Northeast Denver Charter Schools Show Bright Spots in Student Achievement

The debate over how to best educate kids in Far Northeast Denver has reached one of it’s highest points in nearly a decade. Depending on who you ask, there’s either too many charter schools or not enough. Others argue the innovation schools simply aren’t cutting it. And some say the real problem is the absence of a comprehensive high school.

But perhaps the real problem is an overwhelming focus on what’s wrong, rather than what seems to be going right. Luckily, students’ scores on the most recent state standardized test and college entrance exams illuminate a bright spot in student achievement that everyone should look at more closely.

On the most recent CMAS assessment, SAT and PSAT, middle and high school students at charter schools in FNE outperformed their peers at every other school in the region. In some cases students scored better than both the district and the state average.

Leading the way on CMAS

At DSST’s middle school in Green Valley Ranch (part of the No. 1 charter network in the country), 48.3 percent of students met or exceeded expectations on the CMAS English test. That’s above the district average of 41.8 percent and above the state average of 44.5 percent. DSST was also the only school in the region whose students came remotely close to reaching either the district or state averages in math.

Additionally, students at KIPP Colorado Schools, STRIVE Prep and Omar D. Blair each beat out the top performing traditional district-run school by almost 5 points in English. In math, where both district and state performance results were mixed, five of the region’s seven charter schools posted results higher than traditional district schools.

Preparing the way to college

With their sights set on college, high school students at charter schools significantly outperformed their peers on the SAT and PSAT. Eleventh-grade students at DSST: Green Valley Ranch High School and KIPP Northeast Denver Leadership Academy outscored every school in the region in both English and math. In math, DSST students scored an average of 570, well above the district (483) and state (501) averages, and 119 points higher than the highest math score from any traditional district-run school in the FNE region. Even more encouraging is the fact that these students scored higher than students who took the SAT on the same day across the country.

While STRIVE Prep – RISE did not have 11th-graders to take the SAT last spring, their sophomores and freshmen who took the PSAT showed up by outperforming every traditional district-run and innovation school in the region.

These are the results that are leading more and more families to actively choose to send their students to the charter schools within the region’s enrollment zone.

So why aren’t we looking at charter schools to lead the rest of the region toward the academic achievement that all kids deserve?

Following the light

Ever since the district voted to restructure Montbello High School in 2010, members of the community have been demanding higher accountability for student achievement, and rightly so. From a moratorium on charter schools to the resurrection of another comprehensive high school, families are challenging the district to improve the quality of the education their kids receive. And while there is no doubt that students in Far Northeast Denver deserve and are capable of achieving better academic outcomes, charter schools are providing more academic opportunity for students than other schools in the region.

Aside from DSST: Noel Middle School, which opened this year, there are no other unapproved plans for charter expansion in the region. In fact, Denver isn’t calling for any new schools, charter or otherwise for the 2019-20 school year. But who’s to say there has to be more charter schools to increase the academic achievement of kids across the region? Why can’t there be more collaboration between school leaders and teaching staffs to share best practices?

In recent years Denver has been lauded as a national model for innovation and choice. But if we’re going to continue improving the educational experience of all kids without closing and opening new schools, we have to innovate from within.

Ya know what would be truly innovative? How about allowing kids from other schools to earn math and science credits from DSST? Could teachers from every school participate in the same charter-led professional development training to improve student literacy? Why not give the top performing students across every school the opportunity to earn credit as tutors to students who are struggling?

Sure there are tons of logistical considerations for these bold ideas. But the same was true in 2010 when someone thought to create a yellow school bus shuttle system to increase student access to all the schools in the region. The logistics involved in implementing the Success Express were highly complex, but made possible through real collaboration.

Most would agree that the road to equity in FNE has been both long and arduous.

Along the way, 11 high schools have brought their own unique focus, which have revealed areas for improvement and bright spots in achievement. Charters are certainly leading in the areas of math, English and college prep, but others are creating extraordinary experiences for students in the performing arts, international awareness and early credit for college. Every school has something positive to share.

If every kid is going to have a fair shot at success, we have to acknowledge what’s working and think creatively and collaboratively to give every kid the education they deserve.


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