Out-of-bounds parents at Bromwell

A remarkable article about Bromwell Elementary’s problem with out-of-boundary parents:

A school in one of Denver’s ritziest neighborhoods is asking parents to swear under the threat of perjury that they live within the school’s attendance boundaries in an effort to find people who sneak their kids into the school.

When I talk about public education in Denver I usually start with two points: 1) It is far far worse than most people realize (there are virtually no good open-enrollment middle or high schools) and; 2) It is not quite bad enough to mandate real reform, as savvy middle-class parents are able to work the system to get their kids a decent education.

This is a pretty clear indication of #2, although it would seem that the cracks are showing.  Bromwell has enrollment of about 325 students; assuming 1.2 kids per the 30 identified families, we are talking 36 kids, or over 10% of the school, and quite probably more (and I doubt it is limited to Bromwell). This paradox of “really bad – yet not bad enough” creates a stasis that perpetuates a poor system and inhibits reform. If there was ever an advertisement for the need for better choices across the entire district, this is it.

But cutting beneath the basic dialogue of name calling (plenty of that in the article comments), this reveals a complex set of issues.

First, it is that we are talking predominantly about affluent parents — both those who live outside the boundaries and those inside.  The FRL of the school is less then 10%, and I doubt there is a 1:1 correlation (Bromwell’s SAR shows less than 1% black or Latino kids – non-white is limited to Asians).  While middle-class parents are inventive (I’m being polite) to get their kids into a better school, the 67% of DPS families who are poor don’t even have that option – to attend Bromwell, one still has to present a legitimate address, even if it is not yours.

Second, the primary problems in DPS are dropouts, ELL students, and the achievement gap – particularly across middle and high schools.  This issue – affluent parents sneaking their kids into top schools – is not in the calculus (which is partly why the parents are taking it on themselves).  It’s evidence of the pervasiveness of parent unhappiness with local choices.

Third is that there is a sense of entitlement here which – while not an excuse – has the veneer of rationality.  Many of these inventive parents earn a decent living, pay considerable taxes, have chosen to live within city limits, and believe with some justification that the city should provide good choices for public education.  I don’t excuse this, but I understand it (and it is worth noting that the Bromwell district is a peculiar shape, so affluence does not correlate perfectly with school).  The district school closest to Bromwell is Moore Elementary. Bromwell has an overall proficiency rate of 93%.  Moore, with 75% FRL has a proficiency rate of 35%. That’s a pretty big gap.

Fourth is these are parents fiercely protective of their school and kids.  This is the same school where parents were instrumental in generating a change of school leadership.  On one hand, you have parents falsifying records to attend; on the other hand you have parents trying to govern the school.  Cross either group at your peril.

Parental inventiveness is not limited to Denver.  As Van Schoales points out in an earlier poston local control, some parents may even be headed to jail due to their efforts to find better public education options.

I’ll repeat: Public education in Denver is far far worse than most people realize and it is not quite bad enough to mandate real reform. At the point where the parents who cannot get their kids into good schools are as powerful and pissed as the Bromwell parents trying to keep other kids out, maybe we’ll get some sustained, non-incremental reform strategies.

Lastly, a quick hat-tip to the increasingly-inquisitive Post reporter Jeremy Meyer (also see his blog).  With this story, and his previous one on principal bonuses, Jeremy is shedding some important light on education issues.

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