Inequity & Injustice in DPS?

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by Ed Augden (community activist and retired DPS teacher)

According to the 14th Amendment to the U. S. Constitution, all citizens are entitled to equalprotection under the law. If one group of citizens is treated unequally, then those citizens’ rights areviolated. Do inequity and injustice exist in Denver Public Schools?

Why is all this important to the average taxpayer who doesn’t have children in DPS? Schoolclimate is one factor that determines where a future business might locate. Future residents, who dohave children, won’t move to an area where the school climate is perceived to be unhealthy, or even ifthey do, may choose another school district (e.g., Jeffco). A healthy school climate contributes to ahealthy business environment.

Linda Darling-Hammond, in The Flat World & Education: How America’s Commitment to EquityWill Determine Our Future, makes the case that the achievement gap between poor students and theirpeers is growing as the nation’s ethnicity changes from majority white to a diverse nonwhite. Mostforetelling, is her contention that the fate of ethnic minorities will mirror the fate of the rest of thecountry. Without equity and justice, “education reform” is doomed to fail. Yet, the figures that Darling-Hammond presents document the increasing appearance of “apartheid” schools across the countryalmost or at 100 percent ethnic minorities, without any real political clout.

Approximately 1100 students were scheduled to enroll at Kepner Middle School in southwestDenver while there were to be approximately 370 students at Knowledge is Power Program (KIPP)Sunshine Academy at Rishel Middle School, a building of comparable size. Is Kepner overcrowded with ahigh concentration of ethnic poor while Rishel is underutilized? Regardless of intent, are students atKepner experiencing overcrowding with, likely, larger classes and a shorter school day? If so, isn’t thatinequity and injustice for students and teachers at Kepner? More ominously, is Kepner becoming an “apartheid” school?

Possibly the most glaring of DPS’ mismanagement and possibly inequitable and unjust policy isthe ignorance of the 2006 Harvard Civil Rights Study Project, “Denver Public Schools: Re-segregation,Latino Style.” The report concluded that since 1995 when court ordered busing for integration ended,DPS has become increasingly segregated due partly to persistent segregated housing patterns andthrough action, and inaction, of DPS. Minority students, especially African American and Latino, “…findthemselves in increasingly high poverty schools with weaker academic outcomes, such as lowgraduation rates.” It is the charge of the schools, according to the Harvard report, to provideopportunities that reflect the growing multiracial nature of the community. How have the currentchanges corrected or contributed to the conclusion of the Harvard report? Without even acknowledgingthe report’s existence, DPS administrators and the Board of Education contribute, in my opinion, to thesuspicion held by many community members that DPS is indifferent to the increasing segregation andisolation of students of color and poverty.

“Education reform” in DPS and across the nation seems to occur in urban schools with high concentrations of impoverished and disadvantaged students. Rishel and Kepner typify thatconcentration. As mentioned, Rishel’s charter school, KIPP, has less than 400 students. Kepner, on theother hand, also with a high concentration of impoverished and disadvantaged students, has anenrollment of approximately 1100. Thus, while a few hundred may benefit from fewer numbers,smaller class sizes, a longer school day and school year, Kepner’s students may be in larger class sizes, a shorter day and year.

While other high achieving nations (as measured by the Program in International StudentAssessment – PISA) assure equal funding, high quality teachers and teaching, challenging curriculum,etc., many “educational reformers” and elected officials, still contend that student achievementon standardized tests should be used to evaluate teacher performance and that unequal fundingshouldn’t matter. SB 191 is evidence of that thinking. Various reputable studies, including the 1966Coleman Report provide evidence that a diverse student (school) population is more significant studentachievement than “…is any school factor.” Student achievement is dependent upon a variety of factors,not just an excellent teacher.

The conclusion is clear. Parents with political clout succeed in gaining special treatment such asthose able to enroll their children in high performing and small exclusive charter schools such as DenverSchool of Science & Technology (DSST). Parents without political clout, such as Westwood parents,enroll their children at Kepner, low performing and large. For parents without political clout, “choice” is likely an empty promise.

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