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Information is power, and the only path to equity

If you’re like me and following the debate on proposed changes to the way schools are measured in Denver, you too may have concluded the color-coded school report cards –  known as the School Performance Framework or SPF – do not necessarily reflect the culture of a school, or how satisfied a learner your child might be – even at a highly rated school. Color me disappointed with the SPF’s efficacy informing parents.

If we’re ever to achieve true educational equity in Denver, schools must provide information in the most transparent manner possible. The new dashboard that is being proposed to complement reporting by the state, and replace the current Denver SPF, holds promise for providing the types of information that will make it easier for families to navigate schools and support our kids’ success.

One of the ideas for the new tool will be for each school to have its own narrative. Telling your own story is powerful. I think parents, teachers and community members should all be involved in writing this so they “own it” and are invested in the aspirations they have for the school.

Culture and diversity are important to me.  I believe school staff care more when they come from the community and understand the “whole child” because they’re embedded in the neighborhood themselves and appreciate their students’ lived experiences.

As the mother of two Black teenagers, I was relieved to see DPS end the presence of police officers in our schools. But it’s essential that schools use the resources saved to hire adequate nursing, mental health and social work staff to ensure kids’ needs are met. These staffing ratios belong on the dashboard.

The dashboard should also contain data about the satisfaction of parents and staff. What is the school’s discipline policy and how is it applied across the student body? Is there a library? Access to study rooms? Practice rooms for the arts? What electives are offered? Is there a collaborative school committee and who serves on it? When do they meet? Is the school at capacity for enrollment and is there a wait list?

Information about transportation is essential for the dashboard, because without it, school choice is not really a choice in Denver. In the far northeast, where I live, transit oriented for the airport corridor is expensive, so the cost and reliability of transportation to school makes a real difference for families.

In a recent study of family decision-making about schools in Denver, University of Colorado professor and researcher Antwan Jefferson and Plashan McCune concluded that families want “school profiles, in-depth information regarding school culture and climate, the school leadership and details regarding teachers’ preparedness, tenure and ability to connect and support the learning needs of their children.”

These findings are striking in their simplicity and you might say “well, obviously…” but much of the mistrust and frustration with DPS is that parents of color have never had ready access to this type of information.

It would be a mistake for the Board of Education to vote for reliance on only the color-coded state performance framework, and not move forward with the dashboard and improvement cycle. Drs. Jefferson and McCune also found that, “Color-coding school quality based on academic measures is not reflective of the values of many families and presents unintended consequences for children’s development.This is particularly important for Latinx and Black children, and is likely the case for students from other historically marginalized backgrounds.”

As it writes the next chapter on school performance the DPS board must elevate the voices of parents and empower them with the types of information they find useful to help their children thrive.