Meeting District Needs

Coalition Calls for Overhaul of Del. Education System

By Jeff Archer — October 24, 2006 3 min read
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Prompted by concerns about international competitiveness, a coalition of business, foundation, and education groups in Delaware launched a campaign last week to promote a plan for transforming public education in the state.

Including proposed changes in school finance, teacher pay, early-childhood education, and school governance, the plan is billed as a “holistic and coherent” strategy for school improvement that could be a model for other states.

Learn more about “Vision 2015".

To make sure their recommendations get implemented, organizers say they will recruit schools and districts to pilot them, and they propose creating a nonprofit group to continue to press for the policy changes required.

Paul A. Herdman, the chief executive officer of the Wilmington-based Rodel Foundation of Delaware—a catalyst of the effort—said the campaign was an attempt to drive systemic change at the state level the way individual school districts have done.

“I see this as a first effort at breaking the code for a state,” he said. “It’s taking the good work that’s being done in some of our big cities or cutting-edge districts, and pushing it across demographic boundaries.”

Called “Vision 2015,” the plan was drafted with input from a 28-person steering committee representing the Delaware Business Roundtable, the state education department, and the state’s largest teachers’ union, among others.

Driving its work was the recognition that Delaware ranks near the middle of the pack of states on the National Assessment of Educational Progress, and that the country as a whole lags behind many other developed nations in international comparisons.

Wholesale Change

Aimed at encouraging innovation while holding all parts of the system more accountable for their outcomes, the group’s proposals would leave little in the state’s education structure unchanged. Among the recommendations:

· Simplify and equalize school finance with “weighted-student funding,” which distributes money to schools based on how many students they have, and what the students’ needs are.

· Adopt statewide salary schedules for teachers and principals that include rewards for improved performance, for working in the most challenging assignments, and for taking on new leadership roles.

· Give principals more latitude to make decisions about personnel and resources—particularly at high-performing schools—but do so while also setting statewide curricula.

To inform its work, the coalition hired the Boston Consulting Group, which has advised district leaders in Chicago and New Orleans. The Rodel Foundation gave $2.2 million to the project, and the Los Angeles-based Broad Foundation donated $1.35 million.

Architects of the plan say a critical part of putting it in place will be the creation of a new organization, the Delaware Public Education Partnership, as an ongoing advocate for following through on the recommendations by 2015.

Parts of the plan are likely to generate debate as they are turned into policy measures, which organizers pledge will begin to happen within months. Business leaders may be asked to back increases in public spending. Unions may face changes in labor pacts.

Wayne A. Smith, a Republican who is the majority leader of the state House of Representatives, called the plan “incredibly costly” and questioned its scope. “The system gets whipsawed every couple years with another group giving their ideas.”

Barbara Grogg, the president of the Delaware State Education Association, said that although she supports the overall goals of the plan, her group hasn’t signed off on any details about carrying it out.

“How it’s implemented, and the impact on members, will decide which direction we take as we move down the road,” said Ms. Grogg, whose union is an affiliate of the National Education Association. “There’s a lot of hard work to do, and it’s going to get harder.”

But Mr. Herdman said the fact that so many different groups were involved in the early discussions bodes well.

“I think it was a minor miracle that we had everyone at the table,” he said. “It’s going to establish a foundation for the tough battles ahead.”

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A version of this article appeared in the October 25, 2006 edition of Education Week as Coalition Calls for Overhaul of Del. Education System


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