Rescuing Delaware’s Schools
The Rodel Foundation dove in more than 10 years ago. Its leaders say they won’t give up until Delaware’s education system becomes a model for the world.
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Gov. Jack Markell served on the Rodel Foundation’s Advisory Board before he began his campaign for governor. He says he values having the Rodel Foundation as “a strong advocate out there watching and pushing us and giving us access to ideas from around the country.” Just as important, he adds, Budinger, as a former businessman here, has a thorough knowledge of the state that he and his staff use to tailor solutions for Delaware.
Budinger and others speak highly of the Rodel Foundation staff led by Herdman, a teacher turned education leader who came to Delaware in 2004 fresh off successes in educational reform enacted under two Massachusetts governors. Though Budinger relies on Herdman for day-to-day operations, he is fully invested in strategic decision-making for the foundation.
“The big idea is his,” Herdman says. “We as a nation have been wrestling with education reform from the federal level or from philanthropies investing in big cities. Bill suggested that we instead focus on the state as a unit.”
Since the states are the primary funders and influencers of education, Budinger reasoned, Delaware’s small size made it an optimal starting point. The First State has fewer than 130,000 students enrolled in its public schools, compared to 1.1 million students under the purview of the New York City Department of Education, the country’s largest public school system.
With a governor who strongly supports education reform, a highly regarded secretary of education, and broad consensus among the public and private sectors about what needs to happen in our schools, Delaware is poised for success, Herdman says. Once we do achieve a high-performing state system of education—and Budinger and his Rodel staff have no doubt we will—it can be duplicated in other states. Already, Herdman says, groups are approaching Rodel to learn how the organization has managed to build widespread, effective collaboration.
And that is the ultimate aspiration of the Rodel Foundation—not only to make Delaware’s school system a world leader, but to share those lessons with other states and transform the entire U.S. educational system.