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Morgridge College of Education to Provide Research Framework for Black Student Success Program at Denver Public Schools

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Nika Anschuetz





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empty classroom with desks

There are rock stars at Denver Public Schools.

They may not fill stadiums nationwide with thousands of adoring fans or single-handedly raise the nation’s GDP, but what they do, accelerating Black students’ growth in the classroom, is worth emulating.

Erin Anderson, associate professor in the Morgridge College of Education, is working with Denver Public Schools’ newly created Black Student Success (BSS) team to identify the classroom practices and strategies of these rock star teachers to increase graduation rates, grade level performance, enrollment in rigorous classes and the feeling of safety and support.  

The team, comprised of district administrators and practitioners, first wants “to understand what are the support structures within the school that are allowing and supporting these teachers in this success,” Anderson says.

They started with a small study in the spring of 2023 and identified four school-level and class-level practices. For example, at the school level, Anderson says the school must be non-race evasive, meaning they need to speak about and recognize race and racism, while also recognizing the joy and celebratory aspects of race.

According to Anderson’s research, most young Black children see themselves as academically inclined. But there’s a disconnect: Often, the school system is not fostering that academic identity. She says schools can fix that by making learning explicit.

“We often forget to tell kids how they learn and to be clear on what learning looks like—And to purposefully and intentionally explain why a student’s doing a task, how it’s connected to their learning and what are the steps in the process,” Anderson says.

Anderson has identified the rock star teachers to observe in third through eighth grade, whose Black students are demonstrating growth or meeting or exceeding expectations on state exams. And in typical rock star fashion, the teachers are choosing the date of their “performance” for the researchers.

“We’re letting them choose when we go in and show off,” Anderson says. “Then, we’ll bring them back together in focus groups to talk about the things we noticed. What do you think about these things? What would you add? What are some other strategies?”

After the pilot study, the team hopes to prototype the strategies, giving teachers across the district better tools to use at their disposal.

“Here’s a strategy that this teacher used at this school at this grade,” Anderson says they want to tell teachers. “Here’s a prototype of it. Why don’t you go adapt it and try it in your classroom?”