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It has long been felt that the education of its citizens should be of the utmost concern to any governmental body, and Delaware has been no exception throughout history. Although the first legislated reference to a state board of education does not appear until 1875, statutes can be found in the Laws of Pennsylvania in 1682 ordering that the Governor and Provincial Council “shall erect and order all public schools,” and furthermore, that “all children in the Province should be taught to read and write by 12 years of age and then taught a useful trade.”1 The State Board of Education evolved out of that same concern.

The means to finance public education were not formally introduced until 1796, when a school fund was established (with the state treasurer as its trustee) utilizing the receipts from marriage and tavern licenses.2

In 1829 the levy courts and courts of appeal within each county were directed to divide their country into individual school districts reflecting the fair distribution of the local populace. Subsequently, the voters within each district were to be called together to vote for a clerk and two commissioners to serve as the school committee. The new committee was then to determine an appropriate site for the erection of a school building and to properly staff and supply that building. Monies from the aforementioned school fund were to be apportioned among all the school districts, with each clerk responsible for maintaining a record book of all district activities, financial and otherwise.3 Legislation passed the following year4 and again in 18635 directed the school committees to monitor assessment lists and even local rental fees to ensure adequate taxation was being levied.

The first reference to an officially titled state board of education was made in 1875,6 with the order for the governor to appoint a state superintendent of free schools. The superintendent, the secretary of state, the president of Delaware College, and the state auditor subsequently constituted the State Board of Education. The board was charged with selecting textbooks; establishing methods of statistical and informational reportage; performing school visits; and observing and making recommendations concerning every aspect of the operations of the schools. Beginning in 1883 the board was directed to conduct a yearly examination of all current and prospective teachers.7

In 1887 the legislature abolished the office of state superintendent (and assistant state superintendent) and designated a gubernatorially-appointed superintendent for each county. The three superintendents, in conjunction with the secretary of state and the president of Delaware College, now constituted the State Board of Education.8

In 1898, a major reorganization of educational administration incorporated characteristics of all previous versions of the board of education. A county school commission, consisting of a gubernatorially-appointed clerk and two commissioners, was established for each county. One senior member of each county commission, in addition to the governor, the secretary of state, the president of Delaware College and the auditor (serving as secretary), comprised the State Board of Education. The board, like its predecessors, was generally responsible for selecting and furnishing the textbooks for the schools, establishing standardized reportage forms, and preparing examinations for all teachers of white and colored students. Among other subjects the examinations were to contain questions on reading, writing, arithmetic, geography, history, grammar, physiology, and hygiene.10

The county school commissions, as the local administrative arm of the State Board of Education, concerned themselves with more specific matters, such as methods of instruction and discipline, the performance of teachers and administrators, the condition of properties, interviewing personnel, and the inspection of reports and files. To assist and guide the commissions, the governor was to appoint a superintendent of schools for each county.11

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The legislature in 1911 again abolished the board and promptly reinstitued a new board with essentially the same duties.12 (Note: It should be noted that the abolishments, reorganizations and changes of direction throughout the board’s early history probably had as much to do with politics as it did with a genuine concern for the educational well-being of Delaware’s children.)

A commissioner of education was appointed in 1913 to be the secretary of the State Board of Education, replacing the auditor.13 In 1917 a five member commission was created “to study educational conditions and requirements, to harmonize, unify, and revise the school laws, and to develop an improved and efficient system of public instruction.”14

In 1921 another major reorganization of the State Board of Education took place. Membership was limited to four gubernatorial appointees, who in turn were to appoint (as executive secretary) a state superintendent of public instruction. He was to consult with and advise all administrators and employees of the schools; determine educational policies; require and receive reports from school districts; and investigate ways of improving the school systems. He, in conjunction with the Board, was to promulgate rules and regulations governing:

1. Hygiene, sanitation, and construction of school buildings.

2. Health and welfare of school children.

3. Standardization of all public schools and their grading.

4. Issuance of certificates and diplomas.

5. Determining minimum courses of study for all public schools.

6. Choice of textbooks.

7. Qualification and certification of teachers.

8. Fixing a schedule of salaries for school district employees.

9. Attendance of teachers at Delaware College summer school.

10. Providing a list of approved high schools.

11. Establishing standards necessary to attain status of Special School District.

12. Transfer of pupils between school districts.

13. Hours of operation, sick pay, and holiday schedules.

14. Monitoring student absenteeism.

15. Enforcement of school attendance.

16. Taking a biennial school census.

17. Providing blank forms for statistical and other reports.

18. Administering physical and mental exams when necessary.

19. Apportionment of monies from all sources.

20. Establishing teacher standards.

21. Providing a course of study for colored students of high school age in conjunction with the State College for Colored Students (Delaware State College).

Existing school districts continued. Each district’s voters elected a board of school trustees (three members) to monitor all aspects of their respective districts, such as proposing budgets and engaging employees. The board was also to monitor all private schools and set up separate schools for deliquents. Financially, the state treasurer was still the trustee of the school fund, with each county treasurer being responsible for distributing the funds within his county.15

Interestingly, though not referred to specifically by that title in Delaware Laws of 1921, the annual report filed for that year is entitled “Annual Report of the Department of Public Instruction,” the first reference to the department title that exists today.16

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The membership of the State Board of Education was raised to six in 193717 and then to seven in 1973.18

A major restructuring of the state’s school districts occurred in 1968 with respect to topography, pupil population, racial equality, community, transportation, facilities, etc. The board was also directed to establish separate schools for the handicapped, maladjusted, hearing or speech impaired, truants, kindergarten, and vocational-technical education.19 Control of the ETV (Educational Television RG 8007) organization was assumed by the State Board of Education in 1969.20

In 1971, in order to better serve the school districts’ needs after the restructuring of 1968, the Department of Public Instruction was reorganized. Elementary and secondary supervisors were drawn into a single Division of Instruction. The Division of Pupil Personnel and Services to Exceptional Children was abolished, and its staff attached to the Instruction Division. Also abolished was the Adult and Continuing Education Division, with its remaining supervisors assigned to the Career Education Division.

By the end of the 1970-1971 school term D.P.I. consisted of three branches, each with two divisions. The Instructional Services Branch contained the Instruction Division and the Career Education Division. The Auxiliary Services Branch contained the Division of Teacher Education and Professional Standards, Program Development, and Compensatory Education; and the Division of Planning, Research and Evaluation. The Administrative Services Branch was made up of the Finance Division and the School Services Division.21

Presently, the Department of Public Instruction is organized as follows:

Superintendent’s Office

Administrative Services Branch

- Finance and School Services

- Planning, Research, and Evaluation

- Certification and Personnel

- Educational Computing Services

Instructional Services Branch

- Instruction

- Exceptional Children/Special Programs

- Vocational Education

- Professional Development

The State Board of Education has seven members appointed by the governor, with the superintendent of public instruction serving as executive secretary for the board. The board oversees six New Castle County districts, seven Kent County districts and seven Sussex County districts.

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1 Laws of Pennsylvania, 1682, pp. 95 and 142.

2 2 DL, ch. 105c.

3 7 DL, ch. 486.

4 8 DL, ch. 21.

5 12 DL, ch. 296.

6 15 DL, ch. 50.

7 17 DL, ch. 47.

8 18 DL, ch. 67.

9 19 DL, ch. 81.

10 21 DL, ch. 67.

11 Ibid.

12 26 DL, ch. 94.

13 27 DL, ch. 106.

14 29 DL, ch. 186.

15 32 DL, ch. 160.

16 Ibid.

17 37 DL, ch. 193.

18 59 DL, ch. 173.

19 56 DL, ch. 292.

20 57 DL, ch. 205.

21 Department of Public Instruction Annual Report 1970-1971, pg. 5.

jrf; September 12, 1988; November 9, 1988; November 28, 1988