Are Douglas County Schools Really Beyond Need of Improvement?

As conservative Mike Rosen notes in his column today for the Denver Post, a big school board race is underway in the Douglas County School District. My Education Policy Center friend Ben DeGrow researched and wrote a neat report (PDF) last year on the district’s innovative local licensure program.

For those not in the know, Douglas County is Colorado’s third-largest school district and is located immediately south of Denver, a mix of suburban and rural communities with one of the lowest poverty rates in the state. Education reform in high-poverty urban areas typically receives the most attention, and rightly so. But does that mean a district like Douglas County has reached a plateau, and doesn’t need reform?

Defenders of the status quo might be happy for you to think that. But take a glance at the state department of education’s new School View website — which hosts information on individual schools’ student academic performance and academic growth. What you’ll see is that most of the Douglas County elementary schools rate as high performance / high growth. Many of the middle schools are doing pretty well, too.

Interesting, though, is that several of the high schools (Douglas County, Thunder Ridge, Highlands Ranch, Ponderosa, Castle View) rate as low performance / low growth [in math], with Rock Canyon and Chaparral just barely outside the lowest quadrant.

A significant number of Douglas County students are starting out strong in the early grades but tailing off as they move through the system. Is there some need for reform in Douglas County schools? I would say a reform agenda that includes a focus on [math] achievement and growth in high schools would be very realistic.

So while this increasingly high-profile school board race has drawn increasingly more attention and money from unions and conservative reformers, and rumors are given more credibility than they deserve, we at least should be able to agree that there is room for significant improvement even in Douglas County.