Denver experiments with giving late-arriving students better access to top schools
- The Denver Public Schools (DPS) is trying to improve enrollment equity by increasing from 250 to 2,500 the number of seats reserved for late-arriving students at all schools across the district because students who move over the summer or enroll in the district late have had little chance of attending the school of their choice, Chalkbeat reports.
- The school district also sees this as a way to better address the needs of the most vulnerable students. In the Denver area, 70% of students who choose their schools in February are low-income compared with 79% who enroll at the beginning of August and 90% who come in September or later.
- Charter schools in the area are also participating in this new seat-reservation system in an effort to work toward increasing socioeconomic integration within the school district.
There was a time when a student’s home address determined the school they attended. While that model may still be true in some areas, many districts have developed more open enrollment policies that allow students to transfer to public schools they choose. These policies vary widely from state to state but are gaining traction as school districts see the benefits of racially and socioeconomically integrated classrooms. The need for enrollment plans that increase diversity is also an equity issue in many areas because it allows needier students — who also tend to be more highly mobile and often change schools — the opportunity for improved access to higher-performing schools or schools that better suit their future plans.
DPS has been hailed as a leader in this effort because of its past efforts to bring balance to the school choice effort. This balance is not always easy to find. Some educators feel that school choice values freedom above equity. And in New York City, the reality of school choice has caused some low-performing schools to suffer even more. Finding the right balance between the needs of the individual and the needs of the system can be difficult to maintain.
DPS's efforts toward socioeconomic integration offers an example of how transfer policies can be used to address the issue. But school districts can approach the issue in other ways as well. Other options include attendance zone changes, implementation of controlled choice policies, magnet school admissions and charter school admissions. The issue is a complex one and the solutions are often complex as well. Districts can also make additional efforts to communicate enrollment timelines with families that are less likely to be proactive about taking advantage of those opportunities.