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Digging Deeper: When the School-to-Prison Pipeline Starts in Preschool

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Last month, the Office of Civil Rights released federal data that re-affirmed disproportionate discipline outcomes for public schools students by race, gender, and disability status. For many, this data confirms a need to address the school-to-prison pipeline—that is, the policies and practices that push historically underserved students (primarily students of color and students with disabilities) out of the classroom and into the criminal justice system.

 

While we know that students of color, boys, and students with disabilities are more likely than other student groups to be arrested, suspended, and/or expelled—we don’t often acknowledge how early disproportionate discipline starts. Some students experience suspension or expulsion as early as preschool.

 

Childcare programs come in all shapes and sizes and are not required to report discipline data (there is no system in Delaware to collect data from all public and private childcare providers). What little we do know is alarming. According to this 2005 Yale University study:

  • Delaware’s preschool expulsion rate is nine times higher than the rate for K-12 students.
  • We are the fifth highest in the nation in expulsion rates for preschoolers.
  • Twelve percent of early childhood teachers expelled at least one child. Teachers in faith-affiliated, for profit childcare, and other community-based settings were more likely to report expelling a preschooler as opposed to school-based or Head Start centers.

 

Unfortunately, this data could be a conservative estimate since it only looks at state-funded pre-k programs, which serve fewer than 1,000 Delaware four-year olds, only a small sample of the 15,000 kids in childcare from ages zero to 12. There remains a lack of reliable information on how many Delaware preschoolers face this type of discipline.

 

African-Americans, boys, and preschoolers four years or older are at a higher risk of receiving a suspension or expulsion.

 

While data is lacking at the state level, we know that having one or all of these traits can put a preschooler at risk. The Office of Civil Rights notes that racial disparities in discipline occur before kindergarten and that boys are over-represented in suspensions.

 

Still, researchers and practitioners dispute the root causes of these disparities. Some argue that children living in poverty—which are overwhelmingly students of color—are more likely to misbehave. Others argue that implicit bias, zero tolerance, and subjective discipline policies are resulting in disproportionate impact. Research from the U.S. Government Accountability Office shows that discipline is dished out more often to boys and black students despite factors such as poverty, school type, and the type of discipline.

 

The U.S. Departments of Education and Health and Human Services recommends eliminating (or severely limiting) suspensions and expulsions for preschoolers.

 

In addition to raising awareness about exclusionary discipline in early childhood settings, the departments offer guidance to states and providers on preventing suspension and expulsion, collecting data, setting goals, and teacher training, including:

  1. Establish and communicate policies that eliminate or severely limit suspension and expulsion at the state and program level. This includes the creation of developmentally appropriate behavioral expectations and discipline practices.
  2. Set goals for improvement and use data to assess progress towards ending exclusionary discipline. The state should collect and analyze data from public and private providers, and use it to create a statewide plan to reduce these types of discipline in early childhood settings. The state should support programs in setting data-based goals and provide the resources and training needed to attain those goals.
  3. State and providers must invest in workforce preparation and development. Alongside pre-service and in-service training, providers need access to community-based service providers, behavioral specialists, and mental health consultants who can help them create a positive climate, strong relationships with children and families, and develop cultural competency.
  4. The state and providers must implement policies that ensure high quality programming. That means ensuring that there are high qualifications for staff and ongoing professional development. For programs, it means coordinating and using successful early intervention approaches and helping vulnerable children transition to the pre-K classroom environment. Furthermore, programs should develop clear policies regarding supports for pre-K students with behavior problems (access to alternative services, individual behavioral aides, highly trained personnel).

 

All states must comply with federal guidelines by September 30, 2018.

 

Delaware’s proposed policy (that will be submitted to the feds this summer) requires that child care centers simply have a policy—and isn’t specific about what’s actually in the policy, or how it gets implemented. A draft statement from DHSS recommends that publicly funded childcare programs aim to make suspension and expulsion discipline a last resort. However, challenges remain with ensuring staff are getting behavioral health supports—including special education services and mental health consultants. Furthermore, questions remain about how the policy will be implemented, monitored, and enforced. Concerns about this were brought up to the Delaware Early Childhood Council, which urged the state and partners to strengthen technical assistance to providers.

 

Opportunities remain for the state, providers, and parents to ensure that Delaware’s youngest learners are getting the support they need. Here’s how:

  • Address adult needs. While focusing on adults may seem counterintuitive, addressing the social and emotional needs of providers should be a priority. Early childhood teachers are often underpaid and overworked—nearly a third qualify for public assistance like Food Stamps. Supporting early childhood teachers in coping with challenging behavior, understanding childhood development, managing stress, and creating a positive work environment are key avenues to reducing early childhood suspensions and expulsions.
  • Ensure providers have access to behavioral and mental specialists. Discipline policies that limit the use of suspension and expulsion aren’t as effective without the proper training and professional development for staff to manage behavioral challenges. This is includes supporting and expanding programs like Delaware’s Early Childhood Mental Health Consultant Service and Child Development Watch, both of which offer services to providers and families to address children’s developmental, social, emotional, and behavioral needs.
  • Promote collaboration between providers, families, and community-based organizations to provide families with support services such as home visits, therapy, and skills training. We know that providers cannot do alone—and neither can families. Prioritizing collaboration can ensure that families are connecting with the wraparound services they need to support their children, and that providers have access to best practices, training, and resources.
  • The state and providers should prioritize the collection of data and the creation of a plan to eliminate early childhood suspensions and expulsions. These plans should include the collection of data for all programs—publicly and privately funded. The state should provide assistance in the creation of a plan that includes providing families and early childhood teachers with strategies and resources to manage challenging behavior.

Digging Deeper: The Good, Bad, and Ugly from Delaware’s Graduation Rates

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Last month, the Delaware Department of Education released the latest graduation rates for Delaware high schoolers. The data provide us mixed messages. And while the headlines painted a mostly cheery picture of an overall  increase in the statewide graduation rate, a closer look shows that students of color and high-needs students (low-income students, students with disabilities, and English learners) continue to be left behind.

 

The Good

 

More students are graduating with a diploma overall—including some at-risk student populations.

 

The overall graduation rate increased slightly from 85 percent in 2016 to 86 percent in 2017. From 2014 to 2017, there has been an increase from 84 percent to 86 percent. During this time period we also saw gains among students of color and high-needs students.

 

Specifically, graduation rates for African American, Asian, and multi-racial students have increased. Students with disabilities have seen the largest increase of all high-needs groups (that is, among low-income students and English learners)—more than three percent.

 

The Bad

 

But disparities in graduation rates raise serious concerns about a lack of college and career readiness supports for high-need students and Hispanic students.

 

English learners are graduating at a rate 14 percent less than the state average. In fact, graduation rates for English learners have dropped by seven percent over the last four years, from 75 percent in 2014 to 68 percent in 2017. Graduation rates for low-income students are behind the state average by nine percent, decreasing by 1.3 percent since 2014. While the graduation rate for students with disabilities has increased by 3.5 percent over the last four years, they still lag significantly behind the state average. Graduation rates for Hispanic students remain five percent behind the state average, and have remained stagnant since 2014.

 

 

Equity gaps—disparities between students of color, high needs students, and their peers—are slowly closing across the state. But disparities in graduation rates across schools and districts show that major  inequities remain.  Across all schools serving high schoolers, overall graduation rates ranged from a low of 65 percent to a high of more than 95 percent. Within schools, major disparities by race, ability, income, and English learner status point to an immediate need for more focused and targeted supports for these students.

 

School level graduation rate ranges across subgroups
Subgroup Lowest Graduation Rate Highest Graduation Rate
All Students 65% >95%
African American 56% ->95%
American Indian <5% >95%
Hispanic 57% >95%
Asian 33% >95%
White 60% >95%
English Learners 40% >95%
Students with disabilities 31% >95%
Low-income 60% 95%

Note: Data are suppressed if the percentage of graduates is greater than 95 or less than 5.

 

The Ugly

 

As graduation rates continue to increase, other indicators such as SAT and remediation have remained stagnant, raising questions about the quality of education guaranteed through a high school diploma

 

A recent report released by Achieve indicated that Delaware is one of seven states and the District of Columbia that sets the expectation that a high school diploma includes college and career readiness requirements in English language arts and math. While more students are graduating, SAT results show that less than 30 percent of students are college and career ready in math, and only 53 percent are college and career ready in reading and writing.

 

For Delaware high school students that graduate and go to a Delaware college or university, 41 percent are required to take remedial math and/or English courses, for which they may not receive credit.

 

A closer look at graduation data reveals a need for targeted supports for underserved students of color and high-need students.

 

Graduation data, often reported as statewide averages, can sometimes mask the reality that lots of Delaware students are struggling to earn a high school diploma. A holistic view of the data offers the opportunity to see which students would benefit from extra academic supports through a range of programs and approaches—because different strategies work for different students. College and career readiness requires high academic expectations and opportunities for career exploration for all students. Support for high school success begins early, continues through transitions to middle, high school, into postsecondary and career, and includes:

 

  • Providing academic supports starting before elementary school. Research indicates that third grade is a critical turning point for students. A child who can read on grade level by third grade is four times more likely to graduate by age 19 than a child who does not read proficiently by that time. Delaware Readiness Teams are one example of making sure children from birth to age eight are ready for school and life.
  • Adequate college and career advising for all students to help students identify their career path. Delaware Pathways can help students earn industry credentials through work-based learning experience in relevant career areas.
  • Equitable access to rigorous course options such as AP and dual enrollment for typically underserved students to provide access to rigor of college-level courses and earn early college credits.
  • Tying academics supports with social and emotional development for all students. College and career readiness is a whole child endeavor, and includes developing non-cognitive skills such as managing emotions, setting goals, building empathy, and responsible decision-making.
  • Implementing personalized learning models (such as competency-based learning), which tailors classroom instruction to the specific needs of the students. Supporting innovative learning models like this can help meet students where they are, and ensure that they are leaving high school prepared for college-level coursework.

Digging Deeper: Five Ways Delaware’s Funding System Doesn’t Add Up

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Delaware invests more than a billion dollars a year in public education, but our state’s method for allocating dollars, many argue, raises serious questions about transparency, efficiency, and equity. The questions aren’t going away, either. Delaware’s public education spending has only grown over the years as student enrollment continues to climb.

That’s not all. Here are just five ways Delaware’s funding system doesn’t add up.

  1. Delaware’s funding system is over 70 years old

If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it. That isn’t the case for a funding system created when schools were still racially segregated, when there were no federal protections for students with disabilities, and when computers weren’t part of everyday life. Classrooms are not the same as they were in the 1940s. Students’ academic and non-academic needs are growing—just as technology has transformed the way teaching and learning occur. Delaware’s restrictive funding system hinders personalized learning models where technology and innovative classroom models put students in the driver’s seat of their own learning.

  1. Spending is not transparent—for parents or for advocates

In a Vision Coalition statewide poll on education, 69 percent of Delawareans agree that it is too hard to find information about how tax dollars are spend in the education system. Only 27 percent agree that they could find information they needed on how tax dollars are spent.

To date, Delaware does not report education spending at the school-level within traditional districts. Public reporting of education spending is limited to online school profiles, which show state and district average per pupil expenditures, and the state’s open checkbook, which lists and displays all financial transactions in the state. For the average parent or taxpayer, it’s unclear exactly how schools are receiving and spending education dollars, or whether schools serving high populations of low-income students are getting the resources they need to provide a high-quality education.

  1. The money does not follow students

The state distributes most funds based on prescriptive and inflexible units—or fixed staff positions. Despite the fact that student ratios undergird the unit system, there is no set dollar amount for each individual student, as there is in most other states. Instead, one unit enables districts to hire based on teachers’ level of education and experience. This means that the same student, with the same needs, could “earn” different amounts of money from the state depending on where they go to school. And custodians, secretaries, and administrators monies are allocated based on such outlandish measures such as the number of classrooms, auditorium seating capacity, swimming pools, or the size of central heating and air.

  1. Inflexibility = inefficiency

Funds received through the unit count generally cannot be used as cash for other purposes. Only around eight percent of funding is truly flexible. Less rigidity could result in savings for schools through smarter spending, such a contracting out services or using allocated funds to meet specific student needs—something that is already happening in Delaware charter schools.

  1. Our current system is unfair to students

Our current funding system disproportionately disadvantages low-income students, students with disabilities, and English learner students. Students with higher needs don’t get more money allocated to them, even though we know it takes more resources to adequately educate these students. English learners and low-income students are consistently underserved, as indicated by academic outcomes (see Delaware Public Education at a Glance) yet have zero dedicated state funding. The system even has barriers for students with disabilities, as illustrated in this infographic. The result of this inequitable system is a large portion of our high-needs students (up to one-third of the entire public school population in the case of low-income students) are not fully benefiting from our current public education funding formula.

Delaware can build a better system. Here’s how:

  1. Update the funding system and base it on student needs. A foundation system or weighted student funding system allocates money for each student, with additional funds for high-need students (low-income students, students with disabilities, and English learners). A majority of states use this type of system—though not all provide extra funding for all the high-need categories we listed here.
  2. Create more flexibility for schools and districts by allowing them to determine how to best use education dollars. Offer training for school and district leaders to make informed decisions on how to best use flexible dollars.
  3. Build transparency into the system. The Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA) offers an opportunity for states to become more transparent in how funding looks at the school level, if implemented consistently across the state. A more simplified system where money follows students will allow for schools and districts to estimate the amount of funding they will receive and make it easier for parents and taxpayers to see the impact of public education investments.

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