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Quick Reactions to Disappointing NAEP News

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The latest results from the National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP)—known in our world colloquially as the “Nation’s Report Card”—were released this week. Across the nation, scores remain mostly flat. This is disappointing as we’ve now gone nearly a decade in this country without any strong growth in either reading or math, with the slight exception of eighth grade reading.

 

But for Delaware, the news is even more disappointing.

 

As Mike Petrilli from the Fordham Institute highlighted, Delaware is one of just a small handful of states that saw scores decline across the board—in fourth grade math and reading, and eighth grade math and reading—from 2013 to 2017. The gap in achievement between white students and black and Hispanic students widened.

 

The state-level data tell us that in math, only 36 percent of fourth-graders and 28 percent of eighth-graders are at or above proficiency. In reading, 36 percent of fourth-graders and 33 percent of eighth-graders are proficient. The Smarter Assessment, Delaware’s state assessment for grades three through eight, also measures ELA and math through different measures and with different cut scores. Smarter shows that 54 percent of fourth graders proficient in reading and 52 percent in eighth grade. In math, 50 percent of fourth graders are proficient, and 38 percent in eighth grade. Achievement gaps across student subgroups (high-need students and students of color) follow national trends, showing that these students are more likely to fall behind than their peers.

 

As Petrilli notes, figuring out the “why” is difficult at this early stage. The economic downturn, which crunched school spending at the state level and negatively impacted the home lives of many children and families, certainly didn’t help. There could be changes in demographics or it could be a function of our kids simply not taking the test seriously since it didn’t have any implications for them.

 

Whatever the reasons, this is not the news we wanted to hear. We keep a close eye on NAEP because it’s one of the few nationally comparable, long-term measures of student learning available.

 

However, while we need to take it as a serious data point, we also need to keep it in context. The test isn’t universal—it touches only two subjects in two grade levels—and there is no incentive for students or teachers to perform well on the test.

 

Big picture, NAEP is just a single snapshot amid a sea of other measures that provide us with a holistic picture of how our students and schools are performing. Here are some other data to keep in mind –

  • We’ve made great strides on early learning.
  • Our high school graduation rates and college enrollment rates are all heading north.
  • The number of young people entering career pathways grew from 27 to over 9,000 in just four years.
  • And youth unemployment for young adults age 20-24 has largely been in cut in half since 2013, from 12 to 7 percent in 2016.

 

Education doesn’t exist in a silo. We need to look at these data in a broader context, but we should also use these results as a call to action to address our achievement gaps and as motivation to keep pushing forward with our community partners to make sure our young people get the support they need to succeed in a world that is increasingly complex.

Rodel’s Latest Data Guide and Our Priorities for the Year

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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?

  1. 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.

 

  1. 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.

 

  1. 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 info@rodelfoundationde.org. Change is hard, but when we work together, we can make big things happen. Our children deserve nothing less.

We Need a Funding System Built for Tomorrow, not 1940

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An enormous and growing number of Delaware students—including those learning English, have special needs, or come from low-income families—aren’t being properly served by our state’s school funding system. This issue has been thrust back into the spotlight thanks to a high-profile civil rights lawsuit, and the ongoing heightened conversations about the Christina School District.

 

Something has got to give.

 

The equity challenges in our funding system are not surprising because it was designed in the 1940s, more than three decades before black students were fully integrated and before the federal government determined that students learning English or had a disability were eligible for a “free and appropriate public education.” While there have been tweaks to the system (and while the federal government provides some limited funding to address these issues), the basic design of the system has not changed for nearly 80 years. Yet English learner students have increased by 433 percent since 1997, and low-income students make up roughly 37 percent of the student body. Addressing the unique needs of these students simply were not built into the system back then because that was not its charge.

 

Eighty years ago, the world around our young people was more than a little bit different. Of course, communication and travel looked dramatically different, and the economy was humming along pretty well with just about 13 percent of Delawareans having some education beyond high school.

 

In short, we have a funding system built and designed for a completely different student body, era, and economy. Almost every other state in the country and most high-performing countries have long since moved to a system that reflects the fact that different children need different supports to succeed.

 

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 variety of needs and interests.

 

Often, the same kids who don’t receive dedicated funding also have known social and emotional needs, and additional flexible funding that follows the student could allow districts and schools to tailor wraparound supports. Consider the thousands of students who arrive in Delaware learning English, or who are striving to graduate high school with some college credits under their belt, or who want to supplement their traditional classes with online or distance learning experiences. In other states, schools have the financial flexibility to support these students down their unique paths. In Delaware, not so much. In some cases, savvy superintendents and charter school leaders can work around the system to get there, but the system should be built to respond to and support these shifts.

 

Delaware is one of only four states that doesn’t 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 would help districts and charters provide a wide array of services, including hiring additional certified instructors.

 

Delaware’s unit count funding system also stands in the way of unleashing the full powers of personalized learning. Innovative school design, reimagined teacher roles, and flexible course offerings for students—like online or distance learning, community experiences where students earn credit, and other activities related to students’ specific needs and interests—require complicated workarounds, thanks to our inflexible spending model.

 

Nearly across the board, Delaware’s funding system limits creativity and innovation in our schools—while further deepening inequity and leaving behind kids who need more support.

 

These are the reasons Rodel counts itself among more than25 (and growing) organizations urging the state to consider a more equitable, student-centered funding formula. The Education Equity Delaware coalition is making this issue a priority.

 

Join us on April 19th when we’ll welcome local advocates and national experts, including former U.S. Secretary of Education John King, for a half-day conference dedicated to exploring Delaware’s school funding conundrum and coming together to find solutions.

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