While I appreciate the passion that went into the magazine’s coverage of Race to the Top (“Race to the Bottom?” January 2014), the federal education initiative that Delaware won in 2010, the magazine’s cover art and Dr. Hess’ letter mischaracterized where we are as a state. During the last three years, the time since the state received federal funding for its major reforms, in-state student performance went up double digits positively impacting 10,000 children, and high school graduation rates steadily moved up to close to 90 percent, the goal set in Delaware’s Race to the Top (RTTT) plan. That said, if we look at national measures, the National Assessment of Educational Progress or NAEP, over the last three years, the article fairly points out that the gains have been modest at best.
Fair enough, but if we pull the lens back to the last 20 years, which was not addressed in the article, Delaware’s growth on NAEP, as determined by Harvard and Stanford, is the third fastest in the country. More importantly, the report asserts that we were on track to not only be able to move to the top tier in the United States, but become internationally competitive.
Improvement is never a straight line. Historically, because changes in public education are inherently political and hard, the pattern nationally tends to go something like this—a new leader is elected and brings with her a new raft of ideas. There is fanfare about the initial implementation, then the hard work begins and implementation slows. A review of the results after two to three years of incomplete implementation yields mixed results. The next leader comes in and throws out those ideas; the cycle repeats. Consequently, there is a lot of churn around the edges in public education, but the core structure changes little yielding classrooms that often look pretty similar to those from a century ago.
In Delaware, the Vision 2015 coalition, a group that I serve on and includes leaders from education, the community, and business, is committed to breaking that cycle.
Very few states have a structure by which public and private leaders can sit face-to-face and speak candidly about what’s working and how the system needs to change. Over the last several years we decided to take the long view; we moved past the political noise and contributed to a set of long-term, systemic solutions. This group, with the support of RTTT funds, helped catalyze statewide efforts that simply may not have happened otherwise, efforts to raise student expectations across the board, ensure every child walks into kindergarten well-prepared; build a system that finds and keeps great teachers and principals, contribute to a system that distributes public dollars in ways that are both fair and flexible, and embrace innovation.
Bottom line, I believe in Delaware. Educators and policymakers have already done a huge amount of heavy lifting, the state leadership is strong, and the business community is more engaged than ever, and we are poised for another massive shift in performance. Through the Vision Network, a group of 30 district and charter schools working together on performance, and our Rodel Teacher Council, I see teachers and administrators that are fired up, educators that inspire me. That story was not told.
The Vision 2015 plan was developed by hundreds of Delawareans in 2006, but the funding for most of these ideas were secured via RTTT in 2010 (or 2011 in the case of the early childhood funding). Big policy ideas like the revised teacher evaluation system and the infrastructure to support hundreds of early learning centers rolled out statewide for the first time last fall. Would all of us have liked to have seen massive shifts in student performance in 2013? Absolutely, and I personally welcome the focus on results, but we are collectively trying to move a system of 130,000 students and 10,000 adults and as such need to balance our sense of urgency with a commitment to planting trees that will take some time to bear fruit.
Dr. Paul A. Herdman
President & CEO, Rodel Foundation of Delaware
Thank you for your article (“Race to the Bottom?”). Since we last talked our research has continued to show the direction of education in Delaware needs to change. Spending more money on top-down big education programs simply is not working, at least for those that need it the most. A recent study demonstrates who benefits. Delaware’s Department of Education has the fourth-largest number of employees when compared on common scale of per million population with other states. NCLB created some of this and, as you know, half the RTTT funds went to DOE. And, SAT and NAEP scores continue at unsatisfactory levels.
More and more we are hearing from government and nonprofits language that is setting the groundwork to extend the vision to sometime in the future: In 2006 it was 2012 now 2015 and shortly to be 2020. That sucks money along with it and leaves those most in need waiting for results. CRI believes funding parent choice to allow all income levels to select the best education experience is an essential building block to reform and refocus education back in the classroom and with teachers and families.
You did a wonderful job in your article giving a fair explanation of a complex situation. I hope other media follows.
Director, Center for Excellence in Education, Caesar Rodney Institute
There is no educational reform in Delaware, there is only political interference with student learning. If I told you there was a high school in Delaware that had 48 percent of its graduates going to college and 0 AP scholars in 2004 and in 2012, 84 percent of its graduates went to college and they had 26 AP scholars, would that be called school improvement? If you asked the state Department of Education they would say NO! It happened and I was the principal of that high school and no one at DOE cared. To be honest, I did not do enough for my students during my tenure. What politicians do not understand is that NCLB and RTTT have nothing to do with student learning or preparing them for the future. Both are failures and politicians can’t and won’t admit that failure and they never will. They are educational fools!
Anthony Siligo, Dover
We regret the errors.