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Archive for October, 2017

Caesar Rodney was born to two young, first-time parents living in the three lower counties on the Delaware – in fact, he came into this life so quickly that his mother was relieved of her labor and able to hold her newborn baby before the midwife even arrived at their home, situated on a small farm outside of Dover. More children came, but both parents died by the time Caesar was 17. Although he had been attending Latin school in Philadelphia, Caesar saw it as his duty to come home and care for his younger siblings. Fortunately, the influential Ridgely family took Caesar under their wing, helping him get his affairs in order and ushering him into the study of law and a life of public service. Caesar became High Sheriff of Kent County at the ripe age of 26 and would go on to fill more Delaware public offices than anyone since.

Never the ambitious politician, and too busy with public service to even keep a personal diary, Rodney would soon find himself in the midst of the American Revolution, choosing to side with the patriot cause while keeping a cool head as the gentleman his constituents and fellow statesmen knew him to be. As things were heating up in the conflict between the colonies and the crown, Rodney had his own health issues to worry about. He had a condition we now know as asthma, which had no treatment in Rodney’s day. Worse yet, a cancerous tumor developed on his face, and the doctor had to remove the entire thing, operating down to the bone and cauterizing the wound with liquid-hot mercury. Although he was rather good-humored about his body’s poor humor, Rodney wore a green silk scarf around his face and neck in order to spare others the site of his disfigurement.

When the time came to vote on Lee’s resolution of independence on July 1, 1776, Caesar Rodney was resting at his family farm after several weeks spent quelling a loyalist rebellion near Lewes. Delaware’s other two delegates, Thomas McKean and George Read, were in attendance and had previously agreed to vote “yes” as this was the understanding amongst the three men and the remainder of Delaware’s legislature. For several reasons, the July 1st vote on the resolution was unsuccessful, and Delaware’s vote was split, with McKean voting for and Read voting against. Rodney received a letter from McKean that night, pleading for his presence at the next day’s vote. Riding through thunder and rain – and perhaps even a hailstorm – Rodney rode the eighty miles in an unprecedented fourteen hours and arrived in time for the vote with mud splattered up to his waist and still wearing his boot spurs.

Thanks to Rodney, Delaware’s vote was for independence, and all thirteen colonies were in agreement. For his devotion to the common good instead of his personal comfort, Caesar Rodney is honored by Delaware through the placement of his statue in the crypt of the U.S. Capitol.

-By Rachel Rohm, Historical Interpreter, The First State Heritage Park

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In 1995, the Delaware legislature passed a law allowing the creation of “charter” schools. These schools were created to add more choice into the Delaware education system, and since the first charter school opened its doors in 1996, they have strived to do just that. As a former student of the Charter School of Wilmington, I have had the opportunity to gain an in-depth look at the way a charter school functions. And as an even older alumnus of H.B. du Pont middle school, I have also seen the way a traditional public school runs. While there are noticeable differences in my experiences at these schools, the key differences stem from the way these two types of schools operate.

Charter schools are given more flexibility than public schools in their operations due largely to the way they are funded. While charter schools are partially funded the way public schools are— through state funding per pupil— they lack state funding for capital expenditures, which is why schools like the Charter School of Wilmington find themselves sharing a building with Cab Calloway School of the Arts. Because many charter schools have far different curriculums than public schools, they receive much more supervision from the state education agency and are subject to increased accountability academically. However, this increased accountability and decreased funding gives charter schools something priceless: freedom. Teachers are given more freedom to teach how and what they want. For example, students at the Charter School of Wilmington can take classes such as Anatomy, Differential Equations, and even Kinesiology, which are not offered at other high schools. This incentive draws more qualified teachers to charter schools, even when compensation is equal to or below that of public schools. Schools like the Charter School of Wilmington offer a base pay plus an end of year bonus to all of their teachers, thus promoting accountability and giving their teachers the opportunity to make more money than their public school counterparts. This freedom is also why many charter schools have focuses on STEM classes or other subjects. Ultimately, charter schools and public schools both exist to benefit the students of Delaware. However, charter schools take a tradeoff of increased pressure from the state and a loss of funding in order to have the freedom necessary to run the school the way they believe is best for their students.

According to a study done by the Rodel Foundation of Delaware, in the past decade charter school attendance has risen 106% while private schools have seen their enrollment drop about 29%. At the same time, public school attendance has steadily increased. Many people argue that charter schools take high achieving students from public schools. However, statistics like these show a different picture, and the argument can be made that charter schools are actually drawing kids that would normally go to private schools, thus increasing the attendance of the Delaware education system in total. The rise in charter school attendance is also likely a result of mounting frustrations with the Delaware public school system, which ranked 26th in US News’ ranking of state public education systems. Rising academic expectations of charter schools has led many parents, who would normally choose private schools, to view charter schools as a viable option. And with schools like the Charter School of Wilmington and Newark Charter scoring far above the average on state testing, parents are trying harder than ever to get their kids into successful charter schools.

As a Charter School of Wilmington school alumnus researching charter schools, I was surprised to learn that the history of charter schools in Delaware is not as clean as one might hope. Many charter schools, even some opened as recently as last year, suffered from financial troubles and administrative mismanagement. Others found issues meeting enrollment expectations and even saw below average student academic performance on state testing. Many charter schools have been closed since 1996, when the first charter schools were opened, and most people would see this as an example for why charter schools are not the answer for Delaware’s education problems. However, I believe that these closings are healthy and represent a higher level of accountability not found in public schools. Meanwhile, the charter schools that do remain open offer specialized education, often at a higher level than public schools. And with the help of groups like the Delaware Charter Schools Network, charter schools can help one another overcome starting issues and successful charters can show the way for struggling ones.

Because of where I live and the construction of Delaware feeder patterns, in 8th grade I was on track to go to Dickinson High School. In the 2015-2016 year, Dickinson recorded a 28.11/50 on ELA Proficiency, a 16.67/50 on Math Proficiency, and a 3.51/25 on Science Proficiency. Conversely, the Charter School of Wilmington scored a 50/50, 49.85/50, and a 23.13/25 on the same tests in 2015-2016. Based on results like these, I applied to St. Marks, Salesianum, Delaware Military Academy, Conrad School of the Sciences, the Charter School of Wilmington, and I choiced into A.I. du Pont. I applied to six high schools to avoid my local public high school. When I told this story to my cousins from Georgia, they could not believe it, as they had just enrolled to their local high school as their first and last resort. However, with the variability in state testing shown above, my application process was a necessary one. The inconsistency of academic success of schools in Delaware reinforces the lack of faith many Delawareans have in their education system. The results of my very own one-person study reveals obvious results: charter schools allow an opportunity for a specific and often higher level of education than do public schools in Delaware.

-By Patrick Archer, Summer 2017 CRI Intern

 

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