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Digging Deeper: Student Need Grows as Budgets Shrink

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Digging Deeper
“Digging Deeper” is a recurring feature at the Rodel blog where we take some data on Delaware public schools—and put it under the microscope. In the spirit of our Public Education at a Glance, we’ll present a straightforward look at the numbers, and search for some deeper meaning.

 

Delaware’s budget crisis has taken quite a toll on education and the state as a whole. At the same time, student needs are growing, with some of our highest-need populations (low-income students, English learners, and students with disabilities) increasing at a faster rate than ever.

 

With changing demographics and the expanding role of the public school system, students are going to need all the resources they can get. At the same time, alarming achievement gaps still remain, indicating we aren’t funding schools in a way that meets the unique needs of individual students and the added needs of English learners or students in poverty.

 

As schools and districts brace for possible programmatic and personnel cuts, there’s no time like the present to seriously reassess Delaware’s education financing system. Fewer teachers and less quality programming might save money, but it won’t deliver an excellent and equitable educational opportunity to all students.

 

In the last decade, Delaware’s high-need student population has increased sharply.

 

Over the past 10 years, total enrollment has increased by 11 percent—with huge increases in special education and English learners.

The low-income student population has dropped by more than 28,000 students after the state changed the methodology for determining low-income status. While the calculation determining which families are deemed low-income has changed, it does not mean that there are fewer students living in poverty.

 

Today, more than one-third of students are low-income.

 

In other words almost 50,000 out of about 136,000 students enrolled in Delaware public schools as classified as low-income, and nearly 20,000 are special education.

While it appears as that English learners populate a small proportion of the total student population—it’s important to remember that they are also the fastest growing. In fact, in some counties, English learners constitute nearly 10 percent of public school students.

 

Sussex County holds the highest proportion of low-income and English learners.

We know disadvantaged students need more resources.

 

We also know that investing in education benefits students—and society as a whole. This is especially true for students living in poverty, where an investment into evidence-based programs could have implications for student outcomes, according to a report on from the United States Department of Education’s Equity and Excellence Commission. English learning students are in the same boat, where more resources are needed for teachers and tools that can ensure their success. Also, while students with disabilities do get more funding, often a lack of flexibility in that funding still means that these students are being left behind.

 

In this budget crisis, we need to maintain investments in education now more than ever, especially for our most vulnerable students.

 

A plan to transition Delaware’s inequitable funding system is long overdue for students living in poverty and English learners. Delaware’s 70-year-old funding formula doesn’t account for the full range of student needs and simply doesn’t reflect the diversity of our modern-day student population.

The Dangers of Chronic Absenteeism

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If students are not in school, they are not learning. That is the main issue behind chronic absenteeism, which has serious implications for student success. Students that are chronically absent are at a higher risk of failing academically or dropping out.

 

What it is

Chronic absenteeism is defined as missing at least 10 percent of instructional time within one academic year. Chronic absenteeism is not the same as truancy (three days of unexcused absence) or average daily attendance (ADA). ADA can actually mask chronic absence, since it only tells how many students show up to class every day.

  • Currently, Delaware does not measure chronic absenteeism. Delaware only measures ADA and truancy. Delaware code defines truancy as when a student has been absent without a valid excuse for more than three days. Schools are required to notify parents if a student has more than 10 unexcused absences.
  • According to this Everyone Graduates Report, the nation’s rate of chronic absence may range from 10 to 15 percent—numbers not being captured on the state level. By failing to measure and report chronic absence rates, we fail to truly understand the depth of the issue in Delaware.

 

Who it affects

Chronic absenteeism affects all students. However, it can have especially dire consequences at key times in student’s life, and tends to disproportionately affect disadvantaged students.

  • Kindergarten and first grade students often have absentee rates that rival those in high school. That matters because a child who can read on grade level by third grade is far more likely to graduate than one who does not.
  • Low-income students are four times more likely to be chronically absent, according to Attendance Works, a nationwide initiative promoting better policies around school attendance.
  • There are many reasons students are missing school, including health issues, work and financial responsibility, lack of transportation, unsafe school conditions, and homelessness.

 

What we can do

Take action by advocating for chronic absenteeism to be a metric in the Every Student Success Act. Measuring chronic absence is the first round of defense. As Delaware continues to form it state plan, make sure your voice is heard. Visit the Delaware Department of Education’s ESSA Stakeholder Engagement page to advocate.

Build a culture of school attendance. Communities, schools, and families need to work together to ensure that all students are getting to and staying in school by addressing the bigger social issues that hinder attendance.

  • Prioritize student health needs by providing comprehensive school health services. Check out this brief on the connection between health and chronic absence.
  • Ensure student safety and engagement through social and emotional learning. Check out this Digging Deeper blog for more on what Delaware students are saying about school safety and engagement.
  • Early childhood educators can help using parent engagement techniques and offering support for at-risk families. Check out this brief from Attendance Works to see how early childhood educators can act.

Digging Deeper: Are Delaware Students Safe and Engaged?

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Digging Deeper
“Digging Deeper” is a recurring feature at the Rodel blog where we take some data on Delaware public schools—and put it under the microscope. In the spirit of our Public Education at a Glance, we’ll present a straightforward look at the numbers, and search for some deeper meaning.

 

Academic achievement is but one aspect of student success. To develop the “whole child” we must also nurture a student’s social and emotional skills. Research shows that a positive school climate impacts both academic achievement and the development of social and emotional skills. As recent concerns about school safety intensify, a stronger focus on school climate could help ensure that students remain safe and engaged.

According to the National Survey of Children’s Health (NSCH) six out of 10 Delaware children meet the Promoting School Success Index. This index measures student engagement, participation in extracurricular activities, and feeling safe at school. The survey provides data on various aspects of a child’s life, from physical and mental wellness, to neighborhood, school, and social contexts.

Eight out of 10 of eighth graders reported feeling safe in school in 2016. Still, almost half of students in eighth grade feel that violence is a problem at their school, according to the Delaware School Survey. The same pattern can be seen in fifth and 11th grade.

Research shows a correlation between student engagement in school and student achievement. Student engagement, often defined as students actively participating in learning, focusing attention to the topic at hand and staying on task. When students remain engaged, they learn better and perform better.

A positive school climate—one where students feel safe and cared for—influences not only academic performance, but behavioral outcomes and emotional health, according to the National School Climate Center. In fact, supporting positive school climate can be a preventative method for violence, bullying, and distraction.

Some solutions: Prioritizing Student Engagement and Safety

While the majority of Delaware students report feeling safe and engaged, it’s fair to ask: Is that enough? Student Success 2025 has a goal for all students to feel safe in school, and aims to raise the number of students that are consistently engaged in school to 95 percent. Thankfully we have some possible solutions to consider.

  • Using a personalized learning model, each student is met where they are academically while student agency and ownership is leveraged to increase engagement. To learn what personalized learning looks like in a Montessori classroom, read “Liberty within Limits: Personalized Learning in the Montessori Classroom” by Rodel Teacher Council member Cheryl Lynn Jones.
  • Delaware Pathways, a program designed to prepare public school students for the workforce, offers more real-life experiences and connections for students to remain on track for success. When students know that that success after high school is within reach, they are more likely to remain engaged in school.
  • Social and Emotional Learning, or the process through which students are taught positive relationship building, positive self-image, responsible decision-making, and other useful skills, is just one way that schools can create a supportive school environment and keeps students engaged. Check out this blog for more background on social and emotional learning—and to see what is already happening in Delaware.

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