Digging Deeper: Chronic Absenteeism in Delaware Schools

February 14th, 2019

Author: Bridgette Boody

Ferris Bueller missed nine days of high school before he
took his infamous day off to roam the streets of Chicago. He’s certainly not
the only student to miss school, intended or not. At some point in many children’s
education careers, they may be absent due to a doctor’s appointment, family
emergency, or taking some time for themselves. But what happens when students
continue to miss school again and again?

Studies
show
that a student who is chronically absent—that is, absent for 10
percent of the school year—is less likely to graduate. One
study
found that too many absences in eighth grade can make a student eight
times more likely to fail in high school. For our youngest learners, missing
too much school time can mean
lower performance
in kindergarten and first grade. It’s also correlated to
poor social and emotional outcomes for students.

In the wake of the state’s new accountability
system
, Delaware has begun publicly reporting new data on chronic
absenteeism rates. The new system allows schools to earn up to 500 points. In
the new system, schools earn “points” for different performance measures,
everything from academic performance and graduation rates to college and career
preparedness and English proficiency, with a highest possible score of 500. The
points system is designed to help the public understand how schools are
performing in key areas and to identify where more supports are needed. Chronic
absenteeism (listed as On-Track Attendance) is worth only 50 points (10
percent) of the share.

Chronic absenteeism is one of measures included in the new
accountability system and is defined as the percentage of students with an excused
or unexcused, full day absence for any reason (illness, suspension, etc.) for
10 percent (about 18 days) of the school year. The public can view this data on
the recently released school report
cards
.

From these data, we know that 14 percent of all Delaware students are chronically absent from school.

The data also show that more students with disabilities and
students from a low-income background miss school in comparison with the
average student, and by a significant margin—six percent more students who have
a disability are chronically absent, while seven percent more students who are
low-income also fall in that category.

The percentage of students who are chronically absent
differs by school district. Among the districts, chronic absenteeism rates
range from two percent to 19 percent of the student population.

There are numerous
factors at play when it comes to chronic absenteeism.

According to research from the Brookings
Institute
, there are four categories of school absence: student–specific, family-specific,
school-specific, and community-specific.

Student-specific reasons for missing school may include
factors like low academic performance and grade retention or “being held back,”
lack of caring relationships with adults, negative peer influence, and
bullying.

Family-specific causes could be attributed to low family
income, low parent involvement to push a child to attend, at-home
responsibilities, stressful events that cause home and school priorities to
conflict with the other, and language differences.

At the school level, poor conditions or lack of necessary
school facilities, low-quality teachers or teacher shortages, poor
student-teacher relationships, student boredom from less challenging courses,
and geographic access to school also may impede a student’s ability to come to
school.

Finally, students may miss more school for
community-specific reasons, such as the availability of job opportunities that
do not require formal schooling, unsafe neighborhoods, low compulsory education
requirements, and lack of social and education support services.

Schools can influence
of chronic absenteeism rates for the better

An
NEA research brief
tells us that while prevention of chronic absenteeism is
key, schools can also address this issue by:

Identifying
the underlying cause for a student’s absence. If a student is experiencing
unstable housing or health care issues, the school can establish partnerships
with community-based organizations to help meet the needs the family.  Proactively
engage with parents. Consistentcommunication
with parents, texts, phone calls, and home visits may help encourage parents to
seek support to make sure their student isn’t missing too much school time.Using
existing resources and community-based programs to problem-solve. For
example:Attendance
Works
provide free tools to help educators by identifying patterns in
absences, examine root causes of those absences, and assess how their school is
engaging in practices design to combat chronic absenteeism. Safe Passage, a
project of Urban Peace Institute
,   can provide parents and students with resources
on safe ways to get to school and place adult monitors on streets and routes
around schools to help guide students to school.

For our younger learners, registering for kindergarten on
time is key to a good academic start and avoiding missing too much time due to
late registration. Delaware Readiness Teams help connect parents to the
information they need to register their kindergartener on time. See their “Get Ready for
Kindergarten”
checklist here. 

Delaware’s data on chronic absenteeism present a first step
in tackling the issue. Armed with new data, schools can begin to determine the
best solutions for their students so that everyone can be present and learning.
In order for students to get an education, they need to be in the classroom.

Rodel’s Next Chapter

January 3rd, 2019

Author: Paul Herdman

I’m excited. It’s the start of a new year, and the 20th anniversary of our organization, so it’s the perfect time to share some new approaches and a new look for Rodel.  
We just launched a refreshed website and made some updates to our logo and name. These changes reflect an evolution of our work that began about two years ago.
For context, let me back up. At Rodel, we constantly assess how we’re doing; we look hard at what’s working and what’s not. We do this in much the same spirit as our innovative founders at Rodel Inc., the garage start-up that ultimately became a global leader in the semiconductor industry more than 50 years ago. 
In 2016, we pored through years of Delaware’s student performance data and spoke to thousands of Delawareans. We found plenty of bright spots over the years, including expanded access for thousands of families to high-quality early care, and more high schoolers than ever graduating and going to and through college. But a stark reality became clear: An enormous and growing number of Delaware students—including those learning English, who have special needs, and come from low-income families—were not getting what they needed to thrive in school and life. The data simply told us what we didn’t want to hear. Too often, where a child started in life socioeconomically was predictive of where they would end up. That’s not good for them, it’s not good for Delaware, and it’s simply not fair.
We listened to the community and we heard two things: 1) that we need to broaden our definition of student success; and 2) we need to expand our partnerships to deepen our impact. 
We realized our vision for student success was too narrow if we wanted to truly unlock the potential of all of Delaware’s 138,000 students.
It’s why we increased our focus in four areas. Social and emotional learning is about creating safe and creative environments in schools so our kids can feel connected and flourish our integral to academic success. We also know the next generation of our workforce is on the way, so we invested heavily in career pathways and work-based learning so students and young adults have plenty of options for life after high school. Quality early learning can make a profound difference in a young child’s life outcomes, so we put even more attention on improving the early childhood experience for all children through our research and grassroots advocacy. And we are proud to stand shoulder to shoulder with many community organizations to take on the major structural barrier of modernizing our antiquated school funding system. 
Put another way, we’ve broadened our lens while tightening our focus on equity and excellence. 

These evolutionary shifts are reflected in our new vision statement:
Delaware is a global leader in educating each of its students to contribute and thrive. 
And while helping Delaware become a global leader in public education remains our ambitious goal, we know today more than ever that we can’t reach it alone. We are listening more and building more partnerships from the bottom-up. We are working with several coalitions and partnerships across a diverse set of issue areas. 
We’re also expanding our partnerships with the private sector both here and nationally. By building new, deeper partnerships with the Delaware Community Foundation, the Delaware Business Roundtable Education Committee, and national partners like Bloomberg Philanthropies, we are deepening our community impact
Our work itself has not changed drastically. We are leaning into what we already do best: aligning community members with good data and leading-edge ideas to address systemic challenges, catalyzing action with strategic resources, and driving those ideas to scale and sustainability through communication and advocacy.   
As we embark on this new chapter, we are committed to being even more collaborative, community-minded, and concrete. Our talented team of analysts, advocates, and organizers are energized about the road ahead. We’re about getting results, and we continue to believe in Delaware’s ability to lead the nation.
The new year brings new opportunity. Together, we can partner to transform public education—please join us. Check out our Get Involved page for ideas, and sign up for our emails and contact us. To our partners and collaborators: push us to think differently, share your big ideas. We’re listening. We look forward to working with you to improve the lives of our young people and our communities. 
 

11 Key Quotes from Education Funding Lawsuit Opinion

December 6th, 2018

Author: Neil Kirschling

Last week, Vice Chancellor Travis Laster rejected the state’s motion to dismiss a lawsuit claiming the state’s current school funding formula is unconstitutional. In addition to explaining why the court has legal authority to rule on the case under the Education Clause of the state constitution, Judge Laster also had lots to say about Delaware’s education funding system in general.
 
Didn’t read the 135-page opinion? Here are 11 quotes from Judge Laster that jumped out to me:
 
On why this is a systemic problem:

“The plaintiffs assert that the ‘system of public schools’ is failing Disadvantaged Students, not the hardworking and well-intentioned professionals who do their best within the constraints that the system imposes.”
“In Delaware…the educational funding system generally provides more support for more privileged children than it provides for impoverished children. Put differently, schools with more Disadvantaged Students receive less financial support from the State than schools with fewer Disadvantaged Students. Likewise, school districts with poorer tax bases receive less funding from the State than school districts with wealthier tax bases.”

 
Put differently, schools with more Disadvantaged Students receive less financial support from the State than schools with fewer Disadvantaged Students. Vice Chancellor J. Travis Laster
 
On how this effects low income students, for example:

“For many of Delaware’s public schools, an inverse relationship exists between the number of low-income students in a school and the amount of funding that goes to the school: The more low-income students in a school, the less State funding the school receives.”
“Given the incremental needs of low-income students relative to their wealthier peers, schools that predominantly serve low-income students logically should receive more resources than schools that do not.”
“Unlike thirty-five other states, Delaware does not provide any additional funding for low-income students. The unit funding approach that Delaware uses does not take low-income status into account.”

 
On English learners:

“Precisely because these students are learning English, they need more resources and support to succeed. Schools who serve larger numbers of students who are learning English as a second language logically should reserve more resources than schools that do not. Delaware does not provide any additional funding for educating students who are learning English as a second language. Delaware is one of only four states that does not allocate any additional funding to serve the unique needs of these students.”

 
Given the incremental needs of low-income students relative to their wealthier peers, schools that predominantly serve low-income students logically should receive more resources than schools that do not.Vice Chancellor J. Travis Laster
 
On the inequities baked into the unit system:

To counter the effects of poverty, one might expect that Delaware would provide more funding to school districts with less valuable tax bases. To its credit, Delaware offers Division III funding to offset the financial advantage possessed by wealthier districts. But the effects of Division III funding are swamped by the far larger effect of the Division I funds that pay personnel costs.
Under the existing system, Delaware provides more funding to districts with wealthier tax bases than it does to poorer districts. In 2013–14, for example, the tax basis in the Brandywine School District was 1.5 times more valuable per student than the tax base in the Woodbridge School District. Yet the State provided funding to the Brandywine School District that was equivalent to $1,694 more per pupil than the funding it provided to the Woodbridge School District. During the same year, the value of the tax base in the Appoquinimink School District exceeded the value of the tax base in the Caesar Rodney School District by more than $100,000 per student, yet the State allocated funding to the Appoquinimink School District that was equivalent to $450 more per pupil than it provided to the Caesar Rodney School District.

 
On the prescriptiveness of the unit system:

“With limited exceptions, the “unit funding” approach treats all students as if they were the same. If a High-Need School wishes to hire reading specialists or counselors, it has less unit funding to pay for teachers and other personnel. To make the numbers work, High-Need Schools must find the money by cutting elsewhere.”
“If school districts had greater flexibility in deploying funds, they could shift money within districts to support their High-Need Schools. State law effectively forecloses that option by requiring that 98% of the funding generated by a school’s units be used at the school accounting for the units.”

 
On the “state-level consensus” and years of commission and task force recommendations:

“The various reports exhibit a remarkable consensus about the key steps that the State needs to take to address the problems with Delaware’s public schools and improve educational outcomes for Disadvantaged Students. Foremost among the recommendations is to restructure how Delaware funds its public schools.”

 
For more on the suit brought by Delawareans for Educational Opportunity and the Delaware NAACP, read on here.

Leading the Way on SEL: A Q&A with Lisa Mims

November 20th, 2018

Author: Matt Amis

 
Lisa Mims has been at the forefront of some of Delaware’s most dynamic efforts around social and emotional learning. A longtime Rodel Teacher Council member and prolific ed-tech blogger, Mims currently takes part in the Compassionate Schools “Test Lab,” a model that trains teachers to find positive steps to calm students’ brains, build connections, and foster self-regulation skills.
 
We caught up with Lisa to hear her take on why SEL matters.
 
You gave an awesome TedX Talk last year in Wilmington. Tell us a little about your message.
 
My message was that nothing matters more than building a relationship with our students—all of our students. We especially need to build them with our students who might be a “little rough around the edges.” When we build relationships, more often than not, our students are willing to succeed because they do not feel as if we think less of them.
 

 
What do you see as the connection between school culture and climate and SEL? How does a strong, positive school culture support students’ SEL?
 
In a school where SEL is practiced, the relationship between the educators and the students is shaped by much more than test scores. The educators care for the students’ well-being and strive to create an atmosphere that feels more like a family atmosphere. Rather than penalizing students right away, the staff in the building attempt to find out the underlying causes and deal with situations from that standpoint instead of just determining that a child is “bad” or incapable. Students are very perceptive to how the educators feel about them and behaviors can be changed when students feel like someone cares.
 
Why is it so important to develop kids’ social and emotional side?
 
When we see our kids as test scores we are completely forgetting that they are children. Many of our students deal with things in their lives that would be hard for most adults to process, much less children. We have to take this into account whether we’re teaching them academics, or by building their resilience and developing tools to help them deal with whatever is going on in their lives.
 
There’s this strong link between SEL and trauma-informed care, and rightfully so. But SEL goes beyond supporting students in trauma, correct?
 
Yes, it does. SEL applies to all students, not just students who have suffered from trauma. All students need to learn how to manage their emotions, be empathetic to others, and be able to make decisions on their own. These are skills that will not only lead to a positive learning environment for all, but can follow them through the rest of their lives.
 
We’ve seen some great movement locally around SEL. What’s Delaware’s next big milestone? What’s on the horizon?
 
I know that the educators in the Rodel Teacher Council have made great strides in making districts and educators aware of SEL. At this time they are still meeting to further their cause. One top priority is working to make sure families and students have a voice in the creation of a statewide framework for SEL. Read Creating a Common Language for Social and Emotional Learning in Delaware, and learn more about the RTC’s work on SEL last year.
 
SEL is clearly something that’s very familiar and intimate with teachers and people inside education. But what should parents and the general public know about it?
 
Parents and the general public should know that it is not just another new thing. Kids are developing socially and emotionally in school and at home and wherever else they spend their time—the opportunity we have now is to make SEL a more intentional part of all classrooms and learning environments. When/if our students have a difficult time processing their emotions, it may lead to toxic relationships in the classroom, whether it’s with their peers or their teacher. Parents and the general public should know that we are aware that trauma and toxic stress are real, and not only are we finding a way to deal with and react to it, but we are giving our students tools to deal with it as well.
 
Read A Broader Vision of Student Success: Insights and Opportunities for Social and Emotional Learning in Delaware, which focuses on the efforts underway across Delaware to support students, families, and educators in developing their SEL skills.
 
Tell us about the Compassionate Schools “Test Lab”
 
Test Lab is a professional development opportunity extended through the Compassionate Schools partnership whose purpose is to work with teachers to find positive steps to calm student brains, build connections, and foster self-regulation skills. The hope is that these methods can improve student achievement, increase teacher satisfaction, and enhance the overall school climate. Such programs add value because they increase awareness of the impact of trauma and toxic stress on learning. They chose educators so that they could move from research to actual practice.

I was one of the educators fortunate enough to be chosen to participate. This semester, my students are using the self-regulation bands. The bands help them monitor their emotions according to colors, red, yellow, and blue. It’s amazing to watch them switch out the bands during the day according to how they are feeling. It definitely gives them ownership of their emotions. When we are done, we will share feedback with the lab and let them know how it worked (or didn’t), in our classrooms.