Archive for the ‘Student Success 2025’ Category

Funding is Fundamental to Progress

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With the state’s budget situation casting a cloud of uncertainty in education (and beyond), the time seems right to take a look at education funding through the lens of something that is more than certain—that student needs have changed drastically since our school funding formula was developed in the 1940s.

 

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 spectrum needs and interests.

 

A student whose native language is not English.

A student who changes school districts halfway through the year.

A student hoping to graduate high school with college credit.

A student who wants to supplement her traditional classes with online/distance learning and community experiences.

 

These are just four examples, highlighted below, of students that could benefit from the state transitioning to a more flexible, student-centered funding system. Most states use a foundation formula, where a base amount of money—rather than units—is allocated consistently for each student, to which funding can be added based on designated student needs, such as low-income, English learners, and students with disabilities. In other words, a student’s needs are taken into account as money is distributed.

 

Funding is Fundamental to… English learners

Since 1997, Delaware has experienced a 433-percent increase in English learner students. Yet Delaware is one of four states that does not 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 could help districts and charters provide a wide array of services, including hiring additional certified instructors.

Last year, Rodel was one of 22 organizations that signed a letter urging the state to consider a more equitable, student-centered funding formula. These Delaware student narratives were developed to accompany this letter. Learn more at www.educationequityde.org.

 

Funding is Fundamental to…transient students

As a research assistant for the University of Delaware’s Institute for Public Administration providing staff support for the Wilmington Education Advocacy Committee, I had the privilege of hearing testimonies from Wilmington parents, teachers, administrators, and community leaders. One challenge that stood out from their stories was the challenge of responding to students moving across districts. These effects may be most acutely felt in Wilmington, where moving just a few blocks can switch your school district – as it happened to me last summer – or for students with special needs who are entitled to certain services.

Funding is Fundamental to…college and career-bound students

There is a lot of momentum in Delaware for ensuring students graduate high school with credits/credentials and real-world experiences that set them up to success in whatever postsecondary path they choose. Today more than ever, there are more options available for students such as earning early college credit through Advanced Placement and dual enrollment courses, enrolling in a career pathway, or gaining work-based learning and leadership experience. But we have some work to do. We 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 challenging courses to kids in high school, especially to students of color or students from low-income families.

 

We know that Delaware is one of about 15 states that does not allocate funding in its state formula for low-income students, which could be used for these purposes and others. While some districts may cover the costs of this offering this rigorous coursework, others may not be able to. As Mike Griffith, senior school finance analyst for Education Commission of the States, points out: “There are some states where high school students can take dual and concurrent enrollment and come out of high school with a free associate degree. And this is not a small group of elite students—but it’s open to every student. With an improved formula, your school will have greater flexibility to offer more after-school and summer school courses, and we can do so much more for our at-risk kids.

Funding is Fundamental to…personalized learning

I’ve also heard from members of the Rodel Teacher Council that the unit count funding system is one of the barriers limiting the state’s ability to scale up personalized learning models like innovative school design, reimagined teacher roles, and flexible course offerings for students. In their Student Centered Learning Structures policy brief, RTC members illustrate the connection between personalized learning and the state funding system through a fictional student named Maya.

According to RTC members in this brief, “In order for Maya and her classmates to have opportunities for online/distance learning, community experiences, and other activities related to their specific needs and interests, Delaware’s funding system will need to shift to be more student-centered.”

Funding is Fundamental to….all of Student Success 2025

Rodel is committed to supporting implementation of the Vision Coalition of Delaware’s Student Success 2025 recommendations, which are divided into six core areas including “Fair and Efficient Funding.” But it’s clear from the examples above that funding is not just a standalone core area of Student Success 2025. It affects our ability to implement recommendations across all core areas. Reevaluating how the state allocates its finite dollars could open up possibilities such as:

  • In “Educator Support and Development,” the full possibilities of implementing exciting educator career pathways are not outright hindered, but limited by barriers such as the unit count and teacher of record policies.
  • “System Governance, Alignment, and Performance,” recommends we provide LEAs with flexibility to “develop shared service arrangements” and other efficiency measures. At the moment, the state dictates what purposes units can be spent on, such as energy or behavioral health specialists, rather than provide support and incentives for efficient local resource decision-making.

 

For these reasons, Delaware’s funding system will continue to be a hot topic until we can ensure that state resources are being allocated in a way that most efficiently, equitably, and effectively allows all students to succeed.

Digging Deeper: Are Delaware Students Safe and Engaged?

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Digging Deeper
“Digging Deeper” is a recurring feature at the Rodel blog where we take some data on Delaware public schools—and put it under the microscope. In the spirit of our Public Education at a Glance, we’ll present a straightforward look at the numbers, and search for some deeper meaning.

 

Academic achievement is but one aspect of student success. To develop the “whole child” we must also nurture a student’s social and emotional skills. Research shows that a positive school climate impacts both academic achievement and the development of social and emotional skills. As recent concerns about school safety intensify, a stronger focus on school climate could help ensure that students remain safe and engaged.

According to the National Survey of Children’s Health (NSCH) six out of 10 Delaware children meet the Promoting School Success Index. This index measures student engagement, participation in extracurricular activities, and feeling safe at school. The survey provides data on various aspects of a child’s life, from physical and mental wellness, to neighborhood, school, and social contexts.

Eight out of 10 of eighth graders reported feeling safe in school in 2016. Still, almost half of students in eighth grade feel that violence is a problem at their school, according to the Delaware School Survey. The same pattern can be seen in fifth and 11th grade.

Research shows a correlation between student engagement in school and student achievement. Student engagement, often defined as students actively participating in learning, focusing attention to the topic at hand and staying on task. When students remain engaged, they learn better and perform better.

A positive school climate—one where students feel safe and cared for—influences not only academic performance, but behavioral outcomes and emotional health, according to the National School Climate Center. In fact, supporting positive school climate can be a preventative method for violence, bullying, and distraction.

Some solutions: Prioritizing Student Engagement and Safety

While the majority of Delaware students report feeling safe and engaged, it’s fair to ask: Is that enough? Student Success 2025 has a goal for all students to feel safe in school, and aims to raise the number of students that are consistently engaged in school to 95 percent. Thankfully we have some possible solutions to consider.

  • Using a personalized learning model, each student is met where they are academically while student agency and ownership is leveraged to increase engagement. To learn what personalized learning looks like in a Montessori classroom, read “Liberty within Limits: Personalized Learning in the Montessori Classroom” by Rodel Teacher Council member Cheryl Lynn Jones.
  • Delaware Pathways, a program designed to prepare public school students for the workforce, offers more real-life experiences and connections for students to remain on track for success. When students know that that success after high school is within reach, they are more likely to remain engaged in school.
  • Social and Emotional Learning, or the process through which students are taught positive relationship building, positive self-image, responsible decision-making, and other useful skills, is just one way that schools can create a supportive school environment and keeps students engaged. Check out this blog for more background on social and emotional learning—and to see what is already happening in Delaware.

A Wholehearted Approach to Learning

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A few years ago, my fellow members of the Vision Coalition and I began reaching out to Delawareans. We wanted to hear what they thought a well-educated young person would need to know and be able to do in the year 2025.

What we heard from more than 4,000 people was not surprising. People told us that better academics and improved test scores are important—being able to read and understand math would still be foundational. But they wanted more than that. What people really wanted was a richer educational experience for their children, one that instilled skills like communication, collaboration, critical thinking, empathy, and creativity. They wanted young people to be healthy, to be able to respond to a rapidly changing world, and to have an educational experience that was not cookie-cutter, but one that maximized who they are as individuals.

That broad set of skills ultimately became the North Star, the guiding centerpiece to Student Success 2025. The North Star became our goal for the next 10 years, and we began mapping backwards from it to discern the policy changes needed to reach that goal. For example, if we wanted to maximize the potential of every child, that meant we needed a funding system that addressed each student’s educational assets. It meant we needed to train our teachers differently.

This concept of developing the “whole child”—a phrase that’s often cross-referenced with “social emotional learning”—is not a new one. Generations of practitioners have told us that the so-called soft skills mentioned above, along with physical and mental health, nutrition, and exposure to the arts, are all important ingredients in child development. In fact, we’re seeing a rare convergence among leaders in education and business that this broader set of skills, which educators see as essential, are often the same ones that employers say they can’t find in prospective employees.

As personalized learning continues to gain traction throughout Delaware and the nation, we’ll be hearing much more about the “whole child” and social emotional learning. These terms are all intertwined through shared goal of meeting young people where they are. In the coming months, we’ll be working to ground these ideas in real examples in Delaware and nationally. Some of these examples will include new approaches in the classroom and others will help shine a light on assets in the community to educate our young people through a range of approaches, from after-school educational opportunities to on-the-job training.

There are already efforts underway in Delaware that are leading the charge in this emerging field.

But to be clear, when it comes to this topic, we have as many questions as we do answers. For example, how does one measure empathy or creativity? Aren’t some of the most important things in our lives difficult or impossible to measure? And if we can’t measure it, can we teach it?

There are fledgling efforts underway to address these and many other questions, and we hope to bring some of that early research to you as well.

This is a learning curve for all of us. We at Rodel are firm believers in excellence and equity for each of Delaware’s students—and we believe that nurturing them holistically is the basis for not only helping our young people be successful in school, but become good citizens and happy and healthy adults. I invite you to help us push our thinking and to learn along with us.

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