Monday, February 20, 2017

The Mile High Promise, And Risk, Of School Choice : NPR Ed : NPR

The Mile High Promise, And Risk, Of School Choice : NPR Ed : NPR:

The Mile High Promise, And Risk, Of School Choice






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

During Betsy DeVos' bitter confirmation hearing last month for education secretary, U.S. Sen. Michael Bennet pointed to Denver as a potential national model of a big city school district that's found an innovative, balanced approach to school choice.
"Without exception," the Colorado Democrat told DeVos, "we demanded quality and implemented strong accountability" for the mix of traditional, charter, innovation and magnet schools in the 92,000-student district.
Bennet invited DeVos to come see the Mile High city's choice program first-hand. DeVos said she'd "love to."
We don't yet know if she plans to take up Sen. Bennet's invitation. But NPR Ed did.
In Denver we found a generally popular, user-friendly program — one application for any school — that has boosted academic growth rates, improved on-time graduation and lowered dropout rates.
Denver Superintendent Tom Boasburg says at its core, choice in the city is focused on leveling the education playing field — or as he puts it, "How do we promote greater equity for our highest-need families?"
But there are still big gaps in access to quality schools; choice has done little to narrow achievement gaps by income and race; poorer families point to on-going transportation challenges; and choice in Denver includes some painful choices about re-booting and closing under-performing schools, mostly in neighborhoods with some of the most vulnerable students.




It all raises important questions about the promise and limitations of choice to bridge stubborn access and equity gaps in education.
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.
Once a thriving area known as the Harlem of the West, Five Points went into a decades-long decline.
Today, the area is gentrifying fast, with pricey new condos, a café, fitness center and a few new eateries. But it still has deep pockets of poverty. Public housing projects are visible from the Gilpin Montessori playground bench, where parent Beth Bianchi sits.
"They're really in turmoil over everything that's happening," she says of the students The Mile High Promise, And Risk, Of School Choice : NPR Ed : NPR:



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