Cracked Foundations: Denver Public Schools (CO)


Granting Foundations: Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, Wallace Foundation

Grants Total: $13,421,629

US News and World Report Test Score Proficiency:

In the 2017-2018 school year, Denver Public Schools began implementing the Wallace Foundation’s Partnership for Social and Emotional Learning Initiative (PSELI), which pairs a school district with local Out of School Time (OST) programs. The goal of the initiative is to foster a coordinated effort between the school district and afterschool programming in order to bring about systemic social and emotional learning (SEL) for students.

The initiative also includes contracts with SEL consultants Second Step and CASEL. The district additionally utilizes Transformative Social Emotional Academic Learning or “Transformative SEAL.” This form of SEL aims at “redistributing power to promote social justice through increased engagement in school and civic life.”

The district’s “TSEAL Success Framework” explains that along with social and emotional skills, “schools must also fold in conversations about race, ethnicity, gender identity, sexual orientation, language and ability so that the conversation about TSEAL takes into account the student’s fullest identities.”

Under “TSEAL Resources,” the district website links to SEL consultant Dena Simmons‘ article titled “Why We Can’t Afford Whitewashed Social-Emotional Learning.” In the article, Simmons states that students can “interrogate their power and privilege, as well as racism, homophobia, sexism, and other forms of violence, to consider what changes they can make within themselves and their world to achieve more equity.”

In response to a Twitter post about her “whitewashed” SEL article, Simmons writes: “Yes! Without racial context, SEL is white supremacy with a hug. I said what I said.”

In a 2020 professional development document, listed practices include “distributive justice” and “collective well being [sic]” as part of Transformative SEAL competencies. It also states that culturally responsive education mindsets include “reflecting on my cultural lens, beliefs and biases” and working to “dismantle systems of power and privilege that impact my students.”

In 2019, the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation awarded Denver Public Schools a $10 million grant. The “Networks for School Improvement (NSI) grant” was given to allow the district to “strengthen the individualized supports for African-American, Latinx, and low-income learners.” The district program titled “College Ready On Track Network” started with 10 high schools and will eventually include the whole district.

As part of its College Ready program, Denver public schools implemented “Grading for Equity.” According to its website, Grading for Equity “supports schools in adopting grading practices that are Accurate, Bias Resistant, and Motivational.”

Additionally, the district is implementing a Liberatory Design Mindset, which helps participants develop an “equity-centered creative agency.” As part of the design programming, liberatory design “requires we minimize the harmful effects of our blind spots and maximize the potential for non-oppressive partnerships.” This mindset also involves recognizing oppression through the proper lens. The liberatory mindset seeks to develop in students the ability to “see root causes and systemic inequities more clearly.”

Foundation: Wallace Foundation

Date: 2018

Grant amount: $793,840 (via Denver Public Schools Foundation)

Purpose: Partnership for Social Emotional Learning Initiative

Foundation: Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation

Date: July 2019

Grant amount: $9,333,613 (via Denver Public Schools Foundation)

Purpose: Network for School Improvement

Foundation: Wallace Foundation

Date: 2019

Grant amount: $867,811 (via Denver Public Schools Foundation)

Purpose: Partnership for Social and Emotional Learning Initiative



Date: September 1, 2017

Contract amount: $150,000

Date: July 1, 2018

Contract amount: $150,000

Date: August 1, 2019

Contract amount: $100,000

Date: July 1, 2021

Contract amount: $12,500