Peanut Butter, Politicians, and the Black Eyed Peas

March 24th, 2011

Category: News

On Monday I had the opportunity to join Vice President Joe Biden, Education Secretary Arne Duncan, Delaware Governor Jack Markell, U.S. Senator Chris Coons, U. S. Representative John Carney, and our Education Secretary Lillian Lowery at Delaware’s Howard High School of Technology to celebrate the one year anniversary of Race to the Top.

It was an inspiring event. The students were great – attentive, patient, and energized (with lots of help from the Black Eyed Peas pounding through the speakers during the two-hour wait). This being Delaware, many of us got a chance to spend time with each of the speakers before they went on stage. In their comments they underscored not only the importance of completing high school, but the need to complete some form of college or technical training in order to get a decent job. They also discussed the availability of $40 billion dollars in Pell Grants to help parents cover those costs.

I also want to acknowledge Superintedent Steve Godowsky for his work to bring together the Department, the union, and the community to hammer out a plan for Howard.

While it may not have felt like it in the beginning, my sense was that the planning at Howard has opened some eyes about what is possible. Being one of four Partnership Zone schools selected last year to receive additional resources to help accelerate student achievement, it is on the forefront of this reform effort.

Beyond the fanfare, questions remain: Will new investments in Howard yield dramatically better results? Will the reforms statewide move the needle on college access and completion?

The jury is still out, principally because agreements have just been signed and funding hasn’t really begun to flow. That said, deep investments in Partnership Zone schools (over a million dollars) and real negotiations about the time and resources available to students strike me as having a significantly higher chance of success than the “spread the peanut butter” approach the state has employed for close to a decade of allocating $50,000 grants and requiring no real change to low performing schools.

While Monday was a political celebration, from what I know of the folks on the stage I believe they get it and are personally invested in seeing this through.

There is a time for celebration and a time for work. We see the work ahead of us clearly enough (look for our RttT first-year report of what has been done and what is still to come in a few weeks), so it was re-energizing to spend some time with students and to reflect on how far we have come.

Paul Herdman



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