Public Input on Public Schools

May 19th, 2014

Category: News, Postsecondary Success

About a week ago, a report released by Project 5000 Opinions (P5KO), shed some light on what Delawareans thinks about Delaware schools. The report summarized the opinions of over 5,000 Delawareans who were surveyed last summer about public schools in the state.

According to the surveys, many parents feel positively about Delaware public schools. Two out of three (65%) of respondents with children in public schools graded their child’s school an A or B. However, less than half (44%) of respondents graded Delaware’s public schools an A or B, indicating that we have opportunities to improve both the actual performance as well as the perception of our schools.

The report provides critical feedback by Delawareans about the current state of public schools. Yet, by comparing what Delawareans shared in this survey with actual school data, it is evident that there are some perception gaps in the state about our public schools.

Are Delaware schools improving?

Public opinion says “yes” and “no.” While 31% of respondents indicated that they felt Delaware schools had improved, 45% indicated that schools had stayed the same or gotten worse.

The data says “yes.” Data shows that in terms of academic achievement, Delaware has made real progress over the last five years, but still has further to go in order to ensure all Delaware children attend an excellent school. Delaware has the third fastest growing student achievement gains in the country when looking at trends over the past two decades. Additionally, the Delaware high-school drop-out rates at a 30-year low (2.9%), and more students than ever are taking high rigor courses, including AP courses (4,728) and dual-enrollment courses, to earn college credit as high school students.

Some Delawareans are experiencing these improvements; however, progress is not felt by everyone in all communities across Delaware. Additionally, we may need a more comprehensive vision of what success for Delaware students and schools means to Delawareans.

Are Delaware schools safe?

Public opinion identified school safety as one of the biggest problems facing public schools. 33% of respondents identified “safety” as the key problem facing public schools in their communities.

State-wide, school data indicate that serious safety offenses are rare, and incidents of fights or disorderly conduct are infrequent. Few Delaware schools and districts have faced serious safety offenses. With over 230 public schools and over 131,000 students, there were three offenses in gun-free schools in 2012-13. Additionally, fewer than 3.5% of Delaware students have been involved in a reported fight or instance of disorderly conduct. There were 4,534 reported incidents of fighting or disorderly conduct. Communities and schools share a common interest in creating safe learning environments for students. However, these statistics reflect state-wide numbers and averages, and don’t address pockets of communities that experience higher rates of school safety offenses than others. Additionally, there may be a need to better define what “school safety” means for their students. The definition of “safety” is ambiguous and may be defined as narrowly as gun-free school offenses, or as widely as bullying.

Are Delaware schools challenged by a lack of resources/funding?

Resources were among the top three challenges cited when respondents were asked to identify the biggest problems that public schools face. 10% of respondents identified resources as the key problem facing public schools.

The data says “yes,” if the problem is effectiveness, and not quantity. Research indicates that simply increasing resources does not guarantee increases in student learning. While Delaware’s total per pupil funding (including local, state, and federal) ranks 13th nationally, equity in per pupil funding varies across the school system. On average, traditional public school districts receive $13.7k per pupil, public charter schools receive $11.3k per pupil, and vo-tech schools receive $18.4k per pupil. Additionally, while efforts have been made to equalize funding, there is no direct relationship between student poverty, and levels of state and local funding. For example, the average per pupil funding in a district with a high percentage of low-income students may be lower than the average per-pupil funding in a district with low percentages of low-income students. This indicates a lack of equity in funding Delaware’s schools.

Education leaders could leverage this public feedback to catalyze system-wide change to re-think “how” education dollars are spent, with the ultimate goal of increasing student learning.

Moving Forward

Delawareans are uniquely positioned to provide input on the “current state” of Delaware public schools. Delawareans experience the effects of education in their families, in their communities, and in the workforce. Project 5,000 Opinions, has taken a big step towards integrating public feedback into conversations about how to improve education. However, we need to sustain this momentum. In order to make meaningful change happen, we need all Delawareans to engage in the education conversation and to be well- informed, so that we can define a common vision for improving our schools and student learning.

Liz Hoyt