year in review

How issues of race and equity played out in Colorado schools in 2016

PHOTO: Helen H. Richardson/The Denver Post
Five-year-old Samatar Abhullahi works during his kindergarten class at Denver's Ashley Elementary School.

Race and equity in education were in the spotlight in 2016, driven by a focus on police relations with communities of color, disparities in school discipline, a lack of diversity in the teaching ranks and efforts to narrow achievement gaps between disadvantaged students and their peers.  

Educators responded to multiple police shootings of African-American men with advice for how to talk about race in the classroom. Aurora Superintendent Rico Munn, who oversees the school district with the highest proportion of black students in the state, offered this insight: Schools can’t fix America’s race problem alone. In Denver, students — including Manual High School president Tay Anderson — joined street protests against police brutality.

Racial disparities in student discipline continued to be a hot topic. Metropolitan State University early childhood education professor Rosemarie Allen, who is black, shared her personal story of being suspended countless times as a child.

Denver Public Schools pledged to address student discipline concerns in response to a report that showed the state’s largest school district continues to suspend students of color at a higher rate than white students, among other findings. And new research found that integrated Denver schools tended to have lower suspension rates.

The city of Denver launched a campaign in partnership with DPS to attract more minority educators to a district where about three-quarters of students are children of color and three-quarters of teachers are white. Chalkbeat spoke to three educators of color who were recruited to Denver about what it was like to be wooed by DPS.

But nearly half a year after the campaign was launched, a look at the racial makeup of the 935 new teachers who joined DPS this fall revealed that the overwhelming majority were white.

This year also brought news about school segregation, including a statewide report that showed Colorado’s charter schools are for the first time educating a larger proportion of racial and ethnic minorities than district-run schools. But a Chalkbeat analysis revealed that when measured by the federal definition, district-run schools remain more integrated than charter schools.

One of our most-read stories of the year was about a report commissioned by DPS that found black educators feel mistreated — and feel as though black students are overlooked.

District leaders called the results painful and pledged to gather input from the African-American community on how best to respond. Those leaders outlined that process in more detail at a press conference in October, at which the school board president said, “We have institutional racism. It exists. We have bias. This report wasn’t a surprise.”

Denver Public Schools took other steps in response to issues of race and equity, including requiring all new teachers to take a three-hour course on culturally responsive teaching and screening all students in kindergarten, second and sixth grades for its gifted and talented programs, in which students of color are underrepresented.

One ongoing effort to integrate schools by widening school boundaries has proven tough, according to a district analysis that showed DPS has struggled to fight against housing patterns in a gentrifying city where many neighborhoods are segregated.

And achievement gaps on state English and math tests persist — both at the statewide level and in Denver Public Schools, where this year’s test results showed white students are making bigger gains from year to year than students of color.

To shine a light on such disparities, DPS added a new measure to its school rating system called the “equity indicator.” Meant to gauge how well schools are educating traditionally underserved students, it takes such achievement gaps into account. To earn the district’s top two ratings next year, schools will have to do well on the equity indicator.

This year, two dozen schools earned the lowest possible score on the equity indicator — and 33 of the 82 schools that earned the top two ratings overall did not do well on the measure.

Year In Review

Race Matters: How America’s schools wrestled with segregation in 2016

PHOTO: Alex Zimmerman
A classroom at Brooklyn Laboratory middle school.

In a year where race dominated the national conversation about identity and equality, American education systems grappled with issues of integration and segregation.

Across America, school systems approached segregation with varied success. Two generations of students in Indianapolis lived through the failure of busing, while a Detroit charter school finds state laws in the way of diversity. In New York, schools inch closer to diversity through revamped admissions policies.

These individual snapshots of how America’s cities struggle with issues of diversity, inclusion and equality paint a broader picture of the current state of integration efforts in the US. Learn about how our communities dealt with the issue in 2016.

PHOTO: Dylan Peers McCoy
Students eat lunch at the Oaks Academy Middle School, a private Christian school that is integrated by design.
  • Where integration works: How one inner-city Indianapolis private school is bringing kids together
    “Lunch at The Oaks Middle School on the northeast side of Indianapolis has a lot in common with meals at any school: Kids carry plastic trays stacked with sliced fruit and chicken nuggets or soft lunch bags stuffed with sandwiches and Doritos. But here, as the hum of chatter and banging of metal chairs fill the small cafeteria, kids head to tables with students from different ethnic and racial backgrounds.”

Check out all of our 2016 Year In Review coverage here. Like what you see? Make a tax-deductible donation to Chalkbeat today to help support our work in 2017 and beyond.

Year In Review

What happened when the election reached the classroom

East Bronx Academy for the Future students Carla Borbon, Justin Vargas, Jayla Cordero, and Hugo Rodriguez talk about the election. (Alex Zimmerman)

Nov. 9, 2016 was a day that will define this school year.

Millions of Americans woke up to the news that Donald Trump was their president-elect, even after pundits spent the final weeks of the campaign sure of a Trump loss. That left educators with a huge challenge: help students understand the results as they were working to understand it themselves.

Chalkbeat reporters spent the following days in classrooms across the country. They captured student protests, heartfelt writing assignments, and contentious discussions. Here are some of those key moments.


PHOTO: Eric Eisenstadt
The sign posted on science teacher Eric Eisenstadt’s door.

Check out all of our 2016 Year In Review coverage here. Like what you see? Make a tax-deductible donation to Chalkbeat today to help support our work in 2017 and beyond.