The Wilmington Learning Collaborative (WLC) is Delaware's latest solution to the problem of poor education and test scores in the city of Wilmington. In reading the WLC's most recent Draft Agreement, it becomes apparent that the goals and methods of the WLC are remarkably similar to those that were initially espoused when the state allowed for the creation of charter schools in Chapter 5 of Title 14 of the Delaware Code in 2020.
The WLC Draft Agreement states in part:
"WLC schools will have greater say over key educational decisions. Schools within the WLC will be true community hubs, with shared decision-making by educators and leaders, to support the academic and wellness growth of children."
"Schools will have autonomy and flexibility to meet student and educator needs, which may be different from the needs of other schools in their respective districts."
The Caesar Rodney Institute (CRI) agrees that the additional flexibility of the WLC will benefit students and teachers who can accommodate the needs of their students as well as make other necessary school-based changes more readily.
CRI is also encouraged by the greater community focus and increased parental involvement, which are both goals of the WLC. Research by the Learning Policy Institute and the National Institutes of Health has confirmed that both goals are associated with educational improvements.
Another interesting aspect of the Wilmington Learning Collaborative Draft Agreement is that it creates a community-based governing council known as the WLC Council, which will include:
- Each participating district's superintendent (or designee).
- Each participating district's city school board member.
- One parent or grandparent of a child at a WLC school from each participating district. Each district's superintendent and city board member will make the appointment for each district after consulting with diverse community groups.
- One former city educator appointed by the Secretary of Education in consultation with the Delaware State Education Association and local union affiliates representing the city.
- One appointee by the City of Wilmington. The Mayor of Wilmington will nominate the appointee, and the City Council must approve the appointment.
- One high school senior who resides in Wilmington appointed by the WLC Council. The WLC Council will devise a structure to accept applications and make the appointment. The WLC Council may appoint a total of three students, a 10th, 11th, and 12th grader, though the 12th grader will be the only voting member, and he or she will not vote upon or participate in discussions around personnel matters.
CRI offers several suggestions intended to create a more focused and efficient WLC:
- The WLC Council effectively creates an unelected school board. Doing this violates the Delaware state law that requires that school board members be elected. More importantly, it allows for less accountability of the WLC Counsel to the citizenry of the state. Therefore, the members of the WLC Council should be elected, not appointed.
- This WLC Council will consist of 12-14 individuals - too many people on a board to run an estimated eight schools. For comparison, in the 16-school Brandywine district, seven board members plus a superintendent run the district. So, limit the WLC Council to seven.
- The WLC will include city schools from Red Clay, Brandywine, and Christina school districts. CRI sees no need for the superintendents/or representatives of these districts to sit on the WLC Council. Isn't the point of the WLC that it will specifically focus on city students as opposed to the suburbs? The WLC should be a stand-alone educational unit. Furthermore, since there is to be an appointed Chair of the WLC Council, there is no need for Superintendents on the Council.
- The "former city educator" chosen in part by the Delaware State Education Association (DSEA) is problematic since this individual will be obligated to make decisions favoring the state teachers' union over the needs of the students of Wilmington.
- Finally, the idea of having students on the board has been tried in various districts, and for the most part, the board meetings are very boring to the student since very little of what is discussed in the meetings is pertinent to him or her.
Additionally, further specifics regarding the WLC are needed in the Draft Agreement.
For example, how will the education in the WLC schools actually be different from what exists at present so that it will produce better outcomes in either test scores or attendance? The lack of a high school is another major problem with the plan - albeit one that has been acknowledged by the governor. Additionally, specifics about the budget are not addressed.
In the most recent draft of the WLC Agreement, there are at least six new levels of bureaucracy created, plus the influence of at least six state and local groups already in existence. This is going to lead to extreme confusion as to who is responsible for what and who makes what decisions. Plus, all of this bureaucracy will negate the goal of allowing schools to make many of their own decisions to cater to the specific needs of their students.
Therefore, CRI recommends removing the schools that will be a part of the WLC entirely from their school districts to allow for efficient decision-making and alleviate much of the confusion that would be caused by so many different influences. Doing this will help better focus the Wilmington Learning Collaborative on the real issue: the best educational and social outcomes for the students living in the city of Wilmington.