Archive for the ‘Elections’ Category

Remember ESSA? Work Still Underway on State Plan

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The confirmation of Betsy DeVos (and surrounding controversies) as U.S. Secretary of Education dominated news headlines and social media over the last few weeks. However, this national headline may be drowning out what’s happening locally, as Delaware continues to develop its state plan for implementing the Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA)—a plan that will shape the framework of our school system for years to come.

Here are six things you should know about work underway in Delaware to affect education policy:

1. State-level policy decisions matter since states have autonomy and a great deal of latitude to decide how to implement federal education law, and Delaware is in the process of developing a plan. In December 2015, the education policy landscape shifted. Congress passed the Every Student Succeeds Act—the largest piece of federal legislating governing federal dollars that support K-12 public education. The new federal law increased local autonomy, giving states more flexibility and control over the use of federal funds. States were immediately charged with developing local state plans for the implementation of the new legislation.

2. Delaware’s planning and stakeholder engagement process began last year. Starting in the summer of 2016, the Delaware Department of Education launched a stakeholder engagement process to solicit input and feedback on Delaware’s state ESSA plan, with the intent to submit to the U.S. Department of Education in the spring of 2017. The process has involved: consultation meetings with selected stakeholder groups, community conversations, public surveys, technical discussion groups, and an ESSA Advisory Committee (created through Executive Order 62).

3. Delaware has a solid foundation to build on. The Rodel Foundation is a member of the Vision Coalition of Delaware, which produced Student Success 2025, a plan developed with input from over 4,000 Delawareans. Student Success 2015 is aligned with the ESSA provisions and requirements. It helped plant a seed about thinking more holistically about measuring student success, and we’ve seen that reflected in both the draft state plan and stakeholder feedback about how we could improve our system accountability and supports.

4. People across the state recognize the opportunity to leverage ESSA to accelerate progress in Delaware schools and are seizing opportunities to engage, and the Delaware Department of Education has incorporated feedback from the Advisory Council and other groups into the latest draft plan. For example:

  • Expanded accountability metrics to include more holistic measures of student success like chronic absenteeism, and continuing to elicit additional feedback about which proposed measures should impact accountability versus public reporting
  • Decreased the proposed n-count (the minimum number of students required for the purposes of accountability and student privacy) from 30 to 15
  • Considering ALL SCHOOLS when identifying Comprehensive Support and Improvement Schools (CSI), not just Title I schools
  • Exploring EL growth and attainment targets based on sound research

However, there are still details that need to be worked out. Just last week, The 74 published an article about the concerns of some critics (Read: In Delaware, Critics Worry That ESSA Plans Will Give Low-Performing Schools Too Much Wiggle Room).

5. Rodel has taken action to develop informational resources and partner with business, community, and teacher groups to provide meaningful feedback on draft plans.

  • Supporting stakeholder engagement efforts by publishing informational briefs and resources on the meaningful ESSA requirements that Delaware education leaders, parents, and community members should know about and discuss as the state develops is plan to implement the new law.
  • Partnering with 24 business and community organizations to collectively publish a letter providing feedback and recommendations on the first draft plan, such as holding districts accountable for the overall portfolio of schools within their management and oversight.
  • Elevating teacher voices. Six teacher leaders—members of the Rodel Teacher Council developed recommendations for policymakers and published an opinion letter encouraging fellow teachers to shape state education policy.

6. The deadline for submitting the state plan is April. It’s not too late to weigh-in. Unless new leadership at the federal and state level upset the existing timeline, the Delaware Department of Education will present a draft of the state at the March 16th State Board of Education Meeting, and submit a final draft to the U.S. Department of Education in early April.

Joe Makes Me Proud to be a Delawarean, and an American

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While we usually reserve these posts for educational issues, today I wanted to give a shout out to Delaware’s Joe Biden and the full slate of leaders in Delaware that spoke at his welcome home celebration.

On this rainy Friday, I needed to go down to the convention center by the Wilmington train station at two in the afternoon. This is not usual. I don’t take a lot of time out of the office, but I had to go.

In pop-up fashion, there was an event at the Chase Center to welcome home Jill and Joe. I had only heard of it the day before and had to juggle meetings to get down there. My wife called me late morning and said she was going too. We weren’t alone.

Even though I went to UD and I’ve lived here for more than a dozen years, I’m still a transplant. Even so, I am one of the millions who love Joe.

One reason for that love is that Joe genuinely cares about people. I experienced that one summer day in 2015. It was just after tragic death of Beau Biden, one of Joe’s two sons. Joe and the rest of the Biden family were holding a memorial service about a half-mile from my house at St. Anthony’s Church. The family was scheduled to receive mourners for a few hours. Long lines were forming around the building several hours before the church doors opened. The Biden family stayed and received people for at least double the originally allotted time without a break for dinner, and the line never seemed to diminish.

My wife was one of the people that waited in that line. After a couple of hours, she made it to Joe and gave him a hug and was looking to move on when he asked her about her dad, Sid Balick. Sid had given Joe his first job as a lawyer some 40 years prior. She relayed that his health was failing and that he couldn’t have waited in this line. Joe called over a secret service officer and directed him to help my wife get her dad in the church. She went home, got her dad, who wasn’t steady on his feet, and they were expedited in through a side door.

Joe’s eyes lit up when he saw him. He gave Sid a hug and a kiss on the cheek, and said, “you’re still the best lawyer in Delaware.” I watched in amazement that in the depths of his own despair, Joe had the presence of mind, and genuine compassion, to be thinking of others in such a profound way.  Beyond that, as I sat and watched, it seemed that he had a story, a laugh and a real hug for just about every person on that line.

Given that this past Monday we honored Martin Luther King, it seems fitting to quote him in regard to our vice president. King once said, “The ultimate measure of a man is not where he stands in moments of comfort and convenience, but where he stands at times of challenge and controversy.” In a time that would have crushed most of us, Joe stood tall and reached down to comfort someone else.

In his comments today, through some emotional moments of joy and appreciation, the vice president spoke of America’s indomitable spirit and his genuine interest in supporting the new administration. His close was, “When I die, Delaware will be written on my heart.”

So, that’s why all of us had to go down to the train station today. For all the love and respect Joe Biden has shown to others, several thousand of us had to be there for him. Our full U.S. delegation (including Senators Carper and Coons, who had been in D.C. for the morning inauguration and had to go back for some votes that afternoon) was amazing in their tributes as were our new mayor and governor and Joe’s sister, Valerie.  The love in that room was through the roof. The national guard was there to greet the Bidens, as was the UD marching band, some amazing gospel singers and thousands of regular people holding signs and occasionally shouting, “I love you Joe!”

In this time of political polarization, I was proud to be a Delawarean, and proud to be an American.

10 Education Stories to Watch in 2017

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Every new year brings with it a sense of transition and opportunity—a chance for a fresh start or reinvention. But even by typical standards, 2017 could be very interesting for the world of public education. Major change is in the air—from the change in the White House, to new local leaders, to policy issues that could send ripples throughout Delaware.

The team at Rodel has examined the tea leaves and compiled its 10 education issues to watch in 2017. Read on, and share yours.


Appealing for Basic Tech Infrastructure

According to Education Superhighway, only 52 percent of schools in Delaware are truly wired with enough broadband for digital learning today. To meet 2018 demand, the typical school district in Delaware will need to grow bandwidth at least threefold. When the Educational Technology Task Force assembled last year, infrastructure and leadership topped their wish-list. As technology integrates further into our daily lives (and often separates low-income students from wealthier peers as a learning tool), and as the consensus of support grows among district and state leaders, 2017 could be the year Delaware dives in on tech enhancements—in spite of a challenging budget environment. [Read: Upgrading Our Education Technology; Student-Centered Learning Structures]

School Voucher Proposals

Like many other observers have pointed out, incoming U.S. Secretary of Education Betsy DeVos likely has many hurdles to overcome if she plans on instituting a school voucher plan nationwide. But it’s certainly worth watching how it unfolds as the Trump cabinet settles in later this month. Federal prioritization of laissez-faire school choice policies could catalyze local interest, and possibly a renewed appetite for Education Savings Accounts. Here in Delaware we have our share of questions about whether vouchers would serve our 136,000 students across the state equitably, including low-income, English learner, and special education students. [Read: What Will President-Elect Trump’s Education Agenda Mean for Delaware?]

Carney kids

Changing Leadership

Donald Trump and Betsy DeVos aren’t the only new sheriffs in town. Delaware’s new governor, John Carney, gets sworn in this month, and we’re anticipating the confirmation of a new Secretary of Education, Susan Bunting—the longtime superintendent of the Indian River School District. Gov. Carney will also inherit a State Board of Education with one vacant seat, to which he’ll need to appoint a nominee for the State Senate to approve. This year will also mark an end of an era for DSEA president Frederika Jenner and vice president Karen Crouse, whose terms are up. Voting for those and other executive positions in the state’s influential teachers union runs through January 23. And as an added wild card: The State Senate will hold a special election for Bethany Hall-Long’s seat, as she will be sworn in as our next lieutenant governor. Should a republican win the seat, it will mark a shift in power to the GOP, and a potential change to the chair of the Senate Education Committee. With this much change, there’s bound to be some ripples in the education policy world. [Read: 15 Facts about Dr. Susan Bunting]


State Plan and Potential Lift of Charter Moratorium in Wilmington

In spring of 2015, Delaware lawmakers placed a moratorium on new charter schools in Wilmington until the completion of the Strategic Plan for Specialized Educational Opportunities. That growth plan has been in the works for the last few years and later this month the committee has one final meeting in which they will discuss recommendations from the Enrollment Preferences Task Force prior to completing their report. Will the moratorium be lifted? Given some recent tensions and lawsuits around issues like charter school funding, finance, and recruitment policies—charter schools could remain in the headlines in 2017. [Read: SREO report; Wilmington, the city with too many charter schools]


Realizing the Potential of Special Education

Around 14 percent of Delaware’s public school students are identified as “special education” and receive Individualized Education Plans (IEPs) to support their academic success in school. Persistent gaps in state test scores, high school graduation rates, and college remediation rates suggest that we’ve yet to unlock the full potential of many special education students. Sometime in 2017, a statewide strategic plan to address the current inequities in special education is anticipated. How it’s received by parents and practitioners—and the plan’s subsequent implementation—will certainly be hot issues in the months to come. [Read: Federal IDEA 2016 Delaware State Performance Plan/Annual Performance Report]


Expanding Teachers Leadership Opportunities

Teachers and leaders are the two most important in-school factors impacting student learning. Education leaders and policymakers have sought ways to keep great teachers in the classroom and provide them career advancement without becoming administrators. The state’s Committee to Advance Educator Compensation & Careers last year formed an educator work group that eventually developed the first Teacher-Leadership Pilot program. Ultimately, 19 teachers were selected to fill five new teacher-leader roles to support educator career paths and inform instructional practice. Once the “pilot” training wheels are off in a few months, we’ll know more about the program’s future—from its longevity to its impact and more. [Read: 19 Delaware teachers piloting Teacher Leader roles during 2016-17]

Updating School Funding

Each year the number of Delaware students living in poverty grows, as does the number of students learning English. And each year Delaware’s 70-year-old school funding system falls further behind in its ability to support student needs. Last year we witnessed strong demand for an updated school funding system from groups across the state including the Wilmington Education Improvement Commission, the Wilmington Education Strategy Think Tank, and a coalition of 22 organizations committed to excellent and equitable education opportunities for all Delaware students. And a bill has been filed to provide state funding for basic special education in grades K-3 (a notion that’s supported by WEIC). As a new gubernatorial administration and General Assembly prepare their agendas, we will advocate for increased resources for students with greater needs and transitioning to a student-based system. [Read: No Fair Deal with Delaware’s Antique Funding System; Education Equity Delaware website]


Preparing Students to Thrive Beyond High School

Some economists predict that by 2020, 65 percent of jobs will require education beyond a high school diploma (like a professional certification, a two-year degree, or a four year degree). Myriad efforts are underway in Delaware to prepare students for a bright future after high school ends. Chief among them is Delaware Pathways, which for three years has worked to increase postsecondary opportunities for students by providing them with early career and college experience in high-need industries. In the fall of 2014, there were just 27 young people enrolled in an advanced manufacturing pathway. Delaware has scaled quickly with over 5,000 young people in over 14 state model pathways this school year. 2017 should be a big year for Pathways: The state recently received $2 million from J.P. Morgan Chase to expand its work, the national Pathways to Prosperity Network will showcase Delaware’s progress at its biannual conference in March, and a case study will be released by Harvard later this spring examining the great work in our state. [Read: A Jolt of Blue-Collar Hope; Delaware’s career pathways program lands $2M grant]


Improving School Safety

In 2016, school safety and bullying made headlines amidst the tragic deaths of 16-year-old Amy Inita Joyner-Francis and 15-year-old Brandon Wingo, who were both students at Howard High School of Technology. In response, lawmakers formed a School Safety Task Force, which in turn released a series of recommendations. Some made a lot of sense—such as increasing the number of mental health professionals in schools, and improvements on school climate. Other recommendations came with some concerning baggage, like the recommendation of a cell phone ban in Delaware schools. Some local teachers took umbrage with the report, and instead called for a more data-driven and student-centered approach to schools safety. Governor-elect Carney put forth some safety recommendations in his Criminal Justice policy plan, including expanding after-school programs, and requiring school attendance for students until the age of 18 (a bill on increasing the compulsory age has already been filed). [Read: Teachers weigh in on school safety report]


Strengthening Transparency and Improving High-Need Schools

The acronym that will be on the tip of everyone’s tongue in 2017: ESSA. Delaware is in the process of writing its Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA) state plan, which it will submit to the U.S. Department of Education in April. This plan will determine minimum requirements for education reporting and transparency, as well as improvement plans and expectations for the state’s lowest performing schools, among other provisions. Turnaround strategies for low-performing schools was also hotly debated by WEIC and we imagine those debates will continue.

Delaware teachers weighed in with their recommendations late last year, and various community groups have signed a letter on reporting. Will Delaware maximize the ESSA opportunity to strengthen transparency, reporting, supports to schools, and expand our indicators of success? More importantly, what will state or district leaders do to help schools improve?[Read: Opportunities for Delaware under the Every Student Succeeds Act; The Every Student Succeeds Act: Background and Key Questions]

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