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Delaware: The Next Switzerland?

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Every state in the country—Delaware included—is hard at work trying to reinvent their economy. Automation and globalization have flipped the labor market upside down. The added challenge is that just about every living-wage job is going to need some training beyond high school.


For the last several years, the Rodel team and many, many partners have poured a lot of effort into Delaware Pathways. We’re beyond proud of the program’s growth and its yet-untapped potential: In just a few years, the number of high school kids receiving real-world career prep and training has grown from 27 to over 9,000.


Again, we’re proud of our progress. But a little outside validation is always nice. Last week, a national group called Jobs for the Future (JFF) released a case study at their national Pathways to Prosperity institute called “Propelling College and Career Success: The Role of Strategic Partnerships in Scaling Delaware Pathways.


The major takeaway? When it comes to career and technical education and preparing young people for life after high school, Delaware is emerging as a national leader. The report lauds Delaware for our cross-sector collaboration, including leaders from higher education, the private sector, the United Way, and the Departments of Labor and Education–all working together on a long-term strategy. Frankly, it’s this type of collaboration driving our work.


We have a chance to do something special.  Four years ago, Bob Schwartz, a co-founder of the Pathways Network and a Harvard professor, invited me and some colleagues from Delaware and around the U.S. to visit Switzerland to see their pathways. They have been at it for hundreds of years and are considered the best in the world. We were so impressed, Rodel added one of the architects of the Swiss model, Ursula Renold, to our international advisory board. As is laid out in the case, fast forward to Delaware’s Pathways Conference in the spring of 2017, and Dr. Schwartz said to Governor Carney and the rest of the crowd assembled, “if Delaware continues on its current trajectory, I may not need to ask my American colleagues to hop on a plane to see Switzerland; I might be able to just take them to Delaware.”


We’re excited that this work is gaining steam locally and nationally. Check out this column from EdWeek: In Delaware, Creating Career Pathways for Youths.


We have a long way to go, but the public and private leaders committed to this work should celebrate the foundation that has been laid and the lives that have been changed.

Delaware’s Public High Schools Ranked Among Top Ten Nationally

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Over the weekend I read that U.S. News released its annual collection of high school rankings—and, lo and behold—Delaware’s public high schools landed as eighth-best in the country.


Before we pop the champagne, we should note that the website’s methodology examines the highest performing high schools in each state. We realize that some of Delaware’s highest performers select their students, at least in part, on some entrance criteria, and do not always reflect the full diversity of the state’s overall student body.


But this is still cause for celebration. Delaware ranked eighth because six of its schools (or roughly 17.6 percent) earned “gold or silver medals” from the publication.


  • Gold: Cab Calloway School of the Arts, Charter School of Wilmington
  • Silver: Middletown High School, Caesar Rodney High School, Mount Pleasant High School, Sussex Technical High School


The lofty ranking is one more positive sign of momentum for Delaware’s schools—and seemingly a shifting tide in the perception and reputation of our public school system. In the past few years we’ve seen:


  • Delaware high school graduations rates spike from 80 percent to 85 percent (see Rodel’s “At A Glance” page on graduation rate trends). Delaware was the No. 1 state in terms of increased high school graduation rate in 2014 as recognized by The U.S. Department of Education.
  • More students enrolling in AP and dual enrollment courses than ever before. In fact, the number of student taking dual enrollment college courses tripled from 800 in 2014 to 2,700 in 2015-16.


As encouraging as all this is, we can’t rest on our laurels. We have lots more work to do in preparing our high school grads for college and/or careers.


For example, we know that just 49 percent of Delaware’s young adult population (ages 18-24) has attained some postsecondary education and that by 2025, 65 percent of jobs in our economy will require some level of education beyond high school. Closing that gap will be tough, particularly for our highest need students.


But with the forward movement in our high schools, the growing partnerships with our higher ed partners to increase dual enrollment and college persistence, and our deepening commitments from business and education to build meaningful career pathways for students, I’m excited about where we are and where we’re going.

Tribute to a Global Teacher

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Last Friday, a friend and colleague, Lee Sing Kong, passed away from an apparent heart attack at the age of 65. See a story about his passing here.


He was both a horticulturist and an educator. I knew him as the latter in his role as the director of the National Institute for Education (NIE). He was a master educator. He not only helped build Singapore’s system into one of the best in the world, but he was incredibly generous in sharing everything he was learning to help other educators and policymakers from around the globe improve their practice.


As a part of that work, Professor Lee was a member of Rodel’s International Advisory Group. He contributed to Student Success 2025, the collaborative plan helmed by the Vision Coalition of Delaware. Years earlier, he visited Wilmington to meet with and engage with our local educators, and he helped host a visit in Singapore during which a delegation of Americans, including me, got the chance to learn from his work.


He was passionate about building the teaching profession, and he helped me look more holistically at child development. Being from a small island in the Pacific, he said, “We realized quickly that our greatest asset was our people.”


When I visited schools in Singapore, what I saw was a clear awareness of the global economy. Students learned from an early age how to engage with their peers from different cultures, and their work often revolved around a well-developed version of what we call “career pathways.” Many of the schools I visited were built around a real sense of “love,” something my American peers knew was important, but had rarely seen in a public school’s mission statement back home.


Our thoughts and prayers go out to Professor Lee’s family and friends, both in Singapore and around the world. As Joanne Weiss, the chair of our International Advisory Group shared, his was “a life well-lived.”

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