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We Need a Funding System Built for Tomorrow, not 1940

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An enormous and growing number of Delaware students—including those learning English, have special needs, or come from low-income families—aren’t being properly served by our state’s school funding system. This issue has been thrust back into the spotlight thanks to a high-profile civil rights lawsuit, and the ongoing heightened conversations about the Christina School District.

 

Something has got to give.

 

The equity challenges in our funding system are not surprising because it was designed in the 1940s, more than three decades before black students were fully integrated and before the federal government determined that students learning English or had a disability were eligible for a “free and appropriate public education.” While there have been tweaks to the system (and while the federal government provides some limited funding to address these issues), the basic design of the system has not changed for nearly 80 years. Yet English learner students have increased by 433 percent since 1997, and low-income students make up roughly 37 percent of the student body. Addressing the unique needs of these students simply were not built into the system back then because that was not its charge.

 

Eighty years ago, the world around our young people was more than a little bit different. Of course, communication and travel looked dramatically different, and the economy was humming along pretty well with just about 13 percent of Delawareans having some education beyond high school.

 

In short, we have a funding system built and designed for a completely different student body, era, and economy. Almost every other state in the country and most high-performing countries have long since moved to a system that reflects the fact that different children need different supports to succeed.

 

We often talk about an equitable, student-centered funding system as a standalone concept. But it’s not; it’s fundamental to ensuring the success of all types of students with a variety of needs and interests.

 

Often, the same kids who don’t receive dedicated funding also have known social and emotional needs, and additional flexible funding that follows the student could allow districts and schools to tailor wraparound supports. Consider the thousands of students who arrive in Delaware learning English, or who are striving to graduate high school with some college credits under their belt, or who want to supplement their traditional classes with online or distance learning experiences. In other states, schools have the financial flexibility to support these students down their unique paths. In Delaware, not so much. In some cases, savvy superintendents and charter school leaders can work around the system to get there, but the system should be built to respond to and support these shifts.

 

Delaware is one of only four states that doesn’t provide additional resources for English learners, meaning districts and charters must cobble together other funding to meet legal requirements for serving English learners. In other words, a school with 100 EL students receives the same amount of state funding as a school with 10 EL students—$0. Dedicated funds for EL students would help districts and charters provide a wide array of services, including hiring additional certified instructors.

 

Delaware’s unit count funding system also stands in the way of unleashing the full powers of personalized learning. Innovative school design, reimagined teacher roles, and flexible course offerings for students—like online or distance learning, community experiences where students earn credit, and other activities related to students’ specific needs and interests—require complicated workarounds, thanks to our inflexible spending model.

 

Nearly across the board, Delaware’s funding system limits creativity and innovation in our schools—while further deepening inequity and leaving behind kids who need more support.

 

These are the reasons Rodel counts itself among more than25 (and growing) organizations urging the state to consider a more equitable, student-centered funding formula. The Education Equity Delaware coalition is making this issue a priority.

 

Join us on April 19th when we’ll welcome local advocates and national experts, including former U.S. Secretary of Education John King, for a half-day conference dedicated to exploring Delaware’s school funding conundrum and coming together to find solutions.

Teaching in a Competency-Based Education Environment

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July 2017

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Teaching in a Competency-Based Education Environment

When I describe competency-based education to friends and family—students moving through education based on mastery of skill rather than seat time, lessons personalized to the individual, and students taking ownership of their learning — the reaction is generally “that sounds better.” Unless that friend or family member is a teacher, in which case a host of very good questions arise about the practicalities of teaching in a competency-based environment.

 

“I have 30 kids? Do I have to plan a different lesson plan for each of them?”

The answer to this is no. A learner-centered classroom doesn’t mean the teacher plans lessons for each student. Robin Kanaan, KnowledgeWorks Director of Teaching and Learning, explained that you don’t have individual lesson plans for every student: “Students co-determine with the teacher what learning targets they need to accomplish and how they could show evidence of their learning. This is possible through agency and equipping students to understand themselves as learners.”

Read More

Award Opportunities

Teacher Awards for Literacy (Deadline: September 15)
The Penguin Random House Teacher Awards for Literacy program recognizes the nation’s most dynamic and resourceful teachers who use their creativity to inspire and successfully instill a love of reading in students. Winners are awarded cash grants and book donations to help further their innovative reading programs and to disseminate them to other teachers around the country.
NEA Learning & Leadership Grants (Deadline: October 15)
These grants support National Education Association members who are public school teachers, public education support professionals, and/or faculty and staff in public institutions of higher education for one of the following two purposes: Grants to individuals fund participation in high-quality professional development experiences and grants to groups fund collegial study.TranspARTation Grants (Ongoing)
The TranspARTation Grant supports travel costs to Delaware arts and cultural institutions and venues so that students may attend events, performances, and exhibits that have high-quality arts components. TranspARTation applications are accepted on an ongoing basis but must be received at least six weeks prior to the field trip date.

Save the Date

 

2017 Delaware Estuary Watershed Teacher Workshop (Various locations, July 17-20)
Join Partnership for the Delaware Estuary for four days of exciting workshops. Come and learn interdisciplinary ways to translate the environmental experience to your classroom.

 

Reading Summit: Decoding Strategies for Literacy Development (Newark, August 16 – 17)
Participants will learn powerful strategies to teach essential skills necessary for strong fluency and comprehension. These strategies, when applied using an explicit, systematic and age-sensitive approach, rapidly improve grapheme-phonemic awareness, decoding, vocabulary, and spelling.

 

iNACOL Symposium (Orlando, October 23 – 25)
iNACOL’s annual conference is the industry’s leading event for K-12 competency-based, blended, and online learning. Experts, practitioners, educators, policymakers, and researchers gather and work to transform education. This year’s theme is “Personalizing Learning: Equity, Access, Quality.”

 

DelawareCAN Educators of Color Monthly Meetup (Wilmington, Multiple Dates)
DelawareCAN: The Delaware Campaign for Achievement Now is hosting its monthly educators of color council meetup. Come connect with other educators of color across the state and learn about opportunities to make your voice heard about Delaware’s education system.

Must Read Stories

Did You Know?

Academics are critical, but so is a child’s social and emotional development. Strong academics will always be central in Delaware schools but in a rapidly changing world, it’s becoming increasingly important that young people receive a holistic educational experience that maximizes who they are as individuals—one that instills skills like communication, collaboration, critical thinking, empathy, and creativity.

 

This concept of developing “social and emotional learning” (SEL)—a phrase that’s often cross-referenced with “whole child”—is not a new one. Generations of educators have said that the so-called soft skills mentioned above are all important ingredients in child development.

In Delaware, it’s exciting to see a renewed focus and collaboration on social-emotional learning. We have created a webpage that combines national and state data and initiatives underway in order to inform ongoing conversations about SEL in Delaware. This list is not comprehensive, and we encourage you to share additional resources with us on Twitter by using the hashtag #SELinDE.

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Delaware in the National Pathways Spotlight: 5 Takeaways

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Beatriz Ramirez, a student at William Penn High School, found her passion for cooking through the school’s career pathways program. Photos by Amadu Mansaray.

 

Last month, from up on stage at the Chase Center on the Riverfront, Beatriz Ramirez told her story.

Today a senior at William Penn High School, Beatriz originally came to the U.S. not speaking English as a first language. She felt isolated at school, and often didn’t connect to her lessons or her fellow students.  Until, that is, she discovered the school’s culinary arts program.

In the kitchen, Beatriz found her calling. With support from the chefs and instructors at William Penn, Beatriz is confident about her future. She’s combined her learnings from school with real-life experience, training under heralded chef Tom Hannum at Buckley’s Tavern. She’s already been accepted to Johnson & Wales University and the Culinary Institute of America—two of the country’s top culinary schools.

This is a powerful experience—and it’s one being shared by thousands of young people in Delaware. Beatriz and chef Hannum joined hundreds of state leaders last month at the Third Annual Delaware Pathways Conference. In the days leading up to the conference, the national Pathways to Prosperity Network held its institute in Wilmington, bringing together 150 representatives from 13 other states to our neck of the woods to talk about the tremendous progress we’ve seen here. In just three years Delaware Pathways has grown from 27 students to just under 6,000 in 11 career pathways and 38 high schools. While we have a ways to go, other states are now looking at Delaware as a national model, and are looking to learn from our success.

[Read: A Jolt of Blue-Collar Hope, The New York Times]

As someone who has worked to improve our schools for close to three decades, this is one of the most transformative and concrete efforts I have been involved with.

As I reflect on a week’s worth of celebrating postsecondary achievements for Delaware, here are five takeaways:

 

  • Delaware is a national leader – We heard from people across the country that Delaware is leading the pack in several areas, from scaling career pathways statewide; to creating and building partnerships across the K-12 system, private employers, and higher education; and braiding together funding streams to bolster our efforts. If we keep up our momentum, Delaware could become the first state in the country to get half of our high schoolers—20,000 by 2020—into a career pathway. [Read: Delaware Pathways Leading the Way, Jobs for the Future]
  • Inclusiveness and equity is critical – These pathways need to be open to all. We heard that young people with disabilities can be huge benefactors and contributors in this work, and there’s a strong push to do more there. Groups like the Division of Vocational Rehabilitation, Christiana Care Health System, Downstate Transition Services, Exceptional Children, and a host of local employers are already leading the way.
  • “College” doesn’t just mean a four-year degree—Shana Payne, director of Delaware’s Office of Higher Education, pointed out during her presentation of the Delaware College Success Report, that most of us think of “college” as the typical four-year undergraduate program, which simply isn’t and shouldn’t be the case for all students. We know that two-year, certificate and apprenticeship programs can be just as (if not more) impactful for preparing young people for the real world.
  • We have some work to do – We also learned from the College Success report that we’re still not preparing enough young people for college coursework, and it’s possible that we’re not providing enough access to AP, dual-enrollment, and other challenging courses to kids in high school, especially to students of color or students from low-income families.

  • The bandwagon is filling up, but there’s still plenty of ways to get involved—We saw at the student- and family-focused Pathways Expo that more than 250 students and families and 60 community organizations attended -are lining up to help students and partner with Pathways. More employers, parents and students are joining the ranks too. Visit delawarepathways.org to learn more about how you can get involved.

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