05 October 2010

Denver Public Schools Still Troubled

The DPS graduation rate hovers around 52 percent. Half of those graduates usually go to college, but 55 percent of those need remediation in at least one subject once they get there.

From here (a graphic in the story makes clear that in this case "half" really means exactly 50%).

In other words, only about 13% of DPS graduates are going to college and don't need remediation once they get there. That's right:

48% of DPS high school students drop out;
26% of DPS high school students graduate but don't go to college;
14% of DPS high school students go to college but need to take remedial courses; and
12% of DPS high school students go to college and don't need remedial work.

The high drop out rate is despite a statewide surge in high school completion rates stimulated by a state law increasing the mandatory attendance age.

The "going to college" measure also treats all college enrollments, including community college, equally.

The district's goal is an 82% graduation rate and to have 63% of its graduates go to college.

In fairness, the Denver Public Schools educate less than 80% of the students who live in the District, the percentage is higher in elmentary and middle school grades than it is at the high school level, and most of the students who leave the District at or before the high school, usually for private schools, a transfer to another district, or home schooling are more academically able than those who stay, and many families with high school aged children who are more academically able move out of the District in order to attend what they perceive as better schools. It is hard to graduate large numbers of high performing students when your high performing students are going elsewhere in droves.

The students at DPS rival only those of the Aurora Public Schools on factors like poverty rates, percentage for whom English is not a first language, moves from one school to another in the middle of the school year, and so on. Certainly, at the high school level, DPS is not educating a student body of predominantly middle class, suburban kids. Many DPS students have immense difficulties to struggle with in their personal lives and in many DPS schools almost everyone is poor.

DPS has managing in the last decade or so, in part due to the end of desegregation based busing and the creation of special academic programs, to recapture many of the elementary school students who live in the District and improve performance there, and has dramatically increased the number of students who choose to go to middle school in the district in the last three years. But, this progress has yet to manifest at the high school level.

Progress is more promising at the high end, but only somewhat.

Almost 3,500 students are taking AP courses, up from 2,330 in 2008-09.

And 1,572 students are enrolled in college classes through the concurrent enrollment program, up from 684 the year before.

"Last year, we had 17 students at our graduation getting associate degrees before they graduated high school," said Karen Bleeker, president of the Community College of Denver. . . .

[T]he number who pass AP courses is increasing, with about 1,400 passing grades in 2009-10 compared with 1,100 the year before.

In other words, about 1,650 more students are taking AP courses, but only about 300 more are receiving passing grades (less than 20%), which means that the most of the students who are taking AP courses now and weren't doing so before don't belong there. This isn't very impressive and continues an already worrisome trend apparently driven by having incentives for schools to sign up kids for AP courses even when they aren't ready for them.

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