CRI News

Why both 'Choice' and Charter Schools Really Matter in Delaware
By Dr. Tanya Hettler, Ph.D., Director 
Center for Educational Excellence
May 27, 2022 


Delaware is known throughout the country for its particular brand of school choice. In Delaware, "choice" means that even if a particular public school is your "feeder" school (that is, the one that your child is assigned to go to based on where you live), you can "choice" them into another public school, charter school, or vo-tech school (either in your district or in another one). The education dollars for your child are then deducted from the school they left and added to your child's new school budget.


So far, so good.


But what happens when each public school in your geographical area produces the same poor scores in reading and math? You are then likely to face a long waitlist at the nearest charter or vo-tech school. Thus, students get trapped in poorly performing schools with no way out. This outcome is obviously worse for students from low-income families than for the wealthy, who have more options.


The situation described above is sadly the case throughout much of Delaware. Even if students choose another district school nearby, the education they will likely receive will not be much better than the one they left behind.


How can "choice" have a large impact when the best schools in Delaware in 2019 have proficiency levels in English in the 60s and math in the 50s? (Cape Henlopen district has the highest scores while Appoquinimink comes in second.) While at the same time, the average Delaware school's proficiency scores fall in the 50s for English and the 40s for math? Delaware's version of "choice" sounds good, but it is not achieving the positive effects on students' test scores that are needed. The need for more charter school capacity is the answer - especially in areas near poorly performing schools.


Charter Schools Work


Delaware currently has 23 charter schools and is the 5th highest in the country in the percentage of public school students who attend a charter school. 


According to a 2022 EdChoice meta-analysis on the impact of charter schools that looked at randomized control studies, charter schools:  


  • increase the test scores of students attending the charter
  • increase the likelihood of their students graduating, going on to college, and persisting in college
  • improve the test scores of the students who remain in the local public district schools
  • lead to greater racial integration in schools
  • save taxpayers money


Charter Schools are Under Attack in Delaware


A bill that places a moratorium on any new charter schools in New Castle County, known as House Bill 353, is currently moving through the state legislature. The stated reason for placing the pause on charter schools in New Castle County is that it is "necessary while the state strives to make schools across Wilmington more equitable through such things as the Wilmington Learning Collaborative."


It is no secret that the real reason for the moratorium is that education union bosses don't like charter schools because they take students and dollars away from the public schools. Charter schools also increase competition with district schools.


Thus, from the above research, we see that a moratorium on charter schools would directly harm Delaware students in several ways.


HB 353 Should be Stopped


Take a few moments now to contact your legislators to let them know to vote against HB 353 - the New Castle County Moratorium on Charter Schools Bill(Click here if you need help finding your legislators.)


According to Kendall Massett, Executive Director of the Delaware Charter Schools Network, the freedom originally given to Delaware charters has decreased over the years as the state has increased the number of regulations that apply to charters. New bills requiring changes to the public school system are often applied to charter schools, thus limiting those schools' freedom. The whole point of charter schools is to give the educators greater freedom in how they educate students in order to achieve positive outcomes where district schools have been unsuccessful.


Regardless of where they live or their financial situation, what is best for students needs to be the yardstick by which potential changes to education are assessed. Let us continue working together in Delaware to do what is best for all of our students, not what is best or easiest for the adults in powerful positions throughout the state.


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