New bill proposes tough criteria for Delaware Secretary of Education

     Delaware Secretary of Education Mark Murphy (Newsworks/file)

    Delaware Secretary of Education Mark Murphy (Newsworks/file)

    Delaware Secretary of Education Mark Murphy not only got a vote of “no confidence” in March but a new bill seems to be a direct attack on his resume.

    Here is John Watson’s commentary:

    The News Journal reports on the bill authored by Sen. Bryan Townsend, D-Newark. In the story Townsend says a bill he authored doesn’t target Murphy; but he does say Murphy, who was picked by Governor Jack Markell, wouldn’t meet the proposed requirements. He also says the bill aims to deal with discontent among educators toward the Department of Education.

    This sounds a lot like some things I have said in previous Delaware Speak Easy columns, in reaction to how Secretary Murphy has dealt with charter schools that have low student test scores.

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    Townsend’s Bill 72 would limit the governor’s pick for the position of State Secretary of Education. The person would need to have at least have ten years’ experience in the school system, including six years of classroom experience, and at least two years as an administrator.

    The current rules require only five years’ experience, with no specific minimums for time spent as a teacher.

    The News Journal quotes Townsend who says if we really respect teachers and are treating them like professionals then, “…shouldn’t the person who’s supposed to be the highest person in the profession have enough years of experience to reflect on how professional we say teaching is?”

    In spite of what Sen. Townsend says the new requirements should be, Murphy seems to me to be well qualified for his position. It’s reported by the News Journal that he spent three years teaching physical education, third grade and special education. In addition, he was in charge of the Vision Network, a coalition of 26 Delaware schools, before the governor picked him as the secretary of education.

    So, with all of that and more, one would think Murphy would have more respect and not face the possibility of being replaced.

    During the peak of criticism of Murphy’s work, The Delaware State Education Association (DSEA), the state’s largest education union, voted “no confidence” in Murphy. And the Christiana and Red Clay School districts, the state’s two largest, did the same.

    Apparently he refused to listen to the teachers and principals who were aggravated because state decisions were being made based solely on standardized test scores – ignoring things like poverty stricken students living in violent neighborhoods, coming to school after sleepless nights and little or no breakfast. So the teachers were blamed for poor student test scores.

    The teachers also criticized Murphy for tying those low scores to teacher evaluations, giving big bonuses to the high scoring teachers, and adding to teacher and principal workloads without any input from them.

    So, it seems to me, if Murphy had listened to all, or some of that, his position as state education secretary would have him held in a better position – lessening the attacks on his work and experience.



    John Watson is a long time observer of Wilmington and Delaware from his perch as a radio talkshow host. You can write him:

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