I get emails from both sides of the aisle in Delaware. The Democrats and the Republicans. It is usually about legislation or crucial issues. Rarely do I see one side taking potshots at the other. On Friday, I received the House Republicans email which centered on a “cover story” on the email exchange between State Reps John Kowalko and Earl Jaques:
Disappointing Student Test Scores Spark Sniping Between Lawmakers, Public
Delaware’s disappointing mathematics and reading scores in the recently released 2015 National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP) sparked a heated exchange between two state legislators and members of the public.
In an e-mail exchange shared with state legislators, bloggers, members of the media, and the education community, State Rep. John Kowalko, D-Newark, railed against Delaware’s public education policies.
The match to the fuse was the NAEP’s 2015 math and reading scores for students in 4th and 8th grades. The data was last compiled and released two years ago.
Compared to 2013, Delaware’s 4th Grade students saw their math scores drop from 243 to 239; while 8th grade math scores fell from 282 to 280.
In 4th Grade reading, Delaware students had an average score of 226 in 2013 and 224 for 2015. Scores dropped in 8th Grade reading as well, from 266 to 263.
Delaware students also fared worse than the 2015 national public school average in three of the four previously cited measures, scoring above the national average only in the area of 4th Grade reading.
“Seriously consider the harmful effects foisted on our children by these ‘education reform’ salesmen,” Rep. Kowalko wrote in his e-mail. “The NAEP test is one of the most widely used, highly respected and … accurate assessments of education results. If this latest development doesn’t strike a warning chord in any of you that consider themselves as advocates for children and public education than I’m afraid it’s time for an introspective look we all should take.”
Rep. Kowalko has been an outspoken critic of the Delaware Department of Education and the direction of education reform efforts in The First State. House Republicans Jeff Spiegelman, R–Clayton & Lyndon Yearick, R–Camden-Woodside, joined Rep. Kowalko in sponsoring a measure earlier this year (House Bill 50, as amended) that sought to allow parents to exclude their children from the statewide Smarter Balanced Assessment as well as any district-level assessment.
The Smarter Balanced Assessment is aligned with the contentious Common Core standards in English and mathematics.
Despite clearing the House and Senate with large bipartisan majorities, Gov. Jack Markell vetoed the measure citing the potential loss of federal funding and harm to the state’s economic competitiveness.
In his e-mail, and an identical post on his Facebook page, Rep. Kowalko criticized the state’s Common Core standards. “Common Core is not a curriculum, but it is so specific in its standards that it becomes a de-facto curriculum. Covering those prescribed ‘standards’ forces teachers to teach only those skills.”
Rep. Kowalko pointed to the NAEP test scores as reason to question Delaware’s education policies. “The NAEP is a generalized test given to kids all over the world. It is a consistent and reliable measure of comparison. You can’t ‘study’ for it. So when we look at countries that do well (i.e. Finland/New Zealand) and see that their curriculums are nothing like what we have just adopted/imposed, we should ask: ‘What are we doing?'”
House Education Committee Chairman, State Rep. Earl Jaques, D-Glasgow, took issue with Rep. Kowalko’s use of state e-mail to share his views. “John, your personal views shouldn’t be part of our e-mail system,” Rep. Jaques stated. “Your e-mail isn’t based on any facts, but filled with innuendoes and bias against people you dislike. Please take your postings to the blogs – not on the state email system!!”
Numerous people came to Rep. Kowalko’s defense, including WDEL Talk Show Host and Syndicated Columnist Rick Jensen.
“The viewpoints of any State Representative or State Senator on public policy are absolutely permitted (and encouraged) for public dissemination via official email,” Jensen wrote. “What should outrage every journalist and supporter of the First Amendment is Earl Jacques trying to suppress the comments of a representative who disagrees with him.”
This is going to be a very contentious second half of the 148th General Assembly folks.