From the Publisher: Can Delaware Improve its Struggling Schools?

In our November issue, we take a look at how the state is addressing gaps in student achievement and fixing failing schools.


Robert Martinelli • PublishER

Delaware Campaign for Achievement Now (DelawareCAN) is an education advocacy organization that wants to build an education system that prepares every Delaware child for life success. Why? Because it believes that the Delaware public education system is not providing a high-quality education for all students. DelawareCAN believes Delaware needs to be more urgent in its approach to creating the type of education system that students deserve.

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It’s only fitting that when DelawareCAN hosted the national 50CAN Summit in September in Wilmington, the keynote speaker was Anne Williams-Isom, the CEO of Harlem Children’s Zone. Harlem Children’s Zone has achieved unprecedented success, helping thousands of children and families, and disrupting the cycle of generational poverty in Central Harlem through innovative and effective programs.

Ms. Williams-Isom said you need to “justify the urgency with high expectations and being strategic with the work you are doing.” She added, “We have this program, but how do you know it’s working? We can’t be out there doing stuff because you think it’s the right thing to do. If you are working and not measuring, that is not a sense of urgency or strategic.” Ms. Isom went on to say that Geoffrey Canada, founder of Harlem Children’s Zone, was insistent that 100 percent of the kids would succeed. The Harlem Children’s Zone tracks 600 goals each year and is constantly gathering data and reviewing results to ensure that their kids stay on track.

“You don’t take no for an answer. You don’t assume Plan A is going to work. This is an intense place to work. We don’t take a lot of excuses,” she said.

So that brings us to the situation in Delaware.  A recent report by the Rodel Foundation is sobering. In a measure of the state’s achievement gap only 37 percent of low-income students achieved proficiency in English language arts, and 29 percent in math. At some schools in the city of Wilmington, more than 90 percent scored below the standard in English language arts and math.

Larry Nagengast’s article “Solving the Puzzle of Delaware’s Education System,” looks at the latest efforts of the new Delaware Office of Innovation and Improvement, the mission of which is to lift up schools whose students’ performance on annual assessments falls far below desired levels of proficiency. One of its first steps has been to issue a “memorandum of understanding” that outlines ways to help struggling schools in the Christina School District.

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Atnre Alleyne, executive director of DelawareCAN, commenting on the changes being put in place said, “We still need dramatic action before we can conclude whether [the memorandum of understanding] is a win for students or merely an adult way to plan and strategize.”

It’s great to see the state doing something new to put more resources behind fixing these failing schools.  It remains to be seen whether this is enough, and if we have the sense of urgency that, as Ms. Williams-Isom said, “does not let you say that it’s ok that year after year kids can just fail.”

-Robert Martinelli • Publisher

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