An unintended consequence of choosing the best school
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