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Education secretary criticizes Denver Public Schools over choice despite top ranking

DENVER -- Education Secretary Betsy DeVos is calling out Denver Public Schools, saying the district doesn't provide "real" options for parents when it comes to school choice.

Denver Public Schools was ranked No. 1 for the second year in a row by the Brookings Institute, which acknowledges the district has high-quality public schools, both district-run and charter.

However, DeVos said DPS is an example of a district that appears to be choice-friendly, but actually lacks options for parents. She said without vouchers to pay for private schools, the application process doesn't benefit every child.

"Denver scored well because the single application process for both charter and traditional public schools, as well as a website that allows parents to make side-by-side comparisons of schools," DeVos said at a Brookings Institute education event.

"But the simple process masks the limited choices. ... I think it’s worth repeating that, even though a district may place well on the competition index, the letter grade does not necessarily reflect the state of education within that district.

"The benefits of making options 'accessible' are canceled out when you don’t have a full menu of options. Choice without accessibility doesn’t matter, just as accessibility without choices doesn’t matter. Neither scenario ultimately benefits students."

Denver Public Schools disagreed with DeVos' assessment.

"A core principle in Denver and one of the main reasons we rank No. 1 nationally in school choice is that we ensure equitable systems of enrollment among district-run and charter schools, where all schools play by the same enrollment rules and all schools are subject to the same rigorous accountability system. We do not support choice without accountability," DPS superintendent Tom Boasberg said in a statement.

U.S. Senator Michael Bennet, a former superintendent of DPS, said DeVos could not be more wrong about the success of school choice in Denver.

"Secretary DeVos could learn a lot from DPS’s teachers, schools and leadership," Bennet said in a statement. "As she continues to settle into her role as education secretary, I hope she takes up my offer to visit Denver and see our success firsthand."