Written on: April 22nd, 2015 in Education
With the next presidential campaign getting under way, pundits have quickly focused more on the horse race than on where the candidates stand on important issues like improving public education.
One area that deserves far more attention is the array of proposals to divert public spending on education into private school vouchers or “education savings accounts” that can be used for private and parochial schools, home schooling, and other programs that aren’t part of the public education system.
These policies, already enacted in several states and proposed in several more, are a reminder that privatization is not a ready-made solution for every government problem.
Here’s why these programs don’t produce results for our students.
Everyone agrees that solid academics are the foundation for career and college readiness. Yet, according to a review by the Center on Education Policy, numerous studies have concluded that vouchers, the prime example of privatization, “don’t have a strong effect on students’ academic achievement.” If voucher programs are motivated by a desire to improve educational outcomes for our young people, and not simply to divert public spending to private education, then their unsettled and uneven history does not support continuing them.
Compounding this problem is that the private and parochial schools that receive tax dollars are, in many cases, not accountable for providing a quality education to young people, particularly those most at risk of falling behind.
In the public school system, states are required to establish baseline expectations of accountability through standards and testing. Although hardly beloved, standardized-test scores are the most effective method we have to identify which students need our help, which is why civil rights groups like the American Civil Liberties Union and the United Negro College Fund have been among the most vocal advocates for statewide assessments. They know it is most often poor, minority students—those who most need our help—who most often don’t receive the education they need. When we don’t provide a valid way to measure students’ achievement and hold educators and schools accountable for their academic growth, those students are too easily forgotten.
Children in home, parochial, and private schools aren’t required to take state assessments. State officials can’t track these students’ growth to make sure they don’t fall behind. Private school teachers and home-schooling parents aren’t required to teach to the state’s educational standards; and they don’t have to be rigorously licensed or certified like public school educators.
Voucher systems also divert millions of taxpayer dollars out of our public schools. While we should respect and encourage parental engagement and choice of schools—including private, parochial, and home schools—for their children, it is not acceptable to divert limited public education funding at the cost of the public schools that serve our communities.
Public funding for these voucher programs also presents significant policy issues because so many schools affected include a religious component in their curriculum. In general, the government should not be in the business of funding programs or institutions that promote one religion over all others.
But being against vouchers for these reasons isn’t enough. Political leaders have a responsibility to articulate a clear vision for what an improved public school system looks like.
That means using parent choice among traditional, charter, and magnet schools to foster innovative instruction, and hold public schools accountable for giving students the best opportunities possible.
It means demanding more rigorous college and career standards like the common core.
It means providing better support for our teachers, including training them to use data about student achievement effectively, and evaluating them appropriately.
It means more dual-enrollment and Advanced Placement courses to challenge students and reduce the cost of college.
It means investing in high-quality early-childhood programs so all kids enter kindergarten ready to learn.
And it means recognizing that too many of our students arrive at school hungry and from traumatic family situations. Serving these children effectively requires different types of training and community resources.
I agree with former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush that policymakers should be “more daring” when it comes to education policy. But that must mean pushing the public school system to improve, not following the suggestions of a number of candidates for president and state lawmakers who would use taxpayer money on unaccountable programs that ultimately cut funding from public schools.
Written on: April 10th, 2015 in Helping Our Neighbors
The late American author and poet Maya Angelou wrote that “when we give cheerfully and accept gratefully, everyone is blessed.” Every year, thousands of Delawareans put those words into action, affirming that ours is a state of neighbors. The Week of Service, which runs April 12-18, is an opportunity to highlight the contributions of our friends and neighbors who improve the lives of others and to encourage us all to support worthy causes however we can.
People volunteer in ways that are meaningful to them – mentoring children, delivering meals to seniors or serving the disabled. Others renovate dilapidated buildings, beautify our natural resources and give struggling families a path to self-sufficiency.
They are people of every age and from every walk of life, from Emalie Lawson, a student at Dover High School who started the “My Own Books,” to improve childhood literacy in Kent County, to Marilee Bradley, who at 92 is still actively raising funds for projects and awareness about the Stockley Center in Georgetown. Marilee has spent 45 years advocating for individuals with developmental disabilities and their families.
In the past year, we have honored extraordinary efforts by Delaware residents to help people recover from addiction, raise awareness about Alzheimer’s, work at free tax clinics, provide free legal aid to disabled veterans and much more.
The service of Emalie, Marilee and so many others like them is making a big difference for our state and our people. According to the Corporation for National and Community Service, each year in Delaware:
• 75 percent of the people help their neighbors.
• 188,000 people volunteer.
• 22 million hours of volunteer service are performed.
The cost to Delawareans if these services were not done by volunteers would be some $490 million or an extra $1,430 for every household in the state. But the benefits to those in need and to the community are not the only benefits. Volunteering gives a sense of purpose, provides opportunities for physical activity and helps people live longer, more fulfilling lives.
When my husband was first sworn in as governor, we were overwhelmed by the response we received when we declared a statewide weekend of service in lieu of the traditional inaugural ball. Thousands of friends and families and people of all ages responded by helping those in need that weekend and every year since during what has become a full week of service.
We are asking Delawareans to again donate your time and energy. Look around your community or visit volunteerdelaware.org to find ways to volunteer this week, and every week. The 2015 Week of Service also coincides with the recent launch of a new program to make the most of Delawareans’ instinctive generosity. Volunteer Delaware 50+ will help individuals age 50 and over find the best opportunities to use their skills and talents across an array of activities that support their communities. The state has partnered with dozens of not-for-profit organizations involved with education, literacy, health and wellness, the arts, protecting the environment and many other important community needs.
Volunteers in the program receive benefits including:
• Personal attention and assistance from dedicated Volunteer Delaware 50+ staff.
• Liability insurance while volunteering.
•Introduction to a broad range of volunteer opportunities to match your interests and skills with community needs – opportunities which are one-time or ongoing.
• Tracking of your service hours.
• Recognition events.
The fastest-growing population in Delaware is the senior population, with more seniors living longer and more active lives. Research shows that volunteering can have a profound impact on our health, helping to prevent Alzheimer’s, lowering instances of depression and promoting physical activity.
For those 50 and older, Volunteer Delaware 50+ will be there to provide personalized support and guidance in finding a rewarding service opportunity.
The most important measure of Delaware’s progress and quality of life is whether as many Delawareans as possible have the best chance to reach their potential. We know government, businesses, and nonprofits all play a role, but we all have responsibility to provide for each other.
To learn more about volunteering, Volunteer Delaware 50+ and the annual Week of Service opportunities, please visit https://volunteer.delaware.gov. Your time, talent and experience can ensure a bright future for all of our residents. Thank you for all you do to make this a better Delaware.
Carla Markell is Delaware’s first lady. This blog post was originally published in The News Journal.