A few weeks ago, I met the wife of a childhood friend who had recently relocated back to Delaware. We were discussing her experience with relocating and she said that she kept getting asked the strangest question: “Where did you go to school?” The strange part was the realization that people didn’t mean college. They meant where she had attended high school. What was equally as odd was the value that people put on the answer to this question. She said it was almost as if they felt defined by those two decades before adulthood.
The Delawarean in me wants to say that this was just due to the enormous amount of pride we feel in our tight-knit Delaware communities; that we form such a connection in our formative years that part of us will always have that bond with our school. While that may be part of it, the realist in me knows that this is not the whole story. Public versus private, this district versus that district – these are ways that we have learned to judge one another.
The playing field between different programs has become so uneven over recent decades that improving our “failing” schools seems an insurmountable task. This is why education policy discussions are so important. A school district should never feel like a scarlet letter. All children deserve a high-quality education.
I graduated from Caesar Rodney High School in 2006. Sending myself and my siblings there was never a question for my parents. The school had a decent offering of AP classes, numerous electives and boasted a higher percentage of students accepted to colleges upon graduation than many of their local counterparts. Their reputation for strong athletics programs didn’t hurt either. My parents didn’t feel a need to look into school choice programs or private school alternatives. For the next four years, I was lucky enough to catch the bus at the end of my driveway, attend well-taught classes and then be deposited back at the same spot at the end of the day. What I didn’t understand was how vastly different the school experience was for other students across the state.
Just forty miles north in Wilmington, my now partner’s parents were having a completely different conversation. The public school that their son would attend if he stayed in the feeder program was underfunded. There weren’t enough teachers to offer more than a few electives or AP classes and the school struggled with low attendance and graduation rates. Unfortunately, there weren’t many charter schools open yet and other surrounding districts that they could potentially choice into weren’t faring much better than the feeder school. It seemed that private school was their best option. The only problem was finding out how to pay for it. So for years, they scraped together what they could in their single-income household and any extra went to private school tuition.
How could two districts, less than an hour apart, offer such different experiences and opportunities for their students? How is it acceptable? The short answer is it’s not. This is why the work of DelawareCAN, and so many other organizations, is so important. Answering the questions around education funding, transportation, reading, math proficiency, etc. is not going to be an easy task. But it’s the most important one facing Delaware families today. Studies – and common sense – show that a quality education is one of the most important factors affecting a child’s future.
There is so much work to do. As the new Executive Director at DelawareCAN, I welcome the challenge and look forward to working together. We need to ensure that opportunities and quality of education are not based on the zip code someone lives in. Every child deserves a high-quality education. Not some, not most, every.