Schoenhals calls for major reforms in public education
Marvin N. “Skip” Schoenhals, chairman of WSFS Bank, is chairman of Vision 2015.
Bill Lee (left), the Republican gubernatorial candidate, and Jack Markell, the Democratic gubernatorial candidate
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Click here for the complete text of Marvin Schoenhals' speech.


Click here to view or download a video of this conference session.


4:59 p.m., Oct. 3, 2008----Delaware's economic stability and prosperity hinges on the public education system, which urgently requires major reforms, Marvin N. “Skip” Schoenhals, chairman of WSFS Bank and chairman of Vision 2015, Delaware's landmark initiative to transform public education in the state, said during a daylong conference at the University of Delaware on Thursday, Oct. 2.

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During his presentation, “Making Vision 2015 Work: Meeting the Challenge,” Schoenhals said financial challenges that Delaware is facing, which are likely to continue for another couple of years, have led to calls for a solution similar to the Financial Center Development Act (FCDA) of 1981 that spurred an economic boom by allowing out-of-state bank holding companies to establish special purpose banking subsidiaries within the state of Delaware.

“The honest answer is that there is unlikely to be any such silver bullet like FCDA,” Schoenhals said. “If we create a world class education system, we will enrich Delaware far better and for far longer than the FCDA ever did.”

Schoenhals said that the success of FCDA was because Delaware pioneered the concept, which was far ahead when other states copied the idea and tried to catch up.

“We need the same sense of competitive urgency about education,” Schoenhals said. “If we get education right before any other state, we will also have another insurmountable lead and one that will last for a long time.”

Schoenhals, who was introduced by H. Raye Jones Avery, executive director of the Christiana Cultural Arts Center and member of the Vision 2015 implementation team, warned that using the financial challenges as a reason not to implement far-reaching education reforms will only deepen the financial problems.

Schoenhals said the current education system, which was developed in the 1800s and changed over the years through piecemeal adjustments, needs a major overhaul that requires wise allocation of money, sacrifice and flexibility by major stakeholders and the loosening of control by the state legislature.

Citing poor overall performance of students in the Delaware Student Testing Program (DSTP), Schoenhals said that cases of success have not been reflected throughout the state.

“Unfortunately, in spite of the success of some individual schools, the entire system has not moved forward. Therefore, from a public policy point of view, we have to say that there has been no improvement in the last five years in the key results of our education system. Hardly a recommendation for letting it stay as it is,” he said.

Schoenhals praised the quality and dedication of Delaware teachers and blamed the education system for not encouraging and rewarding individual or collective excellence.

“It's like putting some really good baseball players on a team and asking them to do what we hope the Phillies do -- win the World Series -- but without giving them a good training program or proper equipment or supportive coaching staff,” he said.

Schoenhals urged public funding for Vision 2015 and expansion to the entire education system. He added that the necessary changes must be implemented together instead of the incremental steps that have been taken in the past.

Schoenhals said the reforms must include allowing key decisions to be made at school level, higher standards for the DSTP, report cards for each school and teacher compensation based on quality and achievement, not just seniority.

He summed up the path to reform in four fundamental principles:

  • The only result that matters is children learning and student achievement increasing. "Every step we take must be directed at this goal. It is the heart of the Vision 2015 plan," he said;
  • Decisions must be guided by data, not by our opinions. "To get a great education system, Delaware must face the brutal facts all the time.";
  • Use public money wisely; and
  • Education is multifaceted and reform of education and improvement of education is also multifaceted. "To do it right we must take many interconnected steps. Piecemeal change is the major reason reform efforts in the past have made so little progress."

In response to Schoenhals' presentation, Bill Lee, the Republican gubernatorial candidate, challenged the conference participants to make sacrifices and raise education standards in Delaware to world standards. “It's time to stop talking the talk,” he said. “It's time to start walking the walk. It's time for the rubber to hit the road.”

Jack Markell, the Democratic gubernatorial candidate, issued a similar challenge and said that the education system needs new ideas and outstanding people. “It's one thing to show up at Clayton Hall, it's something else to visit our schools, to thank our teachers, to mentor our students, to pressure our legislature. It's something else to make the improvement of our schools your personal obligation.”

Article by Martin A. Mbugua
Photos by Kathy F. Atkinson and Kevin Quinlan