The WLC school opportunity scorecards report put a spotlight on some of the challenges in the WLC's nine city elementary schools. (Photo by tadamichi/Adobe Stock)

WLC report reaction brings promise of more inclusion

Jarek RutzHeadlines, Education

The WLC school opportunity scorecards report put a spotlight on some of the challenges in the WLC's nine city elementary schools. (Photo by tadamichi/Adobe Stock)

The WLC school opportunity scorecards report put a spotlight on some of the challenges in the WLC’s nine city elementary schools. (Photo by tadamichi/Adobe Stock)

Nothing has come easy to the Wilmington Learning Collaborative, not its formation, not its hiring of an executive director and certainly not the release of its first report on city schools.

That angered teachers and brought dozens of them to a Collaborative meeting to speak.

Laura Burgos, executive director, says she learned a big lesson there and will do things differently.

Laura Burgos

Laura Burgos

“One thing I would have done is bring our school communities, including families, closer to the methodology and forming of the opportunity scorecards,” Laura Burgos said. “WLC school leaders, teachers, families and others connected to our school communities should have been afforded opportunities for initial grounding, prior to the public release.”

The Collaborative, created in late 2022 with about $16 million in state funding, is comprised of nine city of Wilmington elementary schools across the Brandywine, Christina and Red Clay school districts.

It aims to reverse historical discrepancies in opportunity and achievement for students and families in the city. A key part of that is welcoming families’ and educators’ voices in policy-making and establishing programs designed to bolster student achievement academically and socially.

To build trust and to access the community hive brain, the collaborative wants to establish site-based community councils, family advisory councils and teacher advisory councils to give those groups more of a chance to offer suggestions.

It also is planning a 9-school Education Leadership Team conference over the summer to bring school leaders from all WLCs together and to receive professional learning.

And a new behavioral health support system will be piloted in two WLC schools this fall.

It’s being developed and modeled after “The Chill Project” in Pittsburgh schools. The Project “uses mindfulness-based exercises to equip students, teachers and parents with a common language and universal skills to identify, discuss and react positively to stress.”

Some of the key resources students will have access to are: 

  • One-to-one counseling.
  • Support groups.
  • Medication management.
  • School-based outpatient services.
  • School-wide preventive services.
  • Professional development opportunities.
  • A social-emotional curriculum and classroom consultations.
  • Exercises and consultations specifically designed for student athletes.

Burgos said she owns the mistakes of the 19-page opportunity scorecard report. She plans to  approach any independent analysis that the WLC leads in the future differently, working more closely with WLC educators and site-based community councils once they are established. 

How the report was developed

The opportunity scorecards provided information about the extent to which students in the nine schools in the Wilmington Learning Collaborative have access to key resources at the heart of high-quality academic experiences.

The collaborative worked with a set of English language arts and math classrooms in each school to understand students’ access to resources. It collected assignments and student work samples, while observing teachers in 75 lessons  and surveying students in grades three through eight over three days.

Teachers were also surveyed on their expectations for students, and 69 teachers – a response rate of 85% – were surveyed across 137 of their classrooms.

The collaborative compared how resources were distributed across its nine schools, looking at classroom opportunities that included students of color, English language learners, average prior achievement and students with individualized education programs and 504s, which are specific learning programs for special education students.

School leaders were asked about their expectations for students, and families were asked about their perception of the quality of experiences for their students and their partnership with their students’ school. 

Five leaders – a response rate of 56%, representing 5 schools – participated, and 157 families across eight schools submitted survey answers.

Teachers submitted assignments and told the collaborative where their assignments came from, to indicate how often students had an opportunity to interact with their district’s or school’s official curricula.

In total, 1,875 student surveys across 52 classrooms were completed about daily classroom experience, and 673 student surveys across 43 classrooms about their background and general experience in school.

The report said:

– Out of 180 hours typically spent during class each year, students on average are exposed to 122 hours (68%) of grade-appropriate assignments with 80 hours of strong instruction.

– Overall, 13% of classroom sessions had no grade-appropriate assignments, and most classes submitted at least one hour of assignments on average that could be rated as mostly grade-appropriate assignments.

– Classes also had little to no opportunities for content, practice and relevant math, reading foundational skills and reading/listening comprehension skills, the report said.

– Students also did not meet expectations on the majority of assignments:

WLC scorecard report

– Students have just 87 hours on average out of a school year in which they are deeply engaged in the content they’re learning, and just 16% of teachers have high expectations for the success of their students. 

– 40% of school leaders have high expectations for students in their school, and 85% of families are satisfied with their students’ school overall.

– The average class among classes with the most students of color had significantly worse instruction than classes with fewer students of color.

– The average class among classes with the most students with IEP/504s had significantly lower sense of belonging than classes with fewer students with IEP/504s.

– The average class among classes with the lowest prior achievement had significantly worse instruction than classes with higher prior achievement.

– On a positive note, the average class among classes with the most English Language Learners had better instruction than classes with fewer English Language Learners.

– The collaborative provided eight exhibits of assignments that were either grade-appropriate or non-grade-appropriate. 

– For the non-grade-appropriate assignments, the report explained what the WLC leaders believed the assignment was trying to accomplish, in terms of grade-level-appropriate curriculum. 

– The report said the majority of students are not engaged with the content and instruction was usually not adjusted in response to student progress.

To read the full report, click here.

Examples of assignments 

Here are a two examples of assignments cited in the report:

Not grade-level appropriate: “This assignment gave second grade students no opportunity to engage with grade-level literacy work. Students read a text from the Benchmark curriculum, “The Great Girls’ Contest,” and completed a worksheet sourced from outside the curriculum, from a popularly used website called Markers and Minions.

From the WLC scorecard report.The task did not give students the opportunity to engage with the depth of the grade-level standard and did not provide meaningful practice opportunities with the content.

The assignment was likely attempting to fully align to the requirement that students be able to recount stories, including fables and folktales from diverse cultures, and determine their central message, lesson, or moral.”

Grade level appropriate: “This mathematics assignment gave 1st grade students a Sufficient Opportunity to engage with grade level math. Students solved story problems using addition and subtraction. Students were required to show their work by using drawings, numbers, or words. 

From the WLC scorecard report.

The assignment engaged students with critical mathematical practices and gave them an opportunity to apply their mathematical thinking in an appropriate way.

This assignment was aligned to a curriculum requirement for students to use addition and subtraction up to the number 20 to solve word problems involving situations of adding to, taking from, putting together, taking apart, and comparing, with unknowns in all positions, e.g., by using objects, drawings, and equations with a symbol for the unknown number to represent the problem.”

Teachers disgruntled 

In the first public meeting since the collaborative released its scorecard report, the WLC governing council fielded about two dozen public comments, mainly from disappointed educators in city schools. 

Maddie Geller, a reading specialist with Lewis Dual Language Elementary, said the report shamed teachers. 

“I specifically take issue with the assumption that we supposedly put adult comfort over what’s best for students,” she said. “I should not, and my colleagues should not, be made to feel guilty in any way for not wanting to work over the summers, that is not in our job description.”

She said she would feel much more confident in the collaborative if future reports – while not sugarcoating anything – do not place blame solely on the shoulders of teachers. 

Sydney Brown, a teacher at Christiana High School who used to work at the Bayard School, said world language teachers are guided by the Five C’s: communities, comparison, culture, communication and connection.

Her position was that many teachers do in fact go above and beyond for their students. 

“I spent time on the weekends attending extracurricular activities, talent shows, award banquets, etc and I support these students to show them that I value them as a student in and outside of school,” she said. 

She said students and their experiences should not be compared because each one is extraordinary in their own way.

“I communicated with these families in their native language, established connections with outside agencies to support their everyday needs, listened intently on their concerns about their child and collectively established possible solutions,” she said. 

An educator named Marybeth, who did not give her last name, was one of a few who critiqued TNTP, a national education nonprofit that helps with research and policy-making and a group brought in by the WLC to help create the report.

“We are striving to keep students engaged, let alone deeply engaged in many schools, and no matter the school, you may find students screaming, using inappropriate language and even physically destroying rooms,” she said. “We need intensive resources and manpower to address these crucial mental health needs.”

Valerie Jermusyk, an educator at the Bancroft School, said sometimes she feels like she’s living in a fractured fairytale where teachers are trying to make their schools work better, only to be detailed time and again by the newest idea for improvements.

“But we don’t live in a fairy tale,” she said. “We have to deal with reality. And the reality is our kids are in crisis and struggling to learn.”

She noted that teachers also must make time for an abundance of professional development requirements. 

Several other teachers said they were upset with how the report portrayed students and gave anecdotes about how they go above and beyond to support students and hold them to high expectations while striving for academic success.

Efforts were unsuccessful after the meeting to reach teachers for further comment.

WLC owns up to critiques

Burgos said in a WLC meeting last month that the report needed more contest. 

“I offer no excuses, but ownership over what the charge of the WLC is and the responsibility we have to our children, families and the adults who lead learning in our schools each day,” she said. “My aim was not to shame educators or minimize our daily efforts.”

She said the report was shared with transparency and to further motivate the collective sense of urgency to take action in struggling schools.

“I am grateful to those of you who reached out in the spirit of curiosity and with whom I shared resources that I thought would add more definition to this idea,” she said. “There are many approaches to rapid school improvement, and a collective of voices should make these decisions.”

Share this Post