In a recent survey of Denver residents, Ciruli Associates found that the majority of Denver’s residents believe Denver Public Schools are performing either fair or poor. Overall, 21 percent of those surveyed rank the District’s performance as “poor,” and 37 percent called the district’s performance “fair.” The survey’s statistical range of error is ±4.4 percentage points.
Twenty-eight percent of Hispanics gave DPS a poor rank, 34 percent of African Americans said poor and 19 percent of white respondents rated the district as poor.
None of this comes as a shock to parents whose children attend DPS schools and who exposed to the great DPS reform experiment conducted under the guise of The Denver Plan. Since 2005, when the plan was put into place, graduation rates have increased from 51.7% of eligible students graduating to 53%. In 2010, DPS had 5,083 students in its graduation base. Of these, 2,634 students graduated as the class of 2010. Based on the goals set forth in The Denver Plan, DPS’ graduation rate is 29 points below the District’s goal.
Of equal concern is the fact that post-graduation remediation rates for DPS students attending college have increased by 13%. Overall, 59% of DPS’ graduates needed to enroll in some form of academic remedial course work upon entering college. Between the 2005/2006 school year and the 2009/2010 school year, the percent of DPS graduates needing to take remedial course work at the collegiate level has increased from 46% to 59%.
When writing the story of this survey’s results, The Denver Post reports, “Denver has cut its dropout numbers, increased its graduation rate and attracted more students than it has had in decades. Standardized test scores are improving and growth rates on those tests are better than ever.”
DPS has relied on dropouts reported by the Colorado Department of Education to indicate the success of reform programs implemented by the district. However, the CDE data do not measure what the public typically understands as dropouts. Under Colorado law, a dropout is defined as —
…an annual rate, reflecting the percentage of all students enrolled in grades 7-12 who leave school during a single school year without subsequently attending another school or educational program.
According to the most recent CDE report, DPS has a dropout rate of 6.4%, down from 7.4%, indicating that DPS is getting better at completing CDE’s student transfer paper work.
According to this year’s student census, DPS saw an increase of approximately 2,000 students, or about 2.5% of the overall DPS student population, resulting in an increase of roughly 2% of the District’s overall revenue stream under the Colorado Student Based Budgeting formula.
Van Schoales, executive director of Education Reform Now, is quoted as saying, “Historically, no one has ever thought (DPS) is doing great. Now, all you hear is the bickering on the board, whether it is the pension swap or turnarounds. I would totally expect uniformed [sic] people believe the district is adrift. I don’t think that is true.”
Schoales was the architect of the first Manual High School reform effort, wherein three schools were placed in the Manual building. After 3 years, Senator Michael Bennet, then DPS superintendent, shut the entire building down for 1 year, restarting the school in 2007.
In 2008, Schoales supported bringing Envision Charter Schools to DPS. The first of these schools was placed at Smiley Middle School, where the principal was fired in the first 3 months of operation and then the school was shuttered and reopened the next school year as Venture Prep Middle/High School. Students at Venture Prep currently do not meet the State of Colorado’s expectations for academic performance in reading, writing, and math.