9NEWS has partnered with iNews of Rocky Mountain PBS in Colorado in an effort to determine how race has affected academic achievement in the state, paying close attention to school demographics before, during, and after desegregation efforts.
To force racial integration, school districts in the state started to bus students away from their neighborhoods. While a number of schools did well under the new initiative by introducing a mix of races and socio-economic backgrounds, Denver Public Schools actually worked against it. “The district did not like it,” former Denver school board member Laura Lefkowits said. “They did not want to be controlled by a judge.”
Nelson Garcia of KUSA writes that on top of issues with the district itself, White families began to leave the district due to the busing. In the first decade alone, 30,000 students, almost all White, left the district. “It certainly changed the population of Denver,” said Lefkowits.
The 1980’s saw the Denver Public School system become primarily Latino, effectively putting an end to the purpose of busing, according to Lefkowits. “There wasn’t enough diversity in the enrollment of DPS to effectively integrate the schools,” Lefkowits said.
In September 1995, a federal court lifted the busing order, ending an effort that had been ongoing for over 25 years. Lefkowits said doing so impacted a number of schools in the area, as 74 Denver schools are currently racially isolated, with 90% of attending families living in poverty. “Those schools are almost uniformly failing,” Lefkowits said.
The district also struggles to gain and keep minority teachers. According to records, White students in the district are 10 times more likely to be taught by a teacher that is also White, as opposed to one who is Black or Latino.
Meanwhile, educators argue that a teaching staff should mirror the composition of the student body to have a positive influence over the students as well as the school.
“(A racially and ethnically diverse teaching staff) is vitally important, not only because it impacts the learning environment for students, but it influences the whole culture and climate of a school,” said Elizabeth Hinde, dean of the School of Education at Metropolitan State University of Denver.
According to minority educators, district officials and other experts, the reason many districts across the country have a hard time keeping minority teachers is that professionals of color have more opportunities elsewhere, often times with higher pay, than they did 40 years ago.
Last year in Denver, there were 241 Black teachers, 77 fewer than in 1970. Meanwhile, there are four White students for every White teacher in the district.