Dale Kevin Brown never met or heard of Roland Fryer. Brown is the principal of Booker T. Washington Elementary school on Dover’s west side. Just before he took over, Booker T. Washington was labeled a “focus” school by the state because its students—70 percent of whom are from the lowest socioeconomic group—perform on average, 36.8 points lower on state tests compared to students of average income and above.
Roland Fryer is a professor of economics at Harvard University who has done a lot of research on closing this achievement gap in public schools. Fryer’s research tells us that public schools that succeed in closing the gap do five things:
• extend the school day;
• use data frequently to drive instruction;
• have a devotion to high quality teachers and principals;
• have a culture of high expectations; and
• have small group tutoring.
You can read in “The Power of Leadership” how Brown did all of these things and in two years lowered the achievement gap to eight points. Brown now wants to make Booker T. Washington—BTW—Best in the World.
Doing these five things costs money. Brown was able to tap into a portion of a $250,000 Race to the Top grant for those two years. The problem now is that those funds have dried up, so Brown will have to severely curtail the programs he put in place.
The Joint Finance Committee, which writes the state’s budget, is looking at the Delaware Department of Education budget because of a huge looming state budget shortfall. “I think we are administratively heavy,” said Sen. David Lawson. In fact, the state of Delaware ranks fourth in the country in the amount of money going to administration versus the classroom. It would be a mistake for the JFC to simply cut the funding of the DOE without shifting some of those funds into the classrooms, especially those that need the help.
In addition to the Department of Education, it’s time for JFC to take a close look at what our 22 school districts cost us. There has been a 70 percent increase in the number of administrative employees in the school districts over the past 12 years—24 percent in the past five years alone. This increase in administrative employees, at an average income of more than $90,000 per year, has not improved education outcomes in Delaware, including closing the achievement gap.
If our leaders are serious about closing the achievement gap, they’ll find Brown and the priority schools the money they need. Instead of putting taxpayers on the hook for the needed spending in the classrooms, school districts should trim the bureaucracy. If we don’t do this now, we’re condemning another generation of city children to a life of despair, declining wages and unemployment or, worse, crime. As Brown proves, there are no excuses for allowing a continued achievement gap.
—Robert Martinelli, Publisher and Editor