Segregation persists in Denver’s public schools, new study finds

Denver’s schools are more segregated than they were 50 years ago when the district was forced to bus students to integrate its campuses, according to a study released Monday.

Segregation reemerged in Denver Public Schools after busing ended 28 years ago, with Latino students — which make up more than half of the district’s students — and English learners — about a third of all DPS students — more likely to attend schools where the student population is mostly made up of students of color and those living in poverty, researchers found.

DPS campuses that mostly serve students of color and those from low-income families also have fewer resources and graduation rates, according to the study, which was commissioned by the Latino Education Coalition.

“While the results of this study are painful, I am not surprised,” Superintendent Alex Marrero said in a statement, adding, “It is vitally important that we leave no stone unturned in finding the root causes, even if the findings make us uncomfortable.”

DPS and the coalition issued a joint press release, saying that both organizations are working on another study to examine the factors that contributed to the resegregation.

The study was conducted by Kim Carrazco Strong of The Bueno Center for Multicultural Education at the University of Colorado Boulder and Craig Peña, a DPS employee and member of the coalition.

Representatives with the coalition could not immediately be reached for comment. Marrero was not available for an interview Monday.

The study considered a school segregated if a racial or socioeconomic student group was 20% above or below the district average.

In 1973, the U.S. Supreme Court found that at DPS there was “a policy of intentional segregation,” a ruling that led the district to integrate schools via busing. In 1995, another judge ruled that DPS had “complied in good faith” and eliminated segregation “to the extent practicable.”

“As a named plaintiff in the landmark Keyes vs. District One desegregation case, I am extremely disheartened with the level of segregation this study has identified in the Denver Public Schools,” Peña said in a statement. “The segregation of Latino students is profound and pervasive.”

Today DPS campuses are also what researchers called “double or triple segregated” – meaning that they aren’t just divided by race but also by language and socioeconomic class, according to the study.

White children – which make up about 25% of DPS’s overall students – are more likely to attend schools where pupils are largely white and come from higher-income families, according to the research. Students at these schools are also more than twice as likely to be considered gifted and talented, according to the study.

Schools predominately made up of students of color had a lower percentage of Black students, meaning the majority of pupils on these campuses were Latino, according to the study. Black students make up almost 14% of the district’s student population, according to DPS.

Latino pupils were also overrepresented in schools where most of the students lived in poverty, and on average made up about 72% of those campuses’ student body, the study found.

Schools with mostly students of color and those from low-income families also had graduation rates that were between 2.1 and 16 percentage points lower than the district averages across all groups, according to the study.

Schools with students from higher socioeconomic classes had higher graduation rates than the districtwide average across all student groups, according to the study.

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