Why are Colorado parents ‘dangerously overconfident’ about their kids’ achievement?

According to a recent report, 90 percent of parents nationwide believe their children are on track in reading and math—when in fact fewer than 40 percent reach proficiency on a national exam called NAEP.

In my home state of Colorado, the gap between parental beliefs and student proficiency yawns nearly as wide: 86 percent believe their students are meeting or exceeding grade-level standards, when in fact only 41 percent actually are under the new, higher standards.

Clearly, parents are wise to hold high expectations for their children, as globalization and rapidly improving technologies (e.g., artificial intelligence, robotics, etc.) have made high quality education more important than ever before to their future ability to earn a living.

Moreover, researchers have found that improving Colorado’s K12 education results could increase the size of our economy by over 200 percent. Faster economic growth would also make it much easier to meet many of the other challenges we face.

But we can’t fix a problem if we don’t acknowledge we have one. Which begs this question: Why are so many Colorado parents confident that their children are on track?

Since many people think that student achievement problems are only found where poverty is high, I took a look at the achievement results in ten affluent districts that spend $3.6 billion per year to educate 353,000 children in the most populated area of Colorado.

This table shows the percentage of students who met or exceeded Colorado grade level standards in Math and Science on the 2015 PARCC tests. I’ve included the results for Algebra 1, which many students in these districts take in Grade 8. The districts are ordered by their percentage of students eligible for free and reduced lunch (FRL).



The picture doesn’t get much brighter when you skip ahead to high school and measure how many students are college-and-career ready, based on their scores on the ACT taken by every 11th grader in Colorado.

Even if you look ONLY at the students who are middle-class and affluent (i.e., they do not qualify for free or reduced lunch) only a little more than half of these students are hitting college readiness benchmarks. Averaged across these 10 districts, that’s 58 percent in math, 57 percent in reading and 53 percent in science.

Finally, consider the findings in the recent research report, “Out of Pocket.” Across the United States, the authors found that 45 percent of students needing to take non-credit remedial classes in college came from middle, upper middle, and upper class families.

In Colorado, the percentage of high school graduates needing remedial classes in college ticked upward in the previous school year, according to data released last week by the Colorado Department of Higher Education. Last year, 35.4 percent of graduates needed remedial coursework, up from 34.2 percent the previous year.

And don’t forget that students who have to take a remedial class are 74 percent more likely to drop out of college.

These recent results suggest that many Colorado parents are dangerously overconfident about how well their children are being prepared to meet the challenges they will face in the years ahead. Far too many of them are not on track, and each year they remain below state standards makes it more difficult to catch up. (For more on this see “Catching Up to College and Career Readiness.”)

While we can certainly debate the right solutions to pursue, let us all agree that defending the K-12 status quo is not an option, and that even in Colorado’s most affluent suburbs we need to substantially improve the performance of our public schools.

What do you think?
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Tom Coyne

Tom Coyne

Tom Coyne has served as the CEO and CFO of public and private companies in Canada and the United States. He is the father of four, and for more than a decade has invested all his volunteer time in K12 performance improvement because it is central to reducing inequality and increasing economic growth.

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