Denver Public Schools has recently received a slew of accolades: from ranking as the top district for school choice to having the second highest academic growth of large districts in the country, to gaining recognition for its structure for teacher leadership.
With all of this recognition it may be tempting to think the district is on target to reach the goals laid out in its strategic plan, Denver Plan 2020. By many measures, the district has made substantial progress. The district has rapidly moved from one of the lowest performing districts in the state to one in the middle. The district has more students reading and writing at grade level than other Colorado districts serving similar student populations.
However, at its current pace, the district will not reach its strategic academic goals. In five years, 80% of third graders are supposed to read on grade level; today only one in three do. Students are still under-prepared for college or a career after high school. ACT scores and college matriculation rates are flat. Of the DPS graduates who pursue a postsecondary degree, half still face the reality of having to pay for remedial classes. A high-quality education is still significantly more difficult to find for students from low-income families and students of color.
These are outcomes that the district needs to address. Indeed, the best district for choice in the country should be one in which families are choosing between multiple quality options without having to trade off academic outcomes, proximity, and school model. The highest rates of academic growth in the country should also mean that more students are mastering the content that will prepare them for life after high school.
The good news is that Denver already has many of the policies and systems in place to address these challenges. Now it is a question of how policies are being implemented, what is working, and what is being done to accelerate those initiatives. This report explores performance data from the past four years, showing that Denver has moved to the middle of the pack of Colorado districts. This next decade of work in Denver Public Schools will require that the district move from average to great. This will be even more challenging, and require collaboration and commitment from the district and the entire Denver community to ensure that all of our children receive an excellent education. It is no longer about whether the district has these systems in place; it is about the efficacy of these systems and how equitable they are.
But first, let’s start with the facts.