Tuesday, April 26, 2011

Education Reform Hits Speed Bump in Delaware

Delaware's Cristina School Board found one process for improving performance at two underperforming schools may have not proceeded as they expected. The process in question related to what is called "reconstitution" or releasing the staff from the schools, have them reapply to that school if they choose or seek placement at a different school. No one gets fired, just shuffled around.

The first implementation of the process revealed some unexpected outcomes, the Cristina School Board deliberated, decided to reject the results, and seek process improvements for the next time around. Board President John Young spoke forcefully on the process and those words went viral. A few days later Delaware's Govenor Markell announced his intention to freeze $11 million Race to the Top funding that was earmarked to pay for all reform efforts in the district. Delaware's Secretary of Education supported the Governor's views.

Delaware's Department of Education, however, is giving the School Board 15 days "to show cause in writing why the Department of Education should not suspend any further payment to the Christina District of Race to the Top funds."

Pointing to the audio recording of the School Board meeting, Young defended the decision saying the intention was to correct and improve the process:
"We got a very small part of this wrong, let's get it right."

Stung by the "hyperbolic response" and obviously punitive, Young notes:
The political reactions of paid elected and appointed stewards of the public trust should not be aligned with the goal of bullying local school boards.

When that happens, nobody wins.

Remarkably, Secretary Arne Duncan joined in with public statements supported the freeze:
"Districts, like Christina, which signed on to the Race to the Top plan, made a commitment to dramatically improve the lives of children. Because Christina has backtracked on that commitment, the state of Delaware has made the tough but courageous decision to withhold Race to The Top funding. I believe that is the right decision."

Personally, I find it unusual for the U.S. Secretary of Education to interject into a matter that State and local level staff should work out. Another look at the process would either validate the Board's decision or not. Reform efforts are disruptive and conducted without much history and practice. Under these circumstances why did Duncan fail to encourage a careful examination of the process for the sake of improvement; otherwise, those charged with implementation are required to do nothing more than follow orders, head down, mouth shut.

What kind of reform is this?



  1. The Mayor piles on over the placement of 19 teachers, calling the school board actions "criminal."

    A State Representative John Kowalko, who attended the meeting where the decision was made, calls the Governor's response "threat and coercion."

  2. What kind of reform is this?

    Reform by decree