- Associated Press - Wednesday, April 9, 2014

WILMINGTON, Del. (AP) - U.S. Education Secretary Arne Duncan applauded Delaware education officials on Wednesday for laying the foundation for comprehensive school improvement under the federal Race to the Top education reform program.

Duncan visited Wilmington to mark the fourth anniversary of Delaware’s selection as one of the first two states to receive Race to the Top funding.

State officials have used more than $100 million in federal funding to embark on a comprehensive education reform effort that includes bolstering early childhood education programs, setting higher expectations for students and teachers, joining other states around the country in adopting the Common Core academic standards, and encouraging more Delaware students to continue their education after high school.

“There’s a lot happening at once,” said Duncan, adding that Delaware’s toughest challenge moving forward will be implementing the policies it has established under Race to the Top.

“The next couple of years I promise you will be less than perfect,” Duncan warned. “You’ll have bumps, you’ll have stumbles, you’ll have hurdles, and you’ll be under pressure to step back and slow down and fall back to where you were, to retreat. And I would just strongly urge this community to stay the course, to keep working.”

Duncan and Gov. Jack Markell started their day with a visit to EastSide Charter School, an urban school that serves a challenging student population but which has recently shown some of the strongest improvement among schools statewide in helping students achieve academic growth goals.

Duncan and Markell met with teachers who are participating in the Delaware Talent Cooperative, an initiative that uses financial incentives to attract and retain highly-effective educators serving Delaware’s highest-need schools.

While acknowledging the financial incentives, teachers said educational success does not depend on resources.

“We don’t make excuses,” said Lamont Browne, head of school at EastSide. “A lot of schools complain that they don’t have enough money to make a difference.”

EastSide teachers said an atmosphere of trust, nurturing and mutual encouragement among teachers and administrators is key in figuring out what students need and how to help them grow academically. They urged state officials to help dispel the perception that students and teachers at inner city schools can’t succeed.

“You’re doing absolutely cutting-edge work in terms of trying to attract and retain great talent in historically disadvantaged communities,” Duncan said later after a visit to Mount Pleasant High School. “No one, no one, is doing that well at scale.”

At Mount Pleasant, Duncan and Markell participated in a town hall meeting and heard inspiring stories from students who have overcome difficult family circumstances and, with the help of supportive teachers, are making plans for college.

“The goal is not to go, the goal is to graduate,” Duncan told students, encouraging them to take advantage of the $150 billion in higher education grants and loans that the federal government makes available each year.



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