When I was in fourth grade, I had a teacher named Mrs. Oliver. She used to watch me like a hawk to make sure that I was doing everything that I needed to do to be successful. You see, Mrs. Oliver knew my grandfather, who was a retired school principal, and my Mom, who was a guidance counselor. I knew that if Mrs. Oliver reported back to my family that I was acting up, I would catch “discipline” from three people. So, it was simply not worth it, both psychologically and physically, to be unfocused in school. While I certainly do not condone violence against children in the form of spanking, we do need to get back to the days when parents and the community cared about each child in school and they were unwilling to let ANYONE fall through the cracks.
As many of you know, the state of Delaware was awarded more than $100 million dollars in federal funding to improve education in our public schools. This is an incredible opportunity to provide us with the resources for state-wide reforms to create a world class school system in Delaware. This funding, entitled “Race To The Top” (RTTT), was given to only two states in the nation – Delaware and Tennessee. Delaware was chosen as one of the states because of our comprehensive plan to reform our schools, our willingness to draft new laws to support these policies and our commitment to create practices to improve outcomes for students.
However, some Delawareans have become skeptical of educational missions, citing programs like “No Child Left Behind” and the growth of the charter movement in the state. There are also concerns with the reach of some of the goals of RTTT such as 100% of students will meet standards on math and reading exams by 2013-2014 and the 50% reduction in the black-white achievement gap on the National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP) test, which is the largest nationally representative and continuing assessment of what America’s students know and can do in areas such as mathematics, reading, science, writing, and U.S. history. To be clear, I believe that Delaware can rise to the task, but it is going to take a lot more than money, the Feds, state government, and teachers. It depends on the parents.
According the Vision 2015 website, Delaware’s RTTT planning was based on the school system in Edmonton, Alberta, Canada, which has some of the best public schools in the world. Edmonton has approximately the same number of schools, students, and per –student spending as the state of Delaware; yet, they are among the Top 5 in the world academically. When you research their school system, you discover that their Mission is to “work with families and community partners to provide safe, caring, healthy, diverse, inclusive and equitable learning experiences that engage students to achieve their full potential in an increasingly interdependent world”. The first sentence of the Delaware Department of Education’s Mission is “Delaware’s Department of Education is committed to promoting the highest quality education for every Delaware student by providing visionary leadership and superior service”. You can see the difference – Edmonton puts families and community partners FIRST.
While RTTT funding addresses many goals inside the walls of our public schools which make them more innovative and technologically savvy, we need a groundswell of movement in our communities. When did schools become an autonomous, bureaucratic entity as opposed to the lynchpin of everyone’s neighborhood? When did attending Parent Teacher Association meetings and Teacher Conferences become a nuisance instead of an opportunity for a dialogue about how my child learns effectively? What happened to the standards and expectations of education that parents set for their children as opposed to seeing teachers as glorified babysitters so that you can go to work?
In his pitch for RTTT funding, Gov. Jack Markell said that in Delaware, we can execute our RTTT plan faster and cheaper than any other state in the union because of all of the attributes that make Delaware special, which is absolutely correct. But parents, it’s time to step up. If you are already a parent who steps up, bring two people who don’t with you!
There are a number of ways to get involved but the easiest thing to do is to pick up the phone when your child’s teacher calls you and attend parent teacher conferences. The Rodel Foundation is launching an initiative called Voices 4 Delaware Education, a new organization dedicated to informing the public about education reform in Delaware, building support, and empowering citizens and schools; they would love the support of the community at large. You can run for or participate in the elections for school boards. You can lobby on your own for education reform. Finally, work with your churches, community groups, and neighbors to reach out to children and mentor them. RTTT has provided needed funding for infrastructure but we, as parents, need to find creative ways to use that infrastructure to help our children succeed. Make a competition out of having your child’s teacher deemed “Highly Effective” and share that vision with other parents in the classroom. Help identify a person to be in charge of “community engagement” with a school and support that person in the role. The state has set aside $8.5 million per year to continue the RTTT initiatives, so they have made a commitment to the long-term success of the program. It is time for all parents to mobilize and show that same commitment.