Education Policy and School Segregation: A Study of the Denver Metropolitan Region

Article excerpt

INTRODUCTION

It is a popular belief in today's America that there are equal opportunities for educational attainment. It is, at the very least, assumed that the fundamental structure of our public education system provides a level playing field for all children, regardless of gender, race, or religion. However, beginning in the 1950s, racial segregation of metropolitan areas became more common as increasing numbers of white families began moving from inner-city urban areas to suburban areas. For white families, the decision to relocate has been based on a combination of push and pull factors. The pull factors include the attractiveness and amenities of the suburbs (less congestion, more green space, etc..) and perception of higher quality schools. The push factors include inner-city crime, racism and declining property values.

Property taxes provide the primary funding source for public education, therefore impoverished, economically depressed regions find it almost impossible to adequately fund public education at the level necessary to guarantee educational quality equal to that in more economically affluent areas. By the same token, school districts in economically depressed areas find it difficult to compete for high quality teachers and support staff. These facts seem to be either accepted or perhaps just ignored by school funding policies which seem to perpetuate the status quo for Americans in poverty.

Federal policy over the past decade has taken steps to employ standardized testing on a national level to ensure that the quality of intra-national public education be comparable. The No Child Left Behind Act (NCLB) of 2001 mandates the assessment of students in public schools in reading and mathematics. NCLB also requires that states provide parents of students in poor performing schools the option of enrolling their children in a different school. These mandates are based on the widely supported idea that schools need to be held accountable to the public for educational quality. Standardized testing has become the primary means of accessing school success and providing for school accountability.

Colorado educational policy addressed the issue of standards based education almost a decade earlier. In 1993, the Colorado legislature passed HB 93-1313. This law required the state to develop content standards in twelve subject areas and a procedure for assessing student achievement. The student assessment tool is called the Colorado Student Assessment Program (CSAP). The stated goals of CSAP are: 1) To determine the level at which Colorado students achieve the Colorado Model Content Standards, 2) To measure the progress of students over time, and 3) To add to the body of evidence to determine 3rd graders' literacy levels (Colorado Department of Education, Unit of Student Assessment).

Student performance on the tests are categorized as unsatisfactory, partially proficient, proficient, or advanced. The results of the tests are issued in state, district, school, and individual student reports. The reports provide data on the total and percentage of students who scored in each performance category as a whole and disaggregated based on various demographic variables such as gender and ethnicity. At the school level, CSAP scores are an important component of the School Accountability Report (SAR). The first SARs were issued in September 2001 and were based on the CSAP tests that were administered that spring (Colorado Department of Education, 2002). Schools are ranked on the basis of their students' scores on the CSAP tests. Schools are ranked as Unsatisfactory, Low, Average, High, or Excellent. In addition to the overall school ranking, the SAR includes other school level data such as safety and school environment, taxpayers' report, school history, and staff information.

IMPORTANCE OF THE STUDY

We hypothesize that school choice policies in Colorado combined with school accountability reports and NCLB have resulted in increased school segregation. …