All boats rising in Denver public schools

Last year, Arnold Ventures commissioned CREDO (out of Stanford University) to study the effects of charter, innovation, and traditional schools in select cities across the country.

Most of the cities included in the study were cities where Arnold Ventures (and now The City Fund) have partnered with local leaders to expand high-quality schools.

CREDO’s analysis measures how much a school helps a student grow over the course of a year. They do this by comparing students in the city to similar students across the state.

The results just came in for Denver.

Denver Reform History

Over the past fifteen years, the locally elected school board partnered with superintendents Michael Bennet (now Democratic Senator for CO) and Tom Boasberg.

These leaders gave educators more freedom to tailor their school programs to the students they served. And they gave families more access to a diverse array of public schools. The district also made heavy investments in teacher and leader talent

This effort greatly expanded the number of public schools operated by non-profit organizations. Non-profit schools now serve around 30% of students in the city. These non-profit organizations are a mix of charter schools and innovation schools (district schools that operate with more freedoms under a non-profit board).

Superintendent Cordova just took the reigns last year.

CREDO Results: Every Sector in Denver is Outperforming Similar Schools Across the State

In Denver, traditional schools, charter schools, and innovation schools are all outperforming similar schools across the state.

The study’s author noted: “The pattern of performance here is consistent… it’s an incredibly strong advantage for students in Denver no matter what school they go to.”

A common critique of charter schools is they hurt traditional school performance. This critique has no grounding in evidence. And it does not seem to be true in Denver. All sectors in Denver are helping students grow.

Together, the sectors combine to achieve annual +.1 standard deviation effects in reading and math. These are large annual citywide effects.

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Where will Denver Head From Here? 

The Denver reforms have led to more than increases in test scores. High school graduation and college enrollment rates are also up.

Hopefully this will translate to more Denver students benefiting from Denver’s booming economy.

But for continued gains to occur, Denver should not abandon its most successful strategies. For so many kids in Denver, they have been a lifeline for increased academic learning.

More specifically: given that large academic gaps remain across racial lines, Denver would do well to expand those schools that are doing the most for kids of color.

Looking at 2018 data, these schools were rated highest in the city for closing academic gaps:

  • Polaris Elementary School
  • Slavens K-8 Schools
  • KIPP Northeast Denver Leadership Academy
  • Cory Elementary School
  • Steck Elementary Schools
  • DSST: Byers MS
  • Denver Green School
  • Stephen Knight Center for Early Education
  • Creativity Challenge Community
  • Holm Elementary Schools
  • DSST: Green Valley Ranch
  • Escalante-Biggs Academy

Hopefully these schools can grow to serve more students and help close persistent gaps across this city.

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