In response to the March 30th Delaware Voice Column in the News Journal authored by Stacie Beck and Eleanor Craig (both Associate Professors of Economics at the University of Delaware’s Lerner College of Business and Economics) entitled: “Education is controlled by ‘iron triangle'” Christy Mannering, a deeply engaged parent & volunteer in the Christina School District and advocate of public education, offers the following open-letter rebuttal to the authors. That’s all I will say, because her words take care of the rest.
Response to Delaware Voice Column on Education
My husband recently sent me a link to a Delaware Voice column on delawareonline.com which spoke very poorly about our local public schools. (http://www.delawareonline.com/story/opinion/contributors/2017/03/30/education-and-economic-growth/99838846) I thought I would offer a response to the column, and as I am quite passionate, I would love to hear back from you, because I think this is very important to discuss.
I thought I would reach out to let you know how upsetting it is to hear from two University of Delaware professors, that public schools are letting down students, when that is not the case. First of all, I realize that nothing is perfect and there is a lot that needs to be changed about the system, but the crux of the issues exists with the funding formula in Delaware and the MANY choice/charter schools that are exacerbating that issue. Comparing schools in Pennsylvania doesn’t seem fair, their property taxes and tax base are much higher than here in Delaware. We get 25% of our public school operational funding from taxes on properties which haven’t been assessed since 1983. I repeat, since 1983.
Currently, I live and work in the Christina School District. Two of my three kids attend public schools in this district and my daughter likely will when she is old enough. Both of my boys are thriving and have had fantastic teachers. Have either of you ever gone into a public school and talked with building leaders, teachers or students? Do you know about the advanced academic programs which exist, or the school gardens, or the restorative justice programs?
One of the BIGGEST and most upsetting issues right now, in my opinion, is the lazy and lacks way the Delaware Department of Education (DDOE) reports their data. This is especially detrimental for the Christina School District. You cannot simply pull up the DDOE website, look at the cost per pupil and think you are getting a complete picture. It’s not complete, and I refuse to agree to the notion that perception is reality, because it is not. What other school district in Delaware has two statewide programs like the Delaware Autism Program and the Delaware School for the Deaf? So when you look at the district snapshot and see that approximately $14,000 is spent per pupil please know that is an average and we have some very large outliers where students need one-one-one teaching, nurses, etc. There are 420 students in the Delaware Autism Program but you can’t see on the DDOE website how much money goes into their cost per pupil, because they don’t report it that way. It’s all just a “district average” which yes does make it look very inflated.
State Testing isn’t working. You speak about low-income children. Here’s a scenario, imagine a low-income child, food insecure, no computers at home, who has to go to school hungry, maybe tired, sit in front of a computer screen for two weeks and take tests. Now imagine that child doing well. Can you imagine that? Because I am having a difficult time. You have students in Wilmington who go home to empty houses, hear gun shots, witness shootings, see people doing drugs on the corner and then you ask those students to be clear headed, focused and ready to test. Then those schools with high poverty are poorly rated and what does the state do, they pull funding and threaten the teachers saying things about accountability, when those teachers spent the previous morning telling Johnny that everything will be okay and reassuring Jane that she will be happy to provide her with toothpaste and an apple at the end of the school day. The state tests change every few years, too. Which means data changes, but you wouldn’t be able to tell that from the state website. How can you expect to chart improvement when these kids are being held accountable by multiple series of tests which change throughout their educational career? Furthermore, teachers have to teach to the test so that students can be up to speed when the testing date comes. If their class has trouble with a lesson they are not allowed to slow down. Think how this might impact a math class for example? You miss one thing in math and all the lessons following it will be more difficult to grasp. Right?
Your column mentions waivers and vouchers. I’m sorry but there is no reason we should have vouchers or waivers that have tax payers paying for a student to attend a religious school that costs more than it costs to attend UD. And as for anything outside of that, we already have choice. Parents can apply to choice their kids elsewhere and they do, as long as they have transportation, right? You think vouchers will help get low-income students into better schools? They can already choice, the money follows them, but how will they get to that school? With their parents, who might be working two jobs, or their single dad who hardly has the time now, how will he get his kid to this special charter or private school that you make sound so elusive and magical. With the money following the student, this hurts the school they left behind. The classroom and the bus and the salaries of the teachers all still have to be paid for whether a handful of kids leave or not.
If I saw consistent reporting from charter schools showing that they are any better than a public school maybe I would be more on board, but I don’t. I see a lot of plucking the best students, I see a lot of spending without showing where the money goes, I see VERY little diversity, I see VERY little in the way of special education students in charter schools. So what is happening in Delaware. The low-income students with special needs aren’t accepted elsewhere or don’t have a way to get there, so they remain in public schools. They require more funding and more support services and schools are getting less. By the way there are 30 choice schools in the Christina area.
You’re right. Education is the foundation to everything else. It is vital and important and needs to be repaired in Delaware and elsewhere throughout the country. I think this means putting more support, engagement and time into public schools, not less.
I have been on referendum committees. It is painful. It is painful going to forums, going to events, talking with parents and hearing them say that they don’t want to put more money into something that isn’t working. I see a lot of things working very well. I see thousands of teachers, many who studied at UD, who are working their butts off right now in public schools. Your column was insulting to all of them. That would be like me telling people not to attend Lerner College of Business at UD because, well, there are 88 other colleges ranked above them, according to the U.S. News and World Report’s Best Colleges 2016 edition. But why would I do that? I have faith in UD, I have faith in our faculty and our curriculum and the stellar academics we offer to every student who attends. I would rather do what I can to aid UD and to aid local schools than to take public, vocal steps to denounce them.
So here is a list of amazing things happening in just one of the Delaware public school districts, maybe your next column and provide a bit more thought and insight instead of putting down the local public schools.
- Restorative Justice – a new program in three schools including Keene, I need to find the document we received
- Keene also has a brand new outdoor classroom
- Gauger-Cobbs and now Elbert-Palmer Elementary School have school banks and banking programsso kids can learn about savings and spending
- Downes has the Chinese Immersion Program and the Computer Kids Club
- Several of the schools have steel drum bands
- Christiana High School has an honors and dual enrollment program which allows students to earn up to 24 college credits
- Networks – a program for entrepreneurial sciences which helps provide students with skills to make them employable – http://www.networksprogram.org/apps/pages/index.jsp?uREC_ID=222887&type=d
- Glasgow High School has the new Early College Leadership Academy where kids can earn up to 28 college credits effectively allowing them to start college as a sophomore.
- Newark High School has the Cambridge Program (which offers pre-university curriculum) and their Academy of Creative Expression
- Gauger-Cobbs has the Cambridge Program which provide advanced placement courses
- All three middle schools have the AVID program (http://www.gaugercobbsms.org/apps/pages/index.jsp?uREC_ID=222742&type=d)
- Both Bancroft Elementary and the Christina Early Education Center have Montessori programs
- Of course there is the REACH program as well for students with disabilities.
- Shue-Medill has the Best Buddies program which helps people with intellectual or developmental disabilities make friends. They also have a Distributive Leadership program.
- The middle schools all have Business Professionals of America (BPA) programs
Thank you kindly,