Election 2010 Implications for Education: Reach Higher and Spend Smarter

November 11th, 2010

Category: News

With the Republicans’ victories in the midterm elections come shifting priorities around education reform.  While Delaware largely missed this political wave, a new national landscape will still have a profound impact on our state.  There likely will be more support in Washington D.C. for quality charter schools but less support for future federal funding initiatives such as Race to the Top and deeper investments in early childhood education.  This presents challenges and opportunities.

The mantle of leadership likely will continue to be placed squarely on Delaware’s shoulders.  Eight of the 11 states and D.C. that won Race to the Top (RTTT) experienced a shift in leadership last week.  Governor Markell won’t be up for re-election for two years, which has given Education Secretary Lowery a headstart on other states in building a strong team. Believe it or not, while we are looking to learn from any state we can, the rest of the country is often looking to us.  

So, I continue to believe we have all of the building blocks to create a world class system – a shared vision, strong leadership, and a broad coalition—but  our challenge is to use the one-time award of $119 million RTTT dollars to transform our system rather than simply reinforce what was built for another era.

The days of big federal checks are behind us.  How can we create a system of schools that prepares our children to go toe-to-toe with the world’s best in this uncertain economy?  We have no choice and frankly, we are luckier than most.  Forty-six states are likely to report a deficit in 2011.  Delaware is not one of them and we also have nearly $120M in new monies in our education coffers.  

The easiest thing to do would be to spend these extra dollars on more of what we already do.  This would be a monumental mistake.  The onus is on all of us to push harder and spend smarter.  Will we revisit the common sense cost efficiency recommendations of the 2008 LEAD report, such as buying wholesale rather retail across our 38 charters and districts?  Can we push on waivers for more flexible use of the federal dollars we already get, e.g. the millions of Title II dollars the state gets for professional development?  As new charter schools come on line, can we reduce the costs of new school development by using available public space (as they do in NY and IL), rather than building brand new multi-million dollar facilities? 

As we think about training thousands of teachers on our new academic standards, can we deliver that training online, according to educators’ schedules, rather than jamming hundreds of them into a gymnasium to watch a PowerPoint?  As we think about creating inspired classrooms for our students, can we invest in our technology network to provide customized tutorials and real-time opportunities for our students to create projects with their peers from around the world?  In short, this window of austerity is an opportunity to spend smarter and build better.

While last Tuesday represented a significant shift in the political landscape, our focus remains unchanged: world-class education for every Delaware child, with no exceptions or excuses.  Our collective challenge is to use this extraordinary opportunity to redesign how we get there. 

As a nation we are on the cusp of making transformational change in our schools. Delaware is at the forefront of that work.   The question remains: Can we leverage this amazing opportunity to build for a future we can’t yet even imagine?

Paul Herdman




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