet the Douglas County school board is proposing that a “scholarship program” for students attending private schools is in the best interest of the district because the program offers “choice.”
The four newest board members (who ran as Republicans) have stated that they campaigned on a platform in support of choice and the electorate (traditionally Republican) elected them. (I am, by the way, a registered Republican.) Recently, when asked how many Douglas County families have called in to say they want a voucher, the answer was, “one student.” Is this a program developed to actually improve education for all Douglas County kids, or is it an unnecessary, politically driven agenda?
The “scholarship” program, as the Board of Education is now calling it, would educate a chosen few. The annual scholarship of $4,575 will not, in most cases, cover the cost of tuition, books and fees for a private school education. Only families with adequate financial resources to afford the remainder of the costs will be able to use the “scholarships.”
A board member told me that the inequity of the program was not an issue because our schools are good. The proposed voucher program will create an elite two-tier education system without improving opportunities or performance for all. Public tax dollars absolutely should not be a scholarship fund for a chosen few to attend private school.
The State of Colorado is about to experience the largest cut in funding to K-12 education in history. Douglas County’s share of the cut is forecast to be $30 million, approximately $500/student. The prudent financial management of past Douglas County school board managed to maintain a top bond rating. The district’s capital reserves are currently within legal limits, but at the lowest level they have ever been. If the district needs to dip further into the reserves, it will likely have a detrimental effect on our bond rating, increasing the district’s capital and operational expenses—all at a pivotal budgetary time.
In the challenging economic times of the previous four years Douglas County School District’s budget has been slashed by $100 million. These cuts have lead to:
The district simply cannot afford the financial burden of an unproven scholarship program that will benefit a chosen few.
District staff acknowledges that the pilot program’s structure is built on assumptions and the financial and performance “details” will become known after the first year (or years) of the program. (If implemented the pilot program will divert 2.6 million public school tax dollars out of the Douglas County school system.)
Board members espouse that the program will be a financial success, reducing the number of students served by the district, but maintaining a portion of the funding attributed to the students who make the “choice” for a private school. I suggest that the program will do the opposite. It will add more administrative burden, diminish the financial resources for all public schools, and ultimately deal a lasting blow to the quality, efficiency, and accessibility that has been the admirable legacy of the Douglas County School District.
A program built on unsupported assumptions, coupled with the district’s low capital reserves simply creates too much risk for the long-term success for our district’s kids. For the Douglas County Board of Education to knowingly institute a program that has the potential to damage the quality, equity, and efficiency of our public schools is irresponsible.
I continue to ask: For what purpose…For whom… At what cost? The board needs to drop this political agenda and fully focus on their charge as leaders: Responsible stewardship for a great, endeared, successful school district in tough financial times. It’s about the kids. They are all our future!
Popularity: 27% [?]
Karin Piper is an author, speaker and education advocate
“Something of a public school paradise.” That is how the Los Angeles Times recently described the Douglas County School District (DCSD). So what merits this title of academic bliss?
Well, Douglas County is largely a suburban community between Denver and Colorado Springs and what research-type folks like to call largely homogeneous. Douglas County schools have roughly 60,000 children enrolled, the dropout rate is merely 1.3 percent, 89.1 percent of its students graduate and just 10.9 percent of the enrolled students receive free and reduced lunch.
Each year 15,000 Douglas County parents and community members contribute more than a half a million hours of volunteer service, and recent survey results show a satisfaction rating of more than 90 percent.
Perhaps it is this active and engaged role in our kids’ schools that also has created a highly informed parent community. Parents start “shopping” for schools very early, sometimes as part of a planned pregnancy. After all, schools aren’t just schools to involved parents; schools are selected based on fit for both student and family philosophy.
As a cultural result, this public Garden of Edu-n has a thriving flora of quality schooling options. There are online schools, charters, magnets, and naturally the traditional neighborhood schools. If you are wondering what makes each of these schools unique and attractive to the astute school shopping families, keep a keen eye on the Douglas County website www.dcsdk12.org. Over the next few weeks, Douglas County is going to reveal an online presence that will knock choosy parents’ socks off.
Just as in any other district in the United States, Dougco families can also opt to send their children to private schools. Or can they?
You see, many families in areas like Douglas County do have the option of private education, because they can afford it. To others, this is not a financial possibility. Remember 10.9 percent of Douglas County’s students receive a free or reduced lunch. Many other families fall somewhere in between. There are plenty of families in Douglas County who do not qualify for financial aid for private schools, but cannot afford adding tuition costs to their budget.
This would make non-public academic options for some, well, the forbidden fruit.
It also raises the question about kids whom the current schools could not serve well. Even in an overall high-performing district, being everything to everyone is still impossible. What about the 1.3 percent that dropped out? Or the 10.1 percent that did not graduate? These statistics do not represent numbers, but real children with beating pulses, names and futures. Could an additional type of education provider have made a difference? How will we know without actually offering it?
That’s what the elected Douglas County Board of Education would like to do.
In response to public demand for choice, and based on task force recommendations, the board voted in December to accept a proposal to make non-public education available to public school families through exercising local control. Parents, the board had said, should be given the power to choose where their kids go to school and should have as many options as possible. The program would allow parents to spend a portion of their children’s per pupil revenue toward tuition costs at a participating private school.
Since then the DCSD staff has been working hard on creating a program which is viable within this space and current laws. That is both an arduous and sizable task.
There is pressure on staff and education leaders from all sides. Some are hopeful for a design that has so little accountability that it is unlikely to be created under current laws. Others won’t like it even if it was dipped in chocolate. And it sort of is.
In a perfect scholarship world per-pupil revenue ought to follow the student all the way. In the current Dougco scholarship program only 75 percent would follow the child. The remaining 25 percent would stay in the district to pay for overhead costs and a “contingency fund,” to alleviate any financial burden if “too many students from one public school would leave.” How many kids are we really talking here? The 2011-12 pilot program is suggested to permit up to 500 kids to sample this new concept. To clarify, that is 500 children in a district of 60,000, or less than 1 percent. According to the district financial staff, the pilot program at capacity would net the school district $400,000.
Personally I am a supporter of this program, but not due to possible revenue gains or political reasons. As a matter of fact, if you thought I was a political zealot you may just as well put away your label-gun now. I can guarantee that you have me all wrong, regardless of which brand you had in mind.
No, I am just a mom and my motives are very simple: The Douglas County Scholarship Program will make private schools a possibility for more families who seek it.
Is it perfection? Nope. Until all children truly have equal access to a free education regardless of schooling type, it won’t be. But take it from someone who gets giddy over a coupon for free coffee or 10 cents off my gap, a $4,000 discount will make a significant difference for many, many families. And hopefully this creative approach to bridging public and private education will invite investors with the purpose of providing additional support for the neediest families.
Are private schools better than Douglas County public schools? That depends on whom you ask. I can sit here and regurgitate data all day long, but in the end who gets to decide if one is better serving a child or not? The parent.
Until the day that we have found the magic bullet of education, even the best schools—regardless of type–will continue to see drop-out rates, lack-of graduation, or dissatisfaction for one reason or another. Better from an educrat’s standpoint isn’t always better in the eyes of a parent.
Why should this be done in a high performing district? Why not? Wouldn’t we want districts that already do well for the majority of kids to try innovative ideas and lead? It would be great if this program had already been introduced by districts where needy children are stuck in failing schools. But haven’t we waited long enough for those leaders to take action? Certainly another district being first out of the gate won’t stop those districts for developing such programs too, if it so behooves them.
Do public education dollars belong to the district or the student? We can argue this until pigs fly, so here is the argument from me, the parent. To be brief: It is called per pupil revenue. That implies the education dollar belongs to the pupil, in translation, the child. The child definitely belongs to the parent. Not your neighbors. Not the neighbor’s grandpa. And in most cases, our kids are not wards of the state. Therefore, the parent decides where the student goes to school and the funds come along.
Will the scholarship program cause DCSD to lose families to private schools? They already do.
Would parents take their kids out of DCSD neighborhood schools because the cost went down? I find that doubtful. Remember that Dougco parents are savvy shoppers and know what they want. If they are happy with their children’s school, as 90 percent said they are, then they are going nowhere.
What would make parents enthusiastic about staying in their current schools? I am so glad you (hypothetically) asked! The Douglas County School Choice Plan is packed with exciting programs. The scholarship program is only a fraction of it. Again, I strongly encourage you to visit Douglas County’s website and often over the next few weeks. You don’t want to miss Education Paradise 2.0.
Popularity: 32% [?]
Editor’s note: On Tuesday we will be publishing a point-counterpoint by two parents on opposite sides of the Douglas County “Option Certificates” (or vouchers) proposal. The piece below was submitted to Education News Colorado by Justin D. Williams, a member of the Douglas County Board of Education.
Answers to the eight common opposition comments to Douglas County Scholarships:
1) Issue: You can’t use taxpayer dollars for private schools.
Response: It’s being done in 17 states currently at the K-12 level. The courts have ruled that the money goes to the families and the families decide where to send their child. It would be illegal to require a student to attend a private school. Also, our taxpayer dollars are currently going to BYU, Notre Dame, Gonzaga and most other accredited, religious-based universities via Pell Grants and the GI Bill. Those are tax dollars going to educate a student at a religious-based school. Also, we use taxpayer dollars at religious hospitals. We do this every day on many different levels.
2) Issue: Our school district has cut $100 million out of its budget over the last four years. We have to pay to have our kids ride the bus. We can’t take money out of our budget and give to rich, private-school kids.
Response: First of all, all private-school kids are not rich. And our proposed program is going to keep 75 percent of the money from the state ($6,100) and give it to the family for their choosing. The district keeps 25 percent. At 500 kids in the program, we make $400,000. That’s $400,000 that we don’t have now. This is NET NEW money. It will reduce cutbacks.
3) Issue: The BOE is spending too much time on this and not focusing on an election.
Response: We have to form a product if we are going to go out for an election. We spend most of our time on the “meat and potatoes” of education.
4) Issue: This is just rich, white Republicans trying to fund their religious schools.
Response: No, these are taxpayers who have a right to send their kids, and their tax allocation, to the school of their choice. It’s fair. Some are Republicans, some are white, some are neither. It’s not about race or being on one side or the other. It’s about being fair.
5) Issue: What happens if 500 kids all leave from one school? (As hypothetical as this is, many demand an answer to this question)
Response: It is unlikely that they would all leave from one school. But if they did, we would really examine what’s going wrong at that school. But we would use some of the PROFIT from this program to provide subsidies to those schools that lose too many kids.
6) Issue: By counting new students, you are making the pie smaller at the capital, thus taking money out of the educational fund.
Response: We are growing by over 1,300 students per year. This program will only have 500 students for the fall. We are still growing and receiving a net-new amount of students. In addition to that, Douglas County is a net-payer into the state. Other counties/school districts are net-receivers from the system. I’m okay with school districts like DPS getting more money. But how much is too much? We have reached that point. We finally had the money to put in a WAN this year. That’s about eight years later than it should have been.
7) Issue: 93 percent of our families are happy. That’s a great percentage. Why are we focusing all of our time on this small percentage?
Response: I have spent 100 percent of my time on the “core” students up until now. If you add up all of the time I have spent on this issue, it won’t add up to 7 percent of my time. And isn’t it about time we address these families/students who want something different? We can speculate why families want a different option. But you can’t deny that there is a demand for something different. We are just trying to meet that demand.
8) Issue: What happens if it fails? Where’s the data that shows that it will work? We need to see hard data to see that it will work. We also demand that the district take a poll to see if this is what they want.
Response: We don’t have data that will show it will work. We also don’t have data that show it won’t. How could we get data for this? This country (and every company) has been started with a risk. This has a risk, but it is a mitigated one. And we are not going to poll. We just had an election a while ago and the county voted in favor of three new board members that were very clear on their intentions.
Most other objections are variations of these eight. Just one other thing: Please don’t think that I am anti-teacher. It is a poor conclusion. I don’t believe you will feel that way after we get this completed.
Popularity: 34% [?]
Cross-posted from the Failing Schools blog
Like thousands of observers around the country, I was outraged over the decision in the case of Kelley Williams-Bolar this week. Williams-Bolar is single mother from Akron, Ohio who was charged and convicted as a felon for lying about her daughters’ residency status in order to send them to the highly-regarded Copley-Fairlawn schools. As a result of the conviction, her future as a teacher is in jeopardy, and she faces possible eviction from the public housing project where she and her daughters live. Her father, whose Copley address she used to unlawfully gain access to the Copley-Fairlawn school district, also faces charges of grand theft for his role in the affair.
Though I don’t condone lying, I agree with those who believe her punishment was excessive and thatshe should be pardoned. More importantly, this woman should never have been put in the position of having to commit a felony in order to secure a decent education for her children.
It should be our goal as a nation to ensure that every school, in every neighborhood, is a high-quality school. As I’ve said before, parents should not have to “move, or pay extra money, or have to struggle to ensure that their child gets a quality education.” And they certainly shouldn’t have to risk their livelihoods, the roof over their heads, or incarceration to ensure that their children are safe and well-served at school. But as this case makes clear, as we work toward improvement in all schools, there is a pressing need for real choices for families who cannot afford to move or pay private school tuition.
The last time I wrote about school choice, I tried to clarify some disingenuous speech around the issue. Though I am a supporter of school choice, I do not support the way the idea of “choice” has been used to cover actions that actually take choices away from some families and communities. Instead, I believe a true movement toward school choice for all families should:
Rather than criminalizing parents who use the only means they can to access quality schooling options, we should be thinking about why someone would find it necessary to take such a drastic action in the first place– and taking action to make it unnecessary. We should also be working to make sure that all families can choose for positive reasons, among different positive options– “Will this school help my budding artist? Will they sustain and nurture her creativity?”– instead of seeing school choice as an escape valve.
Popularity: 16% [?]
The movie Waiting for Superman, and the recent signing of a district and charter compact, has energized an intense debate about the quality of charter schools compared to their traditional school peers. Local opponents of charters have focused much of their criticism by emphasizing a national statistic quoted in Superman which is based on a patchwork, multi-state CREDO study that concluded just one in five charter schools outperform traditional schools.
The question of charter school performance is vital. However this line of critique is largely irrelevant. The overwhelming majority of education policy and practice is not national, but local — charter results in Dayton and Detroit have little to do with school decisions in Denver. And in Denver, the very same CREDO study explicitly stated — and further analysis of more recent performance data confirms — that charter schools are doing far better than their traditional school peers.
Indeed, school districts across Colorado would be well advised to look at Denver’s model with an eye to replicating its success.
It’s helpful to quickly revisit the essentials. A central premise of charter schools is simple: encourage innovation and a variety of school models. Measure outcomes. Expand the good schools, and change or close the bad ones. This basic combination of innovation, evaluation, and adjustment should lead — particularly over time — to more high-quality schools and better outcomes for students.
Denver is a vibrant example of this theory. Over the past several years a consistent (if fragile) coalition on the Board of Education has established a solid process for encouraging and approving innovative charter proposals. Denver Public Schools (DPS) created a comprehensive annual evaluation system to measure school quality. And both forged the collective political will to close charters that do poorly.
Denver’s charters now display numerous models, including Expeditionary Learning, dual-language immersion, and entrepreneurship. These innovations have indeed produced a wide variation in quality: on the 2010 School Performance Framework, three of the top five schools were charters – and so were two of the bottom five.
However the best charter schools are expanding to serve more students, while the worst are being reconfigured and face closure. And in the aggregate, charter schools in Denver are now doing far better than their traditional peers on both quantitative academic criteria and qualitative metrics.
In Denver, we have a rare and somewhat unique ability to make comparisons based on two local frameworks for measuring school quality: the Colorado Growth Model (which measures the academic growth in individual students from year to year), and DPS’s School Performance Framework (which derives academic data from the growth model but also includes non-academic measures such as student engagement and parent satisfaction). Using these frameworks should provide considerable insight into the performance of Denver’s charter schools. And what they show us is a significant different in school quality.
On the growth model, adjusted based on the number of tested students in each school, Denver’s charter schools outperformed their traditional peers in academic growth by 15 percent, with an aggregate median growth percentile of 61.3 versus 53.4 (median growth across Colorado is 50). Charter schools scored higher at every school level, and in all subjects, with a single exception. The gains were stronger in the secondary grades (particularly in math and writing) with differences of up to 30 percent.
Denver’s School Performance Framework (SPF), similarly adjusted for school size, also showed a similar 15 percent gap in academic growth among charter and traditional schools – and both schools served equal percentages of students in poverty. However, charter schools excelled even further on the SPF’s non-academic metrics, with astounding differences in measures of student engagement (43 percent higher), parent satisfaction (27 percent), and re-enrollment (16 percent) (see data section below). These gains extended across all grade levels.
The final statistic — a school’s re-enrollment percentage — is particularly interesting. Among the many unproven claims against charter schools is that they filter out low-performing students. It turns out that charters have a far better track record of retaining kids.
Here is a full summary of the charter and district data from both frameworks.
Even their strongest proponents agree that charter schools are not a panacea for all of public education, and there are many external and societal factors impacting schools that also badly need our attention. More research should continue to look at the similarities and differences — but the direction here is clear. Across a growing body of evidence and several years of data, the performance of Denver’s charter schools surpasses their traditional peers. Superman is not coming to Denver, but the charter schools here are doing very, very well.
Extra Credit: The Data
If one wants to dig into the details, here is a larger discussion of the data:
CREDO Study: The 16-state CREDO study, which looked at five years of data ending in 2007-08, and to which charter detractors regularly refer, has received its share of criticism over its methodology. I don’t know it if it useful to revisit that debate, but what is inexcusable is that the same people who cite this study for evidence against Denver’s expansion of charters completely ignore its local conclusions. The CREDO study, which used only charter schools in Denver for its statewide comparison, explicitly found and concluded that these schools performed “significantly better” than their peers (see their own press release). To argue the whole of the study while not acknowledging the most relevant part is patently absurd, even for partisan political hacks.
Colorado Growth Model: Using this 2010 data, I did a weighted average based on the number of students in each school who took the CSAP. The growth model splits grade levels neatly into K-5, 6-8, and 9-12 – so if a school is a 6-12 program, the growth model counts it as two different schools (a 6-8 middle and a 9-12 high school). A similar division happens with K-8 schools. This allows for a more precise comparison by grade. Under this formula, Denver has 135 district schools and 26 charters (which comprise 12% of students of all students taking the CSAP).
Remarkably, charter schools did better on academic growth in every subject and school level, with the single exception of elementary school math. Aggregated across all 161 schools, charters received higher median growth percentile (MGP) scores in reading (+4.8), in writing (+9.4) and in math (+9.3) for an average difference of +7.8 points, or almost 15% higher:
Breaking it down by grade levels, in the elementary school grades (charter students composed 9.3% of tested students), charters did slightly better on average (+1.4); better in reading (+1.1) and writing (5.7) and worse on math (-2.6).
In middle school grades, (14.8% charter students) the differences in median growth percentiles were stark: reading (+7.9), writing (+12.1), and math (+15.5), or a double-digit average of 11.8 points better. This is a percentage improvement of between 15% and 30%. The district’s lowest scores were in the middle school grades, suggesting that the renaissance in Denver’s middle school years is primarily driven by charter schools.
High school scores (8.7% charter students) were also positive: reading (+1.0), writing (+7.2) and math (+10.1), or an average of +6.1 points or 11% improvement.
School Performance Framework: Note first that this is based on 2010 SPF data (which covers the 2009-2010 school year), which is different than the recent 2010 count day data listed at EdNews. The 2010 SPF lists 18 charter schools and 114 district schools. Using this data, I again adjusted scores based on enrollment (so that each school provides a weighted average in its category). I did not include alternative schools in either group.
Across the entire city, district schools enrolled 67,203 students in 2009-2010, while charters had 6,105 (or 8% of the total). The percentage of students in poverty is very close: 73% to 72% FRL. However, in the aggregate on the SPF, charter schools did considerably better on growth (+8 points); status (+13), reenrollment (+13), student engagement (+17), and parent satisfaction (+12).
But to look even closer, Denver has 68 traditional (K-5) elementary schools and just one charter elementary school, which makes any comparison for K-5 meaningless. What happens if we subtract all 69 of these elementary schools and look again at the aggregate SPF metrics? You get this:
Without elementary schools, the relative performance of charters improves even further. The percentage of students enrolled in charter schools rises to 14%, and the percentage of FRL students is the same (71%). However charter schools receive higher marks across the board — on quantitative academic criteria (+13 growth, +16 status), on re-enrollment (+15), as well as on the qualitative aspects of student engagement and parent satisfaction (+21 each). These are remarkable and meaningful differences, and as close to a viable district-wide comparison as I think we can get.
What happens if we continue to drill down into specific school grades, comparing K-8 schools, 6-8 middle schools, 6-12 schools, and 9-12 high schools? Well, of the eight academic criteria, charter schools outperform district schools in seven. Charters also do better in every measured level in both student engagement and parent satisfaction. I won’t cover all levels (you can see the full results in the link above); however let’s look at one particular segment: middle schools.
There are 12 district middle schools, and 5 charters (I included KIPP SP, which is listed as K-8 but only offers grades 5-8). The 14% of middle school students in charters provide a reasonable volume for comparison. What are the results?
The academic differences are remarkable: +23 points on growth, and +18 on status — and charters have 17% more students in poverty. Charter middle schools also do far better on student engagement. Two of the five charter schools did not have re-enrollment data, and two also did not have parent satisfaction, so I did not do a comparison for either. But the schools who did report re-enrollment and parent satisfaction were higher than the district school mean. The academic data here is so strong, it makes me question how much of DPS’s recent middle school success is due to the impact of charters. I suspect it is considerable.
Charter 6-12 schools also had double-digit scores: growth (+25%), status (+19), student engagement (+19), and parent satisfaction (+39). Reenrollment was lower (-13), but this was based primarily on just one school with a particularly low score (and which is being reconfigured). FRL was comparable with charters at 58% and district schools at 60%.
K-8 schools also showed higher scores across the board for charters: growth (+8), status (+13), reenrollment (+24), student engagement (+13), and parent satisfaction (+17), however they did so with 11% less FRL students.
Where did charter schools fail to outperform district schools? Only in 6-12 high schools — which had the fewest number of charter students at any level and composed just 4% of the total — and in one category. Charter schools lagged in growth (-10), but were higher in status (+5), and student engagement (+33), and had an FRL population 15 percentage points higher.
That’s the data, which included results from 2002 to 2010. Of course, the arguments about charter school performance in Denver is, at many levels, based on political calculations and interest groups who have priorities other than the educational outcomes for students. Those people and groups will continue their protests regardless (in fact, it would not surprise me if they called for a repeal of the metrics themselves). Which, or course, does not change the data: Denver’s charter’s are doing very, very well.
Popularity: 35% [?]
I’m starting to hear some good ideas from various Denver mayoral candidates about how they might improve Denver’s public education system but I have yet to hear anyone talk about mayoral control of DPS.
By the way, we need all of the candidates to speak up about how they are going to improve public education even if they don’t have direct responsibility. Mayoral control is particularly challenging for Denver because of the Colorado constitution but it seems worth more of a public discussion given the increasing dysfunction of the Denver school board, which is likely to get worse, and the ever-increasing need for more quality public education in Denver.
Did you see Shanghai’s PISA scores? They get the relationships between quality public education, economic development and their nation’s future. If Denver were to take PISA (something I’ve advocated) I’m guessing that Denver scores would be comparable to Uruguay or Bulgaria, not exactly the spot you’d want to locate the next Google.
One possible step for the next Denver mayor to consider, short of controlling DPS, might be to charter schools in collaboration with the Charter School Institute, a local university, or doing it independently. Obviously this would take legislative action but it is worth considering given the dire state of education in Denver.
Indianapolis mayor Bart Peterson pioneered this practice a few years ago and Rhode Island Mayoral Academies is now supporting mayors in Rhode Island committed to sponsoring and supporting high performing charter schools.
While DPS and the DPS charter schools just entered into a landmark agreement, I think we could accelerate the development of high quality schools if Denver got into the quality chartering business. It would also provide another check on DPS over the long term and break up its monopoly.
We need 30 or 40 new high quality schools, not just another 5-10 that DSST and West Denver Prep have promised to deliver over the next ten years. We also need more choices; DSST and WDP can’t be the only quality choices for low-income kids.
Think about the all the interesting public education possibilities with the city’s land, facilities and program resources working to support quality public schools.
Popularity: 10% [?]
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:
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?
Popularity: 9% [?]