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Legislative Hall Pass: Compulsory Education Bills Aim to Curb Dropouts

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Legislative Hall Pass
The Legislative Hall Pass is a new series at the Rodel blog. Our team of experts will examine the most pressing education bills and issues emerging from the 149th Delaware General Assembly, and weigh in with commentary, context, and data. Check out the Legislative Monitor for a full list of education-related legislation.


Discouraging drop-outs is a hot topic in Delaware this year, and one way that policymakers are seeking to accomplish this is by amending the state’s compulsory education lawthe law that defines the age range in which a student is required to attend school or some other equivalent education program.

Currently in Delaware, children are required to attend school from ages five to age 16, with exemptions available for medical reasons. In January, Governor Carney’s Transition Team Report recommended raising the required school attendance until age 18, and there are a number of bills introduced in the legislature with similar objectives.


Pending Legislation aimed at discouraging students from dropping out:

House Bill 17, introduced by Representative Dukes, would increase the compulsory school attendance age requirement from 16 to the age of 17.

House Bill 55, introduced by Representative Heffernan, would go a step further and increase the compulsory school attendance age requirement to 18 years old. This change would be phased-in over two years with a one-year interim period where the compulsory school attendance age would be 17 years old. The bill would also add the following exemptions: the child has received a high school diploma or a certificate of performance the child obtains permission to withdraw from school from their district superintendent or charter school board president

House Bill 23: Unlike the first two bills, this piece of legislation would not raise the compulsory education age requirement. Instead, it requires that any student over the age of 16 who wishes to leave school prior to graduation must obtain the written consent of the parent or guardian, and attend an exit interview where information is supplied regarding the likelihood of diminished earning potential and the increased likelihood of unemployment associated with dropping out. It would also direct the school to explore whether there are support services, interventions or programs that might assist the student in remaining enrolled.

Over the past decade, many states have considered increasing their compulsory education requirements as part of a comprehensive plan to boost graduation rates. About 25 other states have compulsory school attendance to 18.

Do compulsory education requirements work? Research, at best, shows insufficient evidence, yet recent studies conclude that raising the minimum dropout age as a standalone policy has insignificant effects on increasing graduation rates. Various interventions and retention policies, in combination with raising the minimum drop out age, are more effective in lowering dropout rates (See: U.S. Department of Education, Southern Regional Education Board, Brookings Institution).

What are other states doing to complement increasing the compulsory age requirement?

Limiting additional exemptions significantly from compulsory attendance, for example, only to students who demonstrate financial hardship and that a job is necessary to support their family.

Ensuring robust alternative options with sufficient quality and capacity to serve students. These could include alternative settings, intensive schools, dual credit, early college, technical, and online options.

Providing and requiring early intervention when students are off track, including mandatory credit recovery options and counseling for at-risk students.

Utilizing data systems to quickly identify when a student is at risk of dropping out, direct appropriate services (aka interventions), frequently monitor and adjust interventions.

We agree that increasing the percentage of kids completing high school and getting ready for careers should be a priority for the state. We believe the best way to address the root problem is not just to raise the compulsory age, but to create an educational experience that students find engaging and worth their time. At the same time, let’s arm our educators with the tools and data systems they need to intervene early when students are off track and provide at-risk students with tools to graduate such as counseling, credit recovery options, and robust alternative learning options.

Delaware’s high school graduation rate grew faster than any state in the nation in 2014, so we have some momentum. Some work underway to making school more engaging for students includes:

  • Personalized learning is growing in Delaware, utilizing technology and innovative teaching strategies to meet students where they are. From the BRINC districts to Design Lab to the Rodel Teacher Council, Delaware educators are pushing hard on student engagement and next-generation learning.
  • Career pathways connects students to potential careers in emerging fields like advanced manufacturing or IT—giving them a glimpse, as early as middle school—of life after graduation and real meaning to the lessons from class.
  • Social and emotional learning is also gaining traction in Delaware as schools focus more on creating compassionate cultures for students to feel safe, cared about, and engaged.

Legislative session resumes tomorrow. We will continue to blog about hot topics and monitor these bills and others. Check our Legislative Monitor for a list of all education bills.

3 Helpful Resources for Teaching English Learners

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Did you know that more than 11,000 English learner students attend Delaware schools, representing more than 100 different languages?

Last week I had the pleasure of meeting Jennifer Bishop, an English as a Second Language teacher in the Brandywine School District who also serves as treasurer and membership chair of Delaware English Language Learners Teachers and Advocates (DELLTA), a nonprofit organization dedicated to serving the English-learner population in Delaware. Jen highlighted three ways that all teachers with English learners in their class can access additional resources.

  1. Visit the WIDA Consortium website. Delaware is a member of the WIDA Consortium, which designs and implements proficiency standards and assessments for English learners in grades K-12. The membership provides Delaware teachers with free Educator Resources and a detailed library that includes webinars specific to Delaware.
  1. Ask whether your district utilizes over-the-phone interpreter services. For instance, Brandywine School District uses CTS Language Link. This can be an incredibly helpful resource for fostering family engagement. For instance, Jen uses the service during for parent-teacher meetings with parents who do not understand, speak, or read English.
  1. Connect with DELLTA. Email Jen Bishop if you would like to be added to the DELLTA mailing list to receive information about upcoming meetings. Check out their website or Facebook page for resources, information about becoming a DELLTA member, and more about the organization’s goals, which include:
    • To advocate for appropriate legislation, sufficient funding, and community involvement for English learners throughout the state of Delaware
    • To create an awareness and appreciation of the contributions that linguistic minorities bring to Delaware and the nation
    • To promote and support the professional development of educators of English learners
    • To recognize the achievements of linguistic minority students through scholarship grants
    • To provide opportunities for group study and discussions of challenges educators of English learners encounter
    • To assist as a resource in posting the latest educational English learner research

Extra Credit: Did you know that a guiding coalition of parents, community representatives, district subject matter experts, and the Department of Education has developed draft recommendations for the future of English learner instruction in Delaware known as the “English Learner Strategic Plan?” Read the draft plan, submit your input via an online survey, and learn more about upcoming community feedback meetings here on the Delaware Department of Education’s website.

7 Things You Need to Know About WEIC’s Interim Redistricting Plan

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Don’t have time to read the 170-page interim plan for redistricting the City of Wilmington released by the Wilmington Education Improvement Commission (WEIC) last week? Let me point you in the direction of some essential pieces of information and answer a few questions you may be asking about both the content and the process.


1.   What is WEIC recommending in this plan? Here’s my one major recommendation: Make sure to read the five-page executive summary! I found it very helpful. The recommendations fall into two buckets: Redistricting Recommendations and Funding Student Success.

2.   Remind me again why redistricting is needed? Another must-read is the impassioned The Case for Redistricting found on pages seven through nine of the report’s introduction. Also, WEIC has created an infographic that illustrates its theory of change for how these systemic changes will lead to improved student outcomes.

WEIC theory of improving student outcomes

3.   What’s the proposed timeline for how to make these recommendations a reality? WEIC lays out a multi-year timeline for how to implement its recommendations, once they are approved. This timeline is below. If you want to see more concrete milestones of progress for each phase, check out pages 152-157.

WEIC implementation timeline

4.   What’s the difference between this plan and the previous recommendations of the Wilmington Education Advisory Committee (WEAC)? WEIC used WEAC’s report, Strengthening Wilmington Education: An Action Agenda, as a foundation for its analysis, and built off most of the previous recommendations to provide further detail. There are a few areas of difference:

a.   WEAC initially recommended that the Colonial School District be removed from the City of Wilmington, but the current draft of the WEIC plan does not include that recommendation.

b.   In order to allocate funding based on the needs of students in poverty and English learners, WEAC recommended either a weighted student funding system, or a modification to the current unit system. WEIC has narrowed in on a recommendation to modify the current unit system in the short term.

c.   Some of WEAC’s recommendations that are not immediately related to redistricting are still being discussed by the WEIC committees, such as improving collaboration between and among districts and charters, and creating a statewide plan for coordinating services for low-income students, families, and schools.

5.   What else is in this report that I may not know about? In addition to the recommendations, there is a lot of other new substance baked into the report, including:

a.   Implementation plans from Christina and Red Clay school districts that outline what decisions would have to be made, when actions needs to be taken, who needs to be involved, and how to engage the community on a plethora of topics from transportation to capital assets, to impacts on students and educators (page 107).

b.   Specific definitions and GIS maps of the districts’ current and proposed boundary lines (page 121).

c.   Explanations of how WEIC’s work relates to other initiatives in the state such as Student Success 2025 and the Early Childhood Council, (page 95).

d.   Ways WEIC will measure progress as its recommendations are implemented (page 150).


6.   Is this report final? How do I make my voice heard? This is an interim report that is open for public feedback, which WEIC is accepting through this Google form. There are also five formal public hearings currently scheduled during which the public can provide testimony on the plan before it is submitted to the State Board of Education. More information can be found on the WEIC website.

7.   What next? What has to happen in order for this plan to be adopted?

a.   December 9th, 2015: The Commission will meet on to review and discuss public feedback.

b.   December 15th, 2015: The Commission will meet to decide whether to send the plan forward to the State Board of Education.

c.   The State Board of Education can then send the plan back to WEIC to address areas of concern and resubmit, or it can approve the plan. Under current law, the ability of the State Board of Education the act sunsets after the last day of March.

d.   If the State Board of Education approves, the plan need to be approved by the General Assembly via a joint resolution in order to move forward. If both chambers approve the joint resolution, the plan would need to be signed by the governor.


As a program officer at Rodel, Neil Kirschling closely follows education in Wilmington, including the work of both the Wilmington Education Advisory Committee and the Wilmington Education Improvement Commission.

This information is current as of 11/18.

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