Education group presents vision for Delaware schools

     (Vision Coalition of Delaware Facebook photo)

    (Vision Coalition of Delaware Facebook photo)

    A familiar group of education power players have big plans for Delaware schools.

    Delaware should expand early childhood education, embrace personalized learning, and update its school funding formula, according to a new plan released Wednesday by an influential group of education advocates.

    The plan—dubbed “Student Success 2025″—establishes a 10-year blueprint for Delaware’s public schools. It comes nine years after Vision 2015, a similar effort that helped shape the First State’s current education reform agenda.

    The team that helped craft the plan, known as the Vision Coalition, includes Delaware’s outgoing secretary of education, the president of the state’s teacher’s union, locals superintendents, business leaders, and other prominent community members. Most of them were present for Wednesday’s unveiling, which represented something of a kumbaya moment for Delaware’s education community.

    “I’m not sure you’ll find another state in the country [where] this range of folks can talk to each other,” said Paul Herdman, president and CEO of the Rodel Foundation of Delaware, which provided money and staff support to the Vision Coalition.

    That hopeful message comes during a contentious time in Delaware education, with debates raging over the Common Core State Standards and the new Smarter Balanced state assessment. Student Success 2025 attempts to find a common cause by steering clear of those controversies and instead focusing on a constellation of interconnected ideals such as increased flexibility for students, broader integration of technology, and added attention to soft skills like adaptability and problem-solving. 

    The new plan has 47 recommendations filed under six “core areas:”

    Early learning
    Personalized learning
    Post-secondary success
    Educator support and development
    Fair and efficient funding
    System governance, alignment, and performance

    Among the recommendations are calls to provide money for schools to experiment with personalized learning, increase home visits for “at-risk” children before they get to kindergarten, and create a funding system where public dollars “follow each student, enabling them to take courses from a variety of approved providers.”

    Though the report does not detail how the state might achieve those goals, the Vision Coalition does have a track record of getting things done.

    Similarities and Differences

    Vision 2015, which was released in 2006, urged Delaware to “create the best public education system in the world” and said the state “must be bold” in its pursuit of that goal.

    Nine years later, Delaware’s student test scores still hover around the national average. But the plan did advance policies that wound up near the top of Delaware’s education agenda. That includes expanding language education, raising standards, reforming the teacher salary structure, and investing in early childhood education. It also birthed a nonprofit organization, the Vision Network, whose executive director went on to become Delaware’s secretary of education.

    There are some substantive similarities between the old plan and Student Success 2025. Both cited early childhood education as an area of focus. Both advocated for changes to Delaware’s school funding formula, which dates back more than half a century and doesn’t, according to the Vision Coalition, provide principals with enough leeway in how they use public funds.

    The plans appear to differ in tone, however, when it comes to measuring student success. Vision 2015 endorsed “a stronger school accountability system, increasing focus on student achievement. Though Student Success 2025 maintains the need to establish “measurable goals,” it also states that “when it comes to students … measuring ongoing success extends well beyond the limits of our traditional battery of tests.”

    The Vision Coalition Leadership team consists of 13 members. The coalition’s steering committee has another 19 members. The group also said it canvassed another 4,000 Delawareans while constructing the plan, including 1,300 students.

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