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Delaware Governor: Jack Markell

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  Archived Posts From: 2014


Why Race to the Top Worked

Written on: April 14th, 2014 in Education

In spring 2010, Delaware was one of two states to win the first of Race to the Top’s four-year grants, making this month’s anniversary an appropriate time to ask whether the multi-billion dollar project has been worth the taxpayers’ money.

The results show that four years after the Obama administration rolled out its signature education initiative, Race to the Top (RTTT) is working, and policymakers in Washington should replicate its approach of improving opportunities for our students. When you put aside politics, this model should resonate across the ideological spectrum.

While states have long known that we must build on our progress in education to stay competitive in our changing economy, we have not had the resources to pay for some of the necessary up-front costs. RTTT provided funding at a scale only possible from the federal government, while recognizing that the best ideas come from the ground up, not from Washington. It offered states the opportunity to lay a comprehensive foundation for the future, tailored to meet their individual needs, while holding them accountable for results.

And we’re making progress.

In Delaware, one of our signature investments was to build a world-class data infrastructure, while training our educators and administrators to use the new tools productively. With the support of RTTT funds, every teacher meets for 90 minutes a week with a small group of peers to review data and discuss which lessons have helped their students. This has allowed us to more closely track the progress of our students’ performance, and to better understand which teaching techniques produce the best outcomes.

Having the best possible data also allows for new initiatives that target students with the best resources for their individual needs. We have identified all students likely to succeed in college, along with those at the greatest risk of missing out on opportunities. In partnership with the College Board, we sent information and resources to all college-ready students. Low-income students received application fee waivers. This year, every college-ready student in Delaware applied.

Foundational changes are also required to attract and retain the best educators, particularly in our highest-need schools. RTTT funded a recruitment website that gives applicants a one-stop resource to find and learn more about education jobs throughout the state. Its launch in select school districts dramatically increased their pool of applicants. And with the help of legislation passed by our General Assembly, we are elevating our teaching profession by raising the bar to be admitted into and graduate from our educator preparation programs. RTTT has funded grants to these programs to improve the training of prospective teachers.

The list goes on and we’re starting to see results. The number of students proficient in English and math increased by 11 percent and eight percent respectively over two years, and the state’s dropout rate hit a 30 year low. Meanwhile, fewer of our freshmen are falling behind.

Delaware is not alone. As a result of RTTT, states across the country are transitioning to more rigorous standards, while finding more effective ways to turn around low-performing schools. Teachers and leaders are receiving better preparation, feedback, and support. And students are receiving more opportunities in science, technology, engineering, and math.

While RTTT has been criticized for not distributing funds equally across the country and creating winners and losers, the competition was one of its greatest strengths. Many more states than ultimately received a grant developed comprehensive improvement plans for their schools, but only the best plans were funded, spurring creativity and ensuring judicious use of tax dollars.

It has directly benefited even those states that did not receive a grant. As the Center for American Progress has found, RTTT is “creating conditions for innovation, strengthening educator quality along the career spectrum, and pushing other states that did not receive funds in the same direction.”

RTTT has also been criticized as unsustainable. But it’s clear that this model can create lasting change because we can maintain our progress at a fraction of the cost. Sustaining Delaware’s effective initiatives each year will cost less than the $10 million in up-front costs for our data system alone.

Thanks in large part to our talented and dedicated educators, we’re moving in the right direction, but we still have a lot of work to do. Our youth will be well served if we apply Race to the Top’s lessons moving forward.

This blog post was originally published on The Huffington Post.

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Give Common Core Time to Work

Written on: March 3rd, 2014 in Education

Recent criticism of Common Core by teachers unions, long some of its biggest supporters, is understandable.  It has caused alarm in the media and in the education community. Great ideas – like higher standards for students – only stay great when they are implemented well and, in some cases, teachers believe they have not been. While teacher support for the standards themselves appears strong, concerns about implementation, student testing, and teacher evaluations have caused unions in some states to waiver.

But we shouldn’t panic. Advocates for higher standards can use this as an opportunity to address educator critiques, help students reach these new expectations and prevent this effort from losing momentum. While we must accept, and even expect, implementation hiccups, states can help educators adjust without compromising the purpose of Common Core.

In Delaware, our educators are teaching to the standards now, but in order to provide enough time to transition, we won’t move to a more rigorous student assessment until the spring of 2015. Assessment results won’t impact teacher evaluation until a year later. This means that educators, school leaders, and state policymakers have a chance to work out kinks at each stage, gaining a better understanding of how new lessons impact their students before moving onto the next step.

PLC Thurgood ElemMeanwhile, we must give schools resources for support. Our state has found success by providing teachers training and assistance in shaping their curriculum to best meets their students’ needs.  I recently visited with a group of first grade teachers at Thurgood Marshall Elementary School in Newark, Delaware.  They told me that the combination of Common Core standards with more intensive analysis of data about student achievement is making them more effective in the classroom.

We must improve Common Core implementation because the status quo is unacceptable. U.S. student achievement has remained stagnant, but more than 60 percent of jobs will require education or training beyond high school and the College Board has found that far fewer students graduate ready for college or a career. Common Core was designed by states, teachers, and education experts to help students improve critical thinking skills and develop a deeper understanding of concepts rather than simply memorize facts. Delaware’s 2013 Teacher of the Year has emphasized that “with fewer, clearer and higher expectations for students, the standards allow for more meaningful instruction and fuller understanding by students.”

The transition to Common Core is difficult.  But we have all learned that higher standards can make a real difference.  The state of Massachusetts decided in 1993 to require higher standards in its school.  Change came slowly.  But eventually, Massachusetts’ students outperformed the nation’s.  Today, their students compare favorably with the best students around the world.

Justice Brandeis famously wrote that states are “laboratories of democracy.”  Implementation of higher standards worked in Massachusetts.  It will work in the rest of the country as well. Staying the course on Common Core while heeding the feedback of educators about the supports they need will  sustain our broad coalition, which includes teachers, parents, and the business community.  If implemented with fidelity, the Common Core Standards will remake our schools for the next generation and give our students the opportunity they deserve to make the most of their talents.

This opinion piece was originally published by U.S. News & World Reports.

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The Real Story About Common Core

Written on: February 17th, 2014 in Education

This is a pivotal moment for the Common Core State Standards.

Although 45 states quickly adopted the higher standards created by governors and state education officials, the effort has begun to lose momentum. Some are now wavering in the face of misinformation campaigns from people who misrepresent the initiative as a federal program and from those who support the status quo. Legislation has been introduced in at least 12 states to prohibit implementation and states have dropped out of the two major Common Core assessment consortia. Opposition voices are growing louder as new assessments show students aren’t performing as well as they had on easier state tests offered previously.

The debate about the standards must be changed to ensure politics and mythology don’t derail a vital effort to improve opportunities for our kids as they are falling further behind their international peers. Too often, supporters of raising expectations for our students are refuting broad claims that have nothing do with why we brought together teachers, education experts and employers to develop the Common Core initiative. Instead, we must emphasize the real impact of this initiative in our classrooms.

Contrary to claims by opponents who say we’re taking away local control of curriculum, how educators teach the standards is entirely up to them. We have clear illustrations of teachers and administrators across the country developing innovative ways to help their students meet the new benchmarks.

In Delaware, elementary instructors have come together to teach basic physics concepts such as force and motion. They developed a creative hands-on lesson in which the students build and refine toy sail cars. As one teacher in the program said, the hands-on practice students “are getting now is teaching them way better than any worksheet or textbook.”

In a Michigan elementary school, the shift to the new standards led educators to develop methods for teaching concepts at greater depth and in ways that allow students to apply those concepts to many scenarios, rather than through memorization. A second-grade math class is now using “bar models,” a technique that has proved effective in some of the highest-performing schools in the world. The district’s math specialist says they’ve “seen a lot of positive feedback from teachers because they’re able to take their students a lot further this year.”

And English teachers at South Middle School in Grand Forks, North Dakota, are aligning lessons with Common Core by incorporating a discussion model that leads to a deeper understanding of texts. For example, they ask students to think critically about the values of a narrator, asking questions such as: “What evidence is there in this excerpt that [the narrator] doesn’t care about what she did?”

All of these efforts represent precisely what we hoped Common Core would encourage when we worked with our colleagues at the National Governors Association and the Council of Chief State School Officers to create the program. They are the reason that unlikely coalitions of Democrats and Republicans, as well as business leaders and union presidents, are urging states to resist political pressures and stay focused on implementing the standards.

According to Gallup’s World Poll, there are 3 billion people looking for work and only 1.2 billion potential jobs available. The jobs will go where the skilled workforce is, and we are in danger of falling behind if we don’t raise the bar for our students. The most recent Program for International Student Assessment shows that even once-struggling nations, such as Estonia, Poland and Vietnam, are surpassing the U.S. This has serious consequences for individual economic opportunity and national economic growth.

In the coming months, elected officials and the Bipartisan Policy Center’s Governors’ Council will team up to publicize the facts about Common Core and challenge misinformation about what the standards mean.

We will help fill the leadership vacuum that has existed among even Common Core’s strongest proponents by providing states with materials to inform the public and assistance in applying best practices. We will share models of how states can successfully teach the standards -– such as ways to bring together the best teachers across districts to share strategies, curriculum and lesson plans.

And we will help advocates find the most effective ways to communicate about the Common Core — such as the back-to-school nights held in Delaware, where community leaders were shown Common Core lessons. Those leaders saw that, in practice, the standards set goals that make sense to parents and teachers, including ensuring fourth-graders can multiply large numbers and write an essay.

If we put the focus on the great work being done to implement Common Core in classrooms across the U.S., instead of debating abstract political rhetoric, we will give our students the opportunities they deserve.

(This piece was co-written by Governor Markell and former Governor Sonny Perdue of Georgia, who were co-chairmen of the Common Core State Standards Initiative. It was originally published by

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Investing in Delaware’s Future

Written on: February 1st, 2014 in Effective & Efficient Government

This week I unveiled a budget proposal that matches the message from my State of the State address: Every Delawarean has something to contribute if given the chance. We need to make sure they have that chance, for their sake, and also because we all stand to gain when everyone gets a fair shot.

The balanced budget my administration presented this week holds firm to the value of fiscal responsibility:

  • Continues an approach that has earned our triple-A credit rating;
  • Uses only 98 percent of available revenues; and
  • Fully funds our rainy day fund.

At the same time we must invest in areas we know are critical to creating economic opportunity now and for generations to come:

  • Innovative education and job training to strengthen our workforce, including $1 million to increase collaboration between Delaware businesses and educational institutions.
  • Research that spurs innovation, including $3 million to launch the Delaware Cyber Initiative targeting a field with hundreds of jobs openings.
  • Increased economic development in our cities, including $7 million to promote rehabilitation and construction that revitalize key downtown areas.
  • Stronger infrastructure that’s necessary for our businesses’ success and a high quality of life, including a $500 million transportation investment over five years to support what the News Journal and others have recognized: “the state needs to invest in its infrastructure.”
  • Programs to give our most vulnerable citizens a better chance, including $1.3 million for a proven nurse visitation initiative that helps low-income mothers and $250,000 to help youth get on the right track when they leave the juvenile justice system and return to their communities.

Making those necessary investments requires hard choices, including a mix of cuts and new revenues to support our priorities. I hope you will take the opportunity to review these proposals online.

If we’re going to have a lasting impact in creating opportunities for our fellow citizens, we must take the same challenge President Kennedy issued in Delaware just over 50 years ago when he dedicated the new highway running from Wilmington to Baltimore. He recognized the highway was created because of a commitment made years earlier, and he called on Americans to “begin things which will make this country a better place to live in for the rest of this century.”

By strengthening our infrastructure, spurring innovation, and supporting a quality workforce, we’ll build on the things that make our state a better place and we’ll keep Delaware moving forward.

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Unleashing the Potential of Delawareans

Written on: January 25th, 2014 in Effective & Efficient Government

We must comImage001mit to unleashing the potential of every Delawarean by ensuring equal opportunities to acquire good education and training, find good jobs, and live in safe and vibrant communities. That was my message to our legislature and people across Delaware when I laid out priorities for 2014 in my annual State of the State speech.

We have made significant progress to strengthen the state over the past year:

  • Delaware’s job growth has outpaced the nation’s average;
  • Schools are better preparing our students; and
  • Businesses are dealing with clearer and fewer regulations.

But to paraphrase Will Rogers, even if we’re on the right track, we’ll get run over if we just sit here; we have so much more to do.

Here are some highlights of our plans for the coming year.

Opportunity to Work:

  • Launch a program to help students acquire nationally recognized manufacturing certificates, recognizing that pursuing a traditional degree is not for everyone.

A Culture of Innovation:

  • Support cutting-edge research that leads to new inventions, spawns new companies, and creates jobs.
  • Focus on cybersecurity, a field in which we have hundreds of unfilled jobs and need more qualified professionals.

Opportunity to Learn:

  • Better support our youngest children and their families by expanding the proven Nurse-Family Partnership.
  • Aim to improve our teacher compensation system to attract and retain top teachers in our schools.

Safe and Vibrant Communities:

  • Create development districts to revitalize downtown areas.
  • Invest in infrastructure and clean water projects that create jobs and lay the foundation for future prosperity.
  • Reduce crime by addressing gun trafficking in Wilmington and focusing on ways to help ex-offenders and those suffering from addiction become productive members of society.

You can find more information about how we are pursuing these priorities here. Next week, I will unveil a balanced budget that maintains our fiscal responsibility while making the types of investments I outlined in the State of the State. Every Delawarean has something to contribute if given the chance. We need to make sure they have that chance.

I look forward to working toward that goal this year.

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