Archive for the ‘College and Career Readiness’ Category

Budget Woes Dominate Legislative Session

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The Delaware General Assembly ended its session this year on an interesting quirk and plenty of frustration. After going past the June 30 budget deadline for the first time in decades, the legislative session officially concluded in the early morning hours of July 2nd, after a required extended time window, and a contentious budget negotiation. In years past, education policy issues have dominated the legislature’s agenda, but a sizable deficit and tense budget negotiations resulted in an attention shift.

Delaware’s tough financial outlook, plagued by revenue shortfalls, dominated the activity in the legislature. The negotiations became so difficult that the General Assembly did not adopt a budget during its marathon last day of session, instead coming back on July 2nd to adopt a final budget.

When the FY 2018 budget was signed on July 3rd by Governor John Carney, it included significant implications to education.

  • While the State Board of Education was not eliminated, as was originally proposed in March, all of its funding was cut. This leaves an unclear future for the State Board given the potential loss of its operating staff.
  • Within School District Operations, there was a reduction of $26 million that will be effective on July 1st. District and charters will submit reductions plans to the Department of Education and the Office of Management and Budget by October 31 to define how they will implement these cuts to their operations budget. The reduction in funds will be allocated proportionally to districts and charter schools based on the Division 1 unit count.
  • The Teacher Leader Pilot program—which aimed to support educator career paths and inform instructional practice—was eliminated, resulting in an overall reduction to Teacher Compensation Reform in the amount of $800,000.
  • After facing both proposed cuts and increases throughout session, early childhood initiatives, which includes tiered reimbursements, or higher payments for programs that reach higher levels of quality in the Delaware Stars Quality Rating and Improvement System, were funded at $4.3 million more than FY17. However, it is unclear at this time exactly how resources will be directed based on the following epilogue language: “For FY18, no new program applications will be accepted and all current Delaware Stars for Early Success participants at S Levels 2, 3 and 4 will be held at their current level.”
  • College Access programs—like dual-enrollment sub-grants, PSAT sessions, and College Application Month—were considered for significant reductions. While some scholarship funds were ultimately eliminated, the programs saw only a $100,000 cut once the dust finally settled on the budget.
  • Finally, $1 million has been allocated to provide Opportunity Grants. This funding will provide up to 10 competitive sub-grants to districts and charters for the purpose of providing integrated student services and trauma-informed supports to low-income students or to providing other additional supports to low-income and English language learner students based on the needs of those students during the 2017-18 school year.

Several other items were reduced, including World Language Expansion, Parents as Teachers, Department of Education staffing, and pass-throughs to programs at institutions of higher education.

While the budget took up most of the spotlight, several other education-related bills gained attention.

Multiple bills were introduced to curb high school dropout rates. Rep. Sean Matthews pursued HB23, which requires any student who wishes to drop out before the age of 16 to complete an exit interview, along with their parents and school personnel, to review the disadvantages to not having a high school diploma. Parents would then have to provide written consent. This bill passed overwhelmingly, and was subsequently signed into law by Gov. Carney. Several other dropout prevention bills were introduced this year but did not make it to the governor’s desk. Ideas included raising the minimum age of school attendance (HB17 and HB55) and reducing truancy by requiring a parent conference after a student misses five days of school (HB 24).

School choice was also a key issue.

  • Kim Williams leads the Enrollment Preferences Task Force and is committed to acting on the recommendations outlined in their Report. To address geographic enrollment preferences, Rep. Williams pursued a controversial bill, HS 1 to HB 85, to remove a provision that gives preference to students who reside within a five-mile radius of a charter school. Detractors of this bill cite concerns of discrimination. While the bill would open up more options for students and families, it would not change the enrollment preference for applicants who live in the geographically contiguous part of the school’s district. This means that in-demand schools like Newark Charter School could give preference to enrollees who live in the Newark part of the Christina School District—but would not have to extend the same advantage to applicants who live in the Wilmington section of the district. While Newark Charter School is only one of the schools utilizing the five-mile preference it received most of the attention. This bill passed both the House and the Senate and currently awaits the governor’s signature.
  • As a follow-up, Rep. Williams introduced HB 269, which aligns the timelines, processes, and procedures for choice for school districts, vocational-technical school districts, and charter schools. This bill was introduced late in the session and will be considered in early 2018.

And, a bill addressing new educators and educator candidates came forward. In 2016, Sen. David Sokola sponsored SB 199 which created a one-year “provisional” license for teacher applicants who have not yet met the performance assessment requirement. The bill basically increased the time that an educator is considered to be a “novice,” from a three-year time period to a four-year time period. The intention was to allow additional mentoring supports for Delaware’s early career educators and to enable more high-quality teachers to enter our local workforce through other states and alternative teacher training models. This session, Rep. Williams introduced HS1 for HB143, which aims to remove the provisional license and re-establish the three-tiered licensure system. Some districts claimed the one-year requirement to complete a performance assessment placed a burden on out-of-state applicants and caused difficulty in hiring. Under the new three-tiered system, an initial license provides two years for the licensee to obtain a passing score on an approved performance assessment and eliminates the general knowledge exam. This bill has been signed by the governor.

Not surprisingly, school finance was also a recurring theme.

  • Earl Jaques proposed SCR 39, which will create a task force to study school district consolidation. There are questions about how much money consolidation would really save, but the task force will spend the fall researching possible answers, including whether or not consolidation is feasible and if so, how we might proceed.
  • As taxpayers across the Delaware continue tightening their belts, school districts are finding increasingly harder to pass referendums. In response, Rep. Jaques proposed legislation (HB 213) to allow school districts to raise taxes simply by the rate of inflation without having to seek a referendum. This legislation did not move forward and remains in the House Education Committee in hopes of being worked when the legislature returns in January 2018.

For the third straight year, Rep. John Kowalko pursued an “opt-out” bill. This session, HB 60 would’ve allowed parents to hold their children out of the statewide annual assessment. While the bill was considered in the House Education Committee, it failed to gain the necessary votes to be released to the full House for consideration.

This is only a snapshot of the action in the legislature this past year. Reference this appendix for a full list of education-related bills, and be sure to visit our Legislative Monitor. We also encourage you to join the conversation and become an advocate in Delaware public education. Attend a meeting of one of the many education-related committees underway. Scheduled meetings can be found on the Delaware Public Meeting Calendar.

Funding is Fundamental to Progress

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With the state’s budget situation casting a cloud of uncertainty in education (and beyond), the time seems right to take a look at education funding through the lens of something that is more than certain—that student needs have changed drastically since our school funding formula was developed in the 1940s.

 

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 spectrum needs and interests.

 

A student whose native language is not English.

A student who changes school districts halfway through the year.

A student hoping to graduate high school with college credit.

A student who wants to supplement her traditional classes with online/distance learning and community experiences.

 

These are just four examples, highlighted below, of students that could benefit from the state transitioning to a more flexible, student-centered funding system. Most states use a foundation formula, where a base amount of money—rather than units—is allocated consistently for each student, to which funding can be added based on designated student needs, such as low-income, English learners, and students with disabilities. In other words, a student’s needs are taken into account as money is distributed.

 

Funding is Fundamental to… English learners

Since 1997, Delaware has experienced a 433-percent increase in English learner students. Yet Delaware is one of four states that does not 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 could help districts and charters provide a wide array of services, including hiring additional certified instructors.

Last year, Rodel was one of 22 organizations that signed a letter urging the state to consider a more equitable, student-centered funding formula. These Delaware student narratives were developed to accompany this letter. Learn more at www.educationequityde.org.

 

Funding is Fundamental to…transient students

As a research assistant for the University of Delaware’s Institute for Public Administration providing staff support for the Wilmington Education Advocacy Committee, I had the privilege of hearing testimonies from Wilmington parents, teachers, administrators, and community leaders. One challenge that stood out from their stories was the challenge of responding to students moving across districts. These effects may be most acutely felt in Wilmington, where moving just a few blocks can switch your school district – as it happened to me last summer – or for students with special needs who are entitled to certain services.

Funding is Fundamental to…college and career-bound students

There is a lot of momentum in Delaware for ensuring students graduate high school with credits/credentials and real-world experiences that set them up to success in whatever postsecondary path they choose. Today more than ever, there are more options available for students such as earning early college credit through Advanced Placement and dual enrollment courses, enrolling in a career pathway, or gaining work-based learning and leadership experience. But we have some work to do. We learned from the College Success report that we’re still not preparing enough young people for college coursework, and it’s possible that we’re not providing enough access to challenging courses to kids in high school, especially to students of color or students from low-income families.

 

We know that Delaware is one of about 15 states that does not allocate funding in its state formula for low-income students, which could be used for these purposes and others. While some districts may cover the costs of this offering this rigorous coursework, others may not be able to. As Mike Griffith, senior school finance analyst for Education Commission of the States, points out: “There are some states where high school students can take dual and concurrent enrollment and come out of high school with a free associate degree. And this is not a small group of elite students—but it’s open to every student. With an improved formula, your school will have greater flexibility to offer more after-school and summer school courses, and we can do so much more for our at-risk kids.

Funding is Fundamental to…personalized learning

I’ve also heard from members of the Rodel Teacher Council that the unit count funding system is one of the barriers limiting the state’s ability to scale up personalized learning models like innovative school design, reimagined teacher roles, and flexible course offerings for students. In their Student Centered Learning Structures policy brief, RTC members illustrate the connection between personalized learning and the state funding system through a fictional student named Maya.

According to RTC members in this brief, “In order for Maya and her classmates to have opportunities for online/distance learning, community experiences, and other activities related to their specific needs and interests, Delaware’s funding system will need to shift to be more student-centered.”

Funding is Fundamental to….all of Student Success 2025

Rodel is committed to supporting implementation of the Vision Coalition of Delaware’s Student Success 2025 recommendations, which are divided into six core areas including “Fair and Efficient Funding.” But it’s clear from the examples above that funding is not just a standalone core area of Student Success 2025. It affects our ability to implement recommendations across all core areas. Reevaluating how the state allocates its finite dollars could open up possibilities such as:

  • In “Educator Support and Development,” the full possibilities of implementing exciting educator career pathways are not outright hindered, but limited by barriers such as the unit count and teacher of record policies.
  • “System Governance, Alignment, and Performance,” recommends we provide LEAs with flexibility to “develop shared service arrangements” and other efficiency measures. At the moment, the state dictates what purposes units can be spent on, such as energy or behavioral health specialists, rather than provide support and incentives for efficient local resource decision-making.

 

For these reasons, Delaware’s funding system will continue to be a hot topic until we can ensure that state resources are being allocated in a way that most efficiently, equitably, and effectively allows all students to succeed.

Digging Deeper: Why Graduation Rates Don’t Tell the Whole Story

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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.

 

It may be stating the obvious, but a high school diploma is not the sole determinant of student success. Instead, we usually need to examine a student’s entire academic career—from kindergarten through 12th grade—to get a picture of how well prepared they are to pursue their interests after high school.

Likewise, disparities in academic achievement can offer insight into why low-income and minority students fall often behind their peers—and expose areas for intervention so all students have the best chance to pursue whichever options they choose after high school.

Diplomas matter, but higher educational attainment also has serious implications for students’ future.

Students of color and low-income students are more likely to miss the opportunities educational attainment brings. This includes higher earnings, lower unemployment rates, health benefits, and being more active citizens. However, without intervention, goals for increasing educational attainment are not likely to be reached, according to research by Complete College America and State Higher Education Executive Officers. The OECD also states that targeting inequities in education reform pays off in the form of better employment and more contribution to society and the economy.

The metrics below show that disparities in academic achievement appear as early as elementary and middle school and extend through high school and into college. By taking into consideration these other metrics, in addition to graduation rates, we will find opportunities for earlier intervention to improve the chances for success amongst students of color and low-income students in K-12.

Large achievement gaps exist between students of color and low-income students and their white and not low-income peers—some over 20 percentage points. These gaps persist throughout all grade levels.

Smarter Balanced and SAT scores reveal staggering disparities among minority and low-income students in both math and English Language Arts. Delaware students take Smarter Balanced in grades three through eight, allowing plenty of time for early identification of struggling students.

All 11th grade students in Delaware take the SAT during the school day, offering a good measure of which students are on track for graduation and postsecondary life. SAT proficiency—a term used to describe meeting or exceeding the standard on the math and reading SAT—is a predictor for college readiness.

Delaware graduation rates are fairly high—but so are remediation rates amongst minority and low-income students.

Despite a persistent disparity, the gaps in high school graduation between students of color and low-income students and their white, wealthier peers are closing. However, college remediation rates tell a different story—that many students of color and low-income students are not ready for academic life after high school. Remedial courses do not provide credits towards a degree, but still require students to pay tuition. Minority and disadvantaged students’ remediation rates are much higher than the state average.

Closing the Gap: Solutions for increasing educational attainment for students of color and low-income students

Disparities in educational achievement throughout K-12 can be rectified through targeted interventions.

  • Empower students earlier in their academic career to make informed decisions about their futures such as getting early college credit, enrolling in a career pathway, or gaining work-based learning and leadership experience.
  • Adequately prepare students for life after high school by ensuring they are gaining access to career and technical education courses, which provide a disproportionate benefit to low-income students who specialize in a specific trade, according to the Fordham Institute.
  • Provide targeted interventions before 11th grade for students not meeting college-ready benchmarks.
  • Create an equitable K-12 education system by addressing disparities in student achievement and access to opportunity.
    • Advocate for policy changes and pilot programs to support student-centered learning
    • Advocate for changes in the funding system, so that low-income and other disadvantaged students receive equitable funding.

 Other ways to get involved:

  • Start early. Advocate for policies to support third grade literacy. A child who reads on grade level by third grade
  • Employers and business owners can build partnerships with Delaware Pathways, where they can host students in work-based learning experiences and help inform the pathways curriculum.
  • Parents and community leaders can mentor on the SPARC platform.
  • Students can develop their Student Success Plan and do interest inventories, skills assessments, college searches, career searches, resume building, or interact with mentors and business leaders on the SPARC platform.

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