DPS board champions Black excellence, except in charter schools

Editor’s note: The image that originally accompanied this article has been changed because some people found it offensive and not illustrative of the points in the article. I apologize for any offense I caused by posting it. –A.G.

The Denver school board spent 45 minutes Monday getting an update on its Black Excellence Resolution and worthy efforts being made at district and school levels to address systemic racism and implicit bias.

This is important work as the district and board work to pivot away from old systems and structures and attempt to figure out how better to serve all Denver Public Schools students — something it has historically failed to do.

How ironic, then, that this same board is turning its back on a shining example of Black excellence by preparing to deny DSST Noel Middle School students the high school they’ve been promised because several board members dislike the charter school governance model.

There are few examples of Black excellence in action more compelling than various DSST middle and high schools, but most especially the Far Northeast Denver Noel middle school.

The student body is about one-quarter Black and two-thirds Latino. Just 19 of the 309 students — 6 percent — are white. Eighty percent qualify for subsidized lunches.

While schools fitting this profile in Denver Public Schools often struggle with achievement as measured by test scores (not a perfect measure, admittedly), Noel has left those trends in the dust.

At DSST Noel, 60 percent of Black students met or exceeded expectations on state assessments in literacy. Statewide, just 46 percent of students of all races met or exceeded literacy expectations. Forty-six percent of Black students met or exceeded expectations in math, compared to 35 percent of students of all races across Colorado.

When you examine growth scores, DSST Noel looks even more impressive. Chalkbeat provides a succinct description of growth scores: They “show how much progress students have made compared with students who had similar scores the year before. This score is generally seen as a better measure of how good a job schools are doing…”

DSST Noel Black students had a growth score of 76.5 on English Language Arts in 2019. Black students in DPS had a growth score of 52, and the statewide score for black students was 46. In math, DSST Noel’s Black students’ growth score was 70, compared to 45 for Black students in DPS and 43 for Black students across the state.

You can review these growth scores here. You’ll see I’m not cherry-picking.

DSST schools aren’t for everyone. No school is, which is a point some people opposed to school choice tend to ignore. But it’s impossible to deny that DSST gives a significant number of Black and Latino students what they need to succeed in college and beyond. Why deprive those students of that opportunity in service to anti-charter sentiment that seemingly ignores the needs of children, at least in this case?

Near the conclusion of the Black Excellence Resolution discussion Monday, school board Vice President Jennifer Bacon gave a charge to the team that has been working with district staff and the board on implicit bias training. “Push us, hold us accountable for things we are saying so we can do more than just walk our talk.”

To which I’d reply: When it comes to DSST Noel, board members, walking your talk would be a good first step.

Alan Gottlieb
Alan Gottlieb
Alan Gottlieb is Boardhawk’s editor. Alan has been a Denver-based journalist for more than 30 years. He covered DPS for the Denver Post in the mid-1990s, worked as an education program officer for The Piton Foundation, and co-founded Education News Colorado and Chalkbeat. For the past five years, he has worked as a contract writer and communications consultant.