Welcome to the 2018 edition of Delaware Public Education At A Glance, Rodel’s annual snapshot of data and trends from our public schools. In the spirit of unveiling, there’s no better time than now to share our priorities for the coming year—the areas where the Rodel team will spend our time and energy with our partners in the community.
Our three big priorities for the year:
Keep the Student Success 2025 plan moving
Double down on college and career success
Deepen social and emotional learning in Delaware
So, what does this mean?
Keep the Plan Moving. We help support the Vision Coalition move Student Success 2025 This plan provides the state with well-informed guideposts for uplifting public education to new heights between now and 2025. The 47 policy recommendations spread across six core areas (below) serve as our roadmap. When it comes to implementing those recommendations, we see our role as a partner with policymakers, educators, and community members to bring ideas into action.
More specifically, we will advocate for several targeted budget or policy issues over the next several months:
On early learning, we support the administration’s budgetary ask of $3.8 million to support quality early learning.
On funding, we have argued for more than a decade that our current funding system is unfair, inflexible, and opaque. So, we, in concert with the Education Equity Delaware coalition, will support efforts to modernize the system so that it works for our kids now and into the future.
On system governance, we will speak up to make sure that the state’s federal Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA) plan is implemented with fidelity. In particular, we want to see clear graphics that are accessible to parents and the public in the state’s soon-to-be-released school report cards—including school-level financial reporting and a great deal more student information. Just like everyone else, we want to see positive change for the students in our Wilmington schools. We support the recent MOU that was recently signed by the Christina School District and the Carney Administration, and we realize that this is just the beginning. We will do our part to help move this work forward and we believe the progress we collectively make here could have major implications for not only the thousands of children in the five schools being discussed, but for our highest need children throughout this state.
Double Down on College and Career Success. Another big goal is to help even more young people prepare for life after high school. We think we can chip in by identifying and shepherding even more local and national resources to postsecondary programming.
We recently worked with a range of public and private sector leaders to produce Supporting Postsecondary Success in Delaware: A Landscape Analysis of Student Opportunities. While we uncovered some great assets, we also found that there’s a lot of work to do to help our young people make smart decisions post high school. This year, we’ll discern where (and with whom) we can partner to get some concrete work done to move this analysis to action.
We’re proud of the state’s collective work to date on career pathways—expanding from 27 participants in 2014 to over 9,000 in 2018—but we have a lot more on our minds, particularly in helping students connect to meaningful work-based experiences. At Rodel, we collaborate with local businesses to help facilitate growth, educate the public about why this is important, and bring the needed resources to accelerate the work on the ground.
Deepen Social and Emotional Learning in Delaware. The world is changing fast, and if we want our young people to thrive in it, we need to rethink how we equip them. The North Star at the center of Student Success 2025 is all about the nonacademic skills—like creativity, communication, empathy—that will be vital for young people entering the real world. While the Rodel Teacher Council and the district members of the BRINC Consortium have dedicated time and energy on personalized or blended learning, there is a groundswell of interest in the social and emotional factors that affect how kids learn, particularly those in our most challenged neighborhoods.
A study is underway—in partnership with Nemours, Christiana Care, Arsht-Cannon Fund and others—to assess what’s underway in social and emotional learning, what’s working, and where there are gaps and alignment opportunities. In our view, SEL is not an add-on, it’s foundational to, and should be embedded in, academic learning.
The Rodel Teacher Council is working to redefine what the next generation of learning will look like. Groups of teachers are exploring how our local colleges and universities can accept “competency-based” transcripts from students, allowing students to showcase their subject mastery, rather than a letter grade or test score. They are advocating for an annual review of broadband connectivity in schools, making the case for innovative professional development for teachers based on competency versus credit hours, and connecting districts and charters interested in collaborating to develop social and emotional competencies.
I’m inspired by the passion I see in our teachers and the commitment I see our public and private sector leaders dedicated to doing whatever it takes to improving the lives of our young people.
If you are interested in learning more about these issues, email us at email@example.com. Change is hard, but when we work together, we can make big things happen. Our children deserve nothing less.
Treating the Cause, Not the Symptoms: What Education Can Learn from the Social Determinants of Health
Individual behaviors play a role in educational outcomes, but inequitable social and economic factors loom even larger.
We know that children of all backgrounds—including those from adverse environments—can find success in school and in life. But the stark, empirical reality tells us public education still mostly favors the haves over the have-nots. Research shows (see also here and here) that access to three main levers of money, resources, and power still by and large determines whether a child will get a good education.
There is little doubt among education reformers that this needs to change. But after decades of efforts and initiatives aimed at closing achievement and opportunity gaps, the scales remain mostly unbalanced.
As we in the education world chip away on important issues like career preparation, 3rd grade literacy, or social and emotional learning, one can argue that the bigger, more important battles are the ones that influence broader federal, state, and local government policies that direct the all-important flow and distribution of money, power, and resources.
From finance to justice to social policies—there are many examples of indirect levers that can have strong impacts on students and their families, including property tax distribution and payday loan laws. Data shows persistent academic disparities related to income: Impoverished students are not inherently less smart, they are just less likely to have access to high-quality early childhood programs, adequate health care, and reliable transportation—things we know sets kids up for success in school.
Like the fabled Butterfly Effect, there are many seemingly unrelated forces, factors, and decisions that impact equity and our public education system.
Often, those of us working in education policy direct our focus at the individual-, school- or program-level, without addressing the role inequitable policy plays in education outcomes. While effective programs can provide students, parents, and teachers with supports they need in the here and now, they often don’t address the root of educations problems.
For example, parent engagement programs are well-intentioned attempts at getting parents more involved with their child’s academics. Research on parent involvement found that many programs start with the assumption that some parents do not care about their child’s education. However, these programs don’t always address the barriers to involvement that parents face, including long work hours, lack of childcare, lack of transportation, language and cultural barriers, and exclusive school policies.
Noble as they are, such programs often face an uphill battle when they try to change individual behaviors rather than advocating for transformative policies.
But what if we borrowed a page from the health reform playbook?
The social determinants of health is an approach that shifts the framing of health reform debate from the individual to the system. This approach takes a holistic view by examining the interconnectedness of education, health, and social factors such as policymaking. And it does represent an innovative approach to dealing with our public health woes—and poses a ripe opportunity for education reform.
The Social Determinants of Health
Next month at the 10th Annual Vision Coalition Conference on Education, leaders from Delaware’s health, education, public policy, and social services worlds will collide on stage for a panel discussion on the social determinants of health and education.
So what exactly are the determinants of health? Public policies, income, individual behaviors, social power, public safety, and discrimination to name a few. Social and economic factors, at around 40 percent, are the largest contributors to a person’s health, according to the National Association of Community Health Centers—compared to health behaviors (30 percent), physical environment (10 percent) and clinical care (20 percent).
Health care reformers use this idea to illuminate the role that money, power, and resources play in health access and outcomes. And, education and health are certainly interdependent (here and here). Typically, Americans with more education live longer, healthier lives—while poor health can compromise good education if a student cannot focus, is missing school, or has a learning disability.
Education reform could do well to learn from this example and begin to focus less on changing individuals and more on creating and implementing transformative, equitable policies.
Data tell us vast gaps exist between students of color and those from low-income backgrounds when compared to their white, more affluent peers. While we cannot discount the role individual behavior plays in educational outcomes, we must pay explicit attention to how policies and practices influence behaviors and outcomes.
Changing the narrative shifts the approach
By examining the problem from the lens of policy and practice, reformers can begin to ask hard questions about their efforts: Does our work target rules, practices, and norms that create, maintain, and exacerbate inequitable education disparities and outcomes?
Economic and social policy greatly influence how students perform, the efficacy of teaching practices, and the role of parents in education. As education reformers recognize this, they will begin to scrutinize the distribution of money, power, and resources and form solutions that create a fairer balance of these factors.
The social determinants of health offers an innovative approach to education reform that requires us all to ask hard questions about how we select the point of change, what (or who) we see as needing to be changed, and how we intend to change it. As we continue to search for solutions, we have an opportunity to use this approach to holistically address the root source of inequitable educational outcomes, and hopefully, to create a sustainable education system that equitably serves all students, teachers, and parents.
With the state’s budget situation casting a cloud of uncertainty in education (and beyond), the time seems right to take a look at education funding through the lens of something that is more than certain—that student needs have changed drastically since our school funding formula was developed in the 1940s.
We often talk about an equitable, student-centered funding system as a standalone concept. But it’s not. It’s fundamental to ensuring the success of all types of students with a spectrum needs and interests.
A student whose native language is not English.
A student who changes school districts halfway through the year.
A student hoping to graduate high school with college credit.
A student who wants to supplement her traditional classes with online/distance learning and community experiences.
These are just four examples, highlighted below, of students that could benefit from the state transitioning to a more flexible, student-centered funding system. Most states use a foundation formula, where a base amount of money—rather than units—is allocated consistently for each student, to which funding can be added based on designated student needs, such as low-income, English learners, and students with disabilities. In other words, a student’s needs are taken into account as money is distributed.
Funding is Fundamental to… English learners
Since 1997, Delaware has experienced a 433-percent increase in English learner students. Yet Delaware is one of four states that does not provide additional resources for English learners, meaning districts and charters must cobble together other funding to meet legal requirements for serving English learners. In other words, a school with 100 EL students receives the same amount of state funding as a school with 10 EL students—$0. Dedicated funds for EL students could help districts and charters provide a wide array of services, including hiring additional certified instructors.
Last year, Rodel was one of 22 organizations that signed a letter urging the state to consider a more equitable, student-centered funding formula. These Delaware student narratives were developed to accompany this letter. Learn more at www.educationequityde.org.
Funding is Fundamental to…transient students
As a research assistant for the University of Delaware’s Institute for Public Administration providing staff support for the Wilmington Education Advocacy Committee, I had the privilege of hearing testimonies from Wilmington parents, teachers, administrators, and community leaders. One challenge that stood out from their stories was the challenge of responding to students moving across districts. These effects may be most acutely felt in Wilmington, where moving just a few blocks can switch your school district – as it happened to me last summer – or for students with special needs who are entitled to certain services.
Funding is Fundamental to…college and career-bound students
There is a lot of momentum in Delaware for ensuring students graduate high school with credits/credentials and real-world experiences that set them up to success in whatever postsecondary path they choose. Today more than ever, there are more options available for students such as earning early college credit through Advanced Placement and dual enrollment courses, enrolling in a career pathway, or gaining work-based learning and leadership experience. But we have some work to do. We learned from the College Success report that we’re still not preparing enough young people for college coursework, and it’s possible that we’re not providing enough access to challenging courses to kids in high school, especially to students of color or students from low-income families.
We know that Delaware is one of about 15 states that does not allocate funding in its state formula for low-income students, which could be used for these purposes and others. While some districts may cover the costs of this offering this rigorous coursework, others may not be able to. As Mike Griffith, senior school finance analyst for Education Commission of the States, points out: “There are some states where high school students can take dual and concurrent enrollment and come out of high school with a free associate degree. And this is not a small group of elite students—but it’s open to every student. With an improved formula, your school will have greater flexibility to offer more after-school and summer school courses, and we can do so much more for our at-risk kids.
Funding is Fundamental to…personalized learning
I’ve also heard from members of the Rodel Teacher Council that the unit count funding system is one of the barriers limiting the state’s ability to scale up personalized learning models like innovative school design, reimagined teacher roles, and flexible course offerings for students. In their Student Centered Learning Structures policy brief, RTC members illustrate the connection between personalized learning and the state funding system through a fictional student named Maya.
According to RTC members in this brief, “In order for Maya and her classmates to have opportunities for online/distance learning, community experiences, and other activities related to their specific needs and interests, Delaware’s funding system will need to shift to be more student-centered.”
Funding is Fundamental to….all of Student Success 2025
Rodel is committed to supporting implementation of the Vision Coalition of Delaware’s Student Success 2025 recommendations, which are divided into six core areas including “Fair and Efficient Funding.” But it’s clear from the examples above that funding is not just a standalone core area of Student Success 2025. It affects our ability to implement recommendations across all core areas. Reevaluating how the state allocates its finite dollars could open up possibilities such as:
In “Educator Support and Development,” the full possibilities of implementing exciting educator career pathways are not outright hindered, but limited by barriers such as the unit count and teacher of record policies.
“System Governance, Alignment, and Performance,” recommends we provide LEAs with flexibility to “develop shared service arrangements” and other efficiency measures. At the moment, the state dictates what purposes units can be spent on, such as energy or behavioral health specialists, rather than provide support and incentives for efficient local resource decision-making.
For these reasons, Delaware’s funding system will continue to be a hot topic until we can ensure that state resources are being allocated in a way that most efficiently, equitably, and effectively allows all students to succeed.
Digging Deeper“Digging Deeper” is a recurring feature at the Rodel blog where we take some data on Delaware public schools—and put it under the microscope. In the spirit of our Public Education at a Glance, we’ll present a straightforward look at the numbers, and search for some deeper meaning.
Academic achievement is but one aspect of student success. To develop the “whole child” we must also nurture a student’s social and emotional skills. Research shows that a positive school climate impacts both academic achievement and the development of social and emotional skills. As recent concerns about school safety intensify, a stronger focus on school climate could help ensure that students remain safe and engaged.
According to the National Survey of Children’s Health (NSCH) six out of 10 Delaware children meet the Promoting School Success Index. This index measures student engagement, participation in extracurricular activities, and feeling safe at school. The survey provides data on various aspects of a child’s life, from physical and mental wellness, to neighborhood, school, and social contexts.
Eight out of 10 of eighth graders reported feeling safe in school in 2016. Still, almost half of students in eighth grade feel that violence is a problem at their school, according to the Delaware School Survey. The same pattern can be seen in fifth and 11th grade.
Research shows a correlation between student engagement in school and student achievement. Student engagement, often defined as students actively participating in learning, focusing attention to the topic at hand and staying on task. When students remain engaged, they learn better and perform better.
A positive school climate—one where students feel safe and cared for—influences not only academic performance, but behavioral outcomes and emotional health, according to the National School Climate Center. In fact, supporting positive school climate can be a preventative method for violence, bullying, and distraction.
Some solutions: Prioritizing Student Engagement and Safety
While the majority of Delaware students report feeling safe and engaged, it’s fair to ask: Is that enough? Student Success 2025 has a goal for all students to feel safe in school, and aims to raise the number of students that are consistently engaged in school to 95 percent. Thankfully we have some possible solutions to consider.
Using a personalized learning model, each student is met where they are academically while student agency and ownership is leveraged to increase engagement. To learn what personalized learning looks like in a Montessori classroom, read “Liberty within Limits: Personalized Learning in the Montessori Classroom” by Rodel Teacher Council member Cheryl Lynn Jones.
Delaware Pathways, a program designed to prepare public school students for the workforce, offers more real-life experiences and connections for students to remain on track for success. When students know that that success after high school is within reach, they are more likely to remain engaged in school.
Social and Emotional Learning, or the process through which students are taught positive relationship building, positive self-image, responsible decision-making, and other useful skills, is just one way that schools can create a supportive school environment and keeps students engaged. Check out this blog for more background on social and emotional learning—and to see what is already happening in Delaware.