By Valerie Woodruff
It’s an exciting time for education reform in Delaware and across the nation. The planets are aligned. The time is right. I’ve said it dozens of times over the past year as I’ve watched and participated in changes and initiatives at the national, regional and local levels. The energy is palpable as organizations such as the National Governor’s Association, the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, and our own Vision 2015 have stepped forward to improve our schools.
Influential people and organizations are coming together to address a problem that threatens the future of our nation: American high schools have not adequately prepared our young people for success in college, work and life. The United States has one of the lowest high school graduation rates in the industrialized world. Nearly one million students drop out of school every year in this country, and almost half of all African Americans, Hispanics and Native Americans fail to graduate. In Delaware, 1,995 students dropped out of high school during the 2005-2006 school year. Many of those who do graduate are not prepared for college or the workplace, both of which now require the same level of skills and knowledge. More than half of college professors (54%), and three-fifths of employers (58%) state that high school graduates do not posses the skills necessary for college or work.
These alarming statistics have far-reaching consequences for these individuals as well as the country’s economic and civic health. For roughly 67% of the jobs in today’s labor market, at least some postsecondary education is needed, and that percentage is expected to increase in the years ahead. Jobs of the new millennium require more sophisticated skills and knowledge. Businesses are looking for employees who can write and communicate clearly, analyze information, conduct research and solve complex problems. If American workers cannot meet the demand, highly skilled jobs will go to other countries — a move that will diminish our competitiveness and affect the living standards of millions of citizens.
Bill Gates, chairman of the Microsoft Corporation and co-chair of the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, testified before Congress in March about the failure of American high schools to adapt to an economy that is now based on knowledge and technology, rather than manufacturing and agriculture. He applauded the governors of 30 states (including Delaware) that have raised math and literacy standards to meet the demands of college and work. The Gates Foundation has invested more than $1.5 billion in the creation of high quality, high-performing schools and systems, supporting more than 1,800 schools nationwide. Delaware was fortunate to receive $2 million of this funding, through the National Governor’s Association’s (NGA) Honor States Program.
In addition to the Gates Foundation and NGA, many other organizations are supporting high school reform. The Southern Regional Education Board (SREB), Go Alliance, Pathways to College Network, Achieve, Inc., and American Diploma Project are among those who are working together to revitalize American high schools. Delaware has pulled its own leaders in education, government, business and the community together through the Vision 2015 initiative and the P-20 Council. Vision 2015 is devoted to securing a high-quality education for every child in the state by 2015, while P-20 coordinates educational efforts from pre-school through graduate school.
These initiatives have been important to the work of the Delaware Department of Education (DOE), and I am pleased to report that many years of planning and effort are now coming to fruition. Our own planets have aligned with the implementation of DOE’s Reaching Higher for Student Success initiative, an ongoing collaborative effort designed to ensure that Delaware students graduate prepared for success in college, work and citizenship. Highlights of this effort include:
- New graduation requirements approved by the State Board of education to align with the entrance requirements of the state’s two public universities, including more comprehensive English Language Arts curriculum and four years of mathematics.
- Student Success Plans for all 8th and 9th graders beginning in the 2007-08 school year, with each student connected to an advisor who can provide one-on-one help to explore college and career options and make good curriculum choices to achieve their goals.
- Expanded Advanced Placement (AP) course offerings that will enable students to maximize their high school learning and accrue college credits without paying college tuition.
- Improved career and technical education aligned to industry-recognized certifications.
- Free college tuition through the SEED (Student Excellence Equals Degree) scholarship program for an associate’s degree at Delaware Technical and Community College or the University of Delaware’s Associate of Arts degree program.
I am also very excited to announce the launch of the Department’s “Yes You Can!” campaign. Developed with input from students, parents, teachers, college professors and employers, this campaign supports our Reaching Higher for Student Success initiative with an interactive website, posters, and other engaging communication tools to motivate and assist students as they plan for the workplace or college. Our goal is to give students the encouragement and resources they need to think about their future and go for it. We’re inviting them to open a door to the possibilities, find out about career and college options, get excited about life after high school, and realize that they can be successful. There’s a world of opportunity out there and we’re here to help them explore it.
The time is right for all of these efforts to come together and succeed. As a parent, employer, educator or concerned citizen, your involvement and support is critical. Please join us as we work to prepare EVERY student for a successful future. Visit our website at www.yesyoucande.com, or send an email with your ideas to: email@example.com. Help us assure that every student graduates with the confidence, knowledge and skills to pursue their dreams as they move from high school to college and careers, and into the real world.
Valerie Woodruff has served as Delaware’s Secretary of Education since July 1999. She has been a teacher, counselor, assistant principal and principal in high schools in both Maryland and Delaware.