University of Delaware
Gov. Jack Markell, left, discusses educational reform in the state.

Evaluating Race to the Top

Conference reviews Delaware's education reform


2:29 p.m., Oct. 19, 2011--“Systemically improving public education is not for the faint-hearted, nor is it for those with a short attention span.” That was University of Delaware President Patrick Harker’s opening statement for the Vision 2015 Conference on Tuesday, Oct. 18, and a dominant message throughout the day.

Entitled Delaware’s Race to Deliver: Getting it Done…and Done Right, this day-long conference, held at UD’s Clayton Hall, reported on Delaware’s progress in implementing Vision 2015 and what’s being done to advance the state's Race to the Top (RTTT) initiatives. It brought together almost 300 educators, administrators, parents, business leaders and community advocates to hear how these initiatives are being implemented, learn about the challenges that have developed and discuss how to successfully move forward to best serve the state's students.

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Delaware is one of 12 states to receive RTTT funding. The core mission of RTTT is to ensure children are provided an education that leaves them fully prepared for college and the workplace. This is especially challenging in today’s quickly evolving worldwide economy that demands highly skilled workers. 

While the RTTT program outlined goals for education reform, it did not establish an implementation plan. States have been given the flexibility to figure out what works for them based on their individual needs and resources. State have experienced their own victories and trials as they have worked through the process, and implementers are encouraged to learn from others as they progress.

For Delaware, the year and a half since it was approved for RTTT funding has been a learning experience. Lillian M. Lowery, secretary of the Delaware Department of Education, said, “There have been some bumps in the road. Not everything has gone smoothly.  But we learn from each step in the process. If something doesn’t go as planned, we back up, start over and do it better the next time.”

Delaware was selected as a RTTT recipient in part because of the initiatives that were already under way as a result of Vision 2015.  With the additional funding, Delaware has been able to advance key initiatives including:

  • adopting national Common Core State Standards for a rigorous and consistent curriculum;
  • implementing an assessment system that returns better, more timely data on students’ achievement;
  • developing a teacher evaluation system that better links educator effectiveness to student performance;
  • expanding initiatives to get effective teachers and leaders into high-need subjects and schools;
  • coaching principals and school administrators through the challenges of leadership and change;
  • expanding professional development programs that help teachers become more effective; and
  • intensively researching curriculum and pedagogy to influence what and how students are taught.

The challenge now facing the state is finding a way to keep the momentum going. As a result of this program, teachers, administrators and leaders have been given additional responsibilities, while being asked to continue their primary mission -- educating children. Presenters and attendees alike agreed that the path to transformation is not an easy one. They said they understand that in order to succeed, they will need to rethink how things get done, reprioritizing and in some cases eliminating programs or processes.  

The only way to succeed is to continue moving forward.

“We know there will be obstacles, but we can’t wait for perfection," said Mark Murphy, executive director of Vision Network. “Our students are depending on change, and it needs to be done now. This work will help improve our school system, our economy and, most importantly, our children’s future.” 

Lowery emphasized that Delaware is headed in the right direction. “We have a strong education plan, and a broad base of support from educators, business and community leaders," she said. "We have highly qualified and committed leaders from the Governor’s Office, the Department of Education and our districts, and we now have significant new resources through Race to the Top -- to invest in the changes that will make a real difference for our students, citizens and economy for years to come.”

Other speakers at the conference, which was the fourth annual UD Knowledge-Based Partnerships Conference on Public Education, included Gov. Jack Markell, Vision 2015 Chair Marvin N. (Skip) Schoenhals and Rodel Foundation founder William D. Budinger. To keep educational reform moving forward in the state, Markell said, it is important to continue to have frank and sometimes difficult discussions among interested parties.

Article by Alison Burris

Photos by Evan Krape and Kathy F. Atkinson

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