Picking Where Your Student Goes to School Matters


With the growing number of alternative school types, along with the struggle parents and students have with the school lottery program, many parents are wondering what is the best type of school for their child. What will lead their child to a great academic, social, and professional life while incorporating the best teaching method to achieve those results.

The type of school a student attends effects their chances of getting into college and how academically successful you are. Clear advantages have been made between higher prestige schools, such as private or well-know to be rigorous schools, and the chances of attending an ivy league or being successful within a student’s college career. The current education reform that is slowly taking place within our country is a good indicator that many students are not meeting their, and the countries, need for success due to their academic preparedness for college, if they are able to attend at all. The Harvard Crimson, Harvard’s daily student newspaper, reported that 6% of admitted students came from the same 10 high schools for their 2017 class. Making it obvious that where a student attends school before college matters.

Often, communities are home to traditional public high schools along with several options for either private or alternative styles of education; such as the charter, magnet, or Montessori school systems. The differences between each of these school systems is based on social and political variances. Including but not limited to tuition rates, population and racial rates, dependency or independency from the state, etc.

Public Schools

As many Americans would suspect, traditional public district-run schools have the highest population rates among students in the United States. However, public schools still remain extremely controversial since the days even before Brown v. Board of Education in 1954. Due to many factors such as district lines, tuition rates, population rates, dependency or independency from the state, ethnicity rates, urban vs. rural location, low- income and free and reduced lunch rates etc, public schools remain a hit or miss.

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Matthew Meyer, senior at the University of Denver studying Construction Management who attended a Denver Public school had a very similar respect for his institution as many private school students. Instead of being unprepared for college he felt as if his high school classes were harder than any college class he’s taken so far due to the fact that his high school has adequately prepared him for college. “I wouldn’t say my high school pushed us to do super well, like they let those kids skim by and some went to college and some didn’t. So there was a lot of opportunity to apply yourself if you really wanted to but also the option to float through high school”.

Private Schools

Private schools tend to bring a strong religious orientation along with rigorous academics. According to the National Center for Education Statistics “In fall 2015, some 5.8 million students were enrolled in private elementary and secondary schools. Thirty-six percent of private school students were enrolled in Catholic schools, 39 percent were enrolled in other religiously affiliated schools, and 24 percent were enrolled in nonsectarian schools”. This some 5.8 million students comes out to about 10% of the total student population within the Unites States.

However, even with the large percentage of students in the private school systems, private schools continue to remain extremely segregated where close to 70% of Catholic, Non-sectarian, and other religious oriented private schools hold a white student population. And in addition due to their hefty tuition, private schools have honed the stereotype of elitism and white privilege.

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Mary Cole, a senior at the University of Denver studying psychology and communications attended Georgetown Prepatory School, an all-girls high school in Washington D.C.. “Every single person had a 100% college attendance rate, it made it really really challenging. I think my high school was harder than any college class I’ve ever taken”. Georgetown Prepatory School sounds familiar because Ms. Cole’s brother school was home to one Mr. Brett Kavanuagh, the Supreme Court elect under scrutiny and FBI investigation for sexual misconduct allegations. When asked about the level of preparedness Ms. Cole felt for college she responded, “I felt overly prepared for college, and I think that they gave us the tools to do well in college and stay motivated and keep us all within time management”. However in terms of challenges that Ms. Cole faced when attending her high school she felt that she was immersed in privilege. “All the students were privileged and there wasn’t much diversity. It was a huge change, everyone was very like minded within the school and grew up in a very certain way and coming to college was a big change”. 

Similar to other private schools, Ms. Cole’s had a very small population which made it easy for her to know everyone. However, Georgetown Prepatory has a strong tradition of keeping students of alumni within their schools. A straight lineage of Georgetown attendance can be made from Ms. Cole’s grandmother through her father, her aunt and to both her older and twin sister. Ms. Cole wasn’t a fan at first of attending her all-girls catholic high school compared to the more diverse but academically worse public high school in her hometown, a 45 minute drive from Georgetown Prep. But lineage is important to Georgetown Prep and many other private schools, and it is often more difficult for someone of new lineage to attend these schools.

Public Charter Schools

Public Charter schools have more recently been giving students the ability to move out of their own neighborhoods and into schools with greater accountability and independency from the government regulated school curriculum. Charter schools are essentially “public schools of choice” where students elect to attend rather than their own public district school, and where teachers have more autonomy to design their classroom to the needs of their students.

The National Alliance for Public Charter Schools boasts “in just the last decade, charter school enrollment has nearly tripled from 1.2 million students in 2006-07 to 3.1 million this year”. In addition Public Charter Schools are known to have a closer racial diversity rates than Private schools (NCES). And Colorado has been found to have the third highest percentage of public school student enrolled in public charter schools at 12%, under D.C. at 43% and Arizona at 16%.

Montessori Schools (Innovative Schools)

Innovative schools encompass many different approaches to education. Montessori schools incorporate student specific learning, where other schools incorporate STEM or A-STEM directed academics (Arts-science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics). Essentially, innovative schools work to incorporate new and exciting teaching models to help students achieve they way in which they learn.

Preston Anderson, a freshman at Bowdoin College attended Beacon Academy, a Montessori school in Evanston, Illinois and believes in the non-structured education system within his high school. “I enjoyed the ability to work at my own pace and on projects that we thought were important to our lives and our time period compared to the rigid structure of a public schools curriculum. And the incorporation of the IB programs and the constant belief in mastery rather than memorization in each field we learn about is what I think really prepared me for college”.

Denver Public School System

However, the students interviewed for this project all have something very important in common; they all attend the University of Denver or other well-known and reputable four-year colleges with a substantial ACT/SAT rate. All the students who attend these schools fall into the higher range of ACT/SAT rates among the rest of the country, where these colleges expect students to be adequately prepared before they begin. So what does this mean for the students of Denver, Colorado’s high school districts?

Denver has always been well known to have struggled in the education department even with the education reforms taking place there’s currently not much hope for Denver’s public schools. Based on the annual School Performance Framework that each school receives, over 140 Colorado public schools received either the lowest or second lowest score on the test. The score is based on the student’s success rates in their English and Math tests. And more interestingly, the Denver Public School has more than half of its students at either charter or innovation schools rather than traditional district schools, according to the Denver Public Schools 2017-18 report.

Similar to many other large cities, the Denver Public School system allows for student to choice into almost any traditional, innovative, or charter school within their system. Almost all students in “transition grades”, meaning kindergarten, sixth and ninth grades where you choice into the school of your choice, get into their first choice. Comparatively to New York where the lottery and choice programs are falling short, Denver continues to hold high participation and match rates.

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Due to this system, parents and students are able to leave their traditional district-run schools if they are under performing and attend higher ranked schools albeit farther away. This is an extremely innovative step for students of color who live in school districts that are falling short academically. In fact, among Denver’s charter and innovation schools, they are serving a higher percentage of low-income and students of color compared to traditional district-run schools.

But in terms of actually being accepted and attending a four year college often times students of the Denver Public School system are still falling short. Only 51% of students who graduated in 2017 enrolled for a four year college for the following fall semester. Not to diminish this huge improvement from last year where only 49% of graduates enrolled. This could be due to the proficiency gaps between students of color, English Language Learners, non-English language learners, and low-income students compared to the wealthier, white students of the Denver Public School system.

Patrick Curley, majoring in Engineering at DU, with siblings in the Denver Public School system believe that because their school does not meet the standards that they need to adequately succeed in college they are taking college prepatory courses outside of the normal school day. “These courses are enhancing their math skills to the level of high school sophomores when they are only 8th graders themselves, they’re preparing for college so far ahead of time”.

When it comes to picking the best school for a student it might all be coming down to getting into a higher ranking school and adding in extra classes to improve their success rate, families are no longer trusting the state-run schools in their district.

Drew Scott a senior majoring in international studies admitted that, “I chose to go to a school that wasn’t in my district because it wasn’t performing as well as the school I was supposed to attend. A lot of kids that ended up staying at that school didn’t get into colleges or chose not to go to college.

Lesson learned here is where you choose to send your students to school matter but that might mean sacrificing another student’s education. So, what can we do to ensure everyone has equal opportunity to a good education?

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