Archive for the ‘Equity’ 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.

“It’s difficult because I have no one to talk to”—English Learner Students Share their Stories

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Being a student is a very broad concept. Each of us experience school and life differently. As a result, we cannot assume a student’s struggles or successes come from the same place.

 

During my journey from Venezuela to William Penn High School, I got to meet peers from the most diverse backgrounds; some from Turkey, Poland, Congo, Wilmington, Dominican Republic—almost from every continent. Talking to them, I realized that although our journeys were unique—we all had something in common. Compared to our native English-speaking classmates, we English learning students have fewer opportunities available to us, despite the fact that we require additional resources to succeed.

 

I developed more curiosity about the topic. In April, I spoke at the Education Funding Summit hosted by the Education Equity Delaware coalition. During this experience, I learned that Delaware provides no funding for EL students. Even when it is required to ensure students are making progress, there are no requirements for how to support ELs in academic subject areas, and 10 percent of ELs spend more than six years in the EL program, while the average must be three years.

 

Being an intern at Rodel for the summer gave me a great chance to dig deeper. I interviewed seven students to learn more about their experiences in school. I believe strongly that it is important for students to have a voice in this important issue.

 

My first day in school the only thing I remember is that I didn’t know English at all and no one was helping me.Delaware English Learner Student

 

Students were from a variety of schools as well as backgrounds. Some interviews were by phone, Google forms or on paper. However, the actual value was the difference between each response.

 

One of the student’s responses is the perfect summary of an English learner’s first experience in school: ‘‘My first day in school the only thing I remember is that I didn’t know English at all and no one was helping me.’’ The language barrier can have other pitfalls, another student told me: ‘‘When I wake up,” he said, “the only thing I see on my phone notification label is my email. It’s difficult because I don’t have no one to talk to.’’

 

Violence was another factor that minority students described at their school environments. ‘‘The majority of the schools I’ve attended have had major violence issues,” said one student from Wilmington. “It’s hard to flourish and excel in a violent environment that is supposed to be safe and nourishing.”

 

Students expressed how hard success seems to attain as an outsider. But their resolve was stronger. Once student said, “I’ve been showing people that I am able to go higher because most of them stopped me from going to higher classes.”

 

On the other hand, students that attend more affluent schools did not face as many barriers. ‘‘I have not experienced any challenge, and I have seen peers struggle financially which hinders them from having equal opportunity,” one student said.

 

All EL student experiences should be like that: a smooth and fair process, no matter your background, income-level, or native language. What if the educational system provided equal resources to all students? Just imagine the possibilities of having access to great teachers, guidance and school counselors, metal health, rigorous coursework, and more. These resources matter for all students—especially ELs.

Why We Need to Dig Deep on Social-Emotional Learning Together

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Close your eyes for a moment and think about one of your favorite teachers from grade school. What do you remember? Chances are, you remember as much about how they taught as what they taught. You remember that classroom’s environment and how that teacher made you feel. Inspired. Energized. Safe. Creative.

 

As we’ve written about before in this space, social and emotional learning (SEL) isn’t a new thing. We heard about the need to look more holistically at the development of our young people when the Vision Coalition spoke to 4,000 Delawareans during the creation of Student Success 2025 back in 2014.

 

SEL is something that great teachers have been doing instinctively for generations. But it’s fair to say that it wasn’t until more recently that cognitive science sharpened our definition of SEL and reinforced the need for a broader vision of learning that’s as foundational as our traditional academic learning.

 

What’s new? Given that we were seeing pockets of work on SEL cropping up throughout the state and that nine out of 10 respondents to our 2017 Rodel Teacher Council survey said schools should place more emphasis on SEL, we launched what we believe is the most comprehensive statewide landscape analysis of SEL in the country. Later in the summer and fall, we’ll work with the community to unpack what we found and hope that it helps accelerate the good work already started in classrooms statewide.

 

Why now? SEL’s reemergence into the spotlight in recent years is a response to the rapidly evolving world that our young people will soon inherit. For years employers have told us that too many new employees lack the “people skills” needed to work in a complex environment. Meanwhile rapid shifts in our economy exacerbated the income divide, leading to roughly four out of every 10 Delaware public school students now living in poverty. And when poverty is paired with issues like violence and addiction, it can not only impact a child’s ability to learn, but weigh heavily on the teachers and administrators, too. Adults inside the school deserve thoughtful, comprehensive social emotional skill development, which in turn can lead to culturally responsive and engaging places to teach and to learn.

 

My child is in kindergarten, and I tell her teacher that I care less about whether she can read and more about whether she plays nicely with others and is a good friend. Academic skills will come, but SEL is the foundation for being a good person.Delaware Parent

 

What’s next? Core academics are and always will be central and vital to the educational experience. But what we’ve come to realize is that skills like communication, collaboration, critical thinking, empathy, and creativity are not just nice to have, they are foundational skills our students need in order to be successful in the classroom and in life.

 

If we want our young people to go out into the world healthy, caring, and able to respond to a fast-paced, global society—we need to embed SEL into our schools to meet the needs of all students, with particular attention to the unique needs of students of color, English learners, and low-income students. If we, as a state, are serious about ensuring that our learning environments are safe and welcoming places for all students to grow, learn, and thrive, we need to openly discuss and address Delaware’s, and our nation’s, long and continuing history of racial inequity, and the opportunities for SEL to advance equity in our schools. As the report notes, educators need support to understand and affirm students’ and families’ backgrounds and cultural heritages, and acknowledge and address the impact of race, racism, and implicit bias in education.

 

Moving forward, together. At this stage in the game, people in and around education, nationally, and within Delaware, agree that SEL is important. But as we found out in our research, there are dozens of definitions and interpretations of what it actually means, how it manifests inside classrooms, or how we can quantify it.

 

We heard loud and clear that we need to get on the same page. As a state, we need to expand our definition of student success. We need a common understanding of what we actually mean when we say “SEL,” and how SEL can be used to support students.

 

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

 

(Members of the Rodel Teacher Council also weighed in this month with a new policy brief. Creating a Common Language for Social and Emotional Learning in Delaware urges leaders to provide a stronger framework for integrating SEL into academic development.)

 

We offer this report to shine a light on the current SEL landscape in Delaware and help policymakers, educators and partners in the education, government, healthcare, nonprofit, and business sectors make decisions and investments to strengthen the work that’s underway supporting social and emotional development.

 

How we did it. While Rodel kicked this project off, it wouldn’t have been possible without the shared financial and intellectual partnership of the Arsht-Cannon Fund, Christina Care Health System, the Delaware Community Foundation, and Nemours Children’s Health Care System, as well as our Steering Committee of local stakeholders.

 

Education First and Edge Research led the data collection and analysis. The research that led to these findings included a broad range of surveys, interviews, and engagements with many school, district, and community leaders, and site visits to a variety of Delaware schools spanning all three counties. To ensure that their research rung true to those working with Delaware’s young people every day, our Steering Committee worked with Education First to provide feedback on their findings along the way.

 

Our researchers spent time in public schools across Delaware, and observed a variety of rich social and emotional learning in action: educators helping students recognize, understand and express their emotions, and develop and practice strategies to regulate those emotions when needed. They saw teachers focused on building strong relationships and helping students develop strategies to work together and solve problems, including by persisting through challenges and learning from failures. (For more examples of SEL work underway in Delaware, click here.)

 

But more pressingly, we found we need to co-construct what SEL means for our children with their parents and the community. While the definitions, expectations, and measures can be informed by academia, they need to be shaped and informed by meaningful engagement with parents, students, and educators—early and often.

 

In addition, we need to expand partnerships between schools and health services, mental health facilities, and community non-profits to ensure students and families have the supports they need.

To truly succeed in the future, students will need more than just core academic knowledge… To tackle tomorrow’s problems and excel in the jobs of the future, students will need skills and attributes like creativity, flexibility, and curiosity… As the social and environmental challenges in our communities grow, our children will need to be more empathetic and innovative in their problem-solving.Student Success 2025, Vision Coalition of Delaware

 

Now the real work begins. We hope this report serves as a springboard for those conversations and subsequent action. Our hope is that building a common framework and language around SEL will help practitioners and parents change the learning experience for our kids. We also heard that this SEL work needs to inform how we train and support educators. In fact, we hope that it inspires teachers to experiment, innovate, and work together to figure out how to continually get better at addressing students’ needs. We hope school leaders will see new opportunities to build community partnerships, as well as curated curriculum and tools to give SEL a stronger backbone and so teachers can build off of one another’s good work.

 

Addressing these challenges would benefit from deep, sustained collaboration across schools and with a range of nonprofit, health, social service, government, and mental health supports. In Delaware, we know that kind of collaboration is possible. Stay tuned for more opportunities this summer and fall to share your ideas and take action. Let’s dig in together.

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