Census shows education gaps by district

Image shows high school graduates waiting for their diplomasIn the Adams 14 school district that includes Commerce City, nearly one in five adult residents – or 17 percent – have less than a 9th-grade education. Altogether, 40 percent of adults over the age of 25 living in the district on Denver’s northeastern edge have yet to achieve a high school degree.

In contrast, more than half of the adults living in the Douglas County School District have graduated from a four-year college or university, including 17 percent with advanced degrees such as doctorates.

Data showing the estimated education levels of adults in each Colorado school district was released last month by the Census Bureau, part of its five-year survey of residents between January 2005 and December 2009.

It provides a rare, if incomplete, district-by-district look at a factor linked by researchers to student performance – higher parent education levels tend to produce higher academic achievement. But the data should be interpreted with caution since the Census Bureau did not break out parents separately.

Still, Education News Colorado found adult education levels appear to track closely with other factors, such as poverty, correlated to achievement and may deepen the picture of the challenges facing some school districts.

Adams 14, for example, had the lowest level of adults aged 25 and over with bachelor’s degrees – 7 percent – among school districts statewide. It also has the highest poverty rate of any sizable Colorado school district with 8 of 10 students qualifying for federal lunch aid, 10 percent of its students are classified as homeless and 45 percent of residents speak a language other than English at home.

“Yes, we believe it impacts student achievement,” John Albright, the district’s communications director, said of the education levels data. “I think the challenge is trying to isolate those statistics versus all the other statistics.

“What we find is you’ve got the majority of families in our district in what could be considered survival mode. We certainly can’t be in the business of saying it’s the family’s fault but when families are in survival mode, often the first priority is not developing language with your child – it’s putting food on the table, paying rent, finding a place they can live next month.”

Highs, lows in education levels

Not surprisingly, the district with the highest level of adult education attainment is Boulder Valley, home to the University of Colorado’s main campus. Just 4 percent of adults aged 25 or older have less than a high school degree.

Boulder has the highest percentage of adults with four-year college degrees – 62 percent – and 28 percent of those degrees are advanced, meaning master’s, doctorate or professional diplomas.

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Cheyenne Mountain District 12, location of the pricey Broadmoor resort and the North American Aerospace Defense Command or NORAD, has the state’s second highest level of advanced college degrees at 27 percent. Academy School District 20, home of the Air Force Academy, is third with 24 percent of adults with advanced degrees.

All three districts – Boulder, Cheyenne Mountain and Academy – are powerhouses on the state’s annual exams. They fall to the bottom on rankings for poverty rates, however, with Boulder’s 17 percent the highest of the trio but still well below the statewide average of 31 percent.

Walt Cooper was head of the Ellicott School District, where fewer than 15 percent of adults have a bachelor’s degree or higher, before being hired as Cheyenne Mountain’s superintendent ten years ago. Both scenarios present challenges, he said.

“We don’t spend a whole lot of time trying to motivate students or stress either to students or our community the importance of learning, the importance of achievement. Our community culture and our school culture does that,” he said of Cheyenne Mountain. “That wasn’t the case in Ellicott. We had a supportive community but the culture around the importance of student achievement is something we really had to work to try to develop.”

On the other hand, “Typically when we talk about at-risk students, we think of students from poverty or students from disadvantaged backgrounds which result in their being at-risk of not succeeding. I always challenge that notion,” he said. “Many of our brightest and our most talented students, if we don’t rise to the level of being able to meet their needs, to challenge them, to move them forward, they’re equally at risk.

“Our challenges are still great. They’re just great on another part of the spectrum.”

A tiny district in southwestern Colorado may be the more surprising entry on the highest education list.

Hinsdale County, which occupies 1,100 square miles south of Gunnison, was once named the most remote county in the lower 48 states, said Diane Bruce, who sits on the county’s Chamber of Commerce board.

It also has the state’s highest percentage of adult residents with high school degrees – 98 percent.

“People don’t relocate here for normal reasons,” Bruce said, noting 96 percent of the county is public land. “They come for peace and quiet.”

Hinsdale’s school district, which serves 100 students on a four-day-a-week schedule, was one of 14 districts statewide to earn the state’s top rating of “distinction” in November.

Metro area education levels

Adams 14 came out near the bottom of the state’s list, as one of seven districts to receive the lowest rating of “turnaround.” That means district leaders have until Jan. 15 to submit an improvement plan to state education officials for their approval.

Albright, the district spokesman, said the lower adult education attainment levels, combined with other factors such as poverty, language and mobility, show up across the spectrum:

Students may arrive behind in language development as youngsters, may lose newly learned skills during the summer months and may not see the importance of education as they reach middle and high school.

“If parents don’t necessarily have a high level of educational attainment, then students may not see the connection to their current life of having a high level of educational attainment,” he said.

The district has reached out to families by placing a part-time parent liaison in every school this fall. And it operates an intergenerational learning center at Adams City High School that provided basic adult education classes to 800 in 2009-10.

But the key emphasis for Adams 14 – while some other struggling Adams County districts have implemented dramatic structural reforms such as Mapleton’s small schools and Westminster’s standards-based system – is improving teacher quality in a traditional setting.

“We believe, regardless of where our students start on the achievement level, they will still realize growth over time if we have highly effective teachers in our classrooms,” Albright said. “We’ve built all of our work around that.”

Education levels of adults aged 25 and over in Colorado’s six largest school districts

Jefferson County

  • Less than 9th grade: 2.2%
  • 9th to 12th grade, no diploma: 5.2%
  • High school graduate, including GED: 22.8%
  • Some college, no degree: 23.4%
  • Associate’s degree: 7.9%
  • Bachelor’s degree: 25.3%
  • Graduate or professional degree: 13.1%
  • Total high school graduate or higher: 92.6%
  • Total bachelor’s degree or higher: 38.4%


  • Less than 9th grade: 7.5%
  • 9th to 12th grade, no diploma: 9.2%
  • High school graduate, including GED: 21%
  • Some college, no degree: 18%
  • Associate’s degree: 5%
  • Bachelor’s degree: 23.9%
  • Graduate or professional degree: 15.3%
  • Total high school graduate or higher: 83.3%
  • Total bachelor’s degree or higher: 39.3%

Douglas County

  • Less than 9th grade: .8%
  • 9th to 12th grade, no diploma: 1.9%
  • High school graduate, including GED: 13.9%
  • Some college, no degree: 21.5%
  • Associate’s degree: 8.5%
  • Bachelor’s degree: 36.3%
  • Graduate or professional degree: 17.1%
  • Total high school graduate or higher: 97.3%
  • Total bachelor’s degree or higher: 53.4%

Cherry Creek

  • Less than 9th grade: 2.4%
  • 9th to 12th grade, no diploma: 3.6%
  • High school graduate, including GED: 17.3%
  • Some college, no degree: 22%
  • Associate’s degree: 7.7%
  • Bachelor’s degree: 29.7%
  • Graduate or professional degree: 17.3%
  • Total high school graduate or higher: 94%
  • Total bachelor’s degree or higher: 47%

Adams 12 Five Star

  • Less than 9th grade: 4.1%
  • 9th to 12th grade, no diploma: 7.8%
  • High school graduate, including GED: 27.5%
  • Some college, no degree: 23.6%
  • Associate’s degree: 9.4%
  • Bachelor’s degree: 19.2%
  • Graduate or professional degree: 8.4%
  • Total high school graduate or higher: 88.1%
  • Total bachelor’s degree or higher: 27.6%


  • Less than 9th grade: 9.7%
  • 9th to 12th grade, no diploma: 11.3%
  • High school graduate, including GED: 30.2%
  • Some college, no degree: 22.2%
  • Associate’s degree: 7.8%
  • Bachelor’s degree: 13.9%
  • Graduate or professional degree: 4.9%
  • Total high school graduate or higher: 79%
  • Total bachelor’s degree or higher: 18.8%

Statewide figures

  • Less than 9th grade: 4.5%
  • 9th to 12th grade, no diploma: 6.7%
  • High school graduate, including GED: 23.7%
  • Some college, no degree: 22.1%
  • Associate’s degree: 7.6%
  • Bachelor’s degree: 22.9%
  • Graduate or professional degree: 12.6%
  • Total high school graduate or higher: 88.9%
  • Total bachelor’s degree or higher: 35.5%

*Source – Census Bureau, American Community Survey

defensor escolar

Memphis parent advocacy group trains first Spanish-speaking cohort

PHOTO: Caroline Bauman
Manuela Martinez (center left) and Lidia Sauceda (center right) are among 19 parents in the first Spanish-speaking class of Memphis Lift’s Public Advocate Fellowship.

Manuela Martinez doesn’t want Spanish-speaking families to get lost in the fast-changing education landscape in Memphis as the city’s Hispanic population continues to grow.

The mother of two students is among 19 parents in the first Spanish-speaking class of Memphis Lift’s Public Advocate Fellowship, a program that trains parents on local education issues.

“We want to be more informed,” said Martinez, whose children attend Shelby County Schools. “I didn’t know I had much of voice or could change things at my child’s school. But I’m learning a lot about schools in Memphis, and how I can be a bigger part.”

More than 200 Memphians have gone through the 10-week fellowship program since the parent advocacy group launched two years ago. The vast majority have been African-Americans.

The first Spanish-speaking cohort is completing a five-week program this month and marks a concerted effort to bridge racial barriers, said Sarah Carpenter, the organization’s executive director.

“Our mission is to make the powerless parent powerful …,” she said.

The city’s mostly black public schools have experienced a steady growth in Hispanic students since 1992 when only 286 attended the former Memphis City Schools. In 2015, the consolidated Shelby County Schools had 13,816 Hispanic children and teens, or 12.3 percent of the student population.

Lidia Sauceda came to Memphis from Mexico as a child; now she has two children who attend Shelby County Schools. Through Memphis Lift, she is learning about how to navigate Tennessee’s largest district in behalf of her family.

PHOTO: Caroline Bauman
Hispanic parents attend a training with the Memphis Lift fellowship program.

“Latinos are afraid of talking, of standing up,” Sauceda said. “They’re so afraid they’re not going to be heard because of their legal status. But I will recommend this (fellowship) to parents. How do we want our kids to have a better education if we can’t dedicate time?”

The training includes lessons on local school options, how to speak publicly at a school board meeting, and how to advocate for your children if you believe they are being treated unfairly.

The first fellowship was led by Ian Buchanan, former director of community partnership for the state-run Achievement School District. Now the program is taught in-house, and the Spanish-speaking class is being led this month by Carmelita Hernandez, an alumna.

“No matter what language we speak, we want a high-quality education for our kids just like any other parent,” Hernandez said. “A good education leads to better opportunities.”

Stopping summer slide

On National Summer Learning Day, Memphis takes stock of programs for kids

PHOTO: Helen Carefoot
Torrence Echols, a rising first-grader in Memphis, builds a tower with giant legos at the Benjamin L. Hooks Library on National Summer Learning Day.

When it comes to summer learning, it’s been a better year for Memphis, where a range of new programs have helped to stem learning loss that hits hard in communities with a high number of low-income students.

On Thursday, Mayor Jim Strickland celebrated that work in conjunction with National Summer Learning Day and against the backdrop of the children’s reading room of the city’s main library.

He estimated that 10,000 children and teens are being reached this summer through learning programs spearheaded through Shelby County Schools, Literacy Mid-South, Memphis Public Libraries, churches and nonprofit organizations across the community.

That’s a record-breaking number, Strickland says, in a city with a lot of students struggling to meet state and local reading targets.

Summer learning loss, also known as summer slide, is the tendency for students to lose some of the knowledge and skills they gained during the school year. It’s a large contributor to the achievement gap, since children from low-income families usually don’t get the same summer enrichment opportunities as their more affluent peers. Compounded year after year, the gap widens to the point that, by fifth grade, many students can be up to three years behind in math and reading.

But this summer for the first time, Shelby County Schools offered summer learning academies across the city for students most in need of intervention. And Memphis also received a slice of an $8.5 million state grant to provide summer literacy camps at nine Memphis schools through Tennessee’s Read to be Ready initiative.

Literacy Mid-South used Thursday’s event to encourage Memphians to “drop everything and read!”

The nonprofit, which is providing resources this summer through about 15 organizations in Greater Memphis, is challenging students to log 1,400 minutes of summertime reading, an amount that research shows can mitigate learning loss and even increase test scores.

Reading is a problem for many students in Memphis and across Tennessee. Less than a third of third-graders in Shelby County Schools read on grade level, and the district is working to boost that rate to 90 percent by 2025 under its Destination 2025 plan.

The city of Memphis, which does not fund local schools, has made Memphis Public Libraries the focal point of its education work. This summer, the library is offering programs on everything from STEM and robotics to art and test prep.

Parents are a critical component, helping their kids to take advantage of books, programs and services that counter the doldrums of summer learning.

Soon after the mayor left the Benjamin L. Hooks Library on Thursday, Tammy Echols arrived with her son, Torrence, a rising first-grader at Levi Elementary School. Echols said they visit regularly to read books and do computer and math games.

“We always do a lot of reading and we’re working on learning sight words,” Echols said as she watched her son build a tower out of giant Lego blocks. “Torrence is a learning child and it’s easy to forget what you just learned if you’re not constantly reinforcing.”

You can find summer learning resources for families from the National Summer Learning Association.