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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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Hispanic CREO2014

photo: hcreo.com

Yesterday, January 7, our Director of the Center for Economic Policy and Analysis (CEPA) Omar Borla appeared on 104.1 and 930 AM “La Exitosa” (the success) on the Cristian Tijerino show for a Spanish-language interview about the most recent Friedman Foundation poll on attitudes toward school choice. The interview transcript is available by request and we will begin to integrate more content towards the Hispanic community, which comprises nearly 8% of the state’s total population.

The observation Cristian made was that for many Hispanic families, lack of information about school choice options prevents them from ever considering alternatives such as charter schools or private schools. Since many parents are either not able or capable of homeschooling or cyber-schooling their children they are often left in the traditional public school system, typically in schools which lack the resources to properly educate Hispanic children. Many Hispanic children come from homes where one or both parents do not speak English and it is this language barrier which discourages many parents from being more active in their children’s education, whether that means not going to parent-teacher conferences or being able to help with homework.

Omar explained the poll results and pointed out the huge enthusiasm gap between people of ALL groups who supporter school choice versus those who don’t. For Hispanics 74% of parents and for Blacks over 70% of parents were supportive of the idea of charters and vouchers. You can read the full results by clicking that link but there were overwhelming majorities in every demographic group: ethnicity, age, gender, party affiliation, among others.

In regards to the Hispanic community, where language is often a barrier, the question is what to do to help bridge this gap. Cristian pointed out that in addition to a lack of information about education alternatives, two other barriers which exist are: lack of interest with many parents in regards to the children’s education (NOT the same as not caring- just means by and large accepting the status quo without personally seeking alternatives) and also the negative perception floated around about alternatives. Cristian cited one parent who told her he though charter schools were for “kids with learning problems.” Many told her they thought charter schools are private schools and thus they cannot afford them.

Omar answered this by showing a data point where support for charter schools, vouchers, and Education Savings Accounts went up in every demographic when the options were explained, meaning more people were supportive when the understood exactly what these ideas were. Understandably school choice isn’t good for every child but parents can and should be better educated about these opportunities. Efforts to misinform parents about what these options are (how else would a parent think charter schools were private schools) are well underway and it’s up to us to counter these false perceptions.

At the end of the day we have only one question for parents, grandparents, legal guardians, educators, principals, elected officials, appointed officials, community leaders, and everyone else: Of all these groups,  who is likely to know best what is best for the child? We’re going out on a limb and saying “Education Department bureaucrats” and “elected officials” are not going to receive the majority of votes.

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The College Board recently released new SAT data for 2013-2014 and for Delaware it doesn’t look any better than last year. On the positive side Delaware is no longer 51st in SAT scores and 16th out of 16 “High Participation Rate” states and D.C. (70% or greater participation). The state moved to 50th this year and 15th out of 16, surpassing Washington D.C. in both categories.

Total average SAT scores, class of 2013-2014:

Critical reading: 456

writing: 444

math: 459

Total: 1359

For college-bound seniors the numbers improve slightly:

Critical reading: 497

writing: 487

math: 513

Total: 1497

The number best estimated to predict success at the college level is a total score of 1550 for the entire SAT. Delaware scores nearly 190 points below average. 26 out of 51 states and D.C. reach this 1550 threshold. The CATO Institute studied Delaware and factored in the mandatory SAT testing, and even weighted we are still near the bottom. Even when factoring in only high school seniors who attended any college institution this year, the average scores were still below 1550.

Another interesting note: for college-bound seniors, writing scores dropped 10 points from 2006 for both boys and girls, and both boys and girls score 32-34 points lower respectively in reading than in 1972. Math was up 4 points combined since 1972, with girls making slightly bigger gains.

Excluding the writing section, in 1972 the average college-bound high school senior in Delaware earned a 1039 on their SAT’s, while the class of 2014 had a mean of 1010. Meaning, we’ve DROPPED in proficiency, particularly in reading, from the 1970s. Remember, these are seniors who went to college this year. We aren’t counting those who didn’t go.

The only real way we can move forward is to agree that only a robust range of education options for children will allow children to learn as best they can. A one-size-fits-all public school model does little to understand that some students do better in bigger classrooms, others smaller. Some students may do better with the parent as a teacher and for others cyber school may be a better choice. Even among charter and magnet schools there are diverse options, such as the First State Military Academy set to open in Clayton later this year, which is a Junior ROTC program charter school for which some students will benefit from more than others who enter. For some kids and parents issues like safety, school hours, or programs will determine the best options.

The point is we want a system which allows parents or the children’s legal guardians to choose the place best suited for the kids. There is absolutely no reason a child’s fate should be determined by their zip code or that a child should attend a school which either a) is not serving them properly, or b) is not suited to the child’s best method of learning, simply to appease those whose primary interest is keeping the system as-is.

It’s time we made education options available for all children. Visit our website www.caesarrodney.org and sign up for our e-mail newsletters. See what you can do today to make tomorrow’s education a better experience for all children.

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