While updating RttT handicapping I missed important developments in Delaware.  It’s an important story for several reasons.  It’s a story of strong political leadership.  Delaware elected a smart and aggressive governor that will see this through with an empowered Secretary with direct line authority (equivalent of mayoral control at the state level).

It’s a story of a coherent reform plan that starts with internationally benchmarked standards, academic growth-based teacher evaluations, and a school turnaround Partnership Zone modeled on the Louisiana RSD.

It’s also a story of effective philanthropy.  The Rodel Foundation, led by Paul Herdman, has provided thoughtful advocacy and policy support for most of a decade.  The Vision 2015 plan, developed with some support from the Broad Foundation, has been the blueprint for Delaware reform.  It’s a great example of focused and sustained philanthropic investment.  What they set out to do was difficult and risky five years ago.  Rodel deserve credit for a bet-the-foundation sustained effort that, with RttT, is likely to pay off bigger than hoped.

In case you didn’t see Paul’s letter, it is attached in full below.

Dear Friends and Fellow Reformers,

As a nation, we are all standing at a crossroads when it comes to our schools.  President Obama has challenged every state to raise the bar and to define new paths to world-class schools.  As the head of a foundation that is committed to improving Delaware’s schools and our nation’s standing internationally, I want to share a brief update on where I think Delaware sits in this national landscape.

Today, I believe Delaware just quietly stepped into the top tier of education reform states.  With the unanimous passage of some of the nation’s most far-reaching regulations on managing teacher and principal performance as well as enabling local communities to turn around their lowest performing schools, two more critical building blocks in the Governor’s comprehensive education plan have been laid.

These changes are critical to whether or not our state wins a portion of the $4.35 billion federal Race to the Top (RTTT) fund. These bold steps, on top of the work that has already been done over the last decade, positions Delaware among the nation’s leaders.

Here are some key points on where Delaware stacks up relative to the rest of the nation.  Delaware is:

1 of the top 4 states in the nation in closing the achievement gap (Education Trust, 1/11/10).  We are getting the work done in the places it is needed the most.

1 of just 5 states that will – with the passage of today’s regulations – require teachers (and principals) to demonstrate student growth in order to earn an “effective” rating.  This is coupled with the fact that we have a statewide teacher evaluation system (versus district-by-district as is the norm) and several proposed new strategies to increase the supply of talented teachers and principals.  As a result, the state is now positioned to make rapid movement toward getting a great teacher in front of every child in this state.

1 of just 7 states that can require its lowest-performing schools to join a group – in Delaware’s case it will be called the Partnership Zone – through which they will engage in fundamental reform and receive new resources.  This, along with a choice construct that enables inter- and intra-district choice statewide and unlimited charter authorization through multiple entities, will establish a strong policy environment where parents can push for excellence and educators can create innovative, new solutions.

Among the top 11 states in the nation in terms of its data infrastructure, with a governor that is leading the push to move our state to internationally benchmarked standards.  In fact, today Governor Markell was in DC speaking on this subject in his role as a co-chair of the Common Core Standards Initiative.

At the leading edge on assessment – the Department of Education recently contracted with the American Institutes of Research to build its new computer-adaptive assessment system and growth model. Secretary Lowery is going further by actively leading a multi-state consortium to create a shared platform that will continually upgrade assessments and reduce costs.

We still have a long way to go to get where we want, and need, to be.  Yet through the leadership of this new administration and the work of Vision 2015 – an alliance of public and private players from across the spectrum – we are on the right path.  Through this alliance we hammered out a common vision for world-class schools four years ago and have steadily built the policy environment and the work on the ground to make that vision a reality. For example, in 2007 the Vision Network of 25 charter and district schools serving 20,000 students was created.  Less than three years later, national evaluators have said that 8 of the 10 original Network schools are making significant gains, called the initiative “groundbreaking,” and indicated that “there is no parallel effort nationally that is as ambitious.”

Thousands of educators, community, and business leaders have been engaged in this process for four years and the collective belief is that this is our moment.

We obviously want Delaware to win RTTT, yet we know that change is on the horizon either way. We are incredibly heartened to see the seismic shifts that this federal initiative has inspired not only in the First State, but across the country.

We look forward to a wild and challenging New Year and to working with all of you to contribute to this important new chapter in American education.

Sincerely,

Paul A. Herdman

President & CEO

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