Denver Public Schools will compete for students with charter and private schools, vows Superintendent Michael Bennet and the entire Denver school board in an open letter to the Rocky Mountain News. In response to the Rocky’s “Leaving to Learn” series, Bennet and his board vow the system will change: “We will fail the vast majority of children in Denver if we try to run our schools the same old way.”
. . . parents of more than 40,000 Denver students chose a school other than the one DPS assigns them, if you count the students who attend private, religious or public schools in other districts. In a recent opinion survey, 70 percent of responding Denver parents said that they looked at more than one school before making their final decision. At this rate, the parents of 61,250 out of the city’s approximately 87,500 school-age students are shopping before they select their school.
Choice has been a significant benefit for parents, but a challenge for DPS. Traditional DPS schools have lost considerable enrollment, due to choice and demographic shifts.
. . . We have endorsed competition, but we have forced the district to compete with two arms tied behind its back. . . . the district has been slow to respond while other schools have been able to market richer academic environments for our kids like extended day, different uses of time, smaller class sizes, and focused and thematic academic programs.
Parents and students who choose a school make a commitment that strengthens the chances of success, the letter says. DPS schools will have to improve to become schools of choice.
We must provide a wider array of offerings, including many more alternatives to traditional schools – schools designed to meet the needs of students who excel, are behind on skills and credit, are newly arrived to the United States from around the world, or are working during the school day to support their families. We must expand early childhood education and open up new pathways to college.
The letter calls for decentralizing and letting “students, parents, teachers, principals … find their own solutions, rather than assume DPS, alone, will find the right answers in time.”
“Extraordinary,” writes Education Gadfly. But can DPS pull it off?