Denver Public Schools was named the best large school district in the country for school choice Thursday by a Washington, D.C.-based think tank.
The Brookings Institution lauded the reform-minded district for continually improving its single-application school choice process, which asks students to list their top five schools, regardless of whether the schools are traditional, charter, innovation or magnet.
DPS has long welcomed charter and innovation schools, and the report notes the district has carried out its unified choice process for the past five years with little of the political rancor seen in other cities with similarly aggressive policies.
The report, called the 2015 Education Choice and Competition Index, examined school choice in the 100 largest school districts in the country, as well as in a few smaller districts. One such district, the New Orleans Recovery School District, outscored Denver.
Last year, Denver ranked fifth among large districts. The report lists several reasons for its jump to first place, including the rollout of a new website called SchoolMatch that lets families compare schools side-by-side and the district’s increased use of enrollment zones, which are expanded boundaries that contain several schools. The zones are meant to increase the diversity of those schools as well as encourage participation in choice. Students who live in the zones are guaranteed a spot at one of the schools but not necessarily their first pick.
It also commends Denver for its practice of holding open a certain number of seats at high-quality schools so students who move into the district after the school choice window has closed are able to get into those schools rather than be told they’re full.
However, the institute dinged DPS for a lack of other alternatives to traditional public schools, such as vouchers, and because only about 27 percent of all students participate in choice. It also deducted points because Denver doesn’t provide students transportation to any school they choose (though it does to some) and because the district doesn’t put certain information online for families choosing schools, including the percentage of inexperienced teachers at a school and how long the principal has been there.
Three other Colorado districts also made the report: Douglas County and Cherry Creek were part of a four-way tie for 14th best out of 100, while Jefferson County tied for 27th.
In December, the Thomas B. Fordham Institute, an education think tank also in Washington, D.C., ranked DPS the third-best district in the country for school choice. New Orleans and Washington, D.C. were first and second, respectively.