Another Devastating Independent Report on the Causes of Poor Achievement Results in Jeffco Schools

Tom Coyne
4 min readNov 10, 2021

Educated, affluent Jefferson County, Colorado is a suburb located West of Denver. Jeffco Schools is the nation’s 37th largest school district, serving 80,000 students with an annual budget of $1.4 billion.

New Superintendent Tracy Dorland commissioned an independent investigation into Jeffco’s poor and declining student achievement results.

It’s finding are devastating:

“Declining student achievement rates from 2017 on, in both math and reading. Additional impacts…from the pandemic.”

“There is a lack of shared understanding of the district’s strategic direction, thus creating a system that lacks coherence.”

“There is a lack of a clear and coherent communications protocol to ensure that strategies and decisions related to curriculum and instruction are relayed to, and understood by schools.”

“There is lack of system coherence between and among schools due to a culture that values autonomy without accountability.”

“There appears to be an insufficient sense of urgency regarding improving achievement for ALL students, and special attention needs to be paid to students who have historically under-performed.”

“The EdCenter [central district office] is not set up to support schools and teaching and learning.”

“There is no systematic approach to identify, execute, and monitor strategies aimed at driving academic improvement.”

“Improvement strategies and their expected outcomes are often undefined or poorly defined. The review found no evidence that the District routinely uses data to evaluate the effectiveness of the strategies it has implemented.”

“There is an absence of shared understanding of [state] standards throughout the system. Lessons do not appear to be aligned to state standards.”

“The review found a prevalent lack of rigor throughout the District…The item on the student survey that receives the lowest rating is students feeling academically challenged.”

“The review found that the District seems to pay more attention to operational issues over improving student learning.”

“The deficiencies of instructional coherence have led to a weak and disjointed instructional program that does not appear to give all students access to a guaranteed and viable standards-based curriculum.”

There is a lack of trust throughout the district.”

“A recurring theme that surfaced during [our] interviews was that the district, as a system, appears to make decisions that are not always… in the best interest of students.”

“There is a lack of collective responsibility for students with IEPs and those learning English as a second language.”

“There is a lack of cohesion and alignment among the departments at the Ed Center [the district’s central office].”

“The District has granted schools the autonomy to select their own instructional programs. Consequently,

curriculum programs vary greatly across content areas and grade levels.”

“The deficiencies of instructional coherence have led to a weak and disjointed instructional program that does not appear to give all students access to a guaranteed and viable standards-based curriculum.”

“The District lacks systems to hold its staff accountable for their accomplishment of identified goals, including any clear systems for monitoring and reporting progress.”

“Goals are set, but there is no clear mechanism to provide the community, or the schools, with the data necessary for evaluating the progress of initiatives or the system as a whole.”

“There is a lack of a coherent approach to professional learning that is provided consistently across the system.”

“There is apparent variability in the processes used for hiring for central and school leader positions.”

You can read the Board presentation here:$file/PRESENTATION%20Review%20of%20Academic%20Functions%2011.10.21rev.pdf

What is particularly depressing is that the findings in this report are very similar to those in another independent investigation into Jeffco’s poor academic performance that was delivered to the Jeffco Board of Education in November 2017.

Jeffco’s culture is very insular and extremely resistant to change. If Superintendent Dorland is to substantially improve the district’s academic performance, a few tweaks here and there won’t do. Jeffco is in desperate need of a fundamental turnaround, that involves many difficult changes in its processes, systems, organizational structure — and some of its people.

Successful turnarounds require tough minded leadership, and a supportive board. Whether Jeffco can muster that remains to be seen.

But one thing is certain: If Dorland fails to turnaround the district, 80,000 children will lack the knowledge and skill they will need to survive and thrive in the 21st century economy.

You can read the DeliverEd report here:

Tom Coyne is a Democrat and business executive. He is a former member of the Jeffco District Accountability Committee and former chair of the Wheat Ridge High School Accountability Committee. His wife, Susan Miller, was elected to the Jeffco Board of Education in November 2019. These are solely his views.



Tom Coyne

Co-Founder, K12 Accountability Inc. New book: "K-12 On the Brink: Why America's Education System Fails to Improve, and Only Business Leadership Can Fix It"