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Charlottesville: An Educational Equity Perspective

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The tragic clash of white supremacists and counter protestors on the grounds of the University of Virginia was another painful reminder of America’s ongoing struggle with race and racism.


Racism manifests in all sectors, from healthcare and housing to employment and education. Given our role as education advocates, we examine the events in Charlottesville through the lens of history and the implications of race since the inception of public education in the U.S.


Our hope is that the death of Heather Heyer, and the conflict more broadly, will inspire reflection and action, and that this horrific event spurs each of us to contribute to this country’s ongoing, albeit uneven, efforts to make this a more just society.


Here are a few historic milestones in our nation’s efforts to give all citizens a decent shot at the American Dream (for a more detailed timeline from Race Forward, a nonprofit committed to racial equity, see here):


  • While the Massachusetts Bay Colony starts offering public education nearly a century before, it isn’t until the 1790s through the 1820s when many states begin to make public education free for the predominantly white Christian families that wanted it.
  • From the 1830s through the 1860s, most states deal with non-white children by giving them separate schools, if educating them at all.
  • At the time, most southern states forbid teaching people in slavery to read.
  • In 1846, the Mexican-American War ends and the U.S. annexes roughly half of what was then Mexico to establish much of the vast southwestern U.S. As part of the treaty, these new citizens were guaranteed citizenship and the continued use of the Spanish language (until 1998, when that option was taken away in some states, see Propositions 227 (CA) and 203 (AZ).)
  • In the 1850s and ‘60s, California passes laws barring African-American children from school while Congress makes it illegal for Native Americans to be taught in their native languages.
  • From the 1860s through the 1930s, a range of lawsuits across the country push against inequity, enabling Asian (Tape v. Hurley 1885), black (Ward v. Flood 1874), Mexican (Alvarez v. Board of Trustees of the Lemon Grove School District) and Native American children to attend public, albeit separate, schools.
  • From the 1940s through the 1970s, legal efforts by organizations like the NAACP and the League of United Latin American Citizens (LULAC) create the groundwork for desegregation (e.g. Brown v. Board of Education). But often times, while desegregation was called for by the courts, the reality in our schools didn’t change until decades later—just recall the painful “busing” era in places like Boston and right here in Wilmington. Moreover, if you were a child with a disability, you didn’t see legal support until 1975, when, what is now called the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act, IDEA, passed.
  • To this very day, massive disparities exist between low-income students, who are disproportionately black and Latino, and their higher income peers in terms of academic achievement, college access, and employment (see Delaware Public Education at a Glance). Related, funding inequities have persisted here in Delaware for more than 70 years among low-income students, children of color, those that do not speak English as a first language, and/or those who have a disability.


Our point is that what we saw in Virginia a few days ago was the worst symptom of deep, systemic and institutionalized racism. We saw the ugliest end of the spectrum in that collection of neo-Nazis, KKK members, and alt-right activists, and we all need to condemn them without reservation or equivocation. However, as a community, we also need to own the fact that we can do much more to dismantle racism and other forms of oppression in this country.


We can start by understanding our history and taking a hard look at what each of us can do to confront this collective challenge, whether it be by engaging in a difficult conversation or advocating for policy changes at the state or local levels.


August 13th was a horrible day, but we hope it inspires action rather than fear. Each of us can play a role. For us, one way we’re looking to make a difference is by prioritizing equity in education. By doing so, we can not only help the most vulnerable in our society, but we can lift us all.

Three Things To Know about Delaware State Tests

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It is that time of year again—the release of Smarter Assessment and SAT results. The Delaware Department of Education officially released data in late July. While reactions were mixed (see the official release from DDOE, as well as The News Journal’s reaction), we tried to look behind the numbers to shed a bit more light on the results.


  1. 1,300 more students scored proficient in Smarter Math.

And about 250 more students were proficient in reading this year. However, we should note that overall public school enrollment grew by about 1,000 students in the last two school years—from 136,000 in 2015-16 to 137,000 in 2016-17. It stands to reason that the more students taking the test would increase overall student proficiency data.


  1. State math and ELA proficiency averages were unexciting.

Smarter math proficiency only went up one percent from last year, and ELA actually dropped one percent. Still, over time we see an increase in proficiency since the test was first implemented in 2015.

Smarter Math Achievement Levels (2017)



Smarter ELA Achievement Levels (2017)



  1. Despite the underwhelming numbers, there were some standouts—and disappointments.


Though so-called “priority schools” saw varied achievement level results, in a two-year window Laurel Middle School saw a 24-percent increase in math proficiency and a 19 percent increase in ELA proficiency.

Middle grades (fifth and sixth) statewide also exhibited dramatic jumps in proficiency levels for math and reading.

Unfortunately, third grade reading proficiencies have dropped two points since 2015.


SAT results were relatively stagnant for reading and writing, with a small drop in math. Math remains a challenge for Delaware, with less than one third of high schoolers being college and career ready in math.

What does it all mean?


As we’ve noted before, the Smarter Assessment is tough by design. It is not the average multiple-choice test. It requires students to complete performance tasks and think critically, reflecting the challenges students will face in college or the workplace.


There are other measures of student performance. In 2017-18, schools will begin to measure growth in student achievement as well. That is, we will begin to see what percentage of students are moving from below standard to meeting or exceeding the standard, rather than just our current measure of the percentage meeting the standard. To see more on how Delaware will be measuring student achievement and other accountability metrics, see the recently approved ESSA plan.


We should focus on the whole student, not just the test. Statewide test scores are important, but they are just one of many indicators of student success. While Delaware makes progress across other areas (like graduation rates, early college and career experience, workforce participation), there continues to be a need for cultivating the social and emotional development of our students. To see more on how social and emotional learning can impact students, check out our Social and Emotional Learning page.

Resilience Film Screening: Recap

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Last week, about 100 people gathered in Theatre N for a screening of the film “Resilience: The Biology of Stress and the Science of Hope” and panel discussion among local experts. If you weren’t one of the lucky 100, here’s a summary of the event, themes from the conversation, and ways to get involved.

Why Resilience?
“Resilience” is a documentary by KPJR (the makers of “Paper Tigers”) that chronicles the birth of a new movement among pediatricians, therapists, educators, and communities, to delve into the science behind Adverse Childhood Experiences (ACEs) and using cutting-edge brain science to disrupt cycles of violence, addiction, and disease that cause toxic stress.

As we described in a previous blog post, Adverse Childhood Experiences are not an “over there” problem—ACEs are shockingly prevalent, in Delaware and around the country, and with children of all backgrounds. Attendees at the screening voluntarily and confidentially submitted their ACEs score. The tallied results affirmed this. 53% of attendees reported an ACE score of two or more.

A major theme of “Resilience” is just how prevalent trauma is—and that greater public awareness of these issues could lead to a shift in how we address them. If a young person experiencing trauma knew that other classmates experienced something similar—would that make it less scary? Would he feel more empowered to seek help? As better trauma-informed community members, might we start asking the question “what happened to you?” instead of “what’s wrong with you?” when dealing with at-risk youth?

How do you build resilience?
The film identified that healthy, positive relationships are the number one source of resilience. A report by Casey Family Programs, Balancing Adverse Child Experiences (ACEs) With HOPE: New Insights into the Role of Positive Experience on Child and Family Development elaborates on this point and urges a balance of trauma-informed policies and HOPE-informed measures.

The report summarizes research studies showing that the negative impact of adversity on childhood development can be remedied through:

  • Nurturing and supportive relationships
  • Safe, stable, protective, and equitable environments to develop, play, and learn
  • Constructive social engagement and connectedness
  • Social and emotional competencies

The HOPE model (The Health Outcomes of Positive Experiences), pictured below, takes an asset-based approach.

Additionally, attendees were given the Resilience screener which helps identify protective factors and positive experiences that can increase one’s ability to handle adversity.

How can we make this happen in Delaware?
Following the film, three panelists fielded questions and comments from the audience:

  • Aileen Fink, PhD | Director of Trauma-Informed Care, Delaware Children’s Department
  • Meghan M. Lines, PhD | Clinical Director, Nemours A.I. duPont Hospital for Children
  • Teri Lawler | School Psychologist, Stanton Middle School, Red Clay School District

And a few themes emerged from the conversation:

  • Resilience is learned: We are not born with the ability to overcome stress. It must be intentionally modeled and developed. In schools, there needs to be a common language for integrating social and emotional learning alongside academic learning.
  • Positive relationships are key. This includes a primary care doctor, educators, parents, grandparents, and others.
  • Parental involvement is essential: Support positive parenting practices with multi-generational, evidence-based approaches (such as home visiting) to build social, emotional, and executive functioning skills.
  • Meet students (and families) where they are: Listening is a crucial first step, rather than assuming. Children and families need to be engaged in their own social and emotional development, and interventions or services need to be tailored to their unique needs.
  • Recognize where data-driven decision-making is needed: Enable innovative interventions, keep track of what’s working for kids, and adjust or abandon strategies accordingly.
  • Coordinate services: Schools can be a hub for services, but educators can’t be expected to do it alone.
  • Siloes exists: One of the challenges will be coordinating and communicating across health, education, government, community, etc. Additionally, political will and availability of funding are challenges but not excuses.
  • ACES are a public health concern, and awareness building is needed. For instance, ongoing professional development for educators starting in pre-service is needed to first build awareness, and then build skills.

What’s next?

  • Encourage your colleagues to learn their ACEs or Resilience
  • Read more about Adverse Childhood Experiences Among Wilmington City & Delaware’s Children.
  • Share your thoughts! Tweet your responses to the following questions using #SELinDE.
    • What are you doing to build resilience?
    • What resilience initiatives are already underway in Delaware?
    • What else is needed to help overcome the effects of adverse childhood experiences?
    • How can we do to build on what’s working?
  • Visit to find additional information on national and state level data and initiatives related to Social and Emotional Learning.
  • Be on the lookout for the Vision Coalition of Delaware’s 10th Annual Conference on October 30th where community members will converge in Newark to explore the intersection of education and healthy communities.

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