Denver’s controversial decade-long embrace of school choice and accountability led to some of the largest academic improvements in education research history, according to a University of Colorado Denver study.
The authors of the study argue argue that the results imply it is possible to improve public education on a large scale using the reform strategy adopted by Colorado’s largest district from 2008 to 2019 — a strategy they say relied on school choice and competition, closing low-performing schools, empowering educators, and holding everyone accountable for test results.
“Did the reforms launched by Denver Public Schools improve student achievement district-wide, for the average DPS student? The answer is unequivocally yes,” said Parker Baxter, director of CU Denver’s Center for Education Policy analysis.
The study was funded by Arnold Ventures, which invests in evidence-based research and solutions in the areas of criminal justice, education, health and public finance.
It shows that DPS, despite having a larger population with much higher needs than other districts, improved at a much faster rate than other large districts and other low-performing districts in Colorado.
High school graduation rates went up 14 percentage points, and between 2008 and 2019, DPS students received about 1 to 1.5 years of additional schooling compared to students at other large and low-performing districts.