Looking Ahead to 2014
As I look back on 2013, it was a good year. Nevertheless, we have some hard conversations ahead.
It was a good year in Delaware’s schools for several reasons. We passed some important legislation on charter schools and teacher training. The state garnered national recognition from the Education Commission of the States, Harvard University, the Policy Innovators in Education Network, and the Data Quality Campaign. And a national study found that Delaware’s growth on NAEP over the last couple of decades was the third fastest in the nation. However, the main reason it was a good year was because educators and policy makers alike rolled up their sleeves and focused on implementation.
Implementation is hard. It doesn’t gain as much attention as the passage of a new bill or winning an award, but it is essential to system change. Delaware educators deserve credit for doing the hard work of changing how they teach to meet the harder Common Core Standards and for supporting a new infrastructure to support early learning so that every child in the state has a level playing field when they enter kindergarten. Education leaders deserve credit for building in time every week to look at student performance; increasing professional development; ratcheting up how teachers are evaluated; raising the bar for all new entrants into the teaching profession; and opening up new pathways for teachers and principals like Teach For America and the Delaware Leadership Project, respectively. Collectively, these shifts, and many more, have led to some tough discussions among some educators, but it has also created energy and momentum in classrooms statewide.
Navigating change at any level requires good information. To this end, a Strategic Data Project (SDP) fellow, supported by a partnership with the Delaware Department of Education, Harvard University, the Longwood Foundation, and Rodel, was able to shine a light on the Delaware students’ college readiness, enrollment, and retention in ways that we have never seen before. The full study can be found here, but in short, we have some work to do. When the report was first released, I was sitting next to a senior district official who relayed that she was seeing a story about her students that she and her principals were now discussing for the first time. What the analysis found is that of 100 freshmen in Delaware’s high schools, on average, just 75 of those students made it to their high school graduation. And only 37 of those 100 freshmen immediately enrolled in college.
These data, against a backdrop of national research which suggests that close to 60% of jobs are going to require some level of education beyond high school, present a real challenge. It’s not a challenge that’s unique to Delaware, but one we need to face head on.
So, as we move into 2014, I remain inspired by the potential of our state to do something of national significance, but we still have a lot of implementation work to do; the core building blocks of higher standards and stronger educators are being laid, but far from set. In addition, we also need to squarely address with urgency the numbers that were identified in the SDP analysis. By rolling up our sleeves on the work that’s underway, we’ll be able to have those hard conversations—an essential step in creating a world class system of schools for Delaware.