Happy 2012: Full Steam Ahead

January 11th, 2012

Category: Early Childhood Education, News

As we take stock of 2011 and look to 2012, we ask ourselves: Are we closer to creating world-class schools for Delaware’s children? 

For me the answer is clearly, “yes.”  In fact, if Delaware’s public school system were a train, it would be moving at full steam.  Why? In 2011, the state adopted higher standards, aka the Common Core Standards; launched a new, computer-adaptive student assessment system known as DCAS; piloted a new evaluation system for the state’s nearly 10,000 employees; made deep, historic investments in early childhood education, thanks to Governor Markell and our legislature, and earned another $50 million through the federal Early Learning Challenge Fund; managed a broad mix of new teacher and leader training models; and fully committed to transforming ten of the state’s highest-need schools.

The capacity needed to do all of this is immense.  Secretary Lowery and the Delaware Department of Education, the governor’s office, and all educators statewide deserve a huge thank you for driving one of the most powerful periods of transformation our public schools have ever seen.

The people of Delaware should be genuinely proud of the work underway.  No matter where I travel now, Delaware is clearly seen as a state to watch.

This said, my recent trip to Singapore and Shanghai, where I met 17-year-olds conducting research on Parkinson’s disease and elementary students speaking fluently in English about being “globally-prepared and future-ready,” reminded me that we need to stay humble. We have to realize that not only do we need to keep this train moving, but also to think about how we can build even better ways for our children to get from points A to B, ways that we may need to design from scratch.

The good news is that change is possible, many nations have made tremendous gains in the last decade, and I continue to believe that Delaware is as well-positioned as any state in the nation to be a proof point for how the U.S. can regain its international footing.

As I look to 2012, what do I hope we see to keep momentum going?  Our main aspirations for the next year are that:

The state completes with quality…

  • All of the RTTT commitments currently on its plate.
  • Proactive policy decisions to sustain and grow the best of Race to the Top efforts (and let go of what does not work) before funding begins to dry up in 2014.
  • Our state’s new educator evaluation system so that it can serve as a first big step toward a more inspired, professional career path for educators.

The state takes action on…

  • Rethinking how we spend our limited education dollars because the “new normal” likely means we will need to do more with less.
  • Finally moving away from our rigid, 70-year-old “unit count” system and toward one that is more flexible and fair.
  • Expanding innovative school models that work (like the New Tech model at Seaford High, and Kuumba Academy Charter School) and reducing or stopping those that do not.
  • Shifting what we are teaching to better align with students’ interests and our rapidly changing world (e.g. more Mandarin and next generation learning).

The people of Delaware have a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to do what’s right for today’s children and for those of generations to come.  We are moving full steam ahead, but we have a lot of ground to cover, fast.

To keep moving at this pace will take all we can muster as a community.  It will require a commitment to keep learning, to engage in debate, and to swallow our pride when necessary.  Delaware’s secret sauce is that no one is looking to take credit.  There is an unspoken agreement that it’s not about making a point, it’s about making things happen.  Given the uncertainties this nation faces in 2012, my overriding hope is that this state, this community, can prove that change is possible.  That we can prove that America can reinvent itself, once again.

With faith in and appreciation to all our partners, best wishes for a Happy New Year.

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Paul Herdman




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