Can we be the next Kalamazoo?

December 20th, 2010

Category: News

Kalamazoo, Michigan is not a place you hear of often.  Yet back in 2005, something happened that changed everything for the unassuming town of 80,000: “The Kalamazoo Promise,” an anonymously established and endowed offering to public school graduates of tuition at any Michigan public university or college. Five years later, what was once bleak now holds promise, and the town is thriving—all because of one thing: an overhaul of the public education system. 


As Conor Williams described two weeks ago in his opinion piece in the Washington Post, the change in Kalamazoo schools had a catalytic effect, reversing the community’s loss of jobs, population and money, and turning it into an attractive location for economic investment and innovation. Such is the power of the right gift at the right time. 


Delaware isn’t there yet, but we are laying the groundwork for fundamentally changing the trajectory of our children’s future and for laying the foundation to rebuild our economy.  The work underway, often invisible to most, is massive.  Millions of dollars are being poured into the establishment of new, higher standards; a new online student assessment system that will give parents and teachers clearer, more helpful information; and programs that will strengthen the impact of every teacher and principal in the state.  We likely won’t see much of a bump in performance this year, but we are on the right course.


As someone who taught for seven years, I can’t recall a time when there was more going on in education.  The job is inherently tough, and with so many changes in and outside the classroom, the job probably seems overwhelming.  Yet despite all the hoopla, whether we meet or surpass the gains of Kalamazoo is going to come down to our teachers. It is easy for those of us outside the classroom to be excited about education reform, because we’re not the ones who have to do the actual work.  We can talk about standards and measurements, and how we’re “perfectly positioned for success” until we’re blue in the face, but at the end of the day, we’re still not the ones making it happen.


So, as a parent of three children enrolled in public school, and someone who truly believes that we are better positioned than any state in the country to be a national leader, thank you to all those at the state, district, charter, and classroom levels who are rebuilding the plane while it’s in flight. 


Paul Herdman



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