U.S. Secretary of Education visits Delaware schools

 (Shana O'Malley/for NewsWorks)

(Shana O'Malley/for NewsWorks)

U.S. Secretary of Education Arne Duncan got an exclusive look on Wednesday at educational initiatives taking place in the First State.

Duncan, along with Gov. Jack Markell, visited two Wilmington High Schools where they met with Delaware teachers, students and state education officials. There, they had an opportunity to see progress made with Delaware’s Race to the Top program, as well as the results of STEM initiatives and college preparation programs.

It’s been four years since Delaware was awarded $119 million in Federal Race to the Top Funds for education reform, and Duncan reported he is seeing improvements from Delaware each year.

“It’s a really inspiring day,” Duncan said. “There’s nothing easy about this. To be clear, the Race to the Top money was not a gift, it was an investment, an investment because we believed in the leadership of this state.”

Duncan highlighted that Delaware expanded access to high-quality preschools, improved test scores and cut its school dropout rate in half.

“You guys are thinking hard and working hard on better teacher and principal evaluation and support,” Duncan said. “You’re doing absolutely cutting-edge work on trying to attract and retain great talent in historically disadvantaged communities. No one, no one, is doing that well at scale.”

Roundtable with students

During a roundtable discussion with Mount Pleasant High School students, Duncan and Markell heard stories of disadvantaged students benefiting from opportunities and programs that assisted them in reaching their senior year of high school and preparing them for either college or for the workforce.

At the beginning of the school year, the state implemented a partnership with College Board to provide high-scoring, low-income students with the opportunity to apply to college for free.

Markell said they’ve already met their goal of having every eligible student apply for college.

“There are so many kids across the country who can absolutely be successful going to college but who never previously applied because they come from a family where it’s not something they think about, or talk about or they don’t think they’ve got the money,” Markell explained. “So, we launched this partnership with College Board, we had very specific goal, we wanted to make sure that every kid who could be successful in college, applied. And in fact, we got there.”

The state does not yet have statistics that detail the number of applicants compared to the number of students attending college this fall.

Over the past several years, Delaware schools made major improvements in their technology curriculum by implementing STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering and Math) programs. As a result, increasing numbers of students have expressed interest in pursuing STEM careers.

Duncan noted that approximately one million teachers nationally will retire in the next four to six years, and that hiring new STEM teachers will be vital to the growth of the program.

Delaware has until September to spend its remaining Race to the Top funds; many states who received the aid are currently asking for deadline extensions. Duncan said it’s too early to say whether or not the requests will be granted.

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