Archive for the ‘Delaware Schools’ Category

Introducing the Legislative Hall Pass: Crunching the Numbers on Delaware’s Education Budget

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Legislative Hall Pass
The Legislative Hall Pass is a new series at the Rodel blog. Our team of experts will examine the most pressing education bills and issues emerging from the 149th Delaware General Assembly, and weigh in with commentary, context, and data. Check out the Legislative Monitor for a full list of education-related legislation.

 

With elections far off in the rearview mirror, inaugurations wrapped, and cabinet members trickling their way into position, the real work is set to begin in earnest for elected officials, and especially the 149th Delaware General Assembly.

Looming over the new session is yet another tough budgetary situation: Projections show that Delaware faces a $350 million deficit and slipping revenue streams. Navigating the Fiscal Year 2018 state budget will be a top priority for the 149th General Assembly and one of its staunchest challenges.

Before leaving office, the Markell Administration presented the Fiscal Year 2018 Recommended Budget. Here’s our summary of the recommended budget increases and cuts for education based solely on the House Bill 25, the Governor’s Recommended Operating Budget Bill.

Process-wise, the onus now shifts to the legislature to develop a final budget. The Joint Finance Committee, which is responsible for writing the budget, reviewed the Delaware Department of Education base budgets on February 1st, 2nd and 6th. Given the revenue forecast, JFC members are exploring cutting costs, and are focused on spending funds where they will directly impact student outcomes in the classroom.

 

Nothing becomes law until the legislature approves the final budget, which typically occurs on the last day of session, June 30th.

Delaware lawmakers expect the budget discussion to dominate this year’s legislative session. As he weighs potential tax increases or spending cuts, Governor John Carney is soliciting the public’s input through a series of town hall forums across Delaware.

A S1.46 billion recommended education budget (a 5.6 percent increase over last year) could be a tough pill for lawmakers to swallow. There is reason to be hopeful: Gov. Carney pledged during his inauguration speech his commitment to strengthen the education system, especially to support Delaware’s highest needs students—all while addressing the state’s long-term budget challenges.

Throughout this legislative session, Rodel will continue to watch all education-related legislation, including the budget, over at our Legislative Monitor. And in the meantime, we will continue advocating for state spending that is efficient, student-focused, and aligned to the priorities of Student Success 2025. Times may be tough, but we believe strongly that Delaware’s schools, teachers, and students should not bear the brunt of hard financial decisions.

The data is clear—investing in education early and often—benefits us all. With far-reaching impacts that range from higher earnings to reduced health care costs to lower welfare and crime rates—public education is one high-yield investment we can’t afford to miss out on.

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.

A Wholehearted Approach to Learning

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A few years ago, my fellow members of the Vision Coalition and I began reaching out to Delawareans. We wanted to hear what they thought a well-educated young person would need to know and be able to do in the year 2025.

What we heard from more than 4,000 people was not surprising. People told us that better academics and improved test scores are important—being able to read and understand math would still be foundational. But they wanted more than that. What people really wanted was a richer educational experience for their children, one that instilled skills like communication, collaboration, critical thinking, empathy, and creativity. They wanted young people to be healthy, to be able to respond to a rapidly changing world, and to have an educational experience that was not cookie-cutter, but one that maximized who they are as individuals.

That broad set of skills ultimately became the North Star, the guiding centerpiece to Student Success 2025. The North Star became our goal for the next 10 years, and we began mapping backwards from it to discern the policy changes needed to reach that goal. For example, if we wanted to maximize the potential of every child, that meant we needed a funding system that addressed each student’s educational assets. It meant we needed to train our teachers differently.

This concept of developing the “whole child”—a phrase that’s often cross-referenced with “social emotional learning”—is not a new one. Generations of practitioners have told us that the so-called soft skills mentioned above, along with physical and mental health, nutrition, and exposure to the arts, are all important ingredients in child development. In fact, we’re seeing a rare convergence among leaders in education and business that this broader set of skills, which educators see as essential, are often the same ones that employers say they can’t find in prospective employees.

As personalized learning continues to gain traction throughout Delaware and the nation, we’ll be hearing much more about the “whole child” and social emotional learning. These terms are all intertwined through shared goal of meeting young people where they are. In the coming months, we’ll be working to ground these ideas in real examples in Delaware and nationally. Some of these examples will include new approaches in the classroom and others will help shine a light on assets in the community to educate our young people through a range of approaches, from after-school educational opportunities to on-the-job training.

There are already efforts underway in Delaware that are leading the charge in this emerging field.

But to be clear, when it comes to this topic, we have as many questions as we do answers. For example, how does one measure empathy or creativity? Aren’t some of the most important things in our lives difficult or impossible to measure? And if we can’t measure it, can we teach it?

There are fledgling efforts underway to address these and many other questions, and we hope to bring some of that early research to you as well.

This is a learning curve for all of us. We at Rodel are firm believers in excellence and equity for each of Delaware’s students—and we believe that nurturing them holistically is the basis for not only helping our young people be successful in school, but become good citizens and happy and healthy adults. I invite you to help us push our thinking and to learn along with us.

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