The Mile High Promise, And Risk, Of School Choice/Denver Looks For Balanced Approach To School Choice

NPR looked at school choice as it works, or doesn’t, here in Denver.


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The Mile High Promise, And Risk, Of School Choice

Heard on  Morning Edition

Closing underperforming schools

Color codes matter in Denver’s schools. And Gilpin Montessori, a public elementary school in the city’s Five Points neighborhood, got a “red” ranking — or probation. That’s the lowest category in the city’s school performance rankings.

And in Denver, chronic red can get you closed.

Just before Christmas break, parents got word that the school board and district had decided to shutter Gilpin.

“My disappointment turned into shock and a little bit of anger and frustration as I realized how they’re using closure as a tool to deal with reforming schools instead of actually trying to transform them,” says Cameron Ward-Hunt, one of the many Gilpin parents who’s outraged at the closure decision and at the way it was rolled out and communicated.

Choice here, he charges, represents “hope and ideology not supported by current evidence” that closing low-performing schools really improves outcomes.


Denver Looks For Balanced Approach To School Choice


The recent confirmation fight over the new education secretary, Betsy Davis, brought more attention to the issue of school choice. Whether choice comes through vouchers, tax scholarships or charters, some opponents say these programs often privilege the wealthy, lack oversight and undermine neighborhood public schools.

One city that believes it’s found an innovative, balanced approach to school choice is Denver, Colo. But as NPR’s Eric Westervelt reports, the program has created some tough choices about how best to serve the city’s vulnerable students in Denver’s schools.

ERIC WESTERVELT, BYLINE: In Denver schools, color matters a lot. A blue rating is great, green is good, yellow worrisome, orange troubling and red is bad, really bad. Gilpin Elementary in the city’s Five Points neighborhood got a red ranking, or probation, the lowest category in the district’s color coded school performance ranking. And under Denver’s new policy, chronic red can get you closed.

Gilpin parent Beth Bianki (ph) says teachers are reporting more student behavior problems and more stress since the community got word from the school board just before Christmas that this public Montessori school will be shuttered at the end of the school year.

BETH BIANKI: They’re really in turmoil over everything that’s happening.

WESTERVELT: Everything, including parents having to find and choice-in to a new school and figuring out transportation there after years of walking to a neighborhood school.

BIANKI: How am I going to get there? Is that the best school for my kid? And when you don’t have great options for those things, it’s extremely stressful and the kids are really feeling it.