Upper Darby Senior High School has seen significant increases in habitual truancy and violence, while academic outcomes continue to plummet. 

This comes amidst two significant changes implemented over the past two years, including late start times and decreased graduation requirements. The district claims that these initiatives were designed to improve student outcomes, yet it appears that the administration is not even measuring their effectiveness.

The later start time initiative began at the start of the 2021-2022 school year when the district changed the high school schedule. Rather than reporting for in-person instruction at 7:30 a.m., students now are required to be in school at 9:45. The time block from 7:30 a.m. to 8:54 a.m. is now used for “asynchronous” instruction which means that students can login to their computer and complete assignments. However, students are not required to be online during this time.

Block StartEndTime (min)Description
Block 1E7:307:5121Asynchronous Extension of Block 1
Block 2E7:518:1221Asynchronous Extension of Block 2
Block 3E8:128:3321Asynchronous Extension of Block 3
Block 4E8:338:5421Asynchronous Extension of Block 4
Transition8:549:4551Transition to In-Person or Synchronous Learning
Block 19:4510:4560In-Person or Synchronous Learning
Block 210:5011:5060In-Person or Synchronous Learning
Flex/Lunch11:5512:3136In-Person or Synchronous Learning
Block 312:361:3660In-Person or Synchronous Learning
Block 41:412:4160In-Person or Synchronous Learning

When asked the reasons for the change Superintendent Daniel P. McGarry provided the following statement.

“I have provided links to multiple public presentations on the decision to update the high school schedule. I am interested to know why a topic that has been in place for two years and has been discussed publicly and covered by local news outlets is now up for another review. Here is a link to a WHYY article on the topic along with links to most of our public presentations.”

The WHYY article included further explanation of the change. “At Upper Darby High, the school day technically still begins at 7:30 a.m., with students assigned coursework to be done remotely that ties into their lessons for the day. But they can use the early morning hours as they see fit — they can meet with teachers during office hours, sleep in or finish other homework. Ultimately, the work assigned for the early morning needs to be done, but when is up to students.”

When asked how the district is measuring the effectiveness of the new schedule, McGarry said, “here is some background on the work that we did on changing our high school schedule. The discussions began in 2019 with a review of ACT 158 and the additional information provided by a review of the Joint State Government Commission… the case for delaying start times…. Again, we are in the third year of the new schedule. I have provided numerous public presentations for your review.”

Since McGarry did not provide an answer to the question about measuring the effectiveness, I requested a follow-up comment and did not receive one. 

The argument in favor of later start times is not at issue here. As McGarry pointed out, there are numerous research studies and recommendations supporting the fact that high school students need more sleep and later start times can help meet that goal. However, none of the research suggested decreasing instructional time, which is, in effect, what Upper Darby has done. Even the NEA discussed the pros and cons of the model but never mentioned less instructional time.

With the revised schedule, students are only guaranteed four hours of face to face instructional time with teachers. Some may receive an additional 36 minutes through the flexible lunch spot. Rather than pushing the start time from 7:30 a.m. to 8:30 or 9:00 a.m., the district simply changed the instructional model to allow students to arrive at school later in the morning by decreasing synchronous teaching. 

Reduced graduation requirements

The second significant change that went into effect for the 2022-2023 school year was decreased graduation requirements. Previously, high school students were required to complete 26 credits in order to earn a high school diploma. That number was changed to 21, the state minimum. Upper Darby now has one of the lowest credit requirements than any other district in the region. For example, Philadelphia School District requires 23.5 credits, Haverford School District requires 27.5, and Chichester School District requires 24 credits.

The district gave this statement when asked about the change. “The state requirements under Chapter IV have established ‘graduation requirements.’ Our students have the opportunity to take as many as 28 courses/credits, but they may opt to leave high school after meeting the state requirements of 21….Our schedule provides our students with multiple pathways to graduate and/or a unique opportunity to gain college credits in high school. Students are NOT required or forced to leave our high school after completing 21 courses or credits – this is false information spread for political reasons in the community. Our high school students have the opportunity to take up to seven dual enrollment credits while an Upper Darby High School student. Further proof that dual enrollment is beneficial can be found by reading this article.”

The referenced article explains how Drexel University is offering tuition discounts for transfer students from community colleges. The district claims that they decreased requirements to allow for more dual enrollment at the community college so that graduates could attend a University like Drexel, yet when data about the number of students who exercised this option was requested, they did not have it. Apparently, measuring the effectiveness of dual enrollment is not a priority for the district, based on the district’s response to a Right To Know (RTK) request.

The district’s response to the RTK on November 23, 2023, asking for the number of students who met the 21-credit graduation requirement and then attended post-secondary education was “the request is denied.” Craig Roberts, the Chief Financial Officer for the district said, “certainly the District has partial and anecdotal data related to students attending post-secondary education, that data has not been complied by the District”

When asked for the number of students who met the 21-credit graduation requirement and continued in dual enrollment, the district said, “the request is denied. While the district has student-level data relevant to its students, and the requested data could be compiled in a report that might be responsive to this request, as each student’s situation is different the District has not previously deemed the creation of such a report necessary.”

The district claims that they decreased credit requirements to allow more students to dual enroll and eventually attend a four-year university at a reduced cost; however, they have no metrics, assessment, or data.

When districts make significant changes, similar to the magnitude of the schedule and graduation requirements, they have a responsibility to measure the efficacy and analyze if the changes are achieving the desired outcomes. It appears that Upper Darby has neither a set of anticipated goals nor a mechanism to measure them.

Truancy

In the absence of a district evaluation, I gathered data from multiple sources and determined that academic achievement continues to plunge, while habitual truancy and violence continue to rise under the new initiatives.

A Right to Know request revealed the habitual truancy rate over the last five years. Habitual truancy is defined by the state as students who have at least six unexcused absences but no more than 183. Since the schedule change in the 2021-2022 school year, habitual truancy has skyrocketed despite the fact that students can arrive at school later in the morning.

Habitual truancy rate by school year for Upper Darby High School

2018-201916%
2019-202018%
2020-202122%
2021-202236%
2022-202346%

In terms of academic outcomes, students are consistently losing ground at high school. There seems to be a direct correlation between increased habitual truancy and academic proficiency. The Future Ready PA Index shows the proficiency rates, and the rates for black, Hispanic, and economically disadvantaged students are even lower than the averages. For example, last year, only four percent of black high school students were proficient in math.

Upper Darby High School proficiency rates by year

School YearEnglish Language ArtsMath
2018 – 201960.10%45.10%
2019 – 202060.10%45.10%
2020 – 202147.60%46.10%
2021 – 202229.00%32.20%
2022 – 202330.20%7.30%

Finally, the Safe Schools report for Upper Darby High School details the increase of violence since the implementation of the new schedule. Similar to academic proficiency, violent incidents rose since the implementation of the schedule change and the decreased graduation requirements.

Misconduct Incidents2021-20222022-2023
Enrollment3,9874,193
Incidents (Academic/Code of Conduct)141108
Incidents (All Other Infractions)188224
Total Arrests62
Offenders (Academic/Code of Conduct)7784
Offenders (All Other Offenses224273
Incidents Involving Local Law Enforcement65100
Assignments to Alternative Education10

Note: Other infractions contains 54 categories including assault, intimidation, sexual harassment, bullying, threats, weapon possession, controlled substances, etc.

The analysis clearly shows that changes to the high school schedule and graduation requirements are not positively impacting academic proficiency, and they may be adversely affecting habitual truancy and violent incidents. The attempt to address problems through creative solutions is admirable; however, without measurable goals and a system to track progress, the district is at the least negligent, and at the worst destroying the lives of children. 

Upper Darby has a history of irresponsible decision making, both at the municipal level and at the district level. Students, parents, business owners, and taxpayers deserve greater transparency and accountability for these decisions made by elected officials. 

Beth Ann Rosica resides in West Chester, has a Ph.D. in Education, and has dedicated her career to advocating on behalf of at-risk children and families. She covers education issues for Broad + Liberty. Contact her at barosica@broadandliberty.com.

Editor’s note: The first version of this article incorrectly used the term “chronic absenteeism” instead of the more accurate “habitual truancy”, two concepts with distinct technical meanings. The story is updated, and we regret the error.

27 thoughts on “Beth Ann Rosica: Despite recent changes, Upper Darby High School is in shambles”

  1. 6 absences is an extremely low threshold for chronic absenteeism. Don’t get the flu or COVID!!! That data seems worthless to me. There’s plenty of valid reasons to miss six days out of a school year

    1. You missed the word “unexcused”, an illness or any other absence that is reported by the parent is an excused absence. This is referring to absences not reported by the parent or guardian.

  2. I get it! The teachers do less “synchronous teaching”, which means they do less….teaching.
    But you can be dammsure they will demand a big raise – and their Democrat patrons will comply.
    Corrupt. Evil.

  3. Broad and Liberty is not a reputable publication. However, aside of that, as a parent of a child in 9th grade at UDHS, I agree that the classroom time is not enough. I would prefer to see one more block added and have one block asynchronous. My son has used the asynchronous time to get with his teachers for extra assistance, but I think one block is sufficient. The real issue at UDHS is the lack of parental involvement in their child’s education and life in general. The parents have been and will continue to be the reasons their children do not launch and succeed.

    1. Melissa-

      Rather than throwing out a slanderous insult to the writers and board of B&L, maybe you can provide a substantive reason as to why you perceive them as not reputable?

      Maybe even provide examples of Reputable news as a benchmark to compare B&L?

      1. I put way more stock in Melissa’s opinion, as she has first hand current experience in the district and Beth does not

  4. Great, Jenn. We agree that we do not disregard her informed position. However, I didn’t ask her about that.

    You’re a bit antagonistic, don’t you think?

    1. Dung, the person identifying as Jenn posts often but their views are fairly tame as opposed to most far-Left tyrants. Jenn’s positions are sometimes tedious, and infrequently well made, but they are rarely antagonistic or hostile.
      “The analysis clearly shows that changes to the high school schedule and graduation requirements are not positively impacting academic proficiency, and they may be adversely affecting habitual truancy and violent incidents.” Jenn, do you understand the previous sentence from the article and how do you square the violence angle?
      Melissa, I remember Tina Fey picking on my younger brother when she was working for Summer Stage. Hilarious. Let’s “get real” and the real issue at UDHS is all of the non-taxpayers that send their children there. Regarding reputable publications, check out Straight Arrow News. They make sure to report on Media Misses on both the RIght and the Left. Did you catch this one: “President Joe Biden received “direct monthly payments” from Hunter Biden’s “Owasco PC” business account, which received “payments from Chinese-state linked companies and other foreign nationals and companies”? Let’s all catch up at the Oaks, PA gun show in a couple weeks? Please vote. Because violence is never the answer.

      1. Those three $1,380 payments to Joe Biden were repayments on a vehicle loan from Hunter Biden to his father when Hunter was between jobs and both were private citizens in 2018. Eventually Hunter Biden took over paying the loan himself when his life settled down. And BTW, the New York Post first published this information in 2022.

  5. Upper Darby HS cannot retain teachers because admin no longer consequence students for disruptive and egregious behavior. They don’t have the teachers’ backs. Kids are not held accountable for their actions. Nobody wants to work there. That is what happens when your principal is a social worker and any disciplinary matters have been outsourced to tothe bar association’s experimental utopian conflict mediation, woke student court. And yes, I have first hand knowledge of what I speak.

  6. I disagree with the statement of parents not caring or being involved. My 2 daughters were a part of the late start. It worked well for our family because they would be super tired from “sneaking” and staying up late to watch tv play games or making TikToks. I feel like they’re well rested and alert when they get to school and have both done extremely well. Since the late start was implemented both of my girls have made distinguished honor roll and one is completing her freshman year at a top tier university’s school of nursing. My other daughter is now a junior at UDHS and preparing to enter a Pre Law program at an area university. I wish I could say it’s because I spend a ton of time at their school, involved with every board-but it’s not. It’s because of the dedication educators at Upper Darby High School and the dedication they have in ensuring students have everything they need to successfully. The counselors, social workers principals security-all work together in a community to ensure our students have the best and strive for the best. They see gifts and desires in these students and they support their efforts. I’m a witness to this first hand. It’s dishonest to read this article. I have nothing bad to say I’m proud of our school.

  7. What neither one of you grasp, Mike and Dung, is how meaningless these comments are. I don’t sit here and craft some kind of TED talk. Michael, you’re off topic almost always, but you’re at least a little bit nice and Dung, you’ve been antagonistic to me more times than I can count. And I don’t really care, because if you think this is meaningful dialogue or a platform that encourages anyone to change their mind about anything or if you spend more than two minutes on any given comment here, I’m sad for you.

  8. Could you include the data on violence misconduct incidents before the schedule change? It is impossible to demonstrate that these have increased without the presence of any data before the schedule shift. Also, I would be interested to see a comparison of the shift in proficiency and truancy rates between Upper Darby and a comparable school that did not experience a schedule shift to provide a control against the impact of the pandemic (which was conveniently not mentioned once despite likely having at least some degree of impact on proficiency levels etc)

    1. Ask anybody who went through the district how much it’s changed.

      I wonder what you consider a comparable district? That seems like a thinly veiled classist remark.

  9. These stats are so far from true for police interaction. There have been probably 200 arrest just in 2023. The police have responded to the high school alone over 400 times in 2023. Again this doesn’t include the other schools in the district. There are at-least 800 calls for police to these schools during each school year. And that does not include the walk ins to the department that the school doesn’t report . And they only go to school 4 hours a day and 8 months a year .

  10. So I go to the school tbh it’s not bad at all the only real problem we have is kids in the hall and the teacher and higher ups deal with it and with the “ violence” it has gone down tremendously my freshman year there were a bunch of fights I’m a senior now and I haven’t seen a fight on school property since my jr year because the new rules and how the school has made it clear what would happen if there was a fight and the kids now don’t even want to fight they just call each other names and then walk away. And to talk about the what time we go in. I love it I only have 2 classes a day like most seniors and we get more time to get ready in the morning to get to school and I leave around 11:20 with 2 classes and getting in at 9:45 is nice for everyone. Only problem I have with getting to school is scanning in my ID when the line gets long it can take for ever and which could make you late even if you get to school on time I feel they can do something better with that.

  11. Strike Two Dan

    Strike One: McGarry caught the attention of the media when he wrote a letter to parents asking them for help (Scott). Why would he do that? Is he implying that it’s the parents’ fault. Upper Darby students are misbehaving, and he can’t remedy the problem by himself. That’s fair. Or is he suggesting that the problem isn’t his fault? Is he shifting the blame to the parents? Has he done everything he could do before he wrote the letter? Why is his school district in such dire straits? How did it happen so quickly? Where was Doctor Dan this whole time? He has shown his weakness. There’s blood in the water. He’ll either be proclaimed a hero for his sensitivity and transparency or weak. I wonder when the feeding frenzy begins. Stay tuned. Today I read there’s writing on the bathroom wall. Scott, K. (2023, March 3). Staff is ‘worn out’: Upper Darby School District superintendent sends message to parents. 6ABC. Retrieved March 5, 2023, from https://tinyurl.com/2p82pam4. (Excerpt from my unpublished essay, The Mousse Generation of School Administrators.)

    Strike Two: McGarry, “I am interested to know why a topic that has been in place for two years and has been discussed publicly and covered by local news outlets is now up for another review.”

    Rosica: Since McGarry did not provide an answer to the question about measuring the effectiveness, I requested a follow-up comment and did not receive one.

    Dan likes the spotlight until the spotlight’s too bright.

    1. Richard , your comments are all just questions. Period. They are not based in fact they are based in presumption. Strike one, two, and three are people like you.

    2. I agree 100% and anyone who doesn’t has either never had their child attacked numerous times or is a liberal.

  12. Nothing in this district shocks me. When the priorities are new buildings and not the students this happens. Don’t ask questions if the leadership either they either blame parents, deflect or run away. Start at the top at get responsible employees that don’t push political agendas.

  13. You should look at East PennSchool District too! Both the high school and Lower Macungie middle school are on the TSI list of failing schools in the state! There is an instagram account emmaushellhouse with brutal fights weekly! Homeroom blocks focus on asking kids their race and religions they should be focusing on academics and how to improve educational experiences

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