Denver and Colorado Charter School Performance in a National Context

Earlier this year, Bellwether Education Partners produced an update to its 2015 study on “The State of the Charter Sector.” The publication provides a broad overview of the charter school landscape across the United States and presents several general findings. First, concerning the charter movement as a whole, it demonstrates that following a period of rapid growth during the previous decade the pace at which charter schools open has slowed down markedly, with the number being additionally weighed down by the fact that underperforming charters are far more likely to close than similarly unsuccessful public schools. Additionally, the study establishes that since 2005 the majority of charter school growth has taken place in a concentrated geographic area, with over 40% of new schools opening in the states of Texas, California, and Florida.

When it comes to student performance, the study’s findings suggest that charter schools outperform their traditional counterparts in reading while lagging slightly behind in math, though there is considerable variation depending on the school’s setting, geographic location, and student population, among other variables. Unfortunately, most performance related data that the study relies on is somewhat old, generally dating back to 2016 and earlier, but the trends that are available demonstrate a pattern of continued improvement in charter performance.

On several occasions the study deals specifically with Denver and Colorado. For instance, in the context of charter student performance relative to traditional public school students, Denver charter schools compare favorably across all three categories of math, reading, and writing while receiving a 20 percent lower level of funding on a per-pupil basis. Additionally, both of Colorado’s major urban areas of Denver and Colorado Springs are among the cities where the charter sector produced greater learning gains than did district schools. For additional and more recent numbers pertaining to Denver charter school performance, see this 2019 study produced by the Center for Research on Education Outcomes.  Additionally, it should be noted that Denver, specifically Denver Public Schools, featured prominently in another Bellwether publication: a city system profile published at the end of last year.