Are your children comfortably inside an educational environment which inspires them to achieve great things? Are they developing the skills and values required for a successful career?
Most parents are unable to give a definitive answer to these questions, mainly due to the low amount of information shared by the government-run schools on the overall picture of academic performance within the schools' walls. Standardized and SAT test scores provide a general overview but nothing specific to help parents make the best decisions for their children's education.
Principals and teachers should be able to create safe teaching and learning environments where the student is the focus and accountability for performance is measured at the school level. What we have instead is a government-run system which, for many years, has required teachers and principals to answer to a higher authority: Education regulators and policy-makers, who require compliance with their new policies even as they remain distant from the classroom.
The lack of transparency about our public education system aided the government in growing its role of overseeing education by weakening the roles of parents, teachers, and principals to make decisions about issues such as curriculum and accountability standards. Today a close personal connection with anyone from these three groups is less likely at these vital intersections. The environment today is one of anonymity and bureaucracy.1
Transparency has to be a priority given both the failure of the traditional government-run school system to maintain a "world class" education system and the alternatives to traditional public schools. Parents today have an unprecedented opportunity to seek individualized education building for their children to teach necessary values, encourage learning, and develop cooperative relations with their peers and teachers. That is, if they can gain access to these alternatives.
The everyday involvement of those on the frontline empowered with critical decision-making authority is fundamental to the progress of every child. The first step is to be informed of what is being taught (scholastic, values, or social change), how well it is being taught, and the type of environment in which it is taught. The confusion about expectations and learning environment which goes on in government-run schools serves only those who are interested in maintaining the status quo or advancing agendas that may be at odds with what is best for students.
So where is Delaware in the education process?
Earlier articles discussed the mediocre and sideways performance of fourth and eighth graders on national tests, and the real decline to last place performance on SAT's; performance that reflects how poorly students are prepared for advanced academics or careers and the devastating consequences for students, families and communities.
Education Week Magazine’s2 composite evaluation of Delaware’s K-12 traditional public system reflects the failure to achieve results and a penchant for spending enormous sums of money.
Grade State Rank
K¬12 Achievement D+ 29
School Finance B 9
Chance for Success C+ 27
Total Rank C+ 15
In regards to reporting use of taxpayer money the state does not do well overall. U.S. Public Interest Research Group, Education Fund 2 (U.S.PIRG) gives it a grade of ‘D+’. 3
And, specifically grading transparency in education finance, Cato gives Delaware an ‘F”.4
There is a critical need for transparency at all levels in the system. The lack of respect those who run the system have for those at the bottom of the hierarchy is reflected in the ongoing failure to improve government-run education and the penchant to spend more taxpayer dollars without any meaningful results to show for it.
Accountability is an essential part of the relationship between leaders and the people they serve. Accountable leadership enables all citizens to understand current and potential realities and promotes better decision-making. Trust in the education system will build only when information is easy for the average person to access, analyze, and understand. All citizens have the right to know how efficiently money is spent and how pupils, teachers, families and communities are impacted by spending or other leadership decisions.
All levels in the education system are unaccountable when there is a lack of a clear and meaningful picture of the realities of the school environment.
Transparent reporting of teaching and learning environments must show success in academic areas as well as development of virtues. Access to information showing movement over time is essential to continuously improving the learning environment and to search out and compare public and alternative learning opportunities that may provide a better solution to the needs of families and children.
It takes a well-informed and courageous individual to stand up to the bureaucratic and political system whose leaders frequently disparage anyone who questions their policies as "anti-children" or "anti-education". The data and delivery processes should not make it more difficult to become well-informed.
The unfortunate truth is that little progress has been made after decades of systemic school reform that emphasizes the role of government control. Programs like No Child Left Behind and Race to the Top are basically the same, with only minute differences and some different wording.
Transparent reporting starts with requiring policy makers to provide the public with relevant information before enacting, or voting on, a proposed piece of legislation or regulation. Citizens should be given a reasonable amount of time to comment or ask questions on proposed legislation or regulations.
Are you satisfied with your children’s education experience? If your answer is yes, then your children are probably where they should be.
If your answer is no, then what are you doing to stand up for your children? Your children need their parents or legal guardians to be their voice in the public forum. Children cannot be expected to face the entrenched bureaucracy alone nor should they be expected to. Parents who abdicate their responsibilities by accepting a mediocre or poor education for their children are doing their children and communities a disservice.
Either way – demand information from the system and get involved.
Senior Policy Advisor
1 For a comprehensive review of the past century of education reform read Diane Ravitch’s book, “Left Back a Century of Battles Over School Reform.”
3 U.S. Public Interest Research Group, Education Fund, “Following the Money 2014, How the 50 States Rate in Providing Online Access to Government Spending Data,” http://uspirg.org/sites/pirg/files/reports/Following%20the%20Money%20vUS%20v2_0.pdf
U.S. PIRG Education Fund conducts research and public education on behalf of consumers and the public interest as counterweights to the influence of powerful special interests.