At the ninth annual National Summit on Education Reform sponsored by the Foundation for Excellence in Education in Washington, D.C., former Governor Jeb Bush, the keynote speaker, told the attendees that they had to, “Be big, be bold, or go home.” Tweaking has a role to play in improving education but the current situation demands boldness.
In “Choice, Charter Schools, and Education Reform,” by former president Red Clay Consolidated School District president William E. Manning, he described the current Delaware school system as a “large bureaucracy” which he referred to as “the Blob.” He also observed that, “…the system isn’t worth repair…” and “…let’s just pitch it and get a new one…”
Manning recommended a confederation of independent schools each locally managed and free of regulations about who to hire and how to teach. The schools would be evaluated only by performance data that would be shared with the public. Since district responsibilities would be significantly reduced, the new system would need only a small administrative cadre. Professional assistance would be provided to schools but only if they requested it. Districts would offer, “…helpful resources rather than regulation.” Teachers would be offered meaningful professional development as their status in the system would be elevated along with appropriate compensation.
The Caesar Rodney Institute is supporting a systemic change to our education bureaucracy called the “BOLD PLAN.” It significantly alters the way the current education system operates by empowering the individual schools to make operational decisions to best serve their students. The concept was introduced in Delaware in 1995 and was supported by the Governor, the Delaware Department of Education, and the business community. A few charter schools were to pilot the idea and to serve as models for the traditional public schools. Through a controlled growth plan and appropriate administrative development, every traditional public school would eventually have the same decision-making authority as a charter school with a much simplified district oversight function.
CRI’s BOLD PLAN incorporates the best features of the 1995 Charter School Law and the Memorandum of Understanding designed by Delaware’s DOE for Priority Schools. If the changes proposed in the MOU were expected to raise the performance of the state’s lowest performing schools, why wouldn’t those changes be offered to all public schools?
The new system would recognize the importance of autonomy for local school leadership (principals and teachers answerable to parents), the need to focus on performance-based accountability, the value of customized education, and the critical role played by an established school culture of success.
BOLD legislation would specify areas of local decision-making. Such areas would include: 1) Authority to hire and dismiss all staff; 2) All programing inputs (school calendar, schedule, curriculum aligned to Delaware standards, instructional practices and methodology, textbooks, technology, etc.); 3) Marketing and planning; 4) Support services including transportation, food, and maintenance; 5) Budget preparation and expenditure control with surplus operating funds retained by the school. Schools will have autonomy from any district or Delaware DOE requirements not mandated by state or federal law.
District school board responsibilities would include: 1) Hiring and performance evaluations of Chief Education Officers (CEOs, formerly, principals); 2) Approval of proposed annual budgets and major capital projects; 3) Review of appeals of CEO decisions; 4) Operational support in areas such as legal, financial, personnel, facilities, etc. as requested by CEOs; 5) Facilitation of intra and inter district meetings of CEOs if requested by them.
For a state the size of Delaware, nineteen school districts is more than what is needed. New York City and Los Angeles have many more students but each has only one school district. Any cost savings could be used for additional expenses that may be incurred by the transition.
The BOLD PLAN complements Delaware’s other education improvement efforts (Visions, Races, etc.). In fact, it may even complete them. At the very first Vision 2015 meeting hosted by Dan Rich, then Provost of the University of Delaware, he ended the meeting by telling the attendees that if they wanted to improve Delaware’s public schools they had to be bold and, if they didn’t want to be bold, they should get out. Hmmmm, it seems that Dan was way ahead of Jeb.
Ron Russo, founding president of the Charter School of Wilmington and former principal at St. Mark’s is a Senior Fellow with the Caesar Rodney Institute.