CRI News

Navigating Reform: Legislative Priorities to Improve Delaware K-12 Education
Charting a path to excellence in the state's education system

By Dr. Tanya Hettler,PhD, Director

Center for Education Excellence

March 21, 2024


Despite Delaware's significant investment in K-12 education, student performance in math and English language arts (ELA) has not improved over the past two decades. With per pupil spending ranking among the highest in the nation, we must reevaluate our approach and prioritize meaningful reforms to improve educational outcomes. 


In response to this pressing challenge, we recommend the following list of legislative priorities for improving Delaware's K-12 education system. By addressing key areas such as financial accountability, academic performance, graduation requirements, standardized testing, and administrative spending, we aim to chart a course toward a high quality educational experience for all Delaware students.


Financial Accountability


Delaware is among the top ten most expensive states for per pupil education spending at $20,231 per student. Delaware does not need to increase K-12 spending; rather, it needs greater accountability. 


Our education funding system lacks transparency, making it challenging to understand how funds are allocated within schools. We believe in adopting a weighted funding model, as proposed in the American Enterprise Institute's report "The Benefits of a Weighted Education Savings Account Model." This approach provides a base rate with weights added for students with extra needs. This will provide greater financial transparency, better resource allocation, and limit wasteful spending.


Improving academic performance


Many Delawareans are unaware of how poorly our students perform on the National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP), the national K-12 standardized test. Increased awareness of this issue and active engagement with legislators can lead to necessary changes. Delaware residents should ask their legislators to support:


  • The School Profile Bill (House Substitute 1 for HB 66) will require the Delaware Department of Education (DDOE) to provide information on the performance and characteristics of every public school on its website so that families can make educated decisions about their child's education.


  • The Single Digit Proficiency Bill (HB 192) will require poorly performing schools, in partnership with the DDOE, to create a public plan for improvement.


Graduation Requirements


From Kindergarten to third grade, students learn to read. From fourth grade on, students read to learn. If students are not reading at grade level by the time they finish third grade, holding them back and providing intensive tutoring in research-based reading instruction can prepare them for promotion to the next grade.


Additionally, the practice of grade inflation by teachers often masks students' lack of academic understanding. This is clearly evidenced by the fact that although only 41% of students are at grade level in ELA and 31% of students are at grade level in math, 88% of students in the state graduate. 


To address this issue, Delaware should consider implementing strategies employed by other states, such as tying a superintendent's pay to the test scores in their district. It is also concerning that superintendent evaluations are not required in Delaware. Implementing such policies would ensure greater accountability and promote student success.


Standardized Testing


Recent research has shown that assessing students more frequently with shorter tests is preferable to long end-of-year tests. These shorter assessments can be given at the beginning of the year, in January, and in May. This allows teachers to correct a student's educational trajectory before it is too late.


As discussed in the American Enterprise Institute's article "Progress Monitoring in Florida: A New Solution to an Old Education Problem," this assessment of progress is a more accurate indicator of teacher effectiveness than comparing a student's scores to a set standard.


Administrative Spending


As highlighted in the Reason Foundation's comprehensive analysis, "K-12 Education Spending Spotlight," teacher salaries in Delaware have increased 11% over the past two decades. In stark contrast, support services, encompassing school and district administration, have increased by 49% during the same period. This disparity underscores a concerning trend: excessive spending on administrators who provide minimal direct benefits to students.




In conclusion, the urgency of addressing Delaware's persistently low student performance despite high per pupil spending underscores the need for decisive action. By embracing the list of legislative priorities we are recommending, Delaware legislators have the opportunity to enact meaningful reforms that will empower students, parents, and educators alike. 


As we confront our education system's challenges, it becomes increasingly clear that providing greater choice is essential, particularly in our poorest-performing schools. Education freedom is not just a matter of policy; it is the civil rights issue of our time. Through commitment to these legislative priorities, we can create a brighter future for all Delaware students.



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