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State Department of Ed is developing a statewide plan to tackle equity

The state Department of Education held its first summit on education equity Wednesday. Officials are developing a new statewide equity plan expected to be released this fall.


The goal is to offer all students equal access to the people, resources and opportunities needed for a quality education— from school to school and within school buildings.

Tuesday’s summit was an opportunity for Education Secretary Susan Bunting’s department to gather feedback. “This is 2019,” said Bunting. “We just need to rethink old habits and old philosophies and old practices.”

"Having a culturally responsive teacher allows us to feel more ourselves in a classroom." - 10th grader Emmanuel Tull

The state’s plan will target diversifying the educator workforce, achieving culturally responsive teaching and designing inclusive and socially just environments.

Delaware State Education Association President Stephanie Ingram says the summit and plan are steps in the right direction. “We’re doing good things, but we have a ways to go,” she said. “This kind of shows that we’re ready to make those changes.”

Monique Martin started in January as the the Department of Education's (DDOE) first education associate focused on equity. She says one of the first things she saw in Delaware’s data was the gap between the number of students of color and teachers of color. According to DDOE officials, 56 percent of Delaware students identify as a racial or ethnic group other than white, while only 15 percent of the teaching workforce does.

Martin says one of her goals is diversifying the state’s educational workforce. “Not only diversifying the workforce but also implementing culturally responsive teaching,” she said.

Karli Sunnergren, a 12th-grade student at Sussex Tech, defines culturally responsive teaching as “being empathic and respectful— and understanding what that student has overcome, and what they might have to overcome.”

"Once you build them up as people they're going to be able to succeed more." - 12th grader Kristen Nichols

“It is a way of celebrating differences,” said Adrianne Quarles, assistant principal at St. Georges Technical High School. “Providing a platform for students to ask questions that they probably wanted to ask for several years but were fearful to ask. And just to be able to feel comfortable in their own skin.”

Sussex Tech 10th grader Emmanuel Tull say culturally responsive teaching is necessary for all students to have a good classroom experience.  “Having a culturally responsive teacher allows us to feel more ourselves in a classroom,” he said. “When you grow up and don’t see people like you, it helps when somebody who doesn't look like you embraces your differences and understands who you are and how you came to be.”

Kristen Nichols, a senior at Sussex Tech, says she would advise educators looking to teach in a more culturally responsive way to assign more projects about student identity. “[Instead of] giving them work for … the SAT, the AP exam, give them work that lets them find out who they are as people first,” she said. “Then worry about everything that comes after that later, because once you build them up as people they’re going to be able to succeed more.”

Speakers at the summit suggested teaching more diverse literature and providing more administrative support to teachers engaging students on issues of bias and inclusion.

Shannon Holston, educator support team director at DDOE, noted that data shows a lower retention rate for Delaware teachers of color than for white teachers.

Quarles of St. Georges Tech says common core standards and state curriculum requirements make it difficult to fit culturally responsive teaching in. “You’re [also] bound to your district. So it’s not something you can just do,” she said. “When we talk about retention of teachers, that’s what really hinders them from wanting to stay in the profession.”

Data in the state’s 2015 educational equity plan showed a twenty- to thirty-point gap in the percent of white and black students proficient in math and reading. A roughly twenty-point achievement gap existed between low-income and non-low-income students.

According to DDEO, last year’s data on the Smarter Balanced Assessment shows similar trends.


Sophia Schmidt is a Delaware native. She comes to Delaware Public Media from NPR’s Weekend Edition in Washington, DC, where she produced arts, politics, science and culture interviews. She previously wrote about education and environment for The Berkshire Eagle in Pittsfield, MA. She graduated from Williams College, where she studied environmental policy and biology, and covered environmental events and local renewable energy for the college paper.