Archive for the ‘Vision Coalition of Delaware’ Category

Rodel’s Latest Data Guide and Our Priorities for the Year

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Welcome to the 2018 edition of Delaware Public Education At A Glance, Rodel’s annual snapshot of data and trends from our public schools. In the spirit of unveiling, there’s no better time than now to share our priorities for the coming year—the areas where the Rodel team will spend our time and energy with our partners in the community.

Our three big priorities for the year:

  • Keep the Student Success 2025 plan moving
  • Double down on college and career success
  • Deepen social and emotional learning in Delaware

So, what does this mean?

  1. Keep the Plan Moving. We help support the Vision Coalition move Student Success 2025 This plan provides the state with well-informed guideposts for uplifting public education to new heights between now and 2025. The 47 policy recommendations spread across six core areas (below) serve as our roadmap. When it comes to implementing those recommendations, we see our role as a partner with policymakers, educators, and community members to bring ideas into action.

 

More specifically, we will advocate for several targeted budget or policy issues over the next several months:

  • On early learning, we support the administration’s budgetary ask of $3.8 million to support quality early learning.
  • On funding, we have argued for more than a decade that our current funding system is unfair, inflexible, and opaque. So, we, in concert with the Education Equity Delaware coalition, will support efforts to modernize the system so that it works for our kids now and into the future.
  • On system governance, we will speak up to make sure that the state’s federal Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA) plan is implemented with fidelity. In particular, we want to see clear graphics that are accessible to parents and the public in the state’s soon-to-be-released school report cards—including school-level financial reporting and a great deal more student information. Just like everyone else, we want to see positive change for the students in our Wilmington schools. We support the recent MOU that was recently signed by the Christina School District and the Carney Administration, and we realize that this is just the beginning.  We will do our part to help move this work forward and we believe the progress we collectively make here could have major implications for not only the thousands of children in the five schools being discussed, but for our highest need children throughout this state.

 

  1. Double Down on College and Career Success. Another big goal is to help even more young people prepare for life after high school. We think we can chip in by identifying and shepherding even more local and national resources to postsecondary programming.
  • We recently worked with a range of public and private sector leaders to produce Supporting Postsecondary Success in Delaware: A Landscape Analysis of Student Opportunities. While we uncovered some great assets, we also found that there’s a lot of work to do to help our young people make smart decisions post high school. This year, we’ll discern where (and with whom) we can partner to get some concrete work done to move this analysis to action.
  • We’re proud of the state’s collective work to date on career pathways—expanding from 27 participants in 2014 to over 9,000 in 2018—but we have a lot more on our minds, particularly in helping students connect to meaningful work-based experiences. At Rodel, we collaborate with local businesses to help facilitate growth, educate the public about why this is important, and bring the needed resources to accelerate the work on the ground.

 

  1. Deepen Social and Emotional Learning in Delaware. The world is changing fast, and if we want our young people to thrive in it, we need to rethink how we equip them. The North Star at the center of Student Success 2025 is all about the nonacademic skills—like creativity, communication, empathy—that will be vital for young people entering the real world. While the Rodel Teacher Council and the district members of the BRINC Consortium have dedicated time and energy on personalized or blended learning, there is a groundswell of interest in the social and emotional factors that affect how kids learn, particularly those in our most challenged neighborhoods.
  • A study is underway—in partnership with Nemours, Christiana Care, Arsht-Cannon Fund and others—to assess what’s underway in social and emotional learning, what’s working, and where there are gaps and alignment opportunities. In our view, SEL is not an add-on, it’s foundational to, and should be embedded in, academic learning.
  • The Rodel Teacher Council is working to redefine what the next generation of learning will look like. Groups of teachers are exploring how our local colleges and universities can accept “competency-based” transcripts from students, allowing students to showcase their subject mastery, rather than a letter grade or test score. They are advocating for an annual review of broadband connectivity in schools, making the case for innovative professional development for teachers based on competency versus credit hours, and connecting districts and charters interested in collaborating to develop social and emotional competencies.

I’m inspired by the passion I see in our teachers and the commitment I see our public and private sector leaders dedicated to doing whatever it takes to improving the lives of our young people.

If you are interested in learning more about these issues, email us at info@rodelfoundationde.org. Change is hard, but when we work together, we can make big things happen. Our children deserve nothing less.

Treating the Cause, Not the Symptoms: What Education Can Learn from the Social Determinants of Health

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Individual behaviors play a role in educational outcomes, but inequitable social and economic factors loom even larger.

 

We know that children of all backgrounds—including those from adverse environments—can find success in school and in life. But the stark, empirical reality tells us public education still mostly favors the haves over the have-nots. Research shows (see also here and here) that access to three main levers of money, resources, and power still by and large determines whether a child will get a good education.

There is little doubt among education reformers that this needs to change. But after decades of efforts and initiatives aimed at closing achievement and opportunity gaps, the scales remain mostly unbalanced.

As we in the education world chip away on important issues like career preparation, 3rd grade literacy, or social and emotional learning, one can argue that the bigger, more important battles are the ones that influence broader federal, state, and local government policies that direct the all-important flow and distribution of money, power, and resources.

From finance to justice to social policies—there are many examples of indirect levers that can have strong impacts on students and their families, including property tax distribution and payday loan laws. Data shows persistent academic disparities related to income: Impoverished students are not inherently less smart, they are just less likely to have access to high-quality early childhood programs, adequate health care, and reliable transportation—things we know sets kids up for success in school.

Like the fabled Butterfly Effect, there are many seemingly unrelated forces, factors, and decisions that impact equity and our public education system.

Often, those of us working in education policy direct our focus at the individual-, school- or program-level, without addressing the role inequitable policy plays in education outcomes. While effective programs can provide students, parents, and teachers with supports they need in the here and now, they often don’t address the root of educations problems.

For example, parent engagement programs are well-intentioned attempts at getting parents more involved with their child’s academics. Research on parent involvement found that many programs start with the assumption that some parents do not care about their child’s education. However, these programs don’t always address the barriers to involvement that parents face, including long work hours, lack of childcare, lack of transportation, language and cultural barriers, and exclusive school policies.

Noble as they are, such programs often face an uphill battle when they try to change individual behaviors rather than advocating for transformative policies.

But what if we borrowed a page from the health reform playbook?

The social determinants of health is an approach that shifts the framing of health reform debate from the individual to the system. This approach takes a holistic view by examining the interconnectedness of education, health, and social factors such as policymaking. And it does represent an innovative approach to dealing with our public health woes—and poses a ripe opportunity for education reform.

The Social Determinants of Health

Next month at the 10th Annual Vision Coalition Conference on Education, leaders from Delaware’s health, education, public policy, and social services worlds will collide on stage for a panel discussion on the social determinants of health and education.

So what exactly are the determinants of health? Public policies, income, individual behaviors, social power, public safety, and discrimination to name a few. Social and economic factors, at around 40 percent, are the largest contributors to a person’s health, according to the National Association of Community Health Centers—compared to health behaviors (30 percent), physical environment (10 percent) and clinical care (20 percent).

Health care reformers use this idea to illuminate the role that money, power, and resources play in health access and outcomes. And, education and health are certainly interdependent (here and here). Typically, Americans with more education live longer, healthier lives—while poor health can compromise good education if a student cannot focus, is missing school, or has a learning disability.

Education reform could do well to learn from this example and begin to focus less on changing individuals and more on creating and implementing transformative, equitable policies.

Data tell us vast gaps exist between students of color and those from low-income backgrounds when compared to their white, more affluent peers. While we cannot discount the role individual behavior plays in educational outcomes, we must pay explicit attention to how policies and practices influence behaviors and outcomes.

Changing the narrative shifts the approach

By examining the problem from the lens of policy and practice, reformers can begin to ask hard questions about their efforts: Does our work target rules, practices, and norms that create, maintain, and exacerbate inequitable education disparities and outcomes?

Economic and social policy greatly influence how students perform, the efficacy of teaching practices, and the role of parents in education. As education reformers recognize this, they will begin to scrutinize the distribution of money, power, and resources and form solutions that create a fairer balance of these factors.

The social determinants of health offers an innovative approach to education reform that requires us all to ask hard questions about how we select the point of change, what (or who) we see as needing to be changed, and how we intend to change it. As we continue to search for solutions, we have an opportunity to use this approach to holistically address the root source of inequitable educational outcomes, and hopefully, to create a sustainable education system that equitably serves all students, teachers, and parents.

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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