NEWARK – Gov. Jack Markell on Tuesday discussed his education vision during a forum at the University of Delaware, which was attended by U.S. Secretary of Education Arne Duncan. Here are his remarks:
“Thank you to the educators, legislators and business leaders who are here today. And I want to thank Vision 2015, the co-hosts of this conference, for all of your work in putting together this important and timely event. Even more important, I want to thank you for the passion and commitment you have brought to the issue of education reform in Delaware. Your advocacy has helped keep this critical issue on the forefront of public debate for years and I commend you for it.
“I also want to recognize and thank Delaware’s Secretary of Education, Dr. Lillian Lowery, for bringing her determination and her tremendous experience – including many years in the classroom and as a school and district leader – to our education reform efforts. I consider us very fortunate to have an education leader in Delaware who has real world experience as an educator and administrator, who has the vision to see where our education system needs to be for our children, and who has the fortitude to get us there.
“A particular thanks to Secretary Duncan. It is an honor to host you here at the University of Delaware, whose reputation for innovation and excellence grows each day.
“We are gathered here on a particularly great day for Delaware. A day of renewal and promise. A day of progress and a day of opportunity. A day many doubted was possible but whose results offer critical lessons that we must learn if we are going to enable our public schools to help all of our children live up to their promise and potential. I am talking of the news that our General Motors plant, just up Kirkwood Highway, will be the new manufacturing home of Fisker Automotive and will result in employment for well over a thousand Delawareans and produce some of the nation’s most technologically advanced and fuel efficient cars – the kind of vehicle that might rewrite the rules for how we view personal transportation.
“Now I could talk for hours about how this came together, but there is one critical factor that carried the day: That deal would not have happened if labor and business had not come together with an intense resolve – a commitment to work each day on what mattered most and a willingness to fight as one to make progress. It is that kind of collaboration – that level of willingness to put aside differences in the interest of achieving a common goal – that can make great things a reality.
“Now there are more than a few people who look at the state of public education and see a similarly huge challenge. More than a few people who see a system nationwide that is letting our children down for any number of reasons – a lack of vision, a failure to adapt to a changing world or changing needs, societal challenges that make it difficult for even the most promising of students to focus on school achievement, and, perhaps most alarmingly, a failure to truly measure not just student or teacher effort, but progress and results.
“A system that walks away from teachers and students stuck in schools that might be failing or that prescribes changes that may look wonderful on a whiteboard or position paper but are not practical in the classroom. But as we all know, in Delaware nothing needs to be impossible. We can move more quickly, act more decisively and work more collaboratively than others – but only if we are committed to working together – school-based personnel and business, teachers and parents, the State Department of Education, district administrators, and local school boards – every stakeholder needs to be aligned with the same vision, which I believe is this:
“By placing our children’s needs first and foremost, Delaware schools will produce students prepared to succeed. Those students will learn in schools staffed by highly qualified teachers who are passionate about their profession and are managed by administrators that offer inspiration and collaboration, access to innovation and useful assistance.
“These schools will be in districts that are given flexibility to innovate and allocate resources to improve performance but will also be held strictly accountable for their work. The state government that offers that local flexibility must reward results and, for the first time, demand an end to business as usual at schools that are not making real progress.
“Frankly, nothing is more important to our state. Tom Friedman wrote eloquently in the New York Times last week about the importance to our country of ensuring that all of our kids achieve their academic potential. If we don’t successfully continue to modernize our education system, he wrote, ‘the jobless recovery the country is currently experiencing won’t be just a passing phase, but our future.’
“And as Nicholas Kristof wrote, ‘Good schools constitute a far more potent weapon against poverty than welfare, food stamps or housing subsidies.’
“Secretary Chu at the Department of Energy helped us reopen the Boxwood Plant by offering one-time assistance through a competitive loan which Fisker won to finance critical transitions.
“In the next few months, Secretary Duncan will be offering one-time assistance through the competitive Race to the Top contest for schools to make their own transitions. And while we will compete for that money, which is particularly critical given our continued budget shortfalls, our vision and the plan to implement it must and will stand on their own. It will be based on what is in the best interest of our kids.
“So how do we do that? First, we look at best practices and we listen to those who have the most at stake – educators, parents, mentors, and our business community who end up hiring our graduates. That is what we did this summer, when dozens of stakeholders with various backgrounds came together with the Department and drafted a strategic plan for Delaware’s public education system. And that is what we will continue to do over the next few weeks as we use that strategic plan and the input of many others – including our students themselves — to develop education policies that will best serve Delaware’s children.
“The ideas that I will be touching on today are just a snapshot of the issues –today is about taking the next step in our dialogue as we move forward with the development of our education agenda.”
Standards and Assessments
“That agenda needs to start with a renewed focus on Student Readiness- ensuring our children are ready and able to succeed.
“We know the facts – math and science achievement scores for United States students fall well below students in many other countries. This lack of educational competitiveness is of real concern to our students and to our State. When I graduated from Newark High School, I competed for college entrance and for jobs with my peers in Delaware and in the surrounding states. Today, there is no limit to the competition that our graduating students will face – they are competing with students in countries all over the world.
“That is why it is critical we continue to participate in the Common Core State Standards Initiative, joining governors and state commissioners from across the country committed to developing a common core of state standards in English-language arts and mathematics for grades K-12. I am pleased to co-lead this initiative with Governor Perdue of Georgia.
“But to get an accurate reading of how we measure up to those standards, we need reliable and responsible metrics to gauge both student and teacher performance. We must measure learning in a way that provides not only a benchmark of student knowledge, but that also helps guide classroom instruction and can be used for accountability purposes. That is why we scrapped the DSTP and why we will implement the Delaware Comprehensive Assessment System, providing a series of assessments that can be given up to three times over the course of the year. For teachers, this will allow the use of testing results to assess a student’s progress throughout the year so that the teacher can adjust their teaching to each child’s needs. For students, this system will help to address the test anxiety that many of them talk about – because the test can be given multiple times, it is less likely that a student’s performance will be marred because of a ‘bad day’ or anxiety over the fact that one day’s performance is going to be what matters.
“So high standards for our students is an important starting point. But the next question is how do we enable our students to achieve those high standards. We are absolutely committed to ensuring that more of the decisions about how to educate kids are made by those closest to them – their teachers and other school-based personnel, rather than by people working in Dover. We hire professionals to teach our kids; let’s treat them like professionals and encourage them to use their training and their creativity rather than impose upon them mandates that simply don’t make any sense. And as I mentioned earlier, we need more useful assessments – that is where our dialogue needs to start. But that dialogue will never lead to reliable results unless we change the focus of how we support our educators in Delaware. We need to provide our teachers with tools to help their students, including those students whose real problem in school is the reality that they live with outside of school.
“I have heard from teachers whose students come to school without having had anyone give them breakfast, read them a book, help them with their homework, or make sure they get a good night’s sleep. Teachers who bring socks to school for their students, or keep extra breakfast bars in their desk, because they know that when some of their students come to school in the morning, they will not have had anything to eat since lunch the day before. That in fact is the reality for many of our students and teachers alike.
“But here’s the good news. There are success stories in schools from northern to southern Delaware that have achieved success for their students despite difficult odds. We have a number of schools whose student population is largely made up of kids who qualify for free or reduced lunches, yet the schools achieve a “Superior” rating based on their students’ performance on the State assessment. And we have schools with over 70% of their students in a high-risk category, yet the schools score in the top 25% of schools on the State’s AYP Achievement Metric.
“These numbers are not meant to provide a comparison – schools and districts each have their own set of challenges. What they are meant to provide is a reason for optimism, a reason for continued resolve – a reason to believe that if we all work together, even in these most trying of times, we can do well by our children.
“We are going to pursue Race to the Top funding that will allow us to provide the supports that teachers have identified as important in helping them address those challenges — things like providing increased availability of supplemental services and after school programming for kids; more availability of family crisis therapists for cases in which a teacher feels intervention is needed; and assistance in establishing linkages with community-based programs that can assist our children outside of the regular school day.
“We will also work with districts, schools and teachers to implement a parent education and awareness campaign and use resources to encourage parental participation – parental involvement can be the most critical factor for student success.
“It’s also clear that many of our students would benefit when teachers have more time to collaborate with each other and when there are fewer administrative and classroom mandates. Each week, I ask all of the teachers whom I have met with – and I will ask the attendees here today – for specific examples of mandates that are taking away from a teacher’s time to teach and their ability to prioritize what their students learn.
“We will be looking carefully at each of those mandates with an eye towards reducing the number of topics and administrative requirements that someone outside of the classroom has imposed on those who are in the classroom everyday.
“Regarding collaboration, there are ways in which collaboration can be fostered within schools, and several of our districts are doing a very nice job of that. We will help identify the collaboration opportunities that are offered now and work with districts to identify scheduling and other changes that will permit additional collaboration opportunities for their teachers.
“And in terms of leadership, we will encourage and incentivize schools in providing teacher leaders who can assist in a number of ways, including acting as teaching coaches, lead teachers, and curriculum specialists. We will also work with districts and schools in implementation of a new collaborative leadership model that will allow school principals to spend less time on the operational aspects of their schools and more time supervising and supporting their teachers.
“Providing these supports for our teachers is critical – we know that the quality of our teacher and school leaders makes a significant difference for our children. We must also fairly and openly assess our educators’ performance, and our schools and districts must use that assessment to help inform professional development and career planning for our teachers and administrators.
“It is also important that a portion of that assessment tell us how much a student’s knowledge has grown while in a particular teacher’s class. I have talked about the link between student growth and teacher assessment quite a bit, and here is what I have learned: Teachers support accountability – what they do not support is being held accountable based on a system that does not truly measure the progress of the students in their charge.
“Who can blame them for that? Many educators agree that even though parental engagement and home situations are hugely important, student growth should play an important role but should not be the only factor considered in the assessment and compensation of teachers themselves.
“We are going to pursue changes that will strengthen the link between student growth and teacher performance. Clearly there are a number of issues to be worked through, including how student growth should be measured across the various subject matter and classroom structures in Delaware and what role it should play in relation to the other components of a teacher’s assessment.
“We will therefore be working to develop the benchmarks and methods for measuring student growth for educator evaluation purposes, and we invite all stakeholders to join us at the table in this important endeavor. And of course, as we hold teachers accountable, we must hold the institutions of higher education that train our teachers accountable.
“We will build on our already robust data system and on our teacher assessment results to help us determine which higher education programs are doing the best job of preparing our teachers.
Schools Not Meeting AYP
“As in all facets of life, we need to reward results. There has been much discussion about rewarding high performing teachers, and I agree that effective teachers who choose to teach in high-needs subject areas or schools should be provided with additional compensation. But I also like the approach of rewarding high performing schools.
“Research shows this to be an effective approach, as it values and requires a team orientation that is critical to success and permits teachers other than those in tested subjects to be a part of the team. That is why we supported Senate Bill 151 last year, which piloted an academic achievement program to provide school-wide bonuses to schools that performed well. We will seek funding to build on that model to reward schools and districts for good performance going forward. But just as we support success, we need to find ways to support children who are stuck in schools that are falling short.
“We must effectively intervene in the lowest performing schools in our State. We have a number of schools throughout Delaware that did not meet targets for educational progress in 2008-09, and several have not met their targets for at least five consecutive years. Just to dispel any assumptions, these are not all schools serving low-income, high-risk populations.
“And let me say now what the teachers at these schools already know – we have a moral obligation to do better by these students. To not take steps to create significant change at those schools means allowing tens of thousands of our children to continue with an education that simply will not measure up to that of their peers and that falls far short of what we owe them. We cannot afford to continue on this path – we cannot afford it for our students, and we cannot afford it for ourselves.
“So we have spent a lot of time talking to people – many of whom are in this room — about actions that can be taken to help teachers, schools, and districts achieve their common goal of turning around their schools, and we would like to hear from the rest of you as well – but here is a starting point.
“We will establish a continuum of supports and options for low performing schools and districts, starting with providing the supports educators and others have identified as important, such as additional leadership and collaboration opportunities, and technical assistance to identify and implement improvements as well as supplemental services to assist struggling students and their families.
“This last point is critical – too often, failing schools reflect struggling communities and parents and until we face this reality head-on, we’re unlikely to achieve the level of success we demand of ourselves. These struggles are no excuse for failure – but they must serve as a wake-up call for more urgency than we as a nation have demonstrated to date.
“For schools that continue to not make AYP, the continuum will provide for some significant and difficult choices. These will include the potential for new leadership and to join a group of schools that will be given the assistance and flexibility that will allow local leaders to make the changes that are needed to positively impact the children in that school.
“Changing course for some of these schools will not be easy – it will take bold steps and long-term commitments – but by focusing our efforts on turning the tide on the lowest achieving schools and making a commitment to turning them around, we will literally change the future for thousands of Delaware students.
“As each of you leave here today, know one thing: Delaware is as well positioned as any state in the nation for tremendous growth in student achievement. The collaboration of our teachers and other school-based personnel along with a highly committed business community is a huge advantage for us.
“In fact, one independent analyst recently wrote that “Delaware has huge assets compared to other states” because we have all the right players at the table, including our teachers association and a fully engaged business community.
“As proud as I am of the fact that we have the right adults at the table, I’m even more hopeful because of this. While some like to paint huge divisions between many of the players, I have learned something over these last many months: When it comes to improving Delaware’s schools, we all have much more in common than we have differences. Let’s find those commonalities. Let’s debate those differences. And let’s work together on an agenda that will allow us to say that we provided our children with the opportunities that they so richly deserve. “