The Denver Public School Board (DPS) will be taking a vote this week on how to share data around school performance. If you have not been following this story it started about a year ago when DPS decided to create a committee to reimagine the School Performance Framework (SPF) and to come up with something more useful for all audiences: for the district, a tool that provided information about school performance, for school leaders, a tool to drive for growth and improvement, and for parents a tool to select and support the best school for their children.
This committee of teachers, principals, parents and community organizations met for almost 6 months and came up with three recommendations to reimgaine the SPF. The first recommendation is to utilize the tool the Colorado Department of Education already uses for school performance, which will save the district money and work. The second recommendation calls for the creation of a public dashboard where data collected by the district will show information like which schools have a strong math, arts, and science program and which schools are serving their students of color equitably and closing the achievement gap. Lastly the third recommendation calls for a council to support schools who are struggling as shown by the data collected and shared through the dashboard. This council will then come up with next steps on how to support the school’s improvement.
Here is where it gets interesting. After all this work was submitted to the board by the committee in May, now some members of the school board are considering only voting to accept the first recommendation and disregarding the second two. This is very concerning to the families we work with as the last two recommendations are the ones that will give them the information to fight racist practices and stand up for racial justice and equity.
Approving only recommendation one but not the others is the easy way out. It might cost less (note: DPS already has a grant from the CDE to cover the cost of building this dashboard), which matters during today’s COVID crisis, however here are the negative impacts of choosing only recommendation one:
- The state’s performance framework is mostly only friendly to English speaking families. This will alienate Non-English monolingual parents in our district - that’s over a third of DPS families. These families deserve to have access to information about their child’s schools.
- Second, the state performance framework does not hold the district responsible for closing the achievement gap between groups of students. This means that schools are not being held responsible for serving students of color to the same standard as their white peers. Less information does not make these gaps go away and doesn’t allow anyone to work toward closing them. The district should be fighting to share and collect more information as they show up, stand up and fight for its black and brown students not the other way around.
- And lastly, the state performance framework is basically the same thing we had at the district level but with less data and access. It still has a color rating system, but the rating is more reliant on test scores than our district SPF.
I want to zero in on the dashboard for a second. I think there is a misconception that parents of color don’t care about school performance or don’t understand data. But, this is far from the truth. I have led dozens of data meetings in schools with parents and specifically seen how parents of color are underinformed. In my experience parents of color are also the most hungry to know what is going on. And once they have the information, they are the most hungry to fight for their kids and their rights.
I’ve been working as a community organizer in Denver for three years. When I first started I believed parents of color were being underinformed about DPS policies and I was there to help. After the murder of George Floyd, DPS took action to remove police from schools and prioritize racial justice, and at that point I realized the lack of access to information for our black and brown families was not a one-time issue, but a systemic one. Parents of color have been systemically shut out of decisions about their own children’s future. They shouldn’t have to rely on people like me to act as a bridge to the data. That’s why, now more than ever, the board should be doing everything in its power to make it easier, not harder to get this information.
Shouldn’t we at least try to put something together that works for all of us? If it doesn’t work then we go back and tweak it until it does. Doing nothing is unacceptable, promising a “community engagement strategy” without any board commitment and timeline is unacceptable. The committee was supposed to be the community engagement strategy and now this board is uncomfortable doing what the community has told them. It’s time the board puts aside any political agendas of the past and recommit to fighting for racial justice, language justice, and equity in education.
I am asking the board to adopt all three recommendations and be hyper-engaged in the creation of the dashboard., I want to see them get community involved in the creation of the tool and then to trial run the tool. I trust the community to identify challenges with a new tool and to help solve them. The board should, too. If you agree, sign our petition here.