pick a school

As Denver’s school choice process opens, which schools are the most – and least – popular?

PHOTO: Marc Piscotty
Nearly 90 percent of students who live in the Manual High School boundary choiced out of the school last year.

Today is the first day Denver students and families can submit their school choices for next year.

Under Denver Public Schools’ unified enrollment system, families fill out a form listing their top five school choices for 2017-18. The district especially encourages families with kids entering so-called transition grades next year — kindergarten, 6th and 9th grades — to fill out a form.

The forms are due by 4 p.m. on Jan. 31. The district will inform students and families in mid-March of their school placement for 2017-18. Whether a student gets into a school depends on that school’s admissions priorities and available space, according to DPS.

If students don’t fill out a form, they will be assigned to their boundary school or to a school in their enrollment zone. DPS now has 11 enrollment zones all across the city: two for elementary schools, seven for middle schools and two for high schools. Students who live in a zone are guaranteed a spot at one of the schools in their zone, though it may not be their first choice.

This is the sixth year DPS has used a unified enrollment system for its charter, innovation, magnet and traditional district-run schools. In school choice lingo, students who choose to attend a school other than their boundary school are considered to have “choiced out” of their boundary school and “choiced in” to another school.

We combed through district data from last year’s school choice process and pulled out several interesting pieces of information, including which schools students most want to choice out of, which schools they most want to choice into and how many get their first-choice schools.

Top 10 Schools with the Highest Choice-Out Rate in 2016
Manual High School — 88 percent
Marrama Elementary School — 87 percent
Morey Middle School — 83 percent
West Campus High School Enrollment Zone — 79 percent
Abraham Lincoln High School — 72 percent
George Washington High School — 70 percent
Northfield High School — 70 percent
North High School — 69 percent
Gilpin Montessori School — 64 percent
Stedman Elementary School — 64 percent

Where are those kids going? Let’s take Manual as an example. District data shows the schools students living in the Manual High School boundary choiced into in 2015.

Top 10 Schools Students in the Manual High Boundary Choiced Into in 2015
Bruce Randolph School — 310 students
East High School — 159 students
DSST: Cole High School — 116 students
Denver Center for 21st Century Learning at Wyman — 51 students
North High School — 42 students
South High School — 37 students
Venture Prep High School — 36 students
STRIVE Prep – Excel — 35 students
Emily Griffith High School — 35 students
DSST: Stapleton High School — 24 students

On the flip side, some schools have very low choice-out rates, which can mean most seats are filled by students who live in the boundary — and few are available for choice students.

Top 10 Schools with the Lowest Choice-Out Rate in 2016
Slavens K-8 School — 3 percent
DCIS at Fairmont — 10 percent
Grant Ranch ECE-8 School — 10 percent
Carson Elementary School — 11 percent
Stapleton-Area Elementary Schools Enrollment Zone — 12 percent
Steck Elementary School — 15 percent
Bromwell Elementary School — 16 percent
Greater Park Hill/Stapleton Middle Schools Enrollment Zone — 17 percent
University Park Elementary School — 18 percent
Southmoor Elementary School — 22 percent

Which schools are most popular? District data from 2016 shows the top 10 schools requested at the so-called transition grades of kindergarten, 6th grade and 9th grade.

Top 10 Schools Listed as Incoming Kindergarten Students’ First Choice in 2016
Swigert International School — 188 students listed it as their #1 choice
Escalante-Biggs Academy — 130 students
William “Bill” Roberts K-8 School — 125 students
Odyssey School of Denver — 105 students
Highline Academy Northeast — 105 students
High Tech Elementary School — 102 students
Park Hill Elementary School — 99 students
Brown International Academy — 99 students
Slavens K-8 School — 86 students
STRIVE Prep – Ruby Hill — 85 students

Top 10 Schools Listed as Incoming 6th Grade Students’ First Choice in 2016
McAuliffe International School — 411 students listed it as their #1 choice
DSST: Green Valley Ranch — 351 students
Denver School of the Arts — 328 students
Kunsmiller Creative Arts Academy — 267 students
DSST: College View — 253 students
DSST: Byers — 199 students
Skinner Middle School — 198 students
STRIVE Prep – Westwood — 197 students
DSST: Stapleton — 191 students
Denver Center for International Studies — 157 students

Top 10 Schools Listed as Incoming 9th Grade Students’ First Choice in 2016
East High School — 669 students listed it as their #1 choice
South High School — 295 students
Northfield High School — 207 students
CEC Early College — 202 students
George Washington High School — 174 students
Denver School of the Arts — 165 students
Kunsmiller Creative Arts Academy — 162 students
DSST: Green Valley Ranch — 155 students
STRIVE Prep – SMART — 155 students
Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. Early College — 154 students

So how many students get into their first-choice school? District data from last year provides a percentage of students in each transition grade.

Percentage of Transition Grade Students Who Got their First-Choice School in 2016
Kindergarten — 86 percent
6th Grade — 80 percent
9th Grade — 87 percent

Five questions

Why this Memphis Republican supports school vouchers — but is concerned about accountability

PHOTO: TN.gov
From left: Rep. Mark White of Memphis speaks with Gov. Bill Haslam at a bill-signing ceremony at the State Capitol.

Only one school voucher bill remains under consideration in Tennessee, and it’s all about Memphis.

The proposal, which would pilot a voucher program exclusively for students in Shelby County Schools, is putting a spotlight on the 16 state lawmakers who represent Memphis and Shelby County, including Rep. Mark White.

White is one of only four from the county’s legislative delegation to pledge support for the bill, which would allow some Memphis parents to use public education funding to pay for private school tuition.

The East Memphis Republican, whose district includes Germantown, has long supported vouchers. But he’s also concerned about how private schools would be held accountable if they accept public money.

Chalkbeat spoke with White this week about the legislature’s last remaining voucher proposal, as well as a bill to give in-state tuition to Tennessee high school students who are undocumented immigrants.

If vouchers pass, what kinds of things would you look for to ensure they’re effective?

PHOTO: TN.gov
<strong>Rep. Mark White</strong>

Accountability is important. Five years ago, when we we first considered vouchers full force, I was in agreement totally with vouchers, with not a lot of limitations. But … if we’re going to hold our public schools accountable, we need to hold everyone accountable, and that’s why I want to get to the part about TNReady (testing).

Can the Department (of Education) and can (the Comptroller’s Office of Research and Education Accountability) manage what the bill is asking them to do? I want to answer those questions. If we want to ensure that a student taking a voucher takes the TNReady test, who is going to oversee that? Who is going to make that happen? That’s the part I think we still need to work out if it moves forward through the various committees. It’s not good to go to the floor without all of the answers.

Most elected officials in Memphis oppose vouchers and are also concerned that this bill goes against local control over education. How do you respond to that?

I’d rather it be statewide. But you know, they’ve tried that in the past. The reason it got to be Shelby County is because we had more low-performing schools in the bottom 5 percent. And so therefore the bill got tied to Shelby County. If it was more someplace else, it would have gone there.

Shelby County Schools has made major improvements, boosting its graduation rate and receiving national attention for its school turnaround program, the Innovation Zone. Would vouchers undermine those efforts by diverting students and funding from the district?

Go back to 2002. We were looking for answers, so we started pushing charters. Those who wanted to preserve public schools fought that tooth and nail. Then we went to the Achievement School District. As a result, Shelby County Schools has created the Innovation Zone. …  Memphis is now known as Teacher Town. We’ve brought so much competition into the market. It’s a place where the best teachers are in demand. That’s what you want in every industry.

A lot of good things have come about, and I think it’s because we have pushed the envelope. Is this voucher thing one thing that keeps pushing us forward? I like that it’s a pilot, and we can stop it if we see things that aren’t working. I think trying all of these things and putting competition into the market has made things improve.

Every Memphis parent, student, and teacher who testified this week before a House education committee opposed vouchers. You’ve been steadfast in your support of them. What do you take away from hearing those speakers?

Any time you talk about children, people get passionate, and that’s a good thing. Conflict can be a good thing, because then we can move to resolve it. If you have an issue, look at it head on and let’s talk about it. If you don’t agree with vouchers, if you do agree vouchers, let’s talk about ways we can stop failing our children.

I’ve heard from just as many on the other side; they just weren’t here (on Tuesday). I’ve had an office full of people just begging us to pass this. I’ve had people on all sides want this.

I think this bill still has a long way to fly. We’ll see where it goes. But I think the challenge is good for all of us. It makes us look at ourselves.

You’re the sponsor of another bill to provide in-state tuition to undocumented immigrant students. This is the third year you’ve filed the bill. Why is that issue important?

What I’m trying to do is fix a situation for people who want to get a higher education degree. They’re caught up in the political mess of 2017, and all we’re trying to do is say, ‘Hey, you were brought to this country, and now we want to help you realize your dreams.’ We’re not trying to address any federal immigration issue. Everyone deserves a chance for an education.

stacking up

Tennessee inches up in national ranking of charter school laws

PHOTO: Caroline Bauman
Students learn at Memphis Delta Preparatory, one of more than 100 charter schools in Tennessee.

While Tennessee’s charter school law moved up slightly in a state-by-state analysis, it still ranks in the bottom half of similar laws evaluated by the nation’s leading charter advocacy organization.

The National Alliance for Public Charter Schools ranked Tennessee 29th out of 44 in its eighth annual report based on the group’s version of an ideal charter law. That’s up from 34th in the 2016 rankings.

The report released Wednesday is the first since the alliance updated its rubric to focus more on holding underperforming schools accountable.

Among the biggest issues is money. The report says Tennessee charter schools don’t get enough and neither do their authorizers to effectively oversee them. The group also calls out the Volunteer State on transparency and a lack of clarity over performance-based evaluations.

A charter bill that would overhaul Tennessee’s 2002 charter law is making its way through the General Assembly and would address some of those issues. The proposal would require charter schools to pay a fee to districts — a change that school leaders in Memphis and Nashville have long clamored for. The bill also would require districts to create clear academic performance rubrics to assess existing charters and clarify application and closure procedures.

Tennessee’s charter law has changed little since the state first opened its doors to charters in 2003. The sector has grown to 107 across the state, 71 of which are in Memphis and authorized either by Shelby County Schools or the state-run Achievement School District.

The leader of the Tennessee Charter School Center said the state’s original law was the product of “significant forethought” and that the state diligently continues to evaluate its effectiveness.

PHOTO: Tennessee Charter School Center
Maya Bugg

“We have made great strides, and current legislation in the works takes a strong next step towards addressing some of the policy challenges and opportunities across our state’s charter sector,” CEO Maya Bugg said in a statement on Wednesday.

“Adding clarity around processes and protocol, establishing consistent authorizer performance frameworks, and dedicating funds for increased access to facilities are key initiatives that will, if passed, further strengthen our policies, schools and districts,” she said.

Despite its mediocre ranking, Tennessee was one the leading states in four out of 21 categories used by the national alliance to evaluate state laws: no limit on number of charter schools, autonomous charter boards, automatic exemption from district collective bargaining agreements, and allowing for a variety of charter schools such as new and conversion.