Delaware task force suggests big changes to school application processes

 (AP Photo/Steve Ruark)

(AP Photo/Steve Ruark)

Delaware’s charter, magnet, and vo-tech schools should reform their admissions processes to make them simpler, fairer, and more open.

That’s according to a report released Monday by the Enrollment Preferences Taskforce, a committee composed of state legislators, education officials, advocates, and parents.

The final report did not include official recommendations, but it did detail how committee members voted on a number of questions related to how schools in Delaware solicit and sort through student applications.

Taken together, their votes indicate these schools should simplify their application processes and eliminate application requirements that could bar disadvantaged students from attending.

“We need to ensure there are no barriers in place when our families apply to any of our public schools or programs,” wrote State Representative Kim Williams, D-Newport/Stanton, in the foreword to the report. “The choice application process must be as simple as possible, while removing all unnecessary requirements and welcoming all families to apply. There should be no measures in place that may limit certain families from attending any of Delaware’s public schools.”

Williams co-chaired the task force along with State Senator Nicole Poore, D-New Castle.

If converted into legislative action, the report could alter policy for some of the state’s most prestigious public schools.

For instance, a majority of committee members voted to eliminate an enrollment preference used by the Charter School of Wilmington, one of the nation’s most acclaimed high schools. The Charter School of Wilmington, which focuses on math and science, prioritizes applicants who have a “specific interest” in the school’s teaching methods. The school screens for interest, in part, by administering a standardized exam to applicants.

Most members of the Enrollment Preference Task Force said charter elementary, middle, and high schools shouldn’t be permitted to prioritized candidates based on “specific interest.”

Other charter schools who use the “specific interest” clause in their admissions process, according to the report, include Early College High School at Delaware State University, First State Montessori Academy, Las Americas Aspira Academy, MOT Charter School, Odyssey Charter, and Sussex Academy.

The task force members also said charters shouldn’t be able to preference candidates just because they live within a five-mile radius of the school. Newark Charter School, another of the state’s top-performing schools, uses the five-mile preference to screen candidates.

A majority also said vo-tech, magnet, and charter schools shouldn’t require a student essay or teacher letter. They also said public schools shouldn’t use student scores on statewide standardized test in the admissions process.

The group did, however, uphold other admissions practices. They include a charter schools’ right to prioritize candidates who are at risk of academic failure, the child of a school employee, the sibling of an already-enrolled student, or living in the same district where the school is located.

The report also suggested choice schools greatly reduce the volume and range of questions they ask on supplemental application forms. Task force members said choice schools shouldn’t, for example, ask applicants about extracurricular activities, transportation needs, special education services, past school attendance, or family life until after they’re admitted.

The Enrollment Preference Task Force was established by legislators in 2013 through House Bill 90.

Want a digest of WHYY’s programs, events & stories? Sign up for our weekly newsletter.

It will take 126,000 members this year for great news and programs to thrive. Help us get to 100% of the goal.