An un­in­tended con­se­quence of choos­ing the best school

The Denver Post - - OPINION - By Me­gan Schrader Me­gan Schrader (mschrader@ den­ver­post.com) is a Den­ver Post ed­i­to­rial writer and colum­nist.

It’s easy to make a list of the best pub­lic el­e­men­tary schools in Den­ver — Cory, Steck, Westerly Creek, Bromwell and Car­son — and, if you have the means, to buy a house in those school zones.

Our ed­u­ca­tion sys­tem was founded on school dis­tricts, and then, within those dis­tricts, school zones. And it’s no se­cret that some dis­tricts and schools per­form bet­ter than oth­ers, and that within the bounds of a “good” school zone houses are more ex­pen­sive.

When we were house hunt­ing, I made an Ex­cel spread­sheet and sorted Den­ver Pub­lic Schools test re­sults by the per­cent­age of stu­dents who scored ad­vanced on math ex­ams in fifth grade. Of those top schools, the ones that had set dis­trict bound­aries rather than tough ad­mis­sions stan­dards are where we fo­cused our six-month search for a home in our price range.

For us, it was a smart move, even though we didn’t even have a kid yet. By spend­ing more on a house with ac­cess to the very best pub­lic school, we were in­vest­ing that money into real es­tate rather than throw­ing it away on 12 years of pri­vate school.

Yes, Colorado schools are al­ready bas­tions of choice — no stu­dent is bound to a school zone, as par­ents can ap­ply to be choiced into an­other school or to send their kids to a char­ter school.

But there are a fi­nite num­ber of seats in schools and it cre­ates a bar­rier for those who can’t buy a house in the dis­trict of their choice.

But the process also made me very un­com­fort­able. That seem­ingly harm­less act of mov­ing to a high-per­form­ing school zone is ac­tu­ally per­pet­u­at­ing deep eco­nomic and racial di­vides that ex­ist in schools across the coun­try.

What’s been trou­bling me lately is the re­al­iza­tion that I could have made al­most the ex­act same list of el­e­men­tary schools by sort­ing DPS’s eth­nic­ity and gen­der re­port by the per­cent of white stu­dents. It’s im­por­tant to note I didn’t ac­tu­ally make that list then, but out of cu­rios­ity I com­pared the two lists af­ter read­ing Monte Wha­ley’s story in The Den­ver Post about the ter­ri­ble rate of seg­re­ga­tion in Den­ver schools.

The top-per­form­ing el­e­men­tary schools on one list are also those with the fewest mi­nori­ties on the other.

It’s a seg­re­ga­tion that has been al­lowed to oc­cur be­cause of peo­ple like me, who in the search for the top schools, in­ad­ver­tently per­pet­u­ate the di­vide.

And that is some­thing that must change.

Thank­fully, DPS Su­per­in­ten­dent Steve Boas­berg has im­ple­mented a six-month study to ex­plore ways the dis­trict schools could be­come more di­verse and in­clu­sive.

Diana Romero Camp­bell, cochair of the new 42-per­son com­mit­tee ex­plor­ing this is­sue, said the group doesn’t even have a mis­sion yet, let alone what rec­om­men­da­tions could look like. But the con­ver­sa­tion the com­mit­tee is go­ing to be hav­ing is a crit­i­cal one for our city’s kids.

“How do we re­spon­si­bly cre­ate op­por­tu­ni­ties for all chil­dren?” Romero Camp­bell asks.

She boils it down to cre­at­ing ac­cess and choice for all stu­dents to all schools in the dis­trict, and then mak­ing sure there is eq­uity in that choice, all while avoid­ing un­in­tended con­se­quences. Un­in­tended con­se­quences would be par­ents choos­ing to leave the dis­trict rather than par­tic­i­pate in new school ad­mis­sions plans — some­thing that hap­pened rapidly when bus­ing and in­te­gra­tion plans first oc­curred.

Those are goals that even I — with my spread­sheet-driven house hunt­ing — could get be­hind, even if it means changes to the school my chil­dren some­day at­tend. Mac Tully, CEO and Pub­lisher; Justin Mock, Se­nior Vice Pres­i­dent of Fi­nance and Chief Fi­nan­cial Of­fi­cer; Bill Reynolds, Se­nior VP, Cir­cu­la­tion and Pro­duc­tion; Judi Pat­ter­son, Vice Pres­i­dent, Hu­man Re­sources; Bob Kin­ney, Vice Pres­i­dent, In­for­ma­tion Tech­nol­ogy

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