Denver school performance through a political lens

A+ Denver issued a new brief yesterday (and full disclosure – I helped crunch some of the numbers).  It’s oddly not available (as of now) on their website, but it’s worth a look, so I’m posting here: SPF by District Report 10.12

A+ decided to take the 2011 School Performance Framework (SPF) and divide the schools by the five school board member districts.  It’s an interesting exercise (and they include some handy maps and graphs).  Recall that there are five level of school performance on the SPF (from best to worst in the corresponding color codes: blue, green, yellow, orange, red) and five geographic member districts (the other two seats are at large).

Here is partly what they found:

  • Two of the five member districts (1-SE and 3-Central) have zero (that’s right, zero) schools in the bottom two SPF categories.  However, after 5th grade, they also have zero students in schools in the top category.
  • Of all the schools in the top category of the SPF, traditional (i.e. neighborhood-enrollment) schools dominate the early grades (mainly elementary); however every “blue” (distinguished, the highest ranking) school serving predominantly middle or high-school kids is a charter.
  • None of these “blue” charter schools is located in either of the two more affluent (and smallest) districts. As the report says: “One has a better chance of attending a distinguished school in grades 6-12 if one is willing to leave Denver’s more affluent neighborhoods.”
  • The member district with the most challenging demographics (2 – SW) does not have the most kids in the bottom category schools – it is third from bottom.
  • The member district (5 – NW) with the worst schools – a region where there are five kids attending schools in the worst two categories for every one kid attending a school in the highest category — is the district where there is the most controversy over the upcoming election, and the only one featuring an incumbent.

The sheer difference in size is fascinating: the largest member district (4- NE) is 20 percent bigger than the two smallest districts combined – and has significantly different demographics.

The briefing does not posit a lot of conclusions — and it does not endorse.  But it is a useful view for anyone trying to make sense of Denver’s schools, much less deciphering school board politics.

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