Christina School District’s Very Dangerous Game With Equity Could Backfire On Them

One of the reasons I have always admired the Christina School District is because they don’t have magnet schools or choice schools within their district.  That could change tomorrow night when the Christina Board of Education will vote on a proposal to expand the Honors program at Christiana High School from a 9th-12th grade program to a 6th-12th grade program.  I understand the why behind it as the district has empty seats in some of their buildings and they will be forced to consolidate at some point.  But this… I can’t get behind it.

Before I get into why I can’t support this, let me explain why they are doing it.  Christina, over the past fifteen years, has lost a ton of students to charter schools.  I truly believe the district wants to let go of the past and start offering richer programs to keep students in the district and to hopefully lure students back from the charters.  As well, they are losing honors students to Dickinson High School in Red Clay who offers an International Baccalaureate program.  Eventually, the Christina students in Wilmington issue will be resolved one way or another and Christina will lose those students.  The district has to make some major changes if they want to survive in the next decade.

But this idea is not good.  First off, I don’t think it is a wise idea to place middle school students in a high school setting.  Developmentally, they are not on the same level playing field.  By osmosis, these students will be exposed to things they are not ready for.  There is a reason students in public education are at elementary schools, middle schools, and high schools.  To make matters worse, the plan would call for this to start with 6th graders only for the next school year and by 2019 all 6th-8th grade students participating in this program would be integrated as students at a high school.  This cohort of 6th graders are going to have a very difficult time at a building with peers who are far older than them.

Furthermore, what happens when all the honors students leave the existing middle schools in the district?  That will leave a higher concentration of students who have larger needs.  Our current state accountability system for schools will place those schools with a bulls-eye on them when test scores come out.  If anyone thinks the Every Student Succeeds Act is going to take care of that they are deluding themselves.  It will set up an irreversible system of discrimination and segregation all over again, within their own district.  That is something all schools in Delaware should be steering away from, not towards.

This program would have smaller “cohorts” which would mean smaller class sizes.  I am all for that but it has to be done across the board.  There are existing classrooms in elementary and middle schools that do not have enough support in this district but teachers are forced to handle large classrooms with no support whatsoever.  But giving this preference to students who would most likely be considered talented and gifted while not giving those same choices to other students with just as much need if not more is just reinventing the discrimination wheel.  I’m not saying talented and gifted students shouldn’t be given those benefits, but I am saying if that benefit exists it needs to happen for all students.  No one wins in the large classroom scenario with one teacher.

The State of Delaware, and more specifically, the General Assembly, needs to look at the state school choice law.  While the intent may have been honorable in the beginning, it has morphed into pockets of segregation across the state.  Some are big and some are small, but they exist.  While charter schools take the brunt of the shots fired at these practices, many districts are setting up programs within their own districts that are dividing students.  Take the World Language Immersion program as an example.  In my day, you took a language.  They didn’t put a fancy name on it and start teaching Kindergartners Chinese or Spanish.  While I do think it is good for students to learn a second language, and possibly a third depending on their abilities, we are already seeing school districts around the state dealing with issues of segregation between the smarter kids and those with higher needs based on this program.  This isn’t even inequity, it is also inequality.  When you have both, it is a recipe for disaster for the overall educational health of a state.  This example is not just affecting New Castle County schools.  Districts in Kent and Sussex County are having these issues as well.  But their boards and administration don’t seem to be addressing what is happening within their own schools.

I don’t know what the solution is, but this isn’t it.  I don’t understand why they wouldn’t attempt to instill those honors programs in the schools they have now.  If they need to combine some schools and possibly sell old property that isn’t being used, that is one thing.  But dividing students like this is a lesson Delaware doesn’t want to learn.  This is a recommendation from the Superintendent (even though it is an Acting Superintendent).  When Christina passed their referendum earlier this year one of their promises was to create programs like this.  I am all for better programs in schools.  But school choice has led to such severe competition among Delaware schools that future generations of adults are going to be more divided than ever between the haves and the have-nots.  We have traditional school districts, charter schools, vo-techs, magnet schools, honors programs, World Immersion programs, and so forth.  And I’m not even getting into the Pathways to Prosperity program and how that is setting up particular societal roles in the future.

How can we talk about equity in schools with a weighted funding system when we are forcing schools into that position?  We are killing education in this state, one choice program at a time.  I believe Christina is trying to rush a program like this into place.  Let it marinate a bit.  Look at other options.  Slow your roll!  I’m not convinced this isn’t a case where the Acting Superintendent who will be gone in a few months at most just wants a notch like this on his résumé.  I think something this big would need to still be in the discussion stage with a new Superintendent who would be tasked to carry it out.

And in the name of all that is holy can we please get the words rigor or rigorous legally banned from discussion about education?  As well, the word “Academy” in traditional school districts signifies something elite that only select students can get into.  Not a smart idea to put an “Academy” into a school district.

To read the action item, which will be read for a second time, please go below.

 

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Delaware Enrollment Preference Task Force Final Report Released Today

Coming in at 489 pages, this is a mammoth report!  I know Delaware State Representative Kim Williams has worked on this for a long time.  Congratulations to all the members of the task force for their hard work with this group.  I only managed to get to one of the meetings, but I really wish I could have gone to all of them.  This task force came out of Delaware House Bill 90.  Its mission was to take a very hard look at how Delaware charter schools, vocational schools, and magnet schools select their students.  I haven’t even been able to come close to finishing this, but it is well worth the time.

Key Audio Recording Links From State Board of Education Meeting Yesterday

Statewide Review of Educational Opportunities.  Wilmington Education Improvement Commission Redistricting Plan.  Christina Priority Schools.  Delaware Met.  All are here.  Please listen.  Please pay attention.  Listen to the words that are said by our unelected Governor appointed State Board of Education.  This meeting touched on most of the hot education issues of our state in one form or another.  Then email your state legislator politely requesting legislation for our State Board of Education to be elected officials.

WEIC Public Comment: Part 2

Statewide Review of Educational Opportunities: Part 3

WEIC Presentation to State Board: Part 5

Christina Priority Schools (about 1/3rd of the way in), Update on Opt-Out Penalties via ESEA Waiver Request with US DOE: Part 6

Delaware Met (starts about 1/3rd of the way in for Del Met) and Charter Renewals: Part 7

 

Governor Markell Wants A Conversation But Parents MUST Be An Equal Party

From the Delaware.gov website, my thoughts on the bottom.

Governor Initiates Statewide Plan for Future Education Offerings

Date Posted: Thursday, March 19th, 2015
Categories:  News Office of Governor Markell

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Announces review of public schools and programs to address unmet student needs

Dover, DE – Governor Markell today announced a needs assessment and strategic planning process for the future of Delaware public schools, including charter, vocational-technical, and magnet schools. The State will review current opportunities available to students, analyze trends, and quantify areas of unmet needs for Delaware families.

“Many amazing schools and programs across the state are offering students diverse and innovative opportunities to meet their individual needs,” said Markell. “However, not all of our students have access to the programs of their choice. Many schools are oversubscribed and should be expanded or replicated. At the same time, we don’t want our districts to start new programs, and we don’t want to open new charter and magnet schools, if families aren’t asking for what they offer.

“This effort will ensure that state and district plans are designed to best meet individual students’ needs and spark their interests.”

Launching the effort during a meeting of the State Board of Education, the Governor specifically referenced the tremendous progress made at Vo Tech schools in each county, noting that they don’t have the capacity to serve all of the students who select them in the school choice process.

Other trends include four new middle and high schools that will open in the City of Wilmington this fall, reflecting the desire for new options in the city. In addition, programs focused on science, technology, engineering and math (STEM) skills that are needed for jobs in growing industries, like those offered at Conrad Schools of Science, as well as the college prep courses at Mount Pleasant High School, have garnered increased interest. However, no process has existed to systematically ensure that more students can gain from the experiences they want at traditional, magnet, and charter schools.

The strategic plan developed through the Governor’s Statewide Review of Educational Opportunities for Delaware Students will quantify programs where demand exceeds the state’s capacity and analyze demographic trends to project future needs. That will help the state, school districts, and charter school operators know where and how to invest, from which dual-enrollment programs are most valuable and popular to the types of curriculum from which more students would benefit.

“For the past two years, the State Board of Education has referenced the need for the state to develop a comprehensive analysis of our portfolio of public schools, a thorough needs assessment to identify strengths, weaknesses, saturations, as well as opportunities for success and innovation,” said Teri Quinn Grey, President of the State Board of Education President. “We believe that such an analysis would aid the state in the development of this strategic plan, as well as be a useful tool for local boards and school leaders in deciding school programming decisions, facility decisions, and other educational opportunities. It also will be a tool to be utilized by policy leaders, community members, and businesses to evaluate opportunities for further investment and expansion in Delaware.”

The review announced today was inspired by a proposal by the Wilmington Education Advisory Committee (WEAC) – a group formed by the Governor last year that has urged the state to be smarter and more strategic about the growth of educational opportunities, particularly for charter schools in Wilmington. Markell said he agreed with the Committee’s recommendation, but also believes we can’t limit this effort to one city or county, or to charter schools alone.

“It can benefit our education system statewide,” said Markell. “All schools are part of the solution.”

WEAC Chair Tony Allen voiced support for expanding on the group’s recommendation.

“There is no question that charter schools will remain a critical part of public education in Delaware and that many students throughout the state will be served by them, and in many cases served well,” said Allen. “However, we cannot continue to operate two systems with little interaction and coordination and expect the quality benefits that all of our children deserve. It is our hope that a plan for charter schools extends itself to public education in Delaware broadly and forces stronger collaboration across the traditional district, charter and vo-tech boundaries.”

Representative Charles Potter Jr. (D-Wilmington North), who the Governor recognized at the event for his advocacy in establishing WEAC as an opportunity for members of the community to have a stronger voice on issues involving education of Wilmington children, voiced his support of the plan as well.

“I’m in support of the governor’s efforts to undertake this statewide strategic plan,” said Rep. Potter. “I feel strongly that we have to take a comprehensive look at what is happening in Wilmington and address those issues as well.”

It sounds like someone is realizing education is a mess in this state.  I think the people are the ones who need to control this conversation though.  For every person in this group, you need to have an EQUAL and state-wide amount of parents.  And not parents who are in this group or that group.  I’ve been to meetings like that.  We need down to earth, grassroots parents.  It is very easy to pick out the good and capitalize on that, but if you aren’t looking at the bad, the rot will still be there.

Nobody knows children like a child’s parent.  I defy you to find anyone that knows more than a parent that loves their child.  I think we are willing to hear a conversation, but we want to be an EQUAL part of it.  Otherwise, this just isn’t going to work Governor Markell.