The Delaware school issue: Wilmington kids being taught the lesson of failure

The showdown over priority schools has Rob Tornoe’s attention.


Here is Rob’s commentary:

As I sat down to draw a cartoon about the ongoing feud between Governor Jack Markell and the Christina School District, I realized pretty quickly I had a problem. As someone who is paid to have an opinion, I’m almost embarrassed to admit I was torn. 

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For those of you that haven’t been following along, back in September six struggling Wilmington schools were named as Priority Schools, three in the Christina School District and three in the Red Clay School District (bafflingly, Wilmington is divided among four school districts). 

Markell wants to put high-paid principals in charge, eliminate some work rules and force teachers to re-apply for their jobs, all in exchange for pumping $5.8 million into the schools over the next four years in an effort to improve test scores. 

While I don’t have a huge problem with Common Core and the idea of setting some national standard for student achievement, I hate the overwhelming emphasis it places on testing over every other metric of learning. Teachers are judged on how well their students perform on the tests, so everything in the classroom revolves around teaching to those tests. Sadly, things like creativity, curiosity and problem solving, important attributes in our high-tech world, play second fiddle to easily-digestible test scores. 

On the flip side, I agree with Markell that the status quo can’t continue, and these schools have to give inner-city kids, surrounded by poverty and community problems, a save-haven where they can learn and thrive. 

Earlier this week, Markell issued a final ultimatum to Christina, which has opposed the state’s Priority Schools plan from the start and has failed to submit its own turnaround plans for the schools the state considers amenable. In essence, Christina three options to choose from by February 27: close its priority schools, turn them into charter schools or completely hand them over to an outside management company.

According to Avi Wolfman-Arent, a fourth option has also emerged – allow Christina to hand over its Priority Schools to Red Clay, which is much more willing to go along with Markell’s plans.  

To me, the move is pretty telling. Christina has been fighting Markell for months on the basis they’re standing up for the rights of their students. But now that an option as emerged for them to wipe their hands clean of under-performing students entirely, they’re interested? 

Then it finally hit me. The cartoon shouldn’t be about Markell’s position versus Christina’s, it should be about the kids themselves. I can’t imagine what it must be like for students to go to class every day and constantly hear how their school is terrible, how it needs to be shut down and how they’re under-performing versus their white, suburban peers. 

How can you expect kids, some already dealing with the suffocating issues of poverty and safety, to thrive while being stuck in that sort-of negativity? 

So my suggestion to all the so-called adults is to stop shouting at each other, stop dismissing ideas because they’re not yours and figure out a plan you can all agree on to help these innocent kids thrive. 

Because right now, the only lesson your teaching them is failure. 


Rob Tornoe is a cartoonist and a WHYY contributor. Follow Rob on Twitter @RobTornoe

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