These posts are the opinions of the writers and do not necessarily reflect the views of A+ Colorado.

December Newsletter: Keeping you informed about A+ Denver

Happy Festivus!

Dear Members and Friends:

This is the holiday issue, which means that we hope you are reading this from your living room–hot cup of cider in hand–or while you’re killing time waiting in line at the mall.


Who has been a Game Changer for Denver’s Kids in 2014?

As we reflect on the past year, we want to applaud the individuals who have gone beyond the call of duty in supporting Denver’s kids. We are currently collecting nominations for our 3rd annual Game Changer Awards.

An A+ Game Changer is someone who has made a lasting change or had a groundbreaking idea that is likely to have an impact on the quality of public education. For exemplar Game Changers, see last year’s winners. If you know someone who should be recognized, please send us his or her name along with a short nomination letter. We will announce the 2014 Game Changers in early 2015.

So where did you go to high school?

Want to know if the high school you send your kids to/might send your kids to/would send your kids to if you had kids, is better than that high school that gets all the attention? We have some numbers for you to chew on that aren’t TCAP or ACT scores.

We released a report called Missing the Bus a couple of weeks ago, which has everything you ever wanted to know about how Colorado high schools are doing at sending kids to the nation’s 169 best colleges. Why should you care what percent of kids Alpha High sends compared to Beta High? Because, regardless of whether Alpha High has 70 AP classes and Beta High has 3, you want your kid (or your theoretical kid) going to the school with the best outcomes. And for high school, one of the most important indicators of success is where their graduates go to college. If you want to know why its important where your child goes to college, just look at postsecondary graduation rates, particularly for low-income students which are 89%, 50% and 13% at selective 4-year colleges, less selective 4-year colleges, andcommunity colleges, respectively.

Ahem, could we get some decent public transportation please?

The Center on Reinventing Public Education (CRPE) has released an eight-city study where they interviewed parents and schools about how the school choice/open enrollment thing was going. Thecities studied were DC, New Orleans, Baltimore, Cleveland, Detroit, Indy, Philly and Denver. And guess what? Denver families have the most positive attitudes of any of these cities about how school choice is going. They trust that DPS has it together and is making changes for the better. But there is something that surprised us. Lots of Denver parents think the system is fair, but not “fair.” That is, the little black box that sorts everyone into the schools they choose isn’t corrupt, but lots of good schools are full and/or are very far away from the families that need them. And that just isn’t fair to children. We couldn’t have said it better.

This January, along with CRPE, and with lots of help from DPS, we will be issuing a much more detailed analysis of SchoolChoice in Denver.

Recalibrating the School Performance Framework

One of the findings of the parent interviews conducted by CRPE is that Denver parents understand and use the color scheme; blue and green schools are good and the other colors are not as good. But recently, A+ and a coalition of education organizations raised questions about whether or not some green schools are leaving too many students behind. In other words, fewer than half of students are reading or doing math at grade level in some green schools. We’re not sure this is giving parents an accurate picture and believe it may be time to recalibrate the accountability tool.

This week, the Denver School Board responded with a letter stating that they are thinking holistically about their accountability systems. Specifically, it is trying to determine how to best “balance current achievement with improvement (growth)” while making sure the systems are clear to users. Other recent adjustments to the accountability tools are pointed out in the letter as well. DPS has, for example, made recent changes to show “performance gaps between groups of students in our schools [and]… how different groups of students perform against their peers district-wide.” The district has also changed “what it takes to earn a high school diploma.” A+ applauds these efforts and looks forward to further refinement of the SPF tool.

Arts in the District

A+ continues to work on making sure all students have access to effective quality arts programs. DPS is in the process of interviewing for the Executive Director of the Arts now, and we look forward to working with him or her to ensure that children in all schools have access to high quality arts programming.

A Note on Race and Testing

Two topics that have made the news repeatedly this month are race and testing. Race has been in the news (as you know) because two high profile verdicts on police brutality have exposed anger and frustration about racial equality. Testing has been in the news because of efforts at the state and federal level to decrease the amount of testing in schools. What isn’t often pointed out during testing debates is that one of the primary reasons testing plays such a prominent role in education reform is that it acts as a driver for racial equality. It’s primary goal isn’t to annoy suburban moms (though it does!), but to make sure we don’t continue to leave our poorest children to stagnate in chronically failing schools – which is in itself a silent form of racism.

A+ Denver Team is Growing

A+ wants to welcome Beth Luckock to our little team! As our new Director of Operations, she comes to us after finishing a graduate fellowship with Education Pioneers. Her background includes working as a program officer for a college access network, working on policy issues regarding access to higher education, and teaching kindergarten, ESL and Spanish in New York and New Orleans. We are excited for her to join us as we look toward the coming year.
The A+ Denver team wishes all of you a warm and Merry Christmas, Hanukkah, Kwanza, Solstice or just getting together with family and friends over this holiday break.Until next year,

A+ Denver