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In reality, education reform is about economics. If done properly, it will attract/retain businesses, provide jobs, generate tax revenues, increase property values, reduce crime rates, and reduce the single largest item in the state’s budget. This was the direction taken in 1995 by Gov. Carper, State Superintendent Mike Ferguson, and a business consortium (DuPont, Bell Atlantic, Delmarva Power, Hercules, Zeneca, and Christiana Care) when they advocated for change in Delaware’s public education system.

To be clear, we must first distinguish between teaching and education. Teaching is a profession consisting mainly of teachers with special knowledge and training who exercise personal judgment in carrying out their responsibilities with students in the individual school buildings. The broader concept of education, however, is a business.

The 1995 concept of Delaware education reform was implemented in a pilot program at a school that proved to be very successful. In a study conducted by Dr. Gary Miron of the Evaluation Center at Western Michigan University at the request of the Delaware Department of Education and the State Board of Education, he observed that students at the new school were, “…outperforming their counterparts at similarly matched traditional public schools…”  The school achieved national recognition and generated a substantial operating surplus.

The essence of this bold plan was to shift operational decision-making authority from a school board and district into the individual school building. Control was now local and exercised by a principal working with teachers, answerable to parents with oversight and support provided by a board. Andreas Schleicher, a member of Rodel’s International Advisory Group, presented data at a Rodel Foundation Education Event to show that, when a school is given that type of autonomy, student performance is improved.

The significant reduction of district and board responsibilities should lead to a reduction of the number of school districts from 19 to 5 (1 in Sussex, 1 in Kent, 2 in New Castle, and 1 VoTech District.) New York City and Los Angeles each have only one school district.

Governor Carney’s first executive order creates a working group to consider a public-private partnership between Delaware’s Economic Development Office and the business community. Perhaps an education component should be added to the mix to reflect the previous business/education initiative. Recently the governor created a board to study government efficiency. Since education makes up about one-third of the state’s budget, if you have read this far in the article, you know this author’s position on education efficiency.

A reduced deficit, an improved economy, and higher student performance, now that’s a bold solution everyone can support.

Ronald R. Russo is a Senior Fellow at the Caesar Rodney Institute, and the Founding President of the Charter School of Wilmington.

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As CRI continues efforts to expand and bring the efforts for economic and personal freedom to all Delawareans we recognize the thoughts from our former Director of the Center for Education Excellence, Jim Hosley.

In question are two articles which appeared in the News Journal this week: One on the news about the ‘priority schools’ announcement from the state and one on Moyer Academy’s closing at the end of the 2014-2015 school year. Here are Jim’s observations and thoughts:

  • Agree the six Wilmington schools are not performing.  Where has the Markell Administration been? These schools have had the same level of under-performance since the start of his administration. People on the street in neighborhoods have been saying the system isn’t working and they’ve lost six years with Markell’s deaf ear.
  • What has Markell been doing: launched a major statewide program that has not improved results statewide; created a foreign language program with specific attention to Chinese to make DE a world education leader (in fact he allocated over $2 million dollars to that program – great help for these 6 schools!); secured $119 million for Race to the Top (RTTT) and $49 million for early education but nothing for problem schools; dropped funding for start up funds for more charter schools; and teachers complain there is no consistency and more stress in classroom precipitated by programs imposed from above the school level.
  • Markell is in fact pointing the finger at teachers. No doubt there are problem teachers as in any business and schools need to be able to hire and fire in order to find and retain the right teachers – a system-wide problem. However when there is system-wide failure there is a systemic problem. A problem in a state with a large DOE that has grown under his administration.
  • The Administration continues to look to spending when in fact the question isn’t how much but where education monies are spent. It is time to look at all spending outside the classroom, focus on reducing those that do not prepare students, and re-direct savings to appropriate spending including targeted programs to overcome social issues that contribute to an environment that does not encourage learning and participation.
  • Why should the state establish salary objectives for education leaders? Because they are buying support and they like spending. I have no trouble with paying more but in the context of our current spending then the solution is to understand effectiveness and redirect reductions to contributors. DOE has to be a focus and review because it has been in charge, is bloated and is ineffective. Question: Why do we need a DOE department that employs about 150 more people by population than the average state?
  • It was nice to see the sense of urgency . . . but using as justification that 2000 more students will more likely go to jail than get a job is simply a nice touch given everyone already knows the issue. Urgency should have been from day one of the Markell administration. A tenure that has contributed to the problem with cumulative results of than more than 12,000 students  have already failed to street and drugs — where has the Administration’s urgency been.

What we need.

  • All schools serve the public good so any solution must be local and include using public, private, faith-based, blended school and homeschool opportunities.
  • Parents equipped with ESA’s do not have to wait for another elaborate scheme that will probably results in same failed results of other governments plans; and don’t have to wait for a Vision 2025! They can send their children to schools that deliver today (and they have capacity to accommodate more and given monies available will quickly grow more public and private because the monopoly is not in charge) the math skills, reading skills, functional literacy, and solid work habits to allow their children to grow up and find a good job. We do see this in all charter schools in Wilmington yet the DOE closed one and is closing another that serve the most underserved. How about closing underperforming traditional public schools.
  • Parents able to decide the effectiveness of schools and teachers by directing the funds set aside in savings accounts will make all schools more accountable. In many ways private schools are more responsive, more accountable and more open to direct participation. Choice provides a chance to  improve public schools that will have to focus effectiveness and budgets on what parents value, that will overcome hierarchical organizations that impose rules and regulations, and that increase more in-school and at-home participation that has been limited by the need to comply with elaborate state, federal and union rules and behaviors.

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