Biden promotes Race to Top
Vice president visits winning vo-tech high school in Wilmington
Published: Tuesday, March 22, 2011
Updated: Tuesday, March 22, 2011 03:03
WILMINGTON — The chatter of excitable young teenagers buzzed in the gymnasium of Howard High School of Technology Monday morning, but the conversation topics did not consist of the standard weekend catch-up with friends. Instead, students had exactly one thought on their mind: the vice president of the United States was coming to visit.
In celebration of the first anniversary of Delaware's Race to the Top grant award, Vice President Joe Biden and several prominent Delaware leaders spoke to students, faculty and community members at the Wilmington school about the changes needed and progress made in the Delaware education system.
"We know what ya'll can do if given the chance," Biden said. "And there's no reason Howard can't produce the best scientists and the best mathematicians and the best high school graduates in the entire system, and that's the God's truth."
Last year, the state of Delaware was awarded $119 million in funding toward public education as part of the federal investment program initiated by the Obama administration. According to the U.S. Department of Education website, Race to the Top awards are given to states that are "leading the way with ambitious yet achievable plans for impending coherent, compelling and comprehensive education reform."
One of the most significant qualifications for eligibility for receiving the grant is concentration on the reformation of the lowest-achieving schools. Howard High School was one of the "turnaround schools" to receive a piece of the state's funding.
Biden urged students in attendance to exceed their own expectations and recognize their capabilities.
"There's no reason why every single kid here at this high school can't do as well as anybody in any other high school if we set the bar high enough and we give you the resources to get there," Biden said. "That's why we're here today."
Secretary of Education Arne Duncan also spoke, emphasizing that Delaware's progress was an example of the potential for educational development on a national scale.
"This state is going to take education to an entirely different level," Duncan said. "You are also helping to lead the country to where you need to go."
Duncan also urged students to make the most of their educational opportunities and to pursue higher forms of learning after finishing high school.
"If you just have a high school diploma, how many jobs out there are there for you?" he said. "Very few. This has to be just one step on your educational journey, and that journey has to continue."
While Biden discussed some positive statistics for Howard, such as the school's low drop-out rates, he also mentioned that students' test scores were lower than they should be.
"So what difference does that make, Joe?" he asked himself. "I'll tell you what difference that makes. You don't get those test scores, you don't get to go to school—you don't get to go on from here."
Biden emphasized the importance of raising the standards for students beyond the currently low expectations. He said students should not be expected to reach the minimal levels of proficiency, but should be pushed to do even better throughout the education process.
"Don't come along to somebody in a tough situation and say, ‘Well, maybe if you can just learn to read at the third or fourth grade level,'" he said. "All of this is just about giving somebody a shot, man. A shot to be able to learn. A shot to be able to do something."
Delaware Gov. Jack Markell noted that changing standards can have negative implications for measurements of student performance. If standards are raised, the reported levels of proficiency and ability within students will appear to decrease.
While current data suggests that approximately 76 percent of fourth grade students are proficient in reading, Markell said these numbers will be expected to decrease now that the definition of proficiency is raised to a higher level. Regardless, he believes raising this bar is a vital aspect to providing students with the most promising opportunities after graduating high school.
"American students have been doing the academic equivalent of shooting in basketball at an 8-foot basket," Markell said. "You can get pretty good at shooting at an 8-foot basket but when you go out and you have to compete against players who have been shooting at a 10-foot basket, that's going to be trouble."
Markell stressed that a dose of honesty was necessary with these students. Educators must, he said, set the bar high in order to solidify their students' potential to succeed outside of Delaware classrooms.
Regardless of the apparent setbacks data may suggest in the coming years, Biden is confident students will find the inner passion to continue learning and build their own futures through a strengthened educational system.
He relied on the words of Irish poet William Butler Yates to convey his final message to the audience.
"Education is not the filling of a bucket, but the lighting of a fire," Biden said. "We've got to light some fires under some of you, because you're going to light up the world."