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©_2002_Authorized and_paid_for_by_the Committee_to_Elect Vivian_Houghton Attorney_General, 800_N_West_St., Wilmington_DE_19801



by Vivian Houghton, 
Green Party Candidate for Attorney General


One may ask why a candidate for Attorney General is addressing the issue of education. One reason is, of course, because our children's education is so very important.  In addition, the office of attorney general occupies an intersection of law and public policy, where there is much opportunity to have policy impact on state government agencies and the legislature. As Delaware's Attorney General, I expect to constantly put forward an agenda that maintains that access to quality education for all Delaware children will make for the development of a stronger, diverse community and generate opportunity for a thriving democracy. 

An underlying component of my view on education is that children are in school to learn to be creative, critical and informed thinkers so as adults they will draw upon accumulated knowledge, have the skills to carefully analyze it, and use it to create thoughtful responses and solutions. Schools need to resist the temptation to "mass produce" children that fit into corporate niches only to meet corporations' needs. I believe that educators hold a tremendously important role in helping children grow into adults who can make informed choices and decisions based on creative and critical thinking. Such skills are vital to our states economic vitality and the survival of our democracy. 

I am deeply concerned about the intervention in our schools of corporations that promote a culture of consumption and waste. Schools should avoid exposing our children to commercial advertising. As attorney general, I would call for elimination of corporate advertising and military recruitment (i.e., JROTC), in Delaware public schools. Corporate advertising in schools promotes a culture of over-consumption and poor nutrition (e.g., snack foods). It continues the exposure of our children to excessive marketing sometimes leading to over-competitiveness (e.g., who has the name brand clothes, who's parents drive the expensive luxury cars, etc.). JROTC represents an unneeded militarization of our children. We tell our children that "might does not make right" and "if someone wants to fight, walk away" yet, by allowing JROTC in our schools, impressionable children are given the opposite message with regards to using violence to solve problems. 

Our teachers are underpaid, overworked and too often not supplied with necessary resources. To address these and other teacher concerns, I support teachers right to unionize. Teachers have the right to work under duly established contracts developed in fair, open and honest collective bargaining. To aid unions, I support the repeal of the Taft-Hartley ACT which undermines the viability of all unions. 

Testing is a valuable part of evaluation techniques that provides a solid overview of students' performance. Testing can also help teachers focus on materials which need to be taught in a quality education setting. Unfortunately, Delaware's "high stakes" testing can easily pressure teachers into "teaching the test," rather than teaching subject matter. What's more, some very capable students don't test well. Likewise, as we have learned from other standardized assessment instruments, these tests often do not adequately address cultural differences. Furthermore, I don't think the needs of students receiving special education services are adequately addressed by the current testing program. The promotion of children to the next grade should not depend solely on the results of any test. Many children do not do well when faced with the stress of a test that may have serious implications for their future. Europeans found out many years ago that high-stakes testing is a mistake and have moved towards a multi-faceted evaluation method. Their children generally score higher than ours on standardized testing. As attorney general, I would insist that the current state testing system not be implemented in its current construction. I would work to establish an evaluation system that uses a combination of grades, teacher and parent recommendation, and testing results should be used in making promotion decisions.  

Delaware's testing program can also lead to an inaccurate and ultimately unfair method of evaluating teachers and schools. I support multidimensional means of evaluating our students, teachers and schools such as grades, direct observation of work performance and parent/child ratings in addition to standardized testing. The use of state testing results in evaluating teacher/school performance is far too narrow a means to obtain accurate results. With small schools, administrators should have greater opportunity to observe teachers in their classrooms. Teachers should be evaluated by a combination of factors including direct observation by the school administrator completing their performance reviews, reports by parents/students, and the academic progress of students in their classes. Schools should be evaluated in a similar fashion as teachers. 

Increasingly many Delaware families are unable to meet the cost of tuition and room and board in Delaware's public universities, let alone at more expensive private colleges and universities.  As tuition at the UofD and elsewhere rises rapidly ahead of people's wages, the number of poor and middle class students able to afford post-secondary education has decreased dramatically. Because of this, I support tuition free post secondary (collegiate and vocational) public education for all Delaware students who maintain a 2.5 or above high school grade point average. Short of tuition-free schooling, student loans should be available, repayable as a proportion of future earnings, rather than at a fixed rate. Scholarship aid for the additional costs of room and board should be made available to families who would have difficulty paying. Doing so would ensure that every child that wants a college education and is academically capable can get one. 

As attorney general I would advocate for small, community-based schools. Smaller schools allow for better administration of schools by keeping them within manageable size. Smaller, community-based schools allow neighbors and schools to more easily communicate and cooperate with each other in the education of children. Smaller, community-based schools allow everyone, including students, to have a greater sense of belonging and ownership in the school, fostering increased school pride in its accomplishments.
I favor local schools and local control of schools. Schools close to home mean safer children and more involved parents. However, I am concerned that the proposed neighborhood school law would effectively re-segregate our schools where children of poorer families will get an inferior education. Until our neighborhoods and communities are desegregated, providing for diversity of culture and race is an important goal of all schools. 

Large groups of children are harder to manage than smaller ones. By limiting the overall size of classrooms, teachers can be free to be more innovative and creative in their instruction. Discipline problems are reduced with smaller groups of children where they know they are protected and cared for individually. As attorney general, I will work for improved student/teacher ratio and a smaller number of children in the classroom. Having smaller student/teacher ratios is a proven way to improve children's academic performance that should be used with all students, not just a select few who are having academic/behavioral problems. Having smaller student/teacher ratios allows the teachers to spend more time on instruction and less on discipline. With smaller classrooms, teachers are given greater opportunity to do what they do best - teach. 

When elected, I would insist on federal and state education policy that ensures equal opportunity to a quality education. Educational funding formulas in Delaware need to be adjusted to avoid gross inequalities between districts and schools. Currently, some schools and districts are not funded at an equitable level. I support educational funding formulas that avoid gross inequalities between districts and schools, especially in ensuring equal access to education for minority, deprived, special needs and exceptional children. The current system of funding schools thru district referendum is unfair and unjust to mainly urban and rural children who do not live in a wealthy district. The quality of our children's public education should not depend on where they live. I support measures to ensure equal funding of school districts and individual schools. I recommend ending the current system of school district referendum that allows for wealthier areas in the state to have greater funding for schools in their district and establishing a system of state wide funding of education where each school district gets equal funding based on the number of students served. 

Other issues of importance that I support are:

  • Educational diversity where teachers and students continually strive for truth in the realm of ideas.
  • A creative and noncompetitive education at every age level and the inclusion of cultural diversity in all curricula.
  • A variety of educational approaches that lend themselves to individual leaning styles.
  • Involve parents to help support their children's education.
  • Holding students responsible, key to developing intrinsic capabilities,  as they strive to achieve their fullest potential.
  • Creating in our schools the freedom of artistic expression which is a key element in empowering communities and moving us towards sustainability and respect for diversity.
  • Substantive reforms towards "workplace democracy' where schools are controlled by parent/teacher governing bodies. 
  • Having the state Department of Education and local school boards deliver more programmatic support and put decision making at the grassroots level ­ i.e., the classroom teacher and school administrators. 

We need to stop disinvesting in education and start putting education at the top of the social and economic agenda. Teachers are to often underpaid and overworked. They should be given professional status including salaries comparable to related professions requiring advanced education, training and responsibility. As attorney general, I would work to accomplish these goals.