Special Report: Red Flags In Delaware Student Enrollment Trends & The Increase In Special Education

The Delaware Department of Education released the September 30th counts report for the 2018-2019 school year.  Enrollment in Delaware is up by 775 students.  Special education is on the rise, jumping to over 16%. There are some very odd trends going on with different sub-groups in Delaware.  Ones that are making me VERY suspicious. Continue reading

Enrollment Count Report for 2017-2018 & Demographic Information For Districts & Charters: The Rise, The Surge, & The Cherry-Picking!

Which districts and charters saw big jumps with student enrollment? Which went down?  What is the state of special education in Delaware?  What key demographic is rising at a fast rate which contributes significantly to the budget woes in our state?  Which charter school, based on their current enrollment, should no longer be considered financially viable and should be shut down?  What is the fastest-growing sub-groups in Delaware?  And which cherry-picking charters continue to not serve certain populations? Continue reading

House Bill 269 Would Significantly Change School Choice In Delaware

House Bill 269, sponsored by Delaware State Rep. Kim Williams, was introduced today and assigned to the House Education Committee.  The legislation deals with school choice and offers some substantial changes to how Delaware deals with school choice.  This bill is not expected to get a vote tonight and will most likely be looked at in January of 2018.  While I have not fully read the bill, I did take a cursory glance and I like a lot of aspects to it.

2016 September 30th Report Shows 4% Increase In Special Education, 7.8% Increase For Charter Enrollment

The Delaware Department of Education came out with the 2016 September 30th Enrollment Report.  This document shows the head count for each school district and charter school in Delaware public schools.  As I predicted, special education students rose again this year.  To qualify for special education, a student must have an Individualized Education Program (IEP).  With the exception of vocational schools, both the traditional school districts and charter schools went up in enrollment statewide.  The growth for traditional school districts was anemic at best, with only a .32% increase from last year.  Overall state enrollment went up by .9%.  Once again, charter schools saw the greatest growth with a rise of 7.8% over last year.  No new charter schools opened this year, however many submitted modifications last year to increase enrollments and grades in one case.  Other charter schools began new grades this year based on their approved charters.  Some districts saw very steady growth but others saw continuing drops. Continue reading

Delaware Education Funding: Teacher Salaries For District & Charters By Student

Teacher Salaries.  This is the bulk of the costs in education.  As it should be.  Teachers are the lifeblood of a child’s education.  The funding for teachers should always be the highest cost for any school, whether it is in a district school or a charter school.  With that being said, below are what our districts and charter schools pay for teachers.  But as with the article on overall spending, it is all in relation to how many students a district or charter has.  There are several opinions that can be drawn from these pictures, but as with all these articles, the percentage of high-needs students can play a huge factor, especially when it comes to special education.  But we can see, based on the numbers, that having too many new teachers may save money in the short-term but it doesn’t bode well for students.

With this article, we have the first charter schools to suffer from what I call BAP: Bad Accounting Practices.  Delaware Military Academy and Delaware College Prep are not included in this because it would be impossible to figure out their teacher salaries.  For the sole reason that they put ALL their salaries under a code of “General Salaries”.  There is no breakdown of teacher, principal, head of school, secretaries, and so forth.  I know their authorizer, Red Clay, has approached them about this with absolutely no change whatsoever.  And Del. Military Academy already had a run-in with the State Auditor a few years back over personal spending.  Del. College Prep had their charter revoked by the Red Clay board and closed at the end of June.

Before you react to the first picture, I would like to remind everyone that the number of students in each district is the biggest factor in all of this.  Some district and charter accounting gurus may look at these and think I have all my numbers wrong.  If they are looking at just the state code that falls under teacher salaries, most of them would be right.  But for the purposes of this article and to get a true understanding of how teachers are paid overall in our districts and charters, I added the following together to come up with the teacher salaries: teacher salaries, academic excellence (essentially a bonus for some teachers), what are known as Extra Pay for Extra Responsibility categories (Sports, Extra-Curricular, and Misc.), Visiting Teachers, and the three Related Services for special education that only about half the districts use for special education teachers (Basic, Intensive, and Complex).  There is absolutely no way to determine how many teachers are tenured or have more experience at each district or charter.  But these are straight-out salaries and do not include benefits or pensions.  That will come soon, but there is a specific reason why I am not including this with the regular salaries.  As well, based on this information, there is no way to calculate how many teachers are in each district or charter.

FY2016DistrictTeacherSalaries

For the most part, district teacher salaries fall in line with how many students are in each district, with only some slight variances between a few districts, and nothing that put them more than one spot ahead or below another district.  Christina cut a lot of teachers after their referenda from FY2015 failed.  So their numbers could be higher next year since their referendum did pass this year and they restored most of the teaching positions.  Not every district has “academic excellence” bonus money they give to teachers.  A lot of these funds come from grants based on AP and advanced classes.  Districts that did not give any funds to teachers for “academic excellence” are Caesar Rodney, Colonial, Indian River, Laurel, Seaford, Woodbridge and Sussex Tech.  Brandywine and Appoquinimink led the pack with these bonuses, with $3.1 and $2.6 million given to teachers in each district.  Christina only had $784 in academic excellence, which leads me to believe something was either miscoded or carried over from the prior year.

FY2016CharterTeacherSalaries

With almost twice the amount of students as Odyssey, it would stand to reason that Newark Charter School would be number one on this graph.  We do see more variances among the charters for teacher spending than exists for the districts.  Charter school teachers in Delaware are not part of teacher unions so collective bargaining does not play a role in their salary negotiations.  What concerns me the most are Freire and Great Oaks which I will go into more detail a bit later.  All of the charter schools that just opened a little less than a year ago came in last for teacher salaries.  Newer charters tend to get less experienced teachers who are new to the profession.  This can cause severe growing pains for new charters.  In fact, out of the seven charters that opened in the past few years, all are in the bottom half when it comes to teacher salaries.

FY2016DistrictTeacherSalariesPerStudent

This is where the pictures change drastically.  New Castle County Vo-Tech takes the number one spot.  Followed by a district in Sussex County.  The top two districts for teacher spending overall, Red Clay and Christina, come in 6th and 8th on this based on the teacher salaries divided by the number of students in the district.  Once again, there is a very direct correlation between how vo-techs are funded and how much they are able to spend.  By not relying on referenda and worrying about local funding, they experience much more freedom than traditional school districts.  It must be nice to be a line item on the state budget!

FY2016CharterTeacherSalariesPerStudent

With charters, we see a vast amount of difference between teacher salaries divided by the number of students in each school.  For schools that have been around for a long time, like Thomas Edison, Academy of Dover, and Family Foundations, they have very low teacher salaries per student.  Especially since they serve some high-need populations.  Either they are paying too little in teacher salaries, there is high turnover, or a combination of both.  On the flip side, how Prestige Academy has the highest teacher salary per student amount in the state, at $6,544 baffles me.  My guess, which will come up in future articles, is they are putting other salaries in with teacher salaries.  Another BAP at play.  Freire, at $1573 a student, and Great Oaks, at an incredibly low $1175 a student, is almost unbelievable.  Either they are miscoding salaries or they do not have enough certified teachers.  Are they utilizing programs like Teach For America and Relay Graduate School too much?  Those programs have very high turnover compared to regular teachers.  These are also high schools, which makes me worried about the post-graduate outcomes of these students.  And no, I don’t mean based on Smarter Balanced Assessment scores.  Not many charters give “academic excellence” funds to teachers.  Only Newark Charter School and Campus Community do this in larger amounts, while Positive Outcomes and Kuumba do this in very low amounts.

teachersalarystudentpercentages

In this last graph, I took the teacher salaries divided by the student count for each charter or district and then divided that by the total per student count.  Sadly, the percentage of cost per student going towards teacher salaries appears to be 7% for Great Oaks.  I would say any charter or district below 25% is not good.  If at least a quarter of spending in schools isn’t going towards teachers, there are most likely some issues.  By the same token, if the amount is too high, like with the four charters at the top, something probably isn’t being coded right in the state accounting system.

Once again, I will reiterate that these amounts are based on expenditures by particular accounting codes during FY2016 for Delaware school districts and charter schools as reported by the state.  This information is put into the Delaware accounting system by each district or charter school.  In certain situations, I can only surmise what might be going on.  They are supposed to follow certain codes, but none of them do it by the book.  And with little or no oversight by our state, they get away with it.  I believe in local control, but there are certain things, in the name of transparency and best practices, that dictate a uniformity, and education spending is at the top of that list!

Delaware Opt Out Numbers By School District: Who Rose? Who Fell? And What About The Charters?

Thanks to the always faithful Delaware Department of Education for their obsession with data.  It makes my job a lot easier!  As I announced earlier today, opt out numbers went up this year for Delaware students in 3rd to 8th grade.  Despite whatever flawed data system the accountability gurus at the DOE are using.  Because they seem to think opt out went down this year.  But in my eyes, they went up:

2014-2015 ELA: 1,269

2015-2016 ELA: 1,375 (+106)

2014-2015 MATH: 1,116

2015-2016 MATH: 1,267 (+151)

These numbers do play games with my head.  Why are some parents just opting kids out of ELA and not Math, or vice versa?  I believe any increase is good.  That means more parents are wising up to the high-stakes testing regimen and telling schools they don’t want their kids to be a part of this nonsense.

So which districts saw more students opted out of the Smarter Balanced Assessment?  Which saw less?  And where the heck are the charter schools actual participation rate numbers?  I guess since charters are “special” and have “autonomy” we can’t see their numbers….  But we can see Prestige Academy and Gateway Lab School definitely didn’t make the 95% overall participation rate, Family Foundations Academy is questionable, and 4th graders at Kuumba missed the mark.  Great job charter parents at those schools!  Too bad the document only has ELA numbers…whoops!  I can say I was able to determine that 161 students in the combined charters were opted out of the Smarter Balanced ELA and 111 were opted out of Math.  I am basing this on the total of the below numbers for this year subtracted from the overall numbers for this year in both ELA and Math.

OPT OUT NUMBERS BY DELAWARE SCHOOL DISTRICT 

Appoquinimink:

15-16 ELA 101 (+14)

14-15 ELA 87

15-16 MATH 138 (+45)

14-15 MATH 93

Brandywine:

15-16 ELA 167 (+90)

14-15 ELA 77

15-16 MATH 138 (+55)

14-15 MATH 83

Caesar Rodney:

15-16 ELA 56 (+5)

14-15 ELA 51

15-16 MATH 41 (-7)

14-15 MATH 48 BOO

Cape Henlopen:

15-16 ELA 60 (+17)

14-15 ELA 43

15-16 MATH 75 (+25)

14-15 MATH 50

Capital:

15-16 ELA 118 (+62)

14-15 ELA 56

15-16 MATH 83 (+30)

14-15 MATH 53

Christina:

15-16 ELA 246 (-77)

14-15 ELA 323 BOO

15-16 MATH 231 (-52)

14-15 MATH 283 BOO

Colonial:

15-16 ELA 92 (-15)

14-15 ELA 107 BOO

15-16 MATH 86 (-28)

14-15 MATH 114 BOO

Delmar:

15-16 ELA 6 (+5)

14-15 ELA 1

15-16 MATH 7 (+6)

14-15 MATH 1

Indian River:

15-16 ELA 34 (-45)

14-15 ELA 79 BOO

15-16 MATH 39 (+16)

14-15 MATH 23

Lake Forest:

15-16 ELA 27 (+4)

14-15 ELA 23

15-16 MATH 31 (+6)

14-15 MATH 25

Laurel:

15-16 ELA 15 (+9)

14-15 ELA 6

15-16 MATH 9 (+5)

14-15 MATH 4

Milford:

15-16 ELA 27 (+3)

14-15 ELA 24

15-16 MATH 28 (+9)

14-15 MATH 19

Red Clay:

15-16 ELA 198 (+1)

14-15 ELA 197

15-16 MATH 175 (+26)

14-15 MATH 149

Seaford:

15-16 ELA 20 (-8)

14-15 ELA 28 BOO

15-16 MATH 26 (0)

14-15 MATH 26 SORT OF BOO

Smyrna:

15-16 ELA 49 (+6)

14-15 ELA 43

15-16 MATH 37 (+3)

14-15 MATH 34

Woodbridge:

15-16 ELA 13 (-9)

14-15 ELA 22 BOO

15-16 MATH 12 (-1)

14-15 MATH 13 BOO

It looks like Christina and Colonial shed a lot of opt outs this year.  There could be different reasons for that.  8th graders who were opted out last year wouldn’t count for this year.  And by my recollection, those were the second highest opt out numbers last year behind juniors.  Those 2014-2015 8th graders are not represented in opt out numbers now that they (luckily) don’t have to take the test anymore.  Which also eliminated the vo-tech school districts from these kind of comparisons.  How convenient it was for a former vo-tech Superintendent to become Secretary of Education for Delaware and one of the first major things he does is get rid of the “opt-out problem” for the vo-techs.  I never made that connection until just now… you do learn something new every day!  I did have to help a few parents in Christina with regards to opt out even though their board passed a policy honoring a parent’s right to do so.  But never underestimate a principal who just won’t have that in their school.  While they may have felt powerful at the moment, I’m sure they didn’t by the time I advised the board.

In terms of gains, it looks like Appoquinimink, Brandywine, Cape Henlopen, Capital, Indian River (Math) and Red Clay (Math) were the biggest gainers.  But Indian River is weird cause they lost 45 opt outs for ELA.

There is one district listed on here I am very happy to see the numbers on.  And I know one mom in that district who is as well.

No man is alone who has friends.

As always, my door is always open for any parent who has questions about opt out or is having issues with a district about it.  There are Opt Out Delaware: (Insert District Name) Facebook pages for all districts and one for all charter schools.  Now that I have opt out baseline data, I know what I have to do next year and which districts I need to reach out to.  In the meantime, I encourage all Delaware parents to really question these scores when you get them in the next couple of weeks.  What does it tell you about a test where only 41% of Delaware students were proficient last year and only 44% this year?  Considering the cut scores for these things, and how a lot of schools fell on those cut scores, within a 200 point range in the mid 2000s, what are we really using this test for?  When you get the scores in late July or early August, how is that going to help your child next year with a new teacher and new classes?  Not to mention the data going out like the Hoover Dam just burst to education “research” companies?  You do realize your kid is just a guinea pig for companies, right?  No matter what the DOE or the district or the school tells you, you know in your heart what your kid can and can’t do.  Does this test tell you the same thing?  Does it change anything?  Will it make your child “college and career ready” just because someone tells you it will?  Only you can answer these questions.  But if your heart has that nagging feeling that you know this test is bad, opt your kid out next year.  I got your back, and so do 1,375 other parents in Delaware.  Maybe Governor Markell doesn’t, but he will be gone in six months.  Hopefully the next Governor will care more about parents than this one does.