Colorado

Report: Denver parents feel informed about school choice options, want better transportation

Parents in Denver are more optimistic about the direction of the school system and feel positive about the information they have about school choice than parents in other cities—but equity issues and challenges in providing transportation as more students leave their neighborhood schools remain.

Those are some of the findings from a new report from the Center for Reinventing Public Education at the University of Washington, which polled parents and guardians about their experiences with school choice in Denver and seven other cities with more developed school choice systems.

CRPE, a research group that focuses on school choice systems and other issues in urban school districts, released a report with broader findings from the same surveys earlier this year. This month’s report gives more detail about parents’ perceptions in each city.

Denver Public Schools’ current school choice system has been in place for about four years. Parents fill out an application in which they name their top choices, and are assigned to a school by the district’s central office. The process has been tweaked over time: It now sets aside more spaces for students who miss initial registration days, for instance.

In Denver, more parents reported that they were able to access information about school options than in other cities. Parents also reported that the district’s “common application” worked well. That’s a contrast to New Orleans, another city that’s created a common application that includes charter and district schools.

Denver parents were also most likely to report that there were other good school options in the city besides the school they send their child to. A full 60 percent said they’d be happy to send their child to another school, compared to 40 percent in Philadelphia and 47 percent in Cleveland.

Close to 60 percent of parents said they felt the school system in Denver is improving.

But Denver parents said they often had trouble finding transportation to their child’s school.

And not all Denver parents get into any of their desired schools. The report highlights a parent named Joe Jimenez who applied for three schools after extensive research, but was able to send his daughter to none of them.

Despite the district’s emphasis on choice, about 50 percent of parents in Denver reported sending their children to neighborhood schools. Some 11.6 percent of students attended charter schools in 2011-12, according to the report. District officials said more than 17 percent of students attend charter schools as of this October.

The report finds marked variation between the eight cities’ systems and parents’ perceptions of how they’re working. But across the board, parents who have children with special needs, minority parents, and low-income parents reported having more challenges accessing schools. Parents who are more educated also tended to use the choice systems more.

The report advocates for all of the districts it profiles, including Denver, to increase the number of “high-quality” schools, invest in their information systems, improve transportation options, and create schools tailored to the needs of their communities.

 (CRPE receives funding from the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, which also provides some support for Chalkbeat.)

Clarification: The report cited charter school enrollment for 2011-12, not the current school year. The article has been updated to clarify and to include more up-to-date enrollment numbers.

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.