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

call out

Our readers had a lot to say in 2017. Make your voice heard in 2018.

PHOTO: Chris Hill/Whitney Achievement School
Teacher Carl Schneider walks children home in 2015 as part of the after-school walking program at Whitney Achievement Elementary School in Memphis. This photograph went viral and inspired a First Person reflection from Schneider in 2017.

Last year, some of our most popular pieces came from readers who told their stories in a series that we call First Person.

For instance, Carl Schneider wrote about the 2015 viral photograph that showed him walking his students home from school in a low-income neighborhood of Memphis. His perspective on what got lost in the shuffle continues to draw thousands of readers.

First Person is also a platform to influence policy. Recent high school graduate Anisah Karim described the pressure she felt to apply to 100 colleges in the quest for millions of dollars in scholarships. Because of her piece, the school board in Memphis is reviewing the so-called “million-dollar scholar” culture at some high schools.

Do you have a story to tell or a point to make? In 2018, we want to give an even greater voice to students, parents, teachers, administrators, advocates and others who are trying to improve public education in Tennessee. We’re looking for essays of 500 to 750 words grounded in personal experience.

Whether your piece is finished or you just have an idea to discuss, drop a line to Community Editor Caroline Bauman at

But first, check out these top First Person pieces from Tennesseans in 2017:

My high school told me to apply to 100 colleges — and I almost lost myself in the process

“A counselor never tried to determine what the absolute best school for me would be. I wasted a lot of time, money and resources trying to figure that out. And I almost lost myself in the process.” —Anisah Karim     

Why I’m not anxious about where my kids go to school — but do worry about the segregation that surrounds us

“In fact, it will be a good thing for my boys to learn alongside children who are different from them in many ways — that is one advantage they will have that I did not, attending parochial schools in a lily-white suburb.” —Mary Jo Cramb

I covered Tennessee’s ed beat for Chalkbeat. Here’s what I learned.

“Apathy is often cited as a major problem facing education. That’s not the case in Tennessee.” —Grace Tatter

I went viral for walking my students home from school in Memphis. Here’s what got lost in the shuffle.

“When #blacklivesmatter is a controversial statement; when our black male students have a one in three chance of facing jail time; when kids in Memphis raised in the bottom fifth of the socioeconomic bracket have a 2.6 percent chance of climbing to the top fifth — our walking students home does not fix that, either.” —Carl Schneider

I think traditional public schools are the backbone of democracy. My child attends a charter school. Let’s talk.

“It was a complicated choice to make. The dialogue around school choice in Nashville, though, doesn’t often include much nuance — or many voices of parents like me.” —Aidan Hoyal

I grew up near Charlottesville and got a misleading education about Civil War history. Students deserve better.

“In my classroom discussions, the impetus for the Civil War was resigned to a debate over the balance of power between federal and state governments. Slavery was taught as a footnote to the cause of the war.” —Laura Faith Kebede

Weekend Reads

Need classroom decor inspiration? These educators have got you covered.

This school year, students will spend about 1,000 hours in school —making their classrooms a huge part of their learning experience.

We’re recognizing educators who’ve poured on the pizazz to make students feel welcome. From a 9th-grade “forensics lab” decked out in caution tape to a classroom stage complete with lights to get first graders pumped about public speaking, these crafty teachers have gone above and beyond to create great spaces.

Got a classroom of your own to show off? Know someone that should be on this list? Let us know!

Jaclyn Flores, First Grade Dual Language, Rochester, New York
“Having a classroom that is bright, cheerful, organized and inviting allows my students to feel pride in their classroom as well as feel welcome. My students look forward to standing on the stage to share or sitting on special chairs to dive into their learning. This space is a safe place for my students and we take pride in what it has become.”

Jasmine, Pre-K, Las Vegas, Nevada
“My classroom environment helps my students because providing calming colors and a home-like space makes them feel more comfortable in the classroom and ready to learn as first-time students!”


Oneika Osborne, 10th Grade Reading, Miami Southridge Senior High School, Miami, Florida
“My classroom environment invites all of my students to constantly be in a state of celebration and self-empowerment at all points of the learning process. With inspirational quotes, culturally relevant images, and an explosion of color, my classroom sets the tone for the day every single day as soon as we walk in. It is one of optimism, power, and of course glitter.”

Kristen Poindexter, Kindergarten, Spring Mill Elementary School, Indianapolis, Indiana
“I try very hard to make my classroom a place where memorable experiences happen. I use songs, finger plays, movement, and interactive activities to help cement concepts in their minds. It makes my teacher heart so happy when past students walk by my classroom and start their sentence with, “Remember when we…?”. We recently transformed our classroom into a Mad Science Lab where we investigated more about our 5 Senses.”


Brittany, 9th Grade Biology, Dallas, Texas
“I love my classroom environment because I teach Biology, it’s easy to relate every topic back to Forensics and real-life investigations! Mystery always gets the students going!”


Ms. Heaton, First Grade, Westampton, New Jersey
“As an educator, it is my goal to create a classroom environment that is positive and welcoming for students. I wanted to create a learning environment where students feel comfortable and in return stimulates student learning. A classroom is a second home for students so I wanted to ensure that the space was bright, friendly, and organized for the students to be able to use each and every day.”

D’Essence Grant, 8th Grade ELA, KIPP Houston, Houston, Texas
“Intentionally decorating my classroom was my first act of showing my students I care about them. I pride myself on building relationships with my students and them knowing I care about them inside and outside of the classroom. Taking the time to make the classroom meaningful and creative as well building a safe place for our community helps establish an effective classroom setting.”


Jayme Wiertzema, Elementary Art, Worthington, Minnesota
“I’m looking forward to having a CLASSROOM this year. The past two years I have taught from a cart and this year my amazing school district allowed me to have a classroom in our school that is busting at the seams! I’m so excited to use my classroom environment to inspire creativity in my students, get to know them and learn from their amazing imaginations in art class!”


Melissa Vecchio, 4th Grade, Queens, New York
“Since so much of a student’s time is spent inside their classroom, the environment should be neat, organized, easy to move around in but most of all positive. I love to use a theme to reinforce great behavior. I always give the students a choice in helping to design bulletin boards and desk arrangements. When they are involved they take pride in the classroom, and enjoy being there.”