Archive for the ‘Digging Deeper’ Category

Digging Deeper: Five Ways Delaware’s Funding System Doesn’t Add Up

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Delaware invests more than a billion dollars a year in public education, but our state’s method for allocating dollars, many argue, raises serious questions about transparency, efficiency, and equity. The questions aren’t going away, either. Delaware’s public education spending has only grown over the years as student enrollment continues to climb.

That’s not all. Here are just five ways Delaware’s funding system doesn’t add up.

  1. Delaware’s funding system is over 70 years old

If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it. That isn’t the case for a funding system created when schools were still racially segregated, when there were no federal protections for students with disabilities, and when computers weren’t part of everyday life. Classrooms are not the same as they were in the 1940s. Students’ academic and non-academic needs are growing—just as technology has transformed the way teaching and learning occur. Delaware’s restrictive funding system hinders personalized learning models where technology and innovative classroom models put students in the driver’s seat of their own learning.

  1. Spending is not transparent—for parents or for advocates

In a Vision Coalition statewide poll on education, 69 percent of Delawareans agree that it is too hard to find information about how tax dollars are spend in the education system. Only 27 percent agree that they could find information they needed on how tax dollars are spent.

To date, Delaware does not report education spending at the school-level within traditional districts. Public reporting of education spending is limited to online school profiles, which show state and district average per pupil expenditures, and the state’s open checkbook, which lists and displays all financial transactions in the state. For the average parent or taxpayer, it’s unclear exactly how schools are receiving and spending education dollars, or whether schools serving high populations of low-income students are getting the resources they need to provide a high-quality education.

  1. The money does not follow students

The state distributes most funds based on prescriptive and inflexible units—or fixed staff positions. Despite the fact that student ratios undergird the unit system, there is no set dollar amount for each individual student, as there is in most other states. Instead, one unit enables districts to hire based on teachers’ level of education and experience. This means that the same student, with the same needs, could “earn” different amounts of money from the state depending on where they go to school. And custodians, secretaries, and administrators monies are allocated based on such outlandish measures such as the number of classrooms, auditorium seating capacity, swimming pools, or the size of central heating and air.

  1. Inflexibility = inefficiency

Funds received through the unit count generally cannot be used as cash for other purposes. Only around eight percent of funding is truly flexible. Less rigidity could result in savings for schools through smarter spending, such a contracting out services or using allocated funds to meet specific student needs—something that is already happening in Delaware charter schools.

  1. Our current system is unfair to students

Our current funding system disproportionately disadvantages low-income students, students with disabilities, and English learner students. Students with higher needs don’t get more money allocated to them, even though we know it takes more resources to adequately educate these students. English learners and low-income students are consistently underserved, as indicated by academic outcomes (see Delaware Public Education at a Glance) yet have zero dedicated state funding. The system even has barriers for students with disabilities, as illustrated in this infographic. The result of this inequitable system is a large portion of our high-needs students (up to one-third of the entire public school population in the case of low-income students) are not fully benefiting from our current public education funding formula.

Delaware can build a better system. Here’s how:

  1. Update the funding system and base it on student needs. A foundation system or weighted student funding system allocates money for each student, with additional funds for high-need students (low-income students, students with disabilities, and English learners). A majority of states use this type of system—though not all provide extra funding for all the high-need categories we listed here.
  2. Create more flexibility for schools and districts by allowing them to determine how to best use education dollars. Offer training for school and district leaders to make informed decisions on how to best use flexible dollars.
  3. Build transparency into the system. The Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA) offers an opportunity for states to become more transparent in how funding looks at the school level, if implemented consistently across the state. A more simplified system where money follows students will allow for schools and districts to estimate the amount of funding they will receive and make it easier for parents and taxpayers to see the impact of public education investments.

Digging Deeper: Half of Children are Falling Behind Before Kindergarten

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Another year, another urgent message to be found in state-level data about kindergarten readiness. This year marks the second annual release of the Delaware Early Learning Survey (DE-ELS), which measures how well prepared preschoolers are for kindergarten. Kindergarten teachers observe and record their students to determine what they know and can do in areas such as math, language, literacy, and social and emotional development, to a name a few.

 

Much like last year, the 2017 DE-ELS shows that we still have a ton of work to do to ensure preschoolers are ready for the next level. We know that much of a child’s brain develops before they reach kindergarten, making preschool years the most essential time to build a child’s cognitive, social, and emotional intellect. But we don’t always think about how this critical time sets the stage for a child’s academic career and life success. Which is why this data paints a scary picture:

 

Between one-third and half of Delaware preschoolers are not prepared for kindergarten.

 

Most alarmingly, more than half of preschoolers aren’t ready for kindergarten-level math and just about half struggle with cognitive and social and emotional learning.

 

 

A student that struggles in early school years is not likely to be on a positive track later in their academic career. DE-ELS results offer a worrisome preview of what may be in store for students as they move into elementary, middle, and high school.

 

Delaware students’ academic performance data are an indicator of why we need strong investments in early learning.

 

Only half of students in third grade across Delaware are reading and doing math on grade level. As grade levels progress, we see less middle schoolers succeeding in math by eighth grade. Less than 30 percent of our high schoolers are ready for college level math, and only half are reading and writing on grade level in eighth grade.

 

We see the trend continuing as students graduate from high school. More than 40 percent of students graduating in the class of 2015 weren’t ready for college-level English or math, and were required to take remedial courses.

 

A successful academic career starts with robust, high-quality early learning programs.

 

Our earliest learners are being underserved, and it’s showing throughout their academic careers. What can we do about it?

 

  • Join a Delaware Readiness Team. Families, early childhood providers, educators, and community leaders can make a difference and help children from birth to third grade build focused action plans.
  • Advocate for expanding pre-k for four-year-olds. We know that investments in quality early learning benefit children and society. By ensuring at all children have fair access to pre-K programs, we all can reap those benefits.
  • Increase quality across all early learning programs. Support high-quality early childhood programs by raising standards, increasing Stars quality levels, and requiring that programs receiving childcare subsidy reach a minimum level of quality.

 

To see last year’s survey, check out this brief on 2016 DE-ELS Key Findings.

Digging Deeper: Are Students Finding Value in College and Career Supports?

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We’ve heard a lot in the news about expanding career training opportunities and rising participation rates in rigorous Advanced Placement courses. However, much of these celebrations (and sometimes lamentations) are often made by those people providing or supporting the service. Rarely, however, do advocates hear directly from students themselves about the supports they are receiving.

Rodel and our partners wanted to change that. When we began planning for the Supporting Postsecondary Success in Delaware: A Landscape Analysis of Opportunities we knew that reaching students would be critical.

This analysis reviews the characteristics, assets, and barriers of Delaware’s college and career preparation services. The non-scientific survey results include responses from 235 public school students in grades seven through 12. Student focus groups were also conducted, however results are not shown here. Although the student survey is not representative of the entire Delaware student population, results revealed that students surveyed might have different perceptions about existing college and career success supports and services than some might expect.

Students point to parents and family as the most helpful in preparing them for their future.

With a counselor-to-student ratio of 464 students to every one counselor, it should come as no surprise that Delaware students must seek others for post-high school advice. Students overwhelmingly rely on their family (87 percent) and teachers (64 percent) for help on their postsecondary future.

 

Students feel under-supported in planning for college and career after high school.

  • On career advising: When asked if anyone had helped them to find a job related to their career interests, 52 percent said no, or that what help they did receive was not helpful.
  • On choosing a college: More than one-third indicated receiving little help or unhelpful advising when deciding what college to attend based on their career interests.
  • On finding the right fit: Forty-four percent said that they received no help or unhelpful guidance on the difference between admission requirements for community colleges and four-year colleges.
  • On college affordability: While 82 percent said they received helpful advice on how much it will cost to attend college, 42 percent and 37 percent said they did not receive helpful advice on how to apply for financial aid or scholarships, respectively.

Despite available supports, students aren’t accessing programs and services that can help them with postsecondary planning.

  • On college and career planning: While nearly 80 percent of students developed a Student Success Plan (SSP) using Career Cruising, only 40 percent found it somewhat or very helpful in planning for their future. Career Cruising is an online platform that students can use to explore careers and develop a SSP. Students are required to create an SSP in eighth and update it throughout high school.
  • On existing supports: Eighty-one percent did not use or did not find it helpful to use SPARC (a web-based career exploration platform) to learn about careers. Sixty-nine percent have not used the State Scholarship Compendium.
  • On services and programs: More than 40 percent have not participated in or found unhelpful a program in school that helped inform them about college or career options. Nearly half indicated the same about out-of-school programs.

The current college and career support landscape leaves many students wanting more.

Many students are looking for more support on finding scholarships and internships, not surprisingly. Despite existing resources for students to use to find scholarships and funding (e.g. Delaware Scholarship Compendium or $tand By Me), students are not accessing these supports.

The landscape analysis also shares the perceptions of advocates, educators, and other stakeholders. Overall, recommendations from the study called for better collaboration among providers, business community, and schools; stronger college and career preparation for under resourced students; more attention on student mental health and social and emotional supports; and a re-evaluation of what high quality college and career counseling looks like.

The good news is that while students may not realize how many programs and services are available for their success, they still have high hopes for their futures. Many intend on getting a two-year, four-year, or graduate degree after high school. Nearly 70 percent have received helpful guidance on job search techniques (such as resume writing and interview skills). And more than 60 percent have a been advised on the type of SAT scores needed to get into the colleges they want. Finally, 70 percent of students have visited a college campus.

Students are getting exposure to college and career supports. But, if we want to make sure students have everything they need for success, strong and decisive action must be taken to improve our current system of support.

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