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ERS Report Finds Record Progress in Denver

For over a decade, Denver Public Schools (DPS) has undertaken a variety of structural changes to improve student outcomes. Rather than searching for a silver bullet, district leaders began by envisioning how DPS could promote equity and excellence at the district level, then it gave schools flexibility to make the best decisions for their teachers and students.

This year, ERS analyzed and explored DPS’ strategies using our School System 20/20 diagnostic assessment. School System 20/20 is based on years of research—either published studies or ERS’ own experience working with over 40 school districts for more than 10 years.

It combines qualitative questions about district policies and “practices”—in other words, what actually happens at the central office and in schools—with quantitative metrics across seven different areas of district activity: standards and instruction, teaching, school design, school support, funding, leadership, and partners.

ERS has used this diagnostic tool to analyze 16 districts, allowing us to benchmark DPS’ work against its peers, and we have written two in-depth case studies, Back from the Brink and The Rewards of Perseverance, to dig into the stories of transformational change in Lawrence, Massachusetts and Aldine, Texas.

In March, ERS presented our School System 20/20 analysis of DPS to the district's senior leadership team, board of education, and members of the Denver education community. The presentation focused on two questions:

  1. Does DPS have the conditions in place to enable great schools to thrive?
  2. Do those “enabling conditions” at the school system level translate into best practice in schools?

Highlights from the analysis include:

  • Student Achievement: DPS improved at one of the fastest rates among large districts across the country between the 2009-10 and 2012-13 school years. Every student group (including students on free-and-reduced-price lunch, and English Language Learners) has seen academic gains.
  • Funding and Portfolio: DPS leveraged its chartering authority to take a strategic approach to opening new schools, and it leveled the playing field between district-run and charter schools through a system designed to ensure equitable school funding.
  • Human Capital: DPS invested in evaluation systems and supports to improve recruitment, development, and retention of high-quality teachers and leaders.
  • School Design: DPS increased instructional superintendent support to principals, particularly targeted to principals in the lowest-performing schools.

While ERS has previously worked with Denver, this analysis was funded by the Schusterman Foundation and will lay the foundation for a full School System 20/20 case study on Denver Public Schools scheduled for release in May 2017. 


ERS Report Finds Record Progress in Denver
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