It’s the time of year when families with preschoolers, kindergartners and older students will get to choose where they will attend school. Denver Public Schools (DPS) “SchoolChoice” is taking place Jan. 14-Feb. 15. During this time, families will have an opportunity to pick their top school choices for the 2022-2023 school year. Students as young as ages three to five can participate in this process, as many Northwest Denver schools have Early Childhood Education (ECE) programs. These ECE programs are typically much more affordable than private preschools, and often free for families that qualify financially. Last year, 84% of all participants were given a spot at their first choice school. Virtual school expos for all North Denver schools are taking place on Jan. 20 from 6-8 p.m. Full details on those expos and how to enroll can be found at schoolchoice.dpsk12.org.
As school choice takes place this year, nearly 26 years after the end of federally mandated bussing, DPS schools are largely resegregated and the achievement gap between students of color and white students is high. One group of parents and caregivers are encouraging their peers to look at the school choice process a little differently in an effort to close those achievement gaps, reintegrate schools, and look at school choice from a research-based perspective. Amy Murin, a mom from North Denver and co-leader of the Integrated Schools Denver, CO Chapter, is asking parents to really “think about what it means when they think about choosing the best school for their kids. So often folks think that means test scores and school rankings… We think there are a lot of other variables that can play into whether or not a school will work for your family, and to think about what some of those other variables might be.”
Her Integrated Schools Chapter co-leader Katie Zaback, a fellow mom from Wheatridge and higher education researcher, says the ways parents are picking schools for their kids is not aligning with the research. “We put a lot of emphasis on a lot of things that are not supported in the literature. So things like we know that test scores are highly correlated or related to the socioeconomic status of students at a school. And yet oftentimes, people make decisions about which school they are going to attend based on the test scores. But that just basically means you are choosing a school where kids are in a high socioeconomic class. Those test scores don’t speak to anything about the quality of the teachers or actual quality of education. So what seems to come through in the research from my read of it is getting different perspectives, getting diverse perspectives make a difference in students’ long term success, and that is not necessarily something that people look to when they are choosing schools.”
Murin says Integrated Schools is asking parents to take the two tour pledge, or to “step inside two schools that you might have not otherwise considered in your school choice process. I did it two years ago, and I was so nervous and couldn’t figure out why I was nervous. I didn’t even know anyone that would go with me to tour. I absolutely fell in love with a school and now we are there and I couldn’t be happier. I think that so often we make assumptions about a school based on those rankings, and don’t look deeper to see about the quality of education happening inside those classrooms. Our school is filled with teachers that love those kids as much as any teacher that loves kids, and are working hard to educate those kids and are creating opportunities for them.” Murin says that parents are often fixated on finding the school with the best ranking and “we are trying to bust that open” by encouraging parents to step inside two other schools. Murin, whose child just spent their first semester at Trevista at Horace Mann, says the school felt like a “wonderful loving community. I step up to the door of the school and love how all the teachers greet all the children and welcome them all in,” and that her child “is excited about going to school.”
Zaback says from an equity perspective, “by us choosing integrated schools, we are helping to ensure that more kids get a high quality school, instead of concentrating resources into a select number of schools that people have chosen.” Zaback also encouraged parents to look at the demographics of a school and see if it’s representative of the neighborhood and the city. “The research shows that attending a more diverse school tends to help all kids. The concentration of white families and resourced families in specific schools, there is no indication that helps those students, but there is indication that that concentration harms students who don’t have access to those schools.” She mentions that the research shows that highly integrated schools have shown the most success in closing the achievement gap between white students and students of color.
“It’s really easy to follow our friends,” asserts Zaback. “Part of what we’re asking people to do is to step away from the traditional view of what makes a good school and consider things like community and diverse voices.” She cautions parents that schools with higher PTA fundraising or lots of extracurricular activities and events may seem enticing, but the research “has no indication that those things make schools higher quality.”
Zaback mentions that previous attempts to integrate schools often had unintended negative consequences for communities of color, like reducing the number of teachers of color. Both her and Murin especially encourage white parents to sit back and listen, and amplify the voices of families of color. Zaback in particular mentions that parents that care about the integrated schools movement and equity also have to “be advocates for reducing the impacts of gentrification, and eliminate the amount of gentrification that happens” and be advocates for affordable housing. The two encourage anyone looking to learn more to come to their school choice workshops.
More information can be found at integratedschools.org/chapter/denver-colorado.