Archive for the ‘Delaware Schools’ Category

Delaware’s Public High Schools Ranked Among Top Ten Nationally

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Over the weekend I read that U.S. News released its annual collection of high school rankings—and, lo and behold—Delaware’s public high schools landed as eighth-best in the country.


Before we pop the champagne, we should note that the website’s methodology examines the highest performing high schools in each state. We realize that some of Delaware’s highest performers select their students, at least in part, on some entrance criteria, and do not always reflect the full diversity of the state’s overall student body.


But this is still cause for celebration. Delaware ranked eighth because six of its schools (or roughly 17.6 percent) earned “gold or silver medals” from the publication.


  • Gold: Cab Calloway School of the Arts, Charter School of Wilmington
  • Silver: Middletown High School, Caesar Rodney High School, Mount Pleasant High School, Sussex Technical High School


The lofty ranking is one more positive sign of momentum for Delaware’s schools—and seemingly a shifting tide in the perception and reputation of our public school system. In the past few years we’ve seen:


  • Delaware high school graduations rates spike from 80 percent to 85 percent (see Rodel’s “At A Glance” page on graduation rate trends). Delaware was the No. 1 state in terms of increased high school graduation rate in 2014 as recognized by The U.S. Department of Education.
  • More students enrolling in AP and dual enrollment courses than ever before. In fact, the number of student taking dual enrollment college courses tripled from 800 in 2014 to 2,700 in 2015-16.


As encouraging as all this is, we can’t rest on our laurels. We have lots more work to do in preparing our high school grads for college and/or careers.


For example, we know that just 49 percent of Delaware’s young adult population (ages 18-24) has attained some postsecondary education and that by 2025, 65 percent of jobs in our economy will require some level of education beyond high school. Closing that gap will be tough, particularly for our highest need students.


But with the forward movement in our high schools, the growing partnerships with our higher ed partners to increase dual enrollment and college persistence, and our deepening commitments from business and education to build meaningful career pathways for students, I’m excited about where we are and where we’re going.

Treating the Cause, Not the Symptoms: What Education Can Learn from the Social Determinants of Health

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Individual behaviors play a role in educational outcomes, but inequitable social and economic factors loom even larger.


We know that children of all backgrounds—including those from adverse environments—can find success in school and in life. But the stark, empirical reality tells us public education still mostly favors the haves over the have-nots. Research shows (see also here and here) that access to three main levers of money, resources, and power still by and large determines whether a child will get a good education.

There is little doubt among education reformers that this needs to change. But after decades of efforts and initiatives aimed at closing achievement and opportunity gaps, the scales remain mostly unbalanced.

As we in the education world chip away on important issues like career preparation, 3rd grade literacy, or social and emotional learning, one can argue that the bigger, more important battles are the ones that influence broader federal, state, and local government policies that direct the all-important flow and distribution of money, power, and resources.

From finance to justice to social policies—there are many examples of indirect levers that can have strong impacts on students and their families, including property tax distribution and payday loan laws. Data shows persistent academic disparities related to income: Impoverished students are not inherently less smart, they are just less likely to have access to high-quality early childhood programs, adequate health care, and reliable transportation—things we know sets kids up for success in school.

Like the fabled Butterfly Effect, there are many seemingly unrelated forces, factors, and decisions that impact equity and our public education system.

Often, those of us working in education policy direct our focus at the individual-, school- or program-level, without addressing the role inequitable policy plays in education outcomes. While effective programs can provide students, parents, and teachers with supports they need in the here and now, they often don’t address the root of educations problems.

For example, parent engagement programs are well-intentioned attempts at getting parents more involved with their child’s academics. Research on parent involvement found that many programs start with the assumption that some parents do not care about their child’s education. However, these programs don’t always address the barriers to involvement that parents face, including long work hours, lack of childcare, lack of transportation, language and cultural barriers, and exclusive school policies.

Noble as they are, such programs often face an uphill battle when they try to change individual behaviors rather than advocating for transformative policies.

But what if we borrowed a page from the health reform playbook?

The social determinants of health is an approach that shifts the framing of health reform debate from the individual to the system. This approach takes a holistic view by examining the interconnectedness of education, health, and social factors such as policymaking. And it does represent an innovative approach to dealing with our public health woes—and poses a ripe opportunity for education reform.

The Social Determinants of Health

Next month at the 10th Annual Vision Coalition Conference on Education, leaders from Delaware’s health, education, public policy, and social services worlds will collide on stage for a panel discussion on the social determinants of health and education.

So what exactly are the determinants of health? Public policies, income, individual behaviors, social power, public safety, and discrimination to name a few. Social and economic factors, at around 40 percent, are the largest contributors to a person’s health, according to the National Association of Community Health Centers—compared to health behaviors (30 percent), physical environment (10 percent) and clinical care (20 percent).

Health care reformers use this idea to illuminate the role that money, power, and resources play in health access and outcomes. And, education and health are certainly interdependent (here and here). Typically, Americans with more education live longer, healthier lives—while poor health can compromise good education if a student cannot focus, is missing school, or has a learning disability.

Education reform could do well to learn from this example and begin to focus less on changing individuals and more on creating and implementing transformative, equitable policies.

Data tell us vast gaps exist between students of color and those from low-income backgrounds when compared to their white, more affluent peers. While we cannot discount the role individual behavior plays in educational outcomes, we must pay explicit attention to how policies and practices influence behaviors and outcomes.

Changing the narrative shifts the approach

By examining the problem from the lens of policy and practice, reformers can begin to ask hard questions about their efforts: Does our work target rules, practices, and norms that create, maintain, and exacerbate inequitable education disparities and outcomes?

Economic and social policy greatly influence how students perform, the efficacy of teaching practices, and the role of parents in education. As education reformers recognize this, they will begin to scrutinize the distribution of money, power, and resources and form solutions that create a fairer balance of these factors.

The social determinants of health offers an innovative approach to education reform that requires us all to ask hard questions about how we select the point of change, what (or who) we see as needing to be changed, and how we intend to change it. As we continue to search for solutions, we have an opportunity to use this approach to holistically address the root source of inequitable educational outcomes, and hopefully, to create a sustainable education system that equitably serves all students, teachers, and parents.

Digging Deeper: Physical Health Impacts Education, Too

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In Delaware, and across the nation, schools are providing a deeper focus on both social and emotional learning and physical health. Next month, community members, educators, and policymakers from across the state will converge at the University of Delaware to talk about the intersection of health and education at the 10th Annual Vision Coalition Conference.


We often hear about the correlation between higher levels of education and higher salaries and lower unemployment rates. And we know that a person with a higher level of education is more likely to move up the socio-economic ladder, be an active citizen, have a better understanding of political issues, and more likely to vote in elections. However, we don’t often hear about the relationship between educational attainment and health—despite the fact that a positive relationship exists.


Students with high levels of education are also more likely to enjoy healthier lifestyles—reducing health care costs over time as they exercise more, smoke less, and experience lower rates of obesity. So how are Delaware youth doing when it comes to physical health?


A survey of Delawareans ages found that overall, children and youth are exceeding the Center for Disease Control’s recommended 60 minutes of physical activity daily. Still, as students get older, they typically spend less time exercising. The Center of Disease Control reported physically active students tend to perform better academically, have better memory, and exhibit on-task behavior—all traits necessary for academic success.


In fact, the CDC suggests a complimentary relationship between health and education—that is, the healthier your lifestyle, the better your academic performance (and social and emotional skills) and the higher your educational attainment/academic performance, the greater the likelihood you live a healthy lifestyle.


Of course, physical health alone will not win high academic marks on its own. Access to quality, comprehensive, and coordinated family-centered care is attributed to higher in-school performance and a lower likelihood of risky behavior.


On average, just six out of 10 of all Delaware children have access to adequate medical care. However, there are still major disparities between children of color and their white peers. For example, more than 60 percent of Hispanic/Latino children in Delaware do not have access to the adequate medical care.


As this field continues to expand, it is important to note that developing the “whole child” is not a new idea. In recent years, there has been a renewed focus on providing students with social and emotional learning, physical and mental health development, nutrition, and exposure to the arts. The incorporation of social and emotional skills—communication, collaboration, critical thinking, empathy, and creativity—along with strong academic components has generated positive outcomes for children in Delaware and beyond. (For more information on Rodel’s engagement in the area of social and emotional learning, visit our website here.)


Despite the gains in both areas of health and education, Delaware still has a lot of work to do in setting up our young people for successful lives after graduation.


Want to get involved? Here are some local groups leading the charge.


  • Delaware Readiness Teams are working in communities throughout the state to ensure kids are healthy and ready to hit the ground running in kindergarten by advocating and promoting developmental screenings, referral, and follow-up services; making sure families receive information on children’s health and developmental milestones; and, promoting alongside families’ activities that education on health and wellness.


Want to learn more? Visit our blog for more developments or our posts on the whole child approach, our latest screening of “Resilience,” and more.

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