Delaware pours billions of dollars into education each year, only to receive stressful news like some of the lowest standardized test scores in the country.
A number of Delaware nonprofits devoted to improving education in the state want to see more impact for the state in jobs, test scores and another areas.
Some have specific focuses such as encouraging more public participation in school boards.
Others have broader interests that range from classroom matters to helping grads find good jobs for life..
Here’s a look at some of the most active groups; Rodel, DelawareCAN, First State Educate, Literacy Delaware and the Caesar Rodney Institute for Education Excellence.
This list omits groups such as the Redding Consortium for Educational Equity and the Wilmington Learning Collaborative, both of which were created by state government to focus on specific areas.
Leadership: Paul Herdman is the president and chief executive officer.
Mission: Rodel’s mission is to strengthen Delaware’s public education system and workforce by connecting partners to advance and implement sustainable solutions.
Vision: An excellent and equitable public education system that supports all Delawareans to achieve success in school and life.
Employees: 13 full-time employees. The Tech Council of Delaware is an LLC under Rodel so the three staff that work there are officially Rodel staff as well.
Operating budget and funding: Core expenses last year were about $2.4 million. Rodel raised about $5 million from a mix of national, federal and local resources, and about $500,000 from Rodel’s endowment.
While Rodel is no longer a traditional grantmaking foundation, it gave about $3 million in subgrants and contracts to the state last year.
Immediate goals/actions: Rodel has four priorities: Strengthening career pathways for students; modernizing Delaware’s school funding system; improving the early care and education landscape/serving more families with deeper state investments; and ensuring Delaware has a robust, well-trained, diverse teacher workforce.
- Helped secure over $300 million in federal, national and local dollars to support Delaware schools and students.
- Has been the backbone organization for the Vision Coalition, one of the longest standing public-private coalitions working to improve public education in the nation.
- Worked to build Delaware’s nationally recognized career pathways effort from just 27 students in one pathway in 2014 to the system we have today with over 20 pathways and over 30,000 students.
- Worked with the Department of Education and district partners to bring the pathways work to the middle school level. Rodel has been a partner with the state and districts to support the state’s “Grow Your Own” strategy when it comes to building a strong and diverse teaching force.
- Has been a leader in the coalition that has been advancing the work to ensure the state’s earliest learners get the funding and support they need.
Pathways are an educational structure within a school system which includes a rigorous academic course of study in a specific area such as teaching or nursing that a student plans to pursue for a career.
Grow-your-own programs have become more popular in recent years to combat the teacher shortage. The program is a way for prospective educators to earn certification, often returning to the district in which they attended school, to teach.
“Big picture, I’m bullish on where we are as a state,” said Paul Herdman, president and chief executive officer of Rodel.
He specifically pointed to four observations.
“First, Delaware is top 10 in the nation in terms of our economic landscape,” he said. “Our economic growth, state finances and base of major companies are strong and will position us well no matter where the economy goes in the near term.”
Next, he said, Delawares sits atop the career “farm system.”
He cited Robert Schwartz of Harvard University, who said, “Delaware’s career pathways system is the best in the nation”.
Click here for a Rodel snapshot of Delaware’s pathways opportunities for students.
“Third, in a world where students need more real-life experiences and more than a high school degree to access a good career, this effort has led to students each year garnering 1,000 industry-recognized credentials, meaning they can use them to land a job anywhere in the U.S.,” he said.
The pathways have yielded 6,000 dual enrollment credits, meaning thousands of students are getting a free head start on their post-secondary education, he said.
Finally, Herdman noted was that even though Delaware’s test scores dropped significantly during COVID and there’s much work to be done, the state’s policymakers and public school leaders are committed to improving public education.
A number of education bills passed over the past few years have been related to improving literacy, mental health, the educator pipeline and more.
“Our funding in public education is among the top 15 in the nation,” he said, “and our educators just got a 9% increase in compensation which has likely helped our state increase its teaching force while most of the other states are seeing net losses.”
Define success: “We are focused on part of creating a good life and a fulfilling career,” Herdman said. “To that end, we explored the metrics best aligned with what young people need to be ready to enter a career with a family sustaining wage.”
Given that by 2030, national economic research suggests that at least 60% of the jobs are going to require some education or training beyond high school – whether that be college, certifications or an apprenticeship – Rodel is working on several fronts, Herdman said.
This includes early learning to career pathways, and with several public and private sector partners, to collectively move Delaware’s percentage of 25-to-34-year-olds with meaningful postsecondary degrees and certifications up from about 52% today, toward that goal of at least 60%.
Leadership: Britney Mumford is the executive director, and Rod Ward is the board chair.
Mission: DelawareCAN empowers, mobilizes and collaborates with everyday Delawareans to advocate for a high-quality education system. It uses research and communications, grassroots organizing and government relations to ensure Delaware’s education system is excellent for every student.
Vision: DelawareCAN works to build an education system that prepares every Delaware child for life success and meets its promise as an engine of social and economic mobility.
Employees: Mumford is the only full-time employee, but the nonprofit also employs three parent fellows for six months out of the year. They are on a monthly stipend of $750.
Operating budget and funding: $236,000. The majority of the funding comes from the Longwood Foundation, with individual donors as well. The group sometimes applies and receives in-state grants, like the Chichester duPont Grant, for example.
Immediate goals/actions: DelawareCAN is still seeking funding for its $10,000 digital proficiency map to help hold schools accountable and provide easily comparable test score information to parents.
That information helps parents make good choices when deciding where to send their children, said Britney Mumford, executive director.
On Jan. 27, DelawareCAN is hosting a Delaware Futures Fest, which is a school fair designed for middle and high school students to see different pathways and career opportunities that are offered at the state’s high schools.
Representatives from traditional district schools, charters, vocationals and private schools will be in attendance to present their unique programming.
“We’re also inviting some industry leaders, especially in those trade areas, leaders from the vocational schools and also our colleges, to come talk with students,” Mumford said, “so that they can really see the impact of the choice they’re making at 13 and what their whole life trajectory could look like once they make that choice about high school.”
Legislatively, DelawareCAN has been working with Sen. Brian Pettyjohn, R-Georgetown, to create a Digital Divide Task Force.
The digital divide refers to the gap between demographics and regions that have access to modern information and communications technology, such as internet access, and those that don’t or have restricted access.
“The task force brings together folks from the broadband community, folks from the DOE, parents and legislators to take a year and study the digital divide at the student level and help them identify what it is students need, and why they are not connected when they get home,” Mumford said.
Mumford said she hopes a task force will be able to come up with a comprehensive solution by 2026.
Accomplishments: Mumford said the group is proud of its presence at Legislative Hall.
“We are one of the only organizations that attends every House Education Committee meeting, and I think it’s really important that we are there and show our interest and show that someone is really paying attention to the work that is done in that room,” she said. “In our opinion, those are the most important decisions in the legislature.”
In doing that, Mumford said DelawareCAN has been key players in monumental legislation in recent years, such as a law that requires public schools to teach Black history, one that lowers the term length for school board members, one that requires schools to align their curriculum with the science of reading to improve literacy, one that defeated a potential charter school moratorium (would prohibit the expansion of charters or new charters) and more.
“Programmatically, I’m really proud of our parent fellowship program and being able to educate parents about the funding formula and then send them out into their communities to talk with other parents and build events and just build a swell of consensus around this issue has proved really powerful,” she said.
The funding formula has been around since World War II and the state has contracted external research institutes to evaluate how it can be improved to provide a more equitable education.
The funding report is expected to be released Dec. 12.
“People are the most powerful thing in this world and getting those parents and people to go talk to their legislators and talk to people in power is so much more important than the work that I do in Legislative Hall,” she said.
Even when the parent fellowships are over, Mumford says those parents sometimes still work with DelawareCAN directly. Even if they don’t, she says the organization has given people the tools to be advocates in their own community.
Define success: “Success for us is an improvement in student outcomes,” Mumford said. “That is why we do the work that we do. Our goals, our data and research drive everything that we do, and we do it because we know it will positively impact student outcomes. That is our only goal.”
As far as policy goes, Mumford said changing the funding formula would be a great achievement, and she’s anxiously awaiting December’s report.
“If we do not see significant changes to the Delaware funding formula, say within the next three years, then we have not been successful,” she said. “We will have all failed, so that is a place where I think we can very clearly define our success and our impact for the future Delaware’s students.”
Leadership: Julia Keleher, former education secretary of Puerto Rico, is the executive director.
Mission: Catalyze radical change in education by activating the power of Delawareans.
Vision: A Delaware education prepares all kids for a productive, fulfilling life.
Employees: Three full-time employees. Along with Keleher, Fleur McKendell serves as the director of advocacy, and Jayla Harris is the digital marketing manager.
Operating budget and funding: Annual operating budget is approximately $500,000. The group operates with financial support from individuals and family foundations, and it does not receive any government funds.
Immediate goals/actions: According to a prepared statement by First State Educate board members and leadership, the group’s goal for 2024 is to create new partnerships that lead to scaling and replication of our programming.
Its programming largely focuses on parent and community advocacy, getting people to participate and vote in school board elections, engaging parents to be directly involved and knowledgeable about their children’s education, and more.
One of the reasons the group values school board elections is less than 10% of eligible voters – too often in the single digits – participate in school board elections. That is problematic because the board holds district administrators accountable and is responsible for making and changing school policies.
By the end of 2024, First State Educate hopes to see a diverse statewide network of interested parties acting collectively to drive the systemic changes necessary for all children to succeed in school.
Priority issues for the group include ensuring all families have meaningful and ongoing opportunities to engage in their children’s school experience, expanding the use of effective teaching practices, improving the conditions of teaching and learning and the implementation of a student-based, equitable education finance model at the state and local levels.
Accomplishments: Over the last 3 years, First State Educate has supported more than 20 candidates for school board leadership positions.
Fifteen of those individuals are currently serving as school board members.
“We also catalyzed three city school districts to vote unanimously for the Wilmington Learning Collaborative and organized 29 statewide partners to sign a letter of influence for the Wilmington Learning Collaborative vote,” the organization said in a statement. “We created a family mobilization group – Rise UP Delaware – and partnered to lead the creation of FaCE, a coalition of Delaware nonprofits committed to improving public education.
Define success: For First State Educate, success means that all Delawareans – families, business leaders, philanthropists, community leaders, elected officials, nonprofits, educators, policy makers, retired citizens and young adults – understand the role they play and the contributions they can make to ensure every child in Delaware receives a high quality education that prepares them to be successful and leads to continued growth and prosperity for all.
Leadership: Cynthia Shermeyer is the executive director, Leslie McGowan is the director of operations and Diane Frentzel is the chair of the 11-person board.
Mission: Advancing literacy through training, tutoring, English language acquisition and advocacy for all Delawareans.
Vision: Empowering all Delawareans through literacy.
Employees: There are seven staff members and eight AmeriCorps members. AmeriCorps is an agency of the U.S. government that has more than five million Americans in service through a variety of stipended work programs in different sectors.
Literacy Delaware supports adult literacy by working with English language learners as well as folks whose native language is English.
“We do have an assessment and an intake process where we learn a little bit about them and what their goals are,” said Leslie McGowan, director of operations. “Maybe it’s fluency, or it’s reading and writing. Whatever those goals may be…it could be obtaining a driver’s license or getting their citizenship or concrete goals.”
The group matches them with a tutor or puts them in a small group class to support them, and it uses different curriculum based on a participant’s assessment level.
Operating budget and funding: less than $1 million, and funding comes from individual donations and sometimes small state grants and aid.
Immediate goals/actions: Get rid of their own waitlist.
“We are often are operating on a waitlist, so that’s a huge goal for us,” McGowan said. “We are trying to meet that with our AmeriCorps team to really eliminate our waitlist or reduce our waitlist, that’s definitely one of our goals.”
There’s a bigger need for Literacy Delaware’s services than the group is able to achieve, she said.
Accomplishments: “We have just hired a learner coordinator and she actually came through our program as a learner herself from Columbia,” McGowan said. “She has a degree in some type of laboratory science, and she came to our program.”
Luz Vidal has been with the program, working to speak English and increase her fluency and conversation skills, for a few years before Literacy Delaware hired her as a s learner coordinator.
Literacy Delaware is celebrating its 40th anniversary this year.
“We were founded by a group of women that saw the need to help support reading and writing and adults,” McGowan said. “They trained the first group of tutors to meet the needs in Wilmington, and then over the course of the 40 years, we became a nonprofit, we expanded programs into Kent County into Sussex County and became a statewide organization.”
In 2022, the group trained 55 new volunteer tutors, and 80% of learners achieved progress in reading and/or English language skills.
Define success: “Our organization is successful when our learners are meeting their goals,” McGowan said.
“Literacy in Delaware is a big issue, from digital literacy to health literacy,” she said. “The ability to read, write and speak is kind of the root to all of those things. You need those reading and writing skills to make informed decisions about your health care or your finances.
McGowan said not accepting federal funds allows more flexibility for creating goals.
“We don’t have to report to certain goals, so if a learner wants to, you know, read a book to her child’s, that’s a goal that we help them meet,” she said. “There’s other ones like obtaining new employment, updating resumes, so there’s several types of goals for us.”
Leadership: Tanya Hettler is the director.
Mission: Educate and inform constituents, legislators, and stakeholders on important issues that impact their livelihood.
Vision: Belief in individual initiative, property rights, personal responsibility and strong local communities.
Employees: Hettler is the only full-time employee of the education center.
Working mantra: Getting back to teaching the basics of reading and math.
“I think the schools are trying to do too many things,” Hettler said. “I mean, now there’s a bill that they’re trying to feed everybody for free, and we can’t teach them, let alone feed them like we need to, and we just are trying to do too much stuff and not doing any of it very well.”
Operating budget and funding: The entire institute had an operating budget of $432,000 this year, which all came from individual donations.
“We’re part of the State Policy Network, which is a national organization of think tanks, so we occasionally will get some help from them,” Hettler said. “But it’s really through local people who see that we definitely need to fix the education system.”
Immediate goals/actions: Continue research on specific problems in Delaware and comparing how other states handle those issues with success. This includes analyzing the state’s low and plummeting test scores as well as evaluating holes in the funding system.
About a third of the state’s multi-billion dollar operating budget each year goes towards education.
“Another goal would be working with the other education groups to try to advocate for the improvements,” Hettler said. “I’ve been talking a lot with Julie Keleher from First State Educate and Brittany Mumford from DelawareCAN about what are some bills that we can agree on.”
Hettler said there’s so many different education groups – all which have an impressive following in the community on social media and email lists – and working together will catalyze real, powerful change to education.
At the end of the day, she said, most people agree on a lot, and especially have the same goal of providing the best education for children to set them up for life success.
The center recently held an Education Freedom Event that brought together dozens of community members and education advocates to discuss what needs to be done in Delaware.
One of the goals for the education center is to push legislation that would highlight the handful of schools in Delaware that are in the single digits of proficiency rates, in order to hold them accountable and let families know the magnitude of the problem.
“We are trying to get parents to kind of get on their legislators to say it’s not okay to have less than one in 10 students in a school who can read or do math at grade level,” Hettler said.
Absenteeism is another issue the center wants to address, she said, since students can’t learn and succeed if they aren’t in school.
While chronic absenteeism has been trending down statewide – which is the percentage of students who miss 10% or more of school days in a given year – Hettler pointed out that still, more than 20% of students are chronically absent.
Identifying these students and specifically addressing why they are absent and what they need – whether it’s transportation, food, or something else – and providing them support to make sure they are in school is paramount.
About half of the state’s public schools are on some sort of state support and improvement plan, which Hettler said is way too high.
“I think the people who realize it’s bad and have the finances to get their kids out of the public schools do that,” Hettler said, “and then the kids who are there are stuck in this terrible situation, and that’s where I think we have to come together and say this is not okay. We have to fix this. We can’t let this go on like this.”
Accomplishments: Highlighting data on school performance on their website is a massive way to educate parents on how schools are succeeding or failing, Hettler said.
She said the center has been able to draw attention to specific issues in the legislature, such as teacher shortages and making laws to allow certifications to transfer from state to state.
“We’ve been working on making data and information more easily accessible, so parents can make educated choices about where to send their kids to school,” she said. “If you can’t see how your school is performing, how can you know whether you need to move your kid to a different school?”
Define success: Speeding up the process of change.
Delaware’s children don’t have time to wait, Hettler said.
“I’ve been in this role for about a year and a half and I walked into it and saw that there’s so many different education organizations, but they just don’t work together,” Hettler said. “And so I have a goal of getting all of these different groups to be more team and instead of working at odds with one another, because I feel like things are very slow.”
Raised in Doylestown, Pennsylvania, Jarek earned a B.A. in journalism and a B.A. in political science from Temple University in 2021. After running CNN’s Michael Smerconish’s YouTube channel, Jarek became a reporter for the Bucks County Herald before joining Delaware LIVE News.
Share this Post