Tag Archives: Denver Public Schools

Straight Talk for City Leaders on Unified Enrollment: A Q&A with Shannon Fitzgerald

In many cities across the country, school application and enrollment processes are built like high-stakes obstacle courses, where families with the most time and resources at their disposal tend to come out on top. A unified enrollment system is one way that cities with broad school choice have tried to level the playing field, and make enrollment processes less burdensome and more equitable for families. In cities like D.C., Denver, and New Orleans that have unified enrollment systems, families submit a single application and rank the charter and district schools of their choice. Then each student is matched to a single school via an enrollment algorithm.

These systems can decrease inequities by making enrollment processes for families easier to accomplish and harder to “game,” maximizing students’ likelihood of getting into their top choice schools. Unified enrollment can also decrease budget instability for schools caused by unexpected enrollment changes in the beginning of the year. For city leaders, data from unified enrollment systems can reveal important lessons about family demand for specific schools or programs. But that does not mean there are no risks, speed bumps, or potential problems. There is a lot that has to happen behind the scenes to create an enrollment system that meets families’ needs and avoids unintended consequences.

Shannon Fitzgerald knows what it takes to implement a lasting unified enrollment system. She was one of the first in the country to do it as the Director of Choice and Enrollment for Denver Public Schools from 2008-2013. Now, as an enrollment systems consultant, she works with other cities and districts who are interested in reforming their enrollment systems. I talked with her recently about the lessons she’s learned along the way and her advice for city leaders.

This interview has been edited for length and clarity.

How do you define a unified enrollment system? What differentiates unified enrollment from other enrollment approaches?

I think about enrollment systems as a spectrum. On one end, you have “wild west” systems. Nothing is coordinated: families have to go all over the place and apply to each school individually, and there are different deadlines. You have students enrolled in multiple schools — who knows where they will show up in September? On the other end, you have truly unified enrollment systems like Denver, Indianapolis, and New Orleans. They include all public schools in the city, district and charter; they have common tools, a common timeline, and a common application; and every student gets matched to a single school of their choice. In between those two ends of the spectrum are about 50,000 different variations.

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Lessons Learned from 10 Years of Denver Public School’s Teacher Compensation System

In 2006, Denver voters approved a $25 million annual property tax increase to fund an innovative teacher compensation system for Denver Public School (DPS) teachers called the Professional Compensation System for Teachers, or ProComp. ProComp promised to align teacher pay and student learning. It’s probably safe to say that ten years later, ProComp is likely not in the place that its authors and advocates hoped it would be.

Soon Denver Public Schools and the Denver Classroom Teachers Association will negotiate changes to ProComp and how DPS teachers are paid. Not so serendipitously A+ Colorado, a Colorado research and advocacy organization, is out with a new report that details the history of ProComp and offers recommendations for improving it.

It’s worth analyzing the results of ProComp and considering its future because the system was at the forefront of attempting to connect teachers’ compensation to students’ academic achievement. With help from federal programs like the Teacher Incentive Fund, many districts have since tried similar teacher compensation tactics and others are in negotiations to give it a go. Why? Just like in any other profession, compensation is an incentive employers can use to attract, retain, and leverage human capital talent. But in education, there are a lot of complicating factors that make changing compensation structures difficult. So learning lessons from performance-pay system pioneers like Denver’s ProComp is useful for all districts doing this work.

Here are a few reasons why ProComp isn’t living up to its promise:

It’s unclear if ProComp impacts student achievement. Student achievement in DPS is up from 2006. But there is little evidence that ProComp is a cause of rising student achievement or is even correlated with it.

Teachers who lead students to higher academic achievement do not receive higher compensation under ProComp. One study found that due to how base salaries and bonuses work in ProComp, teachers whose students demonstrated the highest growth in math earned similar amounts to teachers whose students demonstrated the lowest growth in math.

Denver Comp Figure

Click to enlarge. Image via “A Fair Share: A New Proposal for Teacher Pay in Denver”

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