Just Up the Road but a Thousand Miles Away: Students Propose Plan to Bridge School Quality Issues

Charter School of Wilmington students Sana Nangia (’20) and Neha Das (speaking, ’21) at last year’s MLK Voices 4 Youth competition

The audience at today’s Rodel Foundation education conference sat riveted as they listened to two high school students in front of them contrasting the rigorous educational program offered to them with a very different academic program just down the street.

Sana Nangia and Neha Das, both students at the Charter School of Wilmington (CSW) and this year’s second-place MLK “Voice 4 Youth” winners, said they were “at a loss for words” when they were asked to describe the experiences of a public high school student in Delaware as a kick-off  to today’s conference.

Acknowledging Charter School of Wilmington as the ‘number one ranked public high school in Delaware,’ senior Sana Nangia said, “We do not represent the typical high schooler going to a typical high school [in Delaware].”

Nangia and Das speaking at today’s Rodel Foundation event at the University of Delaware

She and junior Neha Das rattled off comparative test scores between CSW and A.I. du Pont High School, just down Route 52, to highlight the differences in academic performance. The pair outlined the built-in barriers to success for many students entering non-charter public high schools.

Nangia, who founded her school’s chapter of the United Way of Delaware, and Das, who is captain of her speech and debate team, kicked off the Vision Coalition Conference this morning at the University of Delaware.

 

Focusing their remarks on the disparity in the quality of education across public schools in Delaware, Nangia and Das proposed a ‘helping hand’ idea that would incentivize high-performing teachers in the state to spend some of their time (during school hours) instructing low-performing students through an inter-school program.

“We implore the people here to make the changes needed to offer every student the quality of education they deserve so that the opportunities we have received do not remain exclusive to people like us,” said Nangia.

 

Selected text of their remarks follows:

Neha:  According to US News and World Report we are lucky enough to attend the number one ranked public high school in Delaware. Our teachers are high quality, and our curriculum is very rigorous, almost too rigorous. Our high school is highly praised for being 99% proficient in Reading and 97% proficient in Math.

We feel extremely privileged to be given access to such great opportunities. 6 minutes down the street, is A.I. du Pont High school. This school, whose students are just as capable as any other, have a proficiency rate in Reading of 46% and a rate in Math of 19%.

This disparity is quite alarming. It seems odd that schools so close to each other in proximity display drastic differences in performance. Well, this pattern isn’t unusual, as many public schools in Delaware are suffering immensely in proficiency whereas charter, magnet, and private schools are well above average. 

Sana: Our school is filled with high-achieving kids, so much so that the proficiency standards are seen as below average. For this conference, we were asked to describe the experiences of a public high school student in Delaware, and we were at a loss for words. We do not represent the typical high schooler going to a typical high school here.

The more we prepared and researched, the more we became aware of the bubble we lived in. 97-99% of people at my school meet the proficiency standard. In fact, most are way above it.

Many students can afford private tutors and test prep centers as well as pay for any extracurricular fees. As a test-in school, a seat there [at CSW] is determined on the quality of your previous education. You do as well on a test as your previous education and preparation for it allows. 

The disparity in the quality of education across public schools in Delaware was never more clear to us than when we observed our school and experiences. Even though Charter is situated in downtown Wilmington, it does not reflect the population.

Our student body has a 7.3% African-American population and an even lower proportion of Hispanic students. This disproportion occurs because we are a test-in school. Our school’s high ratings attract kids from all different backgrounds. However, the ones who get in have passed a reading and math test, and therefore, their previous education matters most.

We realize how important our early foundational learning was in getting us to where we are today. And we implore the people here to make the changes needed to offer every student the quality of education they deserve so that the opportunities we have received do not remain exclusive to people like us.  

 

Sana: We asked our school’s leaders what makes the difference in a child’s education, and their response was simple but powerful: a good teacher. Teachers with not only a basic certificate to teach but with extensive knowledge in their subject and provided resources can change kids’ futures. 

Even though we are young and inexperienced, we want to propose an idea about a topic that affects us the most. Elementary and middle school education is key to building the foundations needed for a student to succeed. Quality teachers and resources equal a quality education.

What if we incentivized high-performing teachers in the state to spend a certain amount of time instructing low-performing students? This inter-school program could have teachers that have shown consistent results in their specific classes instruct low-performing students during school hours. For this work, they could receive bonuses. We call it “helping hand” because it could help break the cycle of low proficiency. 

Neha: We hope that the many influential figures in the audience will take this into consideration when striving to make Delaware education better.  A helping hand will incentivize teachers to help underperforming kids in underperforming schools will be the catalyst for raising the quality of education and breaking the cycle of low proficiency. After all, you can’t build a house without a foundation.

 


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