Delaware’s Students are Returning to Public Schools

March 15th, 2013

Category: News

According to a recent report by the Delaware Department of Education, private school enrollment is the lowest it has been in over twenty years.  Additionally, between the 2011-12 and 2012-13 school years, Delaware saw one of the most significant dips in private school enrollment, losing 8.4 percent of its population.  At the same time, public school enrollment is steadily on the rise.  The bottom line: Delaware’s students are returning to public schools.  The question: Why?

In a state that has the highest proportion of students attending private schools, there are some solid explanations for these significant shifts.  Over the course of the recession, national and state-wide private school enrollment has markedly declined (a notable difference from the 1990s, when enrollment grew).  Attempts have been made by Delaware’s private schools to offset the decline through financial aid; nevertheless, the declining enrollment numbers speak for themselves.  Subsequently, a number of Diocesan Catholic, religious affiliated, and independent schools have had to close their doors.

The recession, however, isn’t the only reason for the change.  While parents are switching their children from private to public out of financial necessity, they’re also making the switch based on changes in Delaware’s public schools—which are now offering comparable, if not better, options for their children.  There was once a time when a private school offered students a leg-up into elite college admission.  Today, private schools are not the only game in town that provide the keys to the highest-quality college education.

At William Penn High School in the Colonial School District, enrollment is up by 200 students since it restructured last year, an increase of more than 10 percent.  With its restructure, college and career readiness is now at the forefront.  The school now offers students with specific programmatic tracks in business, humanities, and STEM—with 19 areas of study under these categories.  Students at William Penn graduate with a ‘degree’ in a specific track and, in many cases, specific professional certification.  At the same time, they have the option to be dually enrolled at Wilmington University and/or Delaware Technical Community College.  Furthermore, William Penn offers students with a significant number of Advanced Placement (AP) courses.

And Seaford’s New Tech Academy, a “school within a school” at Seaford Senior High School offers students a comprehensive academic program featuring Project Based Learning and daily use of computers and technology in the classroom. Designed to mimic a modern business, the Academy requires students to learn and complete projects in a way that prepares them for college and the workplace.

And in Red Clay, John Dickinson High School is a member of an elite group of U.S. high schools, having recently been approved to offer the internationally recognized International Baccalaureate (IB) diploma program.  An IB diploma often leads to an internationally accepted qualification for entry into higher education.  The school’s IB program was a main part of a redesign of the instructional offerings at Dickinson announced in January 2010. In addition to the IB program, the school is converting into a STEM Academy (Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics) and is upgrading and expanding its Career and Technical (CTE) programs. Enrollment has increased by over 100 students between the 2011-12 and 2012-13 school years, alone.

Today, Delaware’s parents have more options for their children than ever before.  As the economy recovers, it will be interesting to observe if and how private school enrollment changes.  Nevertheless, more of Delaware’s public schools are offering high quality options for families that embrace new, deeper learning models that harness personalized learning, thus increasing the levels of college and career readiness throughout the state.  Now, more than ever, families have compelling reasons to switch from private to public schools.

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Matthew Korobkin



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