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

What's Your Education Story?

As the 2018 school year begins, join us for storytelling from Indianapolis educators

PHOTO: Dylan Peers McCoy/Chalkbeat
Sarah TeKolste, right, and Lori Jenkins at a Teacher Story Slam, in April.

In partnership with Teachers Lounge Indy, Chalkbeat is hosting another teacher story slam this fall featuring educators from across the city.

Over the past couple of years, Chalkbeat has brought readers personal stories from teachers and students through the events. Some of our favorites touched on how a teacher won the trust of her most skeptical student, why another teacher decided to come out to his students, and one educator’s call to ramp up the number of students pursuing a college education.

The event, 5:30 p.m. Thursday, Sept. 13, is free and open to the public — please RSVP here.

Event details:

5:30 p.m. to 7:30 p.m.
Thursday, Sept. 13, 2018
Tube Factory artspace
1125 Cruft St., Indianapolis, IN 46203
Get tickets here and find more on Facebook

More in What's Your Education Story?

School safety

Hiring more security officers in Memphis after school shootings could have unintended consequences

PHOTO: Jahi Chikwendiu/The Washington Post/Getty Images

Tennessee’s largest district, Shelby County Schools, is slated to add more school resource officers under the proposed budget for next school year.

Superintendent Dorsey Hopson earmarked $2 million to hire 30 school resource officers in addition to the 98 already in some of its 150-plus schools. The school board is scheduled to vote on the budget Tuesday.

But an increase in law enforcement officers could have unintended consequences.

A new state law that bans local governments from refusing to cooperate with federal immigration officials could put school resource officers in an awkward position.

Tennessee Education Commissioner Candice McQueen recently reminded school personnel they are not obligated to release student information regarding immigration status. School resource officers employed by police or sheriff’s departments, however, do not answer to school districts. Shelby County Schools is still reviewing the law, but school board members have previously gone on the record emphasizing their commitment to protecting undocumented students.

“Right now we are just trying to get a better understanding of the law and the impact that it may have,” said Natalia Powers, a district spokeswoman.

Also, incidents of excessive force and racial bias toward black students have cropped up in recent years. Two white Memphis officers were fired in 2013 after hitting a black student and wrestling her to the ground because she was “yelling and cussing” on school grounds. And mothers of four elementary school students recently filed a lawsuit against a Murfreesboro officer who arrested them at school in 2016 for failing to break up a fight that occurred off-campus.

Just how common those incidents are in Memphis is unclear. In response to Chalkbeat’s query for the number and type of complaints in the last two school years, Shelby County Schools said it “does not have any documents responsive to this request.”

Currently, 38 school resource officers are sheriff’s deputies, and the rest are security officers hired by Shelby County Schools. The officers respond and work to prevent criminal activity in all high schools and middle schools, Hopson said. The 30 additional officers would augment staffing at some schools and for the first time, branch out to some elementary schools. Hopson said those decisions will be based on crime rates in surrounding neighborhoods and school incidents.

Hopson’s initial recommendation for more school resource officers was in response to the school shooting in Parkland, Florida, that killed 17 people and sparked a wave of student activism on school safety, including in Memphis.

Gov. Bill Haslam’s recent $30 million budget boost would allow school districts across Tennessee to hire more law enforcement officers or improve building security. Measures to arm some teachers with guns or outlaw certain types of guns have fallen flat.

For more on the role and history of school resource officers in Tennessee, read our five things to know.

Sheriff’s deputies and district security officers meet weekly, said Capt. Dallas Lavergne of the Shelby County Sheriff’s Office. When the Memphis Police Department pulled their officers out of school buildings following the merger of city and county school systems, the county Sheriff’s Office replaced them with deputies.

All deputy recruits go through school resource officer training, and those who are assigned to schools get additional annual training. In a 2013 review of police academies across the nation, Tennessee was cited as the only state that had specific training for officers deployed to schools.