Opinion: What Denver Public Schools doesn’t want parents to know during school choice enrollment

It’s the time of year when parents and guardians across Denver can enter their students’ names into a school choice lottery to attend some of the best schools in the state. Denver Public Schools’ enrollment window for school choice opened on Jan. 11 and closes at 4 p.m. on Feb. 12.

The model is remarkable. DPS is one of the only districts in the nation that offers an equal admission chance for some seats in almost every school with a single application.

But unlike in years past, parents are missing key information to help them navigate the more than 200 schools in the city. Denver has stopped publishing “enrollment guides” that include a robust system for parents to judge school performance.

Instead, the district released guides that only include feel-good descriptions of schools.

This baffling decision was deliberate. The Denver Board of Education voted in August 2020, with only the opposition of former Board Director Scott Baldermann, to adopt a resolution hiding data from parents. The resolution contained grand ideals, promising to work diligently to “ensure that all families have equitable access to information that empowers them as cooperative partners in our schools.”

I expected the district, as part of this transition away from data that shows student growth on state tests year over year, to provide parents with data about teacher turnover, classroom sizes, parent engagement, student discipline, and student attrition. I was wrong.

The district now prominently displays the kind of data that perpetuates the gross segregation in DPS, both racially and economically. Only race and free and reduced lunch demographics are reported on the “School Finder” tool for each school. This oversight, whether intentional or not, is disgusting. The message is clear: “Don’t look at test scores or teacher performance; look at race and income when selecting a school.”

An anti-choice movement is growing across this nation, and the DPS Board of Education members bought into that movement when they ended the robust school performance framework. Teacher’s unions want parents to live with the school in their neighborhood under the ruse that every public school offers an equitable education. If the union can convince people that poor student outcomes are the students’ fault and not the result of inept adults, their life gets easier.

But that narrative is simply not true. I know analytically and anecdotally that this city and state have schools where all students thrive academically and schools where very few do.

When I filed a Colorado Open Records Request for data from the district about how students are growing at schools year over year compared to their peers, the response was a link to the CDPHE website for a huge state-wide data download. I went to work sifting through the state data to present Denver’s school-level data to parents, grandparents, and guardians in a way they could actually use to exercise an informed choice this year before it is too late.

Some school performance data exists on the district’s website, but it harkens back to 2019. Want to find out how a school performed on the state’s Performance Framework? The link takes you to 2019 results. Want to know what the district has planned to replace the enrollment guides it used to use? The link to the School Performance Compact is broken with a “404 error Page not Found” message.

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