Archive for the ‘Delaware Schools’ Category

11 Key Quotes from Education Funding Lawsuit Opinion

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Last week, Vice Chancellor Travis Laster rejected the state’s motion to dismiss a lawsuit claiming the state’s current school funding formula is unconstitutional. In addition to explaining why the court has legal authority to rule on the case under the Education Clause of the state constitution, Judge Laster also had lots to say about Delaware’s education funding system in general.

 

Didn’t read the 135-page opinion? Here are 11 quotes from Judge Laster that jumped out to me:

 

On why this is a systemic problem:

  1. “The plaintiffs assert that the ‘system of public schools’ is failing Disadvantaged Students, not the hardworking and well-intentioned professionals who do their best within the constraints that the system imposes.”
  2. “In Delaware…the educational funding system generally provides more support for more privileged children than it provides for impoverished children. Put differently, schools with more Disadvantaged Students receive less financial support from the State than schools with fewer Disadvantaged Students. Likewise, school districts with poorer tax bases receive less funding from the State than school districts with wealthier tax bases.”

 

Put differently, schools with more Disadvantaged Students receive less financial support from the State than schools with fewer Disadvantaged Students. Vice Chancellor J. Travis Laster

 

On how this effects low income students, for example:

  1. “For many of Delaware’s public schools, an inverse relationship exists between the number of low-income students in a school and the amount of funding that goes to the school: The more low-income students in a school, the less State funding the school receives.”
  2. “Given the incremental needs of low-income students relative to their wealthier peers, schools that predominantly serve low-income students logically should receive more resources than schools that do not.”
  3. “Unlike thirty-five other states, Delaware does not provide any additional funding for low-income students. The unit funding approach that Delaware uses does not take low-income status into account.”

 

On English learners:

  1. “Precisely because these students are learning English, they need more resources and support to succeed. Schools who serve larger numbers of students who are learning English as a second language logically should reserve more resources than schools that do not. Delaware does not provide any additional funding for educating students who are learning English as a second language. Delaware is one of only four states that does not allocate any additional funding to serve the unique needs of these students.”

 

Given the incremental needs of low-income students relative to their wealthier peers, schools that predominantly serve low-income students logically should receive more resources than schools that do not.Vice Chancellor J. Travis Laster

 

On the inequities baked into the unit system:

  1. To counter the effects of poverty, one might expect that Delaware would provide more funding to school districts with less valuable tax bases. To its credit, Delaware offers Division III funding to offset the financial advantage possessed by wealthier districts. But the effects of Division III funding are swamped by the far larger effect of the Division I funds that pay personnel costs.
  2. Under the existing system, Delaware provides more funding to districts with wealthier tax bases than it does to poorer districts. In 2013–14, for example, the tax basis in the Brandywine School District was 1.5 times more valuable per student than the tax base in the Woodbridge School District. Yet the State provided funding to the Brandywine School District that was equivalent to $1,694 more per pupil than the funding it provided to the Woodbridge School District. During the same year, the value of the tax base in the Appoquinimink School District exceeded the value of the tax base in the Caesar Rodney School District by more than $100,000 per student, yet the State allocated funding to the Appoquinimink School District that was equivalent to $450 more per pupil than it provided to the Caesar Rodney School District.

 

On the prescriptiveness of the unit system:

  1. “With limited exceptions, the “unit funding” approach treats all students as if they were the same. If a High-Need School wishes to hire reading specialists or counselors, it has less unit funding to pay for teachers and other personnel. To make the numbers work, High-Need Schools must find the money by cutting elsewhere.”
  2. “If school districts had greater flexibility in deploying funds, they could shift money within districts to support their High-Need Schools. State law effectively forecloses that option by requiring that 98% of the funding generated by a school’s units be used at the school accounting for the units.”

 

On the “state-level consensus” and years of commission and task force recommendations:

  1. “The various reports exhibit a remarkable consensus about the key steps that the State needs to take to address the problems with Delaware’s public schools and improve educational outcomes for Disadvantaged Students. Foremost among the recommendations is to restructure how Delaware funds its public schools.”

 

For more on the suit brought by Delawareans for Educational Opportunity and the Delaware NAACP, read on here.

Leading the Way on SEL: A Q&A with Lisa Mims

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Lisa Mims has been at the forefront of some of Delaware’s most dynamic efforts around social and emotional learning. A longtime Rodel Teacher Council member and prolific ed-tech blogger, Mims currently takes part in the Compassionate Schools “Test Lab,” a model that trains teachers to find positive steps to calm students’ brains, build connections, and foster self-regulation skills.

 

We caught up with Lisa to hear her take on why SEL matters.

 

You gave an awesome TedX Talk last year in Wilmington. Tell us a little about your message.

 

My message was that nothing matters more than building a relationship with our students—all of our students. We especially need to build them with our students who might be a “little rough around the edges.” When we build relationships, more often than not, our students are willing to succeed because they do not feel as if we think less of them.

 

 

What do you see as the connection between school culture and climate and SEL? How does a strong, positive school culture support students’ SEL?

 

In a school where SEL is practiced, the relationship between the educators and the students is shaped by much more than test scores. The educators care for the students’ well-being and strive to create an atmosphere that feels more like a family atmosphere. Rather than penalizing students right away, the staff in the building attempt to find out the underlying causes and deal with situations from that standpoint instead of just determining that a child is “bad” or incapable. Students are very perceptive to how the educators feel about them and behaviors can be changed when students feel like someone cares.

 

Why is it so important to develop kids’ social and emotional side?

 

When we see our kids as test scores we are completely forgetting that they are children. Many of our students deal with things in their lives that would be hard for most adults to process, much less children. We have to take this into account whether we’re teaching them academics, or by building their resilience and developing tools to help them deal with whatever is going on in their lives.

 

There’s this strong link between SEL and trauma-informed care, and rightfully so. But SEL goes beyond supporting students in trauma, correct?

 

Yes, it does. SEL applies to all students, not just students who have suffered from trauma. All students need to learn how to manage their emotions, be empathetic to others, and be able to make decisions on their own. These are skills that will not only lead to a positive learning environment for all, but can follow them through the rest of their lives.

 

We’ve seen some great movement locally around SEL. What’s Delaware’s next big milestone? What’s on the horizon?

 

I know that the educators in the Rodel Teacher Council have made great strides in making districts and educators aware of SEL. At this time they are still meeting to further their cause. One top priority is working to make sure families and students have a voice in the creation of a statewide framework for SEL. Read Creating a Common Language for Social and Emotional Learning in Delaware, and learn more about the RTC’s work on SEL last year.

 

SEL is clearly something that’s very familiar and intimate with teachers and people inside education. But what should parents and the general public know about it?

 

Parents and the general public should know that it is not just another new thing. Kids are developing socially and emotionally in school and at home and wherever else they spend their time—the opportunity we have now is to make SEL a more intentional part of all classrooms and learning environments. When/if our students have a difficult time processing their emotions, it may lead to toxic relationships in the classroom, whether it’s with their peers or their teacher. Parents and the general public should know that we are aware that trauma and toxic stress are real, and not only are we finding a way to deal with and react to it, but we are giving our students tools to deal with it as well.

 

Read A Broader Vision of Student Success: Insights and Opportunities for Social and Emotional Learning in Delaware, which focuses on the efforts underway across Delaware to support students, families, and educators in developing their SEL skills.

 

Tell us about the Compassionate Schools “Test Lab”

 

Test Lab is a professional development opportunity extended through the Compassionate Schools partnership whose purpose is to work with teachers to find positive steps to calm student brains, build connections, and foster self-regulation skills. The hope is that these methods can improve student achievement, increase teacher satisfaction, and enhance the overall school climate. Such programs add value because they increase awareness of the impact of trauma and toxic stress on learning. They chose educators so that they could move from research to actual practice.

I was one of the educators fortunate enough to be chosen to participate. This semester, my students are using the self-regulation bands. The bands help them monitor their emotions according to colors, red, yellow, and blue. It’s amazing to watch them switch out the bands during the day according to how they are feeling. It definitely gives them ownership of their emotions. When we are done, we will share feedback with the lab and let them know how it worked (or didn’t), in our classrooms.

Discovering Passion Projects through Dual School: Interview with Stephanie Diggins

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Dual School, a pilot initiative modeled after High Tech High in California, is becoming a phenomenon in Delaware. This innovative and empowering program exemplifies “learning by doing.”

Instead of lectures and worksheets, students spend a semester digging in on a problem plaguing their community (or the world at large) from immigration to increasing financial literacy among youth. More importantly, students are encouraged to test solutions to their problem.

With a combination of independent research, mentorship, and the space to work on projects they care about, Dual School provides students with the agency to drive their own learning and acquire the skills needed to solve tomorrow’s problems.

You can find Dual School at two locations in Delaware: 1313 Innovation and William Penn High School (WP).

Our very own Rodel Teacher Council member, Stephanie Diggins, will be teaching the Dual School course this year at WP. We caught up with Stephanie while she was setting up her classroom and talked with her about this novel opportunity.

1) Can you explain what Dual School will look like at WP?
My students will participate in the Dual School course for a full school year (August – June). The students participating had to apply for the course and those accepted will receive credits toward their diploma.

Dual School’s model stresses the importance of providing a space where students can work on projects they care about.

During the first semester, my students will begin brainstorming and selecting their project or issue area. Once they’ve selected, we’ll match them with a mentor and various community leaders that can offer real-world insights into the project or issue area they are trying to solve.

And throughout the second semester, my students will build out and execute on their project in various ways such as running workshops, creating physical prototypes, and/or developing websites. My students will also exhibit their projects at two large-scale exhibitions during the school year.

2) How will this course improve the lives of your students?
Dual School is a perfect example of project-based learning. It allows my students to develop deep content knowledge as well as critical thinking, creativity, and communication skills in the context of doing an authentic, meaningful project. My students will be able to build on the skills they are learning in their classes and apply them to other areas.

This process is all very similar to what is experienced at a job or in college. Dual School will definitely prepare them for whatever path they choose after they graduate from WP.

3) Dual School is relatively new to Delaware. Prior to this opportunity, did you know about them?
Yes, I attended the final exhibition of the first cohort earlier this year. It was cool to see what the students had done for their projects. I remember there were projects on issues like mental health in schools and the tampon tax. One student even coded a website that I was so impressed by and wanted to use in my classroom.

4) After seeing the results of the first cohort, what are you most looking forward to when it comes to teaching the new Dual School class at WP?
Dual School students often work independently and in an environment that does not look like a traditional classroom. So, I am excited to see how teaching this course differs from teaching my other courses. I will not be standing in front of the class lecturing or assigning worksheets but rather having my students tell me what they need and supporting them along their project plans.

5) Sounds like you’re going to have to be flexible. What have you done to prepare for teaching this Dual School course?
Recently, I attended a professional development training hosted by Dual School and Blue Dot Education. The training covered project-based learning, which is what my Dual School students will be experiencing and I will be teaching. At the training, the facilitators asked us to build a rocket out of random materials. This assignment gave us a taste of project-based learning from a student’s perspective.

Our first rocket launch failed spectacularly but the experience was one of the most valuable I’ve ever had. We deconstructed the project, process, even the role of the facilitators. We then were able to implement the feedback and our rocket launched successfully. Check it out here!

6) Is there anything else you would like others to know about the upcoming Dual School initiative?
We need mentors for my students! Mentors can choose a day of the week from 9:00 a.m. – 10:30 a.m. to visit our classroom and advise a student working on a topic related to their work. It’s a great opportunity for both the student and mentor. Interested in becoming a Dual School mentor? Fill out an application here.

Stephanie Diggins is a Teacher Academy and Theatre Teacher at William Penn High School in New Castle, Delaware. She is currently serving her second term on the Rodel Teacher Council.

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