Our Public High Schools
Public schools face bigger challenges than ever, yet many succeed where others fear to tread. Herein, the high schools ranked, with the latest on testing programs, new charters, the budget crunch and more, so that you may plan your child’s education wisely.
(page 1 of 7)
Page 1: Choosing a School
Page 2: What’s Up with New Charters
Page 3: Appoquinimink is Awesome
Page 4: The Budget Crunch
Page 5: The DSTP Question
Page 6: Rerouted—Re-Segregation?
Page 7: The Big High School Ranking
Last fall, 35 parents braved the cold and camped overnight outside the Brandywine School District office in Claymont. By morning, hundreds had joined the ranks.
The shivering throngs of parents were there to sign up for Brandywine’s school choice program, and given the wealth of information and data now available to them, that choice is not so cut-and-dry.
State testing results, SAT scores, and dropout and graduation rates all give some indication of a school’s strengths and weaknesses, but are they truly the measure of a school?
Secretary of Education Valerie Woodruff says parents should take into account several factors when choosing a school.
“Look at the things that are important to you as a parent,” she says. “For example, what’s the strength of the school’s music program or athletic program? Is there a special curricular emphasis at this school? What’s the school size? What’s the social heterogeneity?”
Then visit the school in person, she says. “Look for things like teacher interaction and the general tone of the place.”
Kids know the importance of SATs as a golden ticket for college acceptance. But are good test scores signs of a good school? Or even a college-bound student?
Maureen Laffey, director of the DOE’s Delaware Higher Education Commission, says scores are not the sole means of measure for college admission, as colleges will examine a range of achievements, from extracurricular activities to community involvement.
Woodruff has even less faith in test scores as an indicator. “I have never been a believer in looking just at state testing or SATs,” she says. “Those are one-time measures. No assessment is ever going to give you a true picture of any school, any district, any state.”
The AP Factor
For the college-bound, or for students simply looking for an academic challenge, Advanced Placement or International Baccalaureate programs are an ideal option. The college-level courses have become a key component in high school education and routinely play an important role in college admissions as they show a student’s initiative in pursuing a more dynamic education, Laffey says.
The more courses a school offers, the more opportunities there are for students to challenge themselves and wholeheartedly prepare for college.
“Is college for everyone? Not necessarily. Is college readiness for everyone? Absolutely,” Woodruff says. “We work a lot with our districts and say let’s look at the fact that whether or not all your kids are going to college, it’s what are you doing to improve the curriculum across the board that will help more kids to be able to reach that goal.”
Class Size Matters
Intuitively, a smaller class size points to a closer relationship between teacher and student. But Woodruff warns that sometimes you need to have a few bigger classes in order to have those smaller, tightly knit classes.
“I think in Delaware we’ve done a good job across the board of keeping class sizes in a pretty manageable situation,” she says.
Still, the attention a pupil receives from his teacher is a key to a healthy education, says Middletown principal Donna Mitchell. When Middletown reached its peak occupancy of 2,300 students, it was able to keep a ratio of 15 students per teacher.
Does Spending Make a School Stronger?
Student spending is determined by a district’s tax base and referendums, so some districts don’t have as much spending money as others. But high spending doesn’t necessarily translate into higher achievement.
Woodruff points to districts like Milford and Indian River, which are not wealthy by any stretch, but perform at a high level. Both districts allot about $10,000 per pupil and both carry “commendable” district ratings.
“Then you have a few districts that spend a lot of money because they have a lot of it, and they’re not doing so hot,” Woodruff says.
More important, according to Woodruff, is the focus of the school, what the school does to support its teachers, and how the school executes its curriculum. “Those things are not measurable by statistics, but they make a school stronger or not,” she says.
Teachers’ experience, the district’s salary structure and number of special needs students and programs also contribute to a district’s expenses.
What do the rates mean?
The top eight graduation rates in the state are from specialized schools, which shows that the more eager students are to attend school, the more likely they will graduate, says Howard principal Evelyn Edney.
A high dropout rate could indicate a struggling school, but Woodruff says a closer look might be needed to find out what the school is doing to improve. “How are they working and communicating with the families to prevent dropouts?” she says.
Pick the best fit for your kid
School choice is alive and well, Woodruff says, and parents have more options than ever. Look for the school that will serve your child best, she says.
“If there’s a school that has an International Baccalaureate program and you want your kid to be in that program, you should be able to go after it,” she says. “There may be limited space, but at least you have the opportunity to say what you want.”
Page 2: What's Up With New Charters