Delaware teachers union votes no confidence in secretary of education

 Delaware Secretary of Education Mark Murphy (NewsWorks/file)

Delaware Secretary of Education Mark Murphy (NewsWorks/file)

Delaware’s statewide teachers union has issued a vote of no confidence in Secretary of Education Mark Murphy.

The vote took place Saturday at the Delaware State Education Association’s annual Representative Assembly and was taken by elected delegates from each of the state’s local teachers unions.

The resolution comes shortly after unions representing teachers at the state’s two largest school districts passed a similar measure. It also points to growing discord between the union and state leaders, who once earned kudos for working together,  but recently have clashed over teacher evaluation, teacher training, and the use of standardized tests.

“It is no secret that many public school employees are frustrated by the decisions and actions coming out of the Department of Education,” said union president Frederika Jenner, in a statement. “This past weekend, that collective frustration manifested itself in a vote of ‘No Confidence” in Secretary Murphy.”

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In a statement, Secretary Murphy said he doesn’t “get involved in local union politics,” but remains supportive of Delaware educators.

“I remain committed to working closely with all of our teachers to build on our recent accomplishments like a record high graduation rate and record low dropout rate,” Murphy said.

Governor Jack Markell, who appointed Murphy to his cabinet in 2012, stood by the secretary. Markell also pointed to rising graduation rates as proof of Murphy’s effectiveness.

“We are asking more of our schools and our teachers so that we can achieve great outcomes for every kid,” Markell said in a statement. “We know that some people don’t agree with higher standards and accountability, but we’re going to keep working with our educators to make more progress and I have confidence in Secretary Murphy and the Board to keep us moving forward.”

David Wright, the DSEA’s director of communications, said Saturday’s vote was likely the first of its kind in union history.

“I think it’s fairly unprecedented,” Wright said.

It’s not, however, unprecedented among teachers unions.

Just last year, the National Education Association — the nation’s largest teachers union — called for the resignation of U.S. Secretary of Education Arne Duncan. Like Murphy, Duncan responded by saying he doesn’t involved himself in union politics.

And just last week, the unions representing Delaware’s two largest school districts — the Christina School District and the Red Clay Consolidated School District — announced a vote  of no confidence in Murphy.

The measure passed Saturday at the DSEA’s Representative Assembly looks similar to the one approved by the Christina and Red Clay’s education associations. Both cite the misappropriation of Race to the Top funds, changes to the teacher evaluation system, and the department’s controversial priority schools initiative as impetus for the no confidence vote.

But while the Christina and Red Clay unions voted no confidence in Murphy, the Department of Education at large, and the state’s Board of Education, the DSEA measure only called out Murphy.

The DSEA measure also doesn’t call for the state to create an elected Board of Education, a provision included in the Red Clay and Christina resolutions.

Differences aside, the no confidence measures suggest a rapidly deteriorating relationship between teacher leaders and the state’s education apparatus.

Delaware became one of the first two states to win a federal Race to the Top grant in part because of what Duncan called “statewide buy-in.” That included the blessing of DSEA as well as each of the unions representing Delaware’s 19 school districts.

In 2011, then-DSEA president Diane Donohoue appeared with Duncan and Vice President Joe Biden at an event celebrating the one-year anniversary of Race to the Top. Later that year, Jenner indicated to Education Week that her organization had a good working relationship with Gov. Jack Markell and the state’s Department of Education that predated Race to the Top.

Since then, the parties have clashed on a number of issues, many revolving around the use of standardized tests to evaluate teachers and schools.

Check back for reactions and updates.

Correction: This article originally misidentified David Wright’s title. He is DSEA’s director of communications, not the president of communications.

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