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Denver Gets High Marks for School Choice in Brookings Report

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Denver is the first large, traditional school system to receive an A rating from the Brookings Institution's annual ranking of districts by levels of school choice.

The fifth annual Education Choice and Competition Index compares the country's largest 100 school districts plus a few others of special interest, such as New Orleans' Recovery School District.

Districts are graded and ranked based on how many types of schools they have—district, charter, magnet, virtual, and affordable private schools. They are also judged on whether there is a system to help families get into a school that's a right fit for their children, whether there are policies to support the growth of popular schools (and shut down unpopular ones), and if there are supports to help low-income families access schools, such as money for transportation.

The ECCI only looks at school choice, it does not take into consideration the overall performance of the district. So even if a district earns an F grade for schools choice, it may still be a high-performing district in terms of student achievement.

Under those guidelines, New Orleans' Recovery School District gets the highest ranking, but that is a small, unique state-run district made up of only charter schools.

Denver is a close second.

Among the factors that earned Denver that distinction is a single application system for all the city's district and charter schools which uses a computer algorithm to match families to schools based on a list of their top picks. The report also gives a nod to Denver for helping parents make side-by-side comparisons of schools and reserving spaces in schools for families who move into the district mid-year so they can still choose where to send their children.

"Denver has managed to implement a sophisticated school choice system without the rancor that has been associated with the imposition of a similar system in Newark, N.J.," wrote the report's author, Brookings Senior Fellow Russ Whitehurst. "Clearly there is a lot to be learned from Denver about the politics of school choice along with the design decisions that are the focus of the ECCI."

It's also worth noting that charter schools in Denver are authorized—approved and overseen—by the Denver school district.  

Here's the list of the top 10 ranked school districts:

  • New Orleans, La. (Recovery School District)
  • Denver
  • New York City
  • Newark, N.J.
  • Washington, D.C.
  • Houston ISD
  • Pinellas County, Fla.
  • Boston
  • Baltimore
  • Tucson, Ariz.

To see the full ranking of all 112 districts, check out the Education Choice and Competition Index 2015 here.

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