A reasonable observer might wonder about the priorities of Denver Public Schools. Consider a couple of recent headlines. Here’s one from 9New: “DPS superintendent [Alex Marrero] says even students accused of attempted murder should be eligible to return to their classrooms.” And one from a report by Sherrie Peif for Complete Colorado: “Report finds Denver Public Schools using left-wing political litmus test in teacher hiring.”
If you listen to Marrero, you might get the impression that Denver schools are doing a great job. Russell Haythorn gulped down Marrero’s hash for a Denver7 article. Haythorn wrote, “Marrero said the district is ecstatic to have reached the majority of its goals.” Ecstatic, wow!
Here are a few things from Marrero that Haythorn uncritically wrote down: “I feel incredible. I’m encouraged, motivated to continue in the right direction. . . . This is something that needs to be celebrated. . . . When it comes to our math scores, in particular, when it comes to grades 3 to 8, we’ve met and surpassed. And we have to be competitive.” Haythorn says not a word about what those results are.
Thankfully, Nicole Brambila was less gullible in reporting for the Denver Gazette. She wrote, “The state achievement data raises the question about the quality of an education that graduates students who largely are not proficient in English and math.” Marrero told the Gazette, “That’s a great observation.”
If we turn to DPS’s annual report, we see that, although Marrero puts the best possible spin on the figures, he does acknowledge problems: “While there are many celebrations, there is also much work still to do. . . . [O]ur student data isn’t where we want it to be.”
If you lower the bar by setting learning losses from the pandemic as the benchmark, some of the news is indeed relatively good. From last Fall to this Spring, the DPS report says, the percent of students reading at grade level and above increased from 47% to 58%, while 24% continued to read “significantly below grade level.” I guess if you’re impressed that “only” a quarter of kids in schools can barely read you can pat DPS on the back.
But it’s not entirely clear from the report how those initial stats were derived, and anyway they are not the full story. As the report indicates, DPS is able to meet its goals only by setting ridiculously low expectations. Regarding the CMAS test (Colorado Measures of Academic Success), which I’ve written about before, DPS says, “Our grade level achievement goals were met for grades three through eight for Mathematics for the 2022-23 school year. We came a bit shy of hitting our targets for literacy for grades three through eight.”
So what were DPS’s goals? For literacy, DPS hoped that 40% of students grades 3-5, and 41% of students grades 6-8, would “meet or exceed expectations” on the CMAS. In fact, only 39% and 40% did. For math, the scores matched DPS’s hopes, with 33% of students grades 3-5, and 28% of students grades 6-8, meeting expectations. I don’t have a math PhD or anything, but I’m pretty sure that means that the large majority of students are not meeting expectations either in reading or math. This is what Marrero is so happy about?
If we dig deeper in the CMAS results for black and Hispanic students in Denver, the story goes from grim to horrifying. You can download the spreadsheet data from the CMAS results page.
Starting with English language, for all Colorado schools grades 3-8, here are the fractions meeting or exceeding expectations: Asian 59%, white 55.6%, black 27.7%, Hispanic 26%. Here are the fractions for Denver: Asian 51.4%, white 72.7%, black 26.7%, Hispanic 24.1%.
Turning to math, for all Colorado schools grades 3-8, here are the fractions meeting or exceeding expectations: Asian 55.9%, white 44%, black 16.8%, Hispanic 16.1%. Here are the fractions for Denver: Asian 42.3%, white 64.1%, black 16.8%, Hispanic 15%.
Results for white and Asian kids are bad enough; results for black and Hispanic kids are absolutely appalling. As I’ve said before, this is a severe crisis, yet, as far as I’ve heard, no school or government official treats it as such. Marrero, to reiterate, is “ecstatic” about Denver’s performance.
I am not saying that schools alone are responsible for the horrible outcomes, especially for black and Hispanic students. Relative poverty contributes enormously. But neither do the public schools seem to be doing right by those kids who suffer the most other disadvantages in life.
Bear in mind, as Peif’s report reveals, that DPS is obsessed with teachers discussing “race” and “equity” in the classroom, and DPS declares it “will achieve equity when we dismantle deeply rooted systems of oppression.” Perhaps Marrero could invest in a mirror for his district.
Here’s a thought: Maybe Denver schools could become less concerned with indoctrinating students with leftist talking points and more concerned with teaching all students how to read and do math.
Ari Armstrong writes regularly for Complete Colorado and is the author of books about Ayn Rand, Harry Potter, and classical liberalism. He can be reached at ari at ariarmstrong dot com.
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