I’m still mulling over this letter, and while I’m not sure exactly where this is headed, I am thrilled that someone is finally pointing out the problems with our city schools. Here’s the letter, and as usual Kilroy has more thoughts here and here.
March 20, 2013
We write to express our concerns about several New Castle County public school problems; to seek from you and other district school officials updated facts and data about these problems, and to ask for your support in having the two of us, as City and County elected officials, to become involved in resolving these problems.
The problems, as presented to us by a growing number of complaints from constituents, are those of (1) the alarming and increasing number of Wilmington public school students who are becoming “Drop-Outs”, and (2) the perceived inequities and disproportionate nature of the New Castle County public school student busing systems (causing massive loss of productivity due to transportation time).
In what follows, we briefly highlight the essence of these two public school problems, and our need, as the top elected officials in the two political sub-divisions which provide multi-millions of tax support dollars to our school districts, for more information. At the outset, we wish to stress the point that we believe the dropout problem is one which will require new initiatives and involvement from the community at large. We are prepared to use our leadership to dramatize this problem, and to work cooperatively with school officials and the community to find solutions.
Relative to this first problem of school dropouts, we are asking that your Information Technology staff work with our consultants (Pritchett Associates) in further refining the dropout data numbers we have received from the State Dept. of Education. (DOE)-a summary of data submitted by the individual school districts. Unfortunately for us, the DOE student dropout data are broken down only by county, school districts, and· individual schools. Wilmington and its students, our primary focus, are not singled out. For example, we. have been able to verify from DOE data that during the 2010-2011 school year] the student dropout rate in New Castle County was 61%, ( of the statewide total) and that from this ratio, 31.1% were Black; 8.8% were Hispanic ,and 21.1% were White or other. This information is helpful. However, since we are principally concerned at this point about our Wilmington constituents, we are asking your IT staff, working with our consultants, to extract from your district data base those statistics which pertain only to Wilmington student dropouts—and to look at these data in relation to variables such as special education, census tracts, suspension/expulsions, race/gender and other contributing factors to be later determined. Also, please provide information relevant to the graduation rate of those students who reside in the City of Wilmington.
In connection with this student dropout problem, we think it essential that we buttress our assessment of the DOEdata by interviewing a selected sample of students who have in fact dropped out of school, and who could offer personal insights and experiences which contributed to their decisions to drop out. On this particular point, it is to be noted that in the DOE report, officials of only 15% of the individual schools sought to inquire through exit interviews why a student was dropping out. This means that officials at 85% of the schools made no attempt to determine why a student was dropping out. We would need the assistance of local school districts in identifying those student dropouts and/or their families who could be sought out for approval of these interviews.
A second and final public school problem we have asked our consultants to address, with the cooperation of school officials] is that of public school busing within the four New Castle County School Districts. Throughout the Wilmington community, there is a perception that student busing is a “one way street” – namely that busing is viewed as the outflow of urban based (Wilmington) students to suburban based schools verses the supposedly exchange of suburban public school students being bused into urban based, inner city schools. The concern is that there are very few white students being bused into Wilmington.
In the mix of this debate, there is the question of whether federal court guidelines (on busing) are being followed, and whether the Delaware enacted Neighborhood Schools Act (offering students the opportunity to attend schools in close proximity to their neighborhood) is being satisfied. Complicating these questions is the belief of many that there are Wilmington based middle and high school building facilities and some students living near these Wilmington middle and high school facilities, which some Wilmington students (those now being bused) could attend, except that these schools, although located in Wilmington, exist outside of the school districts from which those Wilmington students are being bused.
As a partial response to these questions, we have asked our consultants to seek answers
to the following questions; How many students from your school district are currently being bused to and from Wilmington? What is the racial breakdown of the students being bused? What is the estimated student time being spent per day on public school buses? Are there Wilmington students now being bused to suburban schools, who conceivably could attend a middle or high school building facility in Wilmington if school district boundaries were adjusted to make this happen? What is the estimated number of students who would be affected by such district boundary adjustments?
In conclusion, there is the question of what might be the end result of this data gathering process. It is our intent to require from our consultants a comprehensive final project report which would be presented to a soon to be appointed new, project Citizen Coalition which will have monitored the project data gathering phases; which will participate in the formulation of recommendations for the final report, and which will be the primary advocate group for adoption of project recommendations.
The final project report will embody (A) analysis and interpretation of the aforementioned data sources on student dropouts and student busing; (B) review and analysis of previously prepared study/research reports (about schools in New Castle County) which are related to any of the questions and/issues noted in this letter to New Castle County school officials; (C) presentation and assessment of data gathered from personal interviews with selected student dropouts; (D) study and review of selected research reports/journals about student dropout and student busing issues in other places which are similar to those in New Castle County public schools. The consultants wilt be especially mindful of “BEST PRACTICES”in other places which have proven to be effective in addressing the problems of public school student dropouts and public school busing programs (involving urban and suburban school districts). And (E) most importantly, we will expect our consultants, taking into consideration all of the above noted factors, to prepare a set of report recommendations for action by our local school districts, by our appointed Citizen Coalition and by the Wilmington Community. High priority will be given to those recommendations having to do with actions to be taken by the Wilmington community to help resolve the Wilmington student dropout problem.
Our interest is multifaceted; we believe that the drop-out rate speCifically of African- American males is both contributory, as well as rudimentary to a majority of the sociological challenges of both our City and County. These include unemployment, teen pregnancy, crime and incarceration, homelessness and others, too great to mention here. We believe that an improvement in reducing the high drop-out rate and increasing the graduation rate will have positive lasting affects on all of the aforementioned challenges. We are therefore highly energized on jointly attacking this issue.
Thank you in advance for your consideration of our requests. We look forward to partnering with you to resolve these most urgent issues.
Dennis P. Williams
Mayor of Wilmington
New Castle County Executive
Okay, my first concern is that the consultant (Pritchett Associates) has already been chosen. That seems like putting the cart before the horse and, if Williams and Gordon are serious, and want to be taken seriously, this contract should go out to bid. Is Pritchett Associates even capable of this sort of data analysis? A quick look at their website doesn’t yield much information. There are a lot of bullet points, but the only one dealing with any sort of data analysis comes under the heading of Guidance – and I’m not sure if that relates to the sort of work Gordon and Williams are proposing.
As far as the busing concerns… The idea of a middle or high school within the city isn’t a bad idea on its face. HOWEVER, if building these schools simply results in re-segregating grades 6 -12 by pulling city kids out of suburban schools and putting them into schools that mirror city elementary schools, then count me out. All this will accomplish is what we now see at our city elementary schools – extremely expensive, high poverty middle and high schools that will lack the funds to provide a well rounded education with access to all programs for all students.
I’d also like them to expand their focus beyond drop-outs. Cassandra and I have been emailing about this and she makes a good point:
“Drop outs aren’t the only failures of the system. Plenty of kids stay with it, are pushed from grade to grade, get their diplomas, but still aren’t ready to take part in college or the work force. Some of the failures of the system are not about kids dropping out, but under-serving the ones that are there. This study won’t capture that. And really, it is the persistent under-serving of the kids they have that is the persistent failure.”
Exactly. Drop outs are a problem, but they strike me as a symptom of a bigger problem – and that is the fact that our city schools are under-serving our city kids and then wondering why they can’t compete when they enter middle and high school, be it getting into AP, IB, the Cambridge Program or the Charter School of Wilmington. Our city elementary schools, most of which are ridiculously high poverty, are setting the educational course for our city kids – a course that isn’t feeding into AP, IB, the Cambridge Program or the Charter School of Wilmington. That’s the problem, and if you’re focusing only on the drop out rate, you’ve missed the boat.
The issue is that all As are not created equal.
Here’s part of a comment I left at Kilroy’s (I have edited it in parts for clarity):
Here’s data I’d be interested in seeing: Has the drop-out/graduation rate increased/decreased since the Neighborhood Schools Act (NSA) and Choice came to be the law of the land? I have no idea, but those numbers would be interesting.
Okay, I do have an idea. Here it is… Choice and the NSA re-segregated our schools (as was their intent) thus creating racially identifiable, high poverty schools. Most districts didn’t address this reality. Instead they hid behind the Choice and NSA law, saying their hands were tied. Meanwhile, high poverty schools were supposed to educate the highest needs, highest risk kids on an equal (not equitable) funding formula. That led to enrichment, accelerated, technology, Odyssey of the Mind, etc. programs being pulled from high poverty schools.
When you have a school with 70%+ poverty things get expensive – something most school districts shrug off by citing choice and NSA. It really does come across as: “But… but… but… the Neighborhood Schools Act! And anyway, if parents are unhappy… Choice!” IMO, these excuses have left school districts off the hook for a basic bit of educational responsibility. It’s like they’re saying, “If you don’t like our failing schools, don’t expect us to do anything because… Choice!” or the flip side, “Our failing schools still have students so they, and their families, must be fine with it… We don’t have to do anything”
Okay, here’s my theory: The drop-out rate is possibly linked to which elementary schools children attend. When kids from high poverty schools enter middle school (with its larger population composed of many elementary schools coming together for the first time) the differences in their education becomes visible. Here is where we see that an A at North Star is different than an A at Shortlidge. The high poverty kids find themselves behind, so far behind that catching up may well be impossible for most. And it’s in middle school where we really begin to see the problems created during K-5.
So, if the majority of kids from high poverty schools enter middle school, and then high schools, behind their peers from non-high-poverty schools and are then placed in special education classes or in the lowest level regular classes is anyone really surprised that a large portion of these students drop out? Hey, I entered high school behind in math. My solution? I dropped out of math after barely fulfilling the basic graduation requirements. Bet we all have a story like this – be it educational, sports, or hobby related. Now imagine entering middle/high school behind in everything. Where would that leave you?
We sabotaged their education in elementary school, and then wonder why they can’t make up those disadvantaged years in middle school and then act surprised when they drop out of an education system that was rigged against them from the beginning.
So here’s where I end up with Gordon and William’s letter. I’m thrilled that someone is finally talking about city children and the issues facing them. I’m thrilled that someone is pointing out that the Neighborhood Schools Act re-segregated our schools along racial and socioeconomic lines. It’s past time, imo. And I would gladly work with anyone willing to tackle the real educational issues facing our city children.
However, if anyone starts floating the idea of a city school district without supplying the information on the tax base funding it… Stop. You want to put that idea forth, show me the money. Yeah, thought so.
In the end, while I’m extremely happy that Gordon and Williams have put down on paper some issues facing education in the city, they must expand their focus beyond drop-out rates and the length of bus rides. If they are willing to do this… then I’m on board. If they don’t… then I’m left questioning what their point really is – because it won’t be about improving education at city schools for city kids.
I’m ready to be on board and remain cautiously optimistic. Here’s hoping this letter is just the beginning (go on, call me naive!) and that we’ll finally deal with what’s been happening to our children’s education for far too long.
As usual, I can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org