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.