Painting a Portrait of Delaware’s Teachers

April 19th, 2013

Category: Policy and Practice

They say a picture is worth a thousand words. Yesterday, a portrait of Delaware’s teacher workforce was unveiled as part of Harvard’s Strategic Data Project[1] – and the preliminary results show both the value of data and areas of improvement here in The First State.

The report, titled “Delaware Educator Diagnostic: An Analysis of The First State’s Teaching Force,”covers recruitment, placement, development, evaluation, and retention of teachers within our public schools. Sifting through the data, it’s clear that we have areas in which to improve, particularly at schools that serve predominately low-income students.

Looking across the state, there are a few tidbits that jump right off the page. First, teachers demonstrate significant growth in their ability over the first few years inside a classroom and then plateau after year four. In addition, teachers with Master’s Degrees perform no better or worse than those without. This becomes problematic because at least sixty cents of every dollar on public education goes towards teachers’ salaries, which are driven by classroom experience and attainment of educational credits – which, as the data shows, have limited impact on student learning. In addition to effectiveness, we see that novice educators who are still improving their craft are more likely to be placed with lower-performing students both within and between schools, exacerbating the problems of low student performance.

The problems get more acute when comparing those that work with low-income students compared to their more affluent peers. On the recruitment side, it is clear teachers don’t look and sound like the students they teach. And while this is no doubt attributable to opportunities previously unavailable to women and people of color in other professions, it is an area of concern we must address. And on the retention side, we see significantly greater turnover at these schools – which only intensifies problems of instability and inequality within these communities.

Through Race to the Top, we’ve taken initial steps to address many of these areas. Whether it’s recruiting top talent through Teach For America, providing continuous feedback as part of DPAS II, or offering educators a voice in improving their school culture through TELL Delaware, our state has started to move the needle around these areas. As a state and country, it is incumbent on us to get this right. Some of the best school systems in the world–such as Finland, Singapore, and Korea–have focused on these efforts with great success for their students.

Thinking big picture, we now have data that was available but never unearthed. This information is critical to helping determine what’s working and what isn’t so that the state can make smarter decisions around human capital. We hope Rodel’s investment in the project catalyzes a long-term, sustainable approach to research and development at the Department – which will yield enormous dividends for our students and teachers working in schools.

Delaware is on the move—we’ve catalyzed an education renaissance. And while initial results are mixed, we believe Delaware has the courage and creativity to continue pushing forward in implementing strong new policies, based on research and with local innovation, as part of a coherent strategy—which will no doubt reap benefits for our students generations to come.


[1] The Harvard Strategic Data Project works with states, districts, and charter school management organizations to, “transform the use of data in education to improve student achievement.”

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Brett Turner



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