Denver: So Much Reform. So Little Success.

January 15, 2013

Jeannie Kaplan is an elected member of the Denver Board of Education. She has been critical of corporate-style reform and of the heavily-funded effort to persuade the public that it is successful. When she heard that Jonah Edelman of Stand for Children told an audience in Tulsa recently that Denver was a national model of success, she decided to review the score card for the district. (Stand for Children boasts of its civil rights credentials but supported a slate of Republican candidates for the state legislature in 2012, as part of its campaign for corporate reform).

Kaplan wrote for this blog:

So Much Reform. So Little Success

Denver, Colorado is a poster child for much of what reformers like to see: standardized testing, teacher accountability, charter schools, choice, co-location, and oh, did I mention testing? Denver Public Schools is trying or has tried almost all of them. Why, even Jonah Edelman, founder of one of the most well-funded, prominent reform organizations, Stand for Children, just today, January 10, 2013, pointed to Denver as a leader in reform because of its “portfolio” of school choice led by its charter schools. So, how is reform really working in Denver?

Let’s start by focusing on achievement, meaning test scores, since that is the focus of all things reform. (This post will have a lot of data since reform and data go hand in hand these days, especially data that can be spun). Denver Public Schools have been rated by the Colorado Department of Education as “Accredited with Priority Improvement Plan,” for the last three years. Out of five grades this is the second to the bottom. To be fair, DPS is inching toward the next category, “Accredited with Improvement plan.” The cut point is 52% of eligible points; Denver is at 51.7%. I am not sure how meaningful this data point is, since the GROWTH points count for 35 points out of 100 and ACADEMIC ACHIEVEMENT, meaning proficiency, counts for only 15.

Colorado now places enormous emphasis on “the growth model.” While no one would contest you need to have growth to get to proficiency, I believe this model masks what is really happening, and so the data I am citing is all about proficiency. To further emphasize how growth can mask proficiency, allow me to quote from one of Denver’s most ardent reformers, Alexander Ooms, who said on in a commentary on EdNewsColorado:

“Denver can celebrate academic growth for years to come without making much progress in the exit-level proficiency of students. And that is simply not the right direction. Growth is means, not end.” http://www.ednewscolorado.org/2012/05/23/38581-commentary-our-unhealthy-obsession-with-growth to read his entire commentary.

I could not have said it better. The data I cite are proficiency numbers, not growth numbers.

In 2005, when reform was in its infancy, Denver Public Schools hired its first non-educator superintendent: Michael Bennet, former businessman/lawyer, former mayoral chief of staff . Mr. Bennet’s childhood friend and fellow businessman, Tom Boasberg, was hired to replace him when Bennett became a Senator. Denver has been experimenting with reform since then. Oh, and BTW, Jonah Edelman grew up as Tom Boasberg’s neighbor in Washingon, D.C.

After 8 years, what academic changes has reform produced?

The following data is from 2005 through 2012, according to Colorado standardized tests. Here is the website for a deeper delve into the data

http://www.schoolview.org/performance.asp

ACHIEVEMENT:

8 yr increase–% incrse per year–% chnge from ’11-’12–% proficient

Reading – — 12———-1.5 ———– 3 –————— 52

Math — — 10———–1.75————–2———————-46

Writing —- 11——— 1.375————2———————41

Science —– 11 —— 1.375 ——— 4 ——————31

Lectura -10 /—–// -1.25 /// -3 /// 46

Spanish Reading

Escruita 4 ////—/ .5 ///// -3 ////// 47

Spanish Writing

We can’t leave achievement without looking at the State of the Union shout-out school, Bruce Randolph. Bruce Randolph Middle School in 3 years of state tracked data shows a gain of 2% in reading to 28%, stayed at 19% in math, increased by 3% in writing to 17%, and increased 7% in science to 17%. It is tied for last in proficiency – 52nd – for all of Denver’s middle schools.

Bruce Randolph High School has declined 10% to 33% in reading, declined 3% in math to 10%, declined 2% in writing to 14% increased 1% to 12% in science. Bruce Randolph is 24th out of 27 high schools in academic achievement.

ACHIEVEMENT GAP increases based on 7 years of CSAPs/TCAPs

Elementary School

Reading 4.17

Writing 5.78

Math 6.46

Middle School

Reading 3.23

Writing 4.71

Math 6.72

High School

Reading 3.01

Writing 5.82

Math 6.30

According to DPS data, the gap between FRL and paid-lunch students has widened by 9% since 2005. In 2005, percent proficient for FRL was 29%, paid was 58%. In 2012 the numbers were 41% for FRL, 79% for paid. The gap has grown to 38%.

ACT RESULTS: (A composite score of 21 is generally accepted as a college readiness benchmark)

From a DPS presentation of September 2012

2005 17

2012. 17.6

GRADUATION for 2011 – we are still waiting state numbers for 2012 but the number of students graduating increased from 2,642 in 2005 to 3,414 in 2012, for a total of 772 more graduates in 8 years…or an average of 96.5 more graduates each year.

Here is how Denver Public Schools compares with the state:

State 73.9%

Denver 56.1%

REMEDIATION (from Fall of 2010)

From the Fall of 2007, when this data was first available to the Fall of 2010 (the latest data available, remediation numbers have increased from 57.1% to 59.7%. The state of Colorado is at 31.8%.

This is the achievement for 8 years of reform.

Need I say more?

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Diane Ravitch

Diane Ravitch is Research Professor of Education at New York University and a historian of education. She serves on the board of the Core Knowledge Foundation, Common Core, the Albert Shanker Institute of the American Federation of Teachers, and Common Good. She is an honorary life trustee of the...