I sent education surveys to all four of the candidates running for Delaware Governor. Three responded. I want to thank all the candidates for responding. Many of the questions I asked deal with the issues I write about on this blog. The survey was sent a few weeks ago, so recent events such as the district-charter funding issue and Blockchain aren’t in here.
These were tough questions in many areas and I challenged the candidates to do some research with some of them. In some areas, all three were in agreement and in others not so much. There were 32 questions overall, dealing with issues concerning teachers, special education, Common Core, Rodel, Markell, FOIA, the Wilmington Education Improvement Commission, the Every Student Succeeds Act, and more.
Without further ado, I want to thank Senator Colin Bonini (Republican), Sean Goward (Libertarian), and Lacey Lafferty (Republican) for taking the time to fill out this survey. I did reach out to John Carney, but he respectfully declined because he wants to wait until after the primary to announce his education platform. While I was disappointed, that is certainly his right to wait to release his thoughts on education at a more convenient time. I know many in Delaware have been pressing him on these issues. I do feel that a lot of things have changed in Delaware the past few years and more of our citizens are more knowledgeable about what is going on with education. I feel Carney may not realize that and not talking about things is actually a disservice at this time. He is welcome to disagree with that.
Colin Bonini is a Republican State Senator who will be running against Lacey Lafferty in the Primary on September 13th. The winner of that primary will face Democrat John Carney and Libertarian Sean Goward for the General Election in November.
Do you feel Delaware provides a good education for our children?
Bonini: Our public schools frequently fail to meet the needs of our children. According to the American College board, less than one in five of our public high school graduates are ready for work or college. So no, I don’t think our public schools overall are doing very well. That being said, we have some wonderful public schools and an excellent and thriving private school community. Our public schools need help.
Goward: My short answer is yes. Between our five children, we have three that have been homeschooled, one who’s gone to a charter school in the past, and three who are each currently enrolled in different schools in the Caesar Rodney School District. My personal perspective as a parent has been mixed working with each child and the teachers and administrators that have worked with them as individuals. From a professional standpoint, each educator we have worked with in our school district has been a consummate professional, attentive to our children’s needs, and enthusiastic about their craft. I understand that under different district leadership, different parents have had different experiences, but to me that under-scores the need to shift our education policy from one where our districts meet the demands of the State and Federal Departments of Education to one where they meet the needs of the students that our parents trust to their care.
Do you support the Common Core State Standards?
Bonini: No. These decisions should be made at the local level.
Goward: There is a saying about the road to hell and good intentions. The standards were the good intentions, but the destination remains the same. The problem with applying universal standards to roughly 55 million unique students in the United States is that there is no set of standards that will adequately prepare every student for every situation in their life. Not every student is going to grow up needing to understand and apply the Pythagorean Theorem on a daily basis. On the other hand, if we can show our children that education isn’t something that happens exclusively in the classroom, if we can inspire constant curiosity and awe about the world we live in, students will take an interest in their own personal development and enrichment. Passion for learning isn’t something that can be standardized.
Do you feel too much emphasis is placed on the state test, the Smarter Balanced Assessment?
Bonini: Yes. I have some significant concerns about Smarter Balance (which sounds like a breakfast cereal to me J . ) I do not support eliminating testing completely, but I am absolutely open to reworking the smarter balance assessment.
Goward: I absolutely believe that there is too much weight behind the “Smarter” Balance Assessment. Means tested, the sole purpose for this test is political capital for people to wrangle a better job within the education bureaucracy. There is no real time benefit for our educators to be able to personalize their instruction for the students affected. So the idea is to punish teachers for something that they have no chance to correct? I think our students and educators deserve better than that.
Do you support a parent’s right to opt out of the state assessment?
Goward: Without reservation and without punitive action for the student’s teachers.
Faced with a bill like House Bill 50 (the opt out bill), that passed both houses of the General Assembly with high majorities, would you sign the bill if it meant ticking off the US DOE or Delaware DOE?
Goward: The US DOE, like many other federal agencies, has overstepped the authority authorized to it by law, and like other agencies becomes toothless without cooperation from the state. The DDoE works for the people of Delaware, represented by the General Assembly who pass laws executed by the Governor. HB 50 was one of those instances where the Assembly got it right and the governor pulled the carpet out from underneath the people of Delaware in the interest of protecting corporate interests. I would absolutely sign a bill that protects the rights of Delaware citizens, especially in the face of a government that often reaches beyond the scope of its authority.
What is your stance on school vouchers, where the money follows the student even if it is for a private school?
Goward: I’d be willing to look at vouchers with the caveat that any school that accepts public funding abides by the same admissions and accountability practices that we expect of our public and charter schools.
Do you believe charter schools provide a good education for students in Delaware?
Bonini: Overall yes. I believe charters are a vital component in Delaware’s educational landscape. Obviously, just like traditional schools, there are some more successful than others. I’m very disappointed in the efforts by many of my colleagues in the Senate and House to eliminate charter schools. I believe families know what’s best for their children and we should give as much choice as possible when it comes to deciding where children will get their best educational opportunity.
Goward: Looking at data from multiple sources basing data on graduation rate, college readiness, standardized test scores, etc., it’s difficult to discern whether the quality of education provided by charter schools in Delaware is correlative to the fact that the education is provided by a charter school, as in each data point, charter schools aren’t predominantly clustered at the top or bottom of the data sets.
Do you agree with the ACLU’s allegation that some charter school enrollment practices have led to further discrimination in Delaware?
Goward: It’s difficult to argue with the data presented by the ACL, that while admissions procedures for several were neutral to race, disability and economic status, policies have created de facto discriminatory enrollment. We have the obligation to ensure that any school receiving public funds operates consistently in the spirit of inclusion to meet the needs of the students in their communities. I don’t think that the recommendations set forth by the ACLU in this case are unreasonable.
Lafferty: I would have to review their allegations to make a fair assessment.
Do you think our State Board of Education should be appointed by the Governor or publicly elected?
Goward: I think we need to open more Delaware offices for public selection, State Board of Education included.
Do we pay our teachers enough?
Bonini: Good teachers are underpaid. Bad teachers are overpaid. Overall, the compensation for teachers in Delaware, including the benefits packages, and accounting for cost of living, is quite good.
Do we respect our teachers enough?
Bonini: No, good teachers are some of the most important people in our community and deserve to be treated with dignity and respect.
Goward: You, me and a great number of parents? Absolutely. Most of our elected officials? Absolutely not.
Do you think we should consolidate our school districts in Delaware?
Bonini: We should look at it. Quite frankly, it may not be doable politically but we should at least consolidate many school district services. The duplication of services and extra cost involved among the 19 school districts is quite significant.
Goward: I would be interested in looking at cost savings benefits of consolidating school districts by county. Reducing the cost of administration by eliminating a huge amount of the regulatory structure imposed by the USDoE and the DDoE would produce huge results in both performance and cost savings, but in doing a cost/benefit analysis of consolidation in any form would need to address the needs of our students, parents and educators first and foremost.
Lafferty: Yes, streamline the Department of Education by reducing to one superintendent per county and several six figure salary administrative personnel who are non-essential. Return the schools to their districts – operated by school boards, parents, and teachers. Use the money towards the front line of education – teachers, students and classroom essentials. Video cameras for safety and accountability. Teacher classroom assistants apprentice program – training future Delaware teachers. School resource officers from Ready Reserve Unit cheaper cost per school district. Classroom emergency switch within teacher’s reach. Restore classroom behavior, manners and etiquette holding parents accountable. Parental School Pledge. School administrations supporting teacher consultations. One competency test per school year. Return daily physical education classes with more sports availability focusing on building quality relationships and respect for others with/through team work. School Choice & Opt. Out parental control.
What do you think of the Rodel Foundation and their role in Delaware education?
Bonini: I think the Rodel Foundation is very helpful in terms of providing data and analysis of Delaware’s public school systems. Whether one agrees with Rodel’s recommendations or not, and I frequently do not, I think they provide a valuable service to policy makers.
Goward: Any time any corporation (for or not for profit) is given carte blanche in implementing policy in the state, citizens should be very concerned. Non-organic public and private partnerships (P3s) at any level that benefit curriculum and assessment companies involved at the expense of our students’ private data, time and patience in the classroom without oversight and privacy protection have the capability of causing irreparable damage to individual students. Government has no business picking corporate winners and losers, but it has every obligation to protect our students’ privacy.
Lafferty: I don’t like it. Gov. Markell’s Rodel model has produced a low efficiency student 51st in stats score below DC. Remove it.
How do you feel about the proposed regulations coming from United States Secretary of Education John King for the Every Student Succeeds Act?
Bonini: I’m hopeful ESSA will allow significant local control. But no policies have been finalized yet, so I don’t have a strong opinion yet.
Goward: Like most federal bureaucrats, Secretary King has shown a disregard for both the spirit and the letter of the law as written in ESSA. Federal law is constrained though, by the willingness of the States to cooperate with their mandates, and we have the obligation and the opportunity to operate our system of education in compliance with the laws that are beneficial to our students, and we have the obligation to our children, to protect them from federal overreach that harms them. Ultimately, parents are responsible for the education of their children, and the best way to protect this responsibility is to allow local schools and districts the flexibility to meet the needs and expectations of their families.
Lafferty: Federal government should not be advising the states on what’s and how’s of Public Education. The states govern over their own school districts with legislative agendas if need be, all else is left up to the individual school districts. A Collective Agreement Pact among school districts to collaborate on school strengths and weaknesses.
Do you believe our State Auditor of Account’s office should have more legal authority with inspecting district and charter finances?
Goward: I would be strongly in favor of any means of increasing the ability of our state to bring more accountability and public oversight to all departments of our government.
What can Delaware do to improve education for students with disabilities?
Bonini: I don’t have specific policy proposals on this. What I can say is that I will work with those families who have children with disabilities in our public schools to ensure the best educational opportunities possible.
Goward: The first thing we need to look at is early identification. Currently, there is no K-3 funding for identifying special needs students, and those four years are critical in making sure that students with disabilities aren’t left without the resources needed to overcome their disabilities.
Lafferty: Children with learning disabilities should not be tested at the same rate (time or level) as an average student. Separate learning facility and testing model. Teachers that are proficient, patient and have an advanced degree regarding teaching students with disabilities. Assistants/Apprentice teaching program for large classroom participation.
What can Delaware do to improve education for minorities?
Bonini: Increased choice for those families trapped in our failing schools. You must also change the political culture in Delaware that is willing to accept such low performing schools. We have some schools in black neighborhoods where less than 14% of the children are reading at grade level. That is simply unacceptable. As governor, I will work to make sure the families of the children in high risk schools are given the ability to pursue the best educational opportunities they can.
Goward: Delaware needs to address many of the secondary and tertiary issues that affect minority students such as public safety, family stability, and economics to name a few. Specifically, within the scope of the classroom, we have got to get back to teaching in the classroom. Not pre-teaching assessments, practice testing, testing, administrating, and any of a large number of other burdensome practices we place on our teachers that take valuable time away from them doing what they excel at.
Lafferty: Increase parental participation with all students regardless of race or gender. Parental School Pledge.
What can Delaware do to improve education for English Language learners?
Bonini: Intensive English learning.
Goward: In addition to increasing the amount of class time that is spent on actual instruction, immersion, time and practice are the best ways to bring English language learners up to speed on ELA. Teachers need the flexibility to allow ESL students class time to be able to speak and write in English among their peers, engage parents on progress and provide additional resources for families to help their students succeed.
Lafferty: Increase parental participation with all students regardless of race or gender. Parental School Pledge. Schools provide English language classes along with normal instruction.
What can Delaware do to improve education for the talented and gifted?
Bonini: We need to make sure that appropriate resources are set aside for talented and gifted. One of the main reasons many of our children in Delaware pursue private education as opposed to public is because of the limited talented and gifted opportunities in our public schools.
Goward: I’m sure that there are ways we can look at increasing the availability of AP and college level courses for our “talented and gifted” students, but we need to take a broader approach to the expectations we have for all of our students as they transition out of secondary education. With the cost of college tuition between $40-$120K, and the saturation of the job market with undergraduates, the return on investment of a four-year degree is diminishing outside of the STEM fields. There is no “one size fits all” plan that will adequately prepare our children for the challenges they will face. Our children are going to be the pioneers of the future, preparing themselves for jobs that don’t yet exist, working with technology that hasn’t been invented yet. We need to look at both traditional and nontraditional means to allow our children to develop and market their talents so that they are set up to define their own success. We need to look at the policies we have in place that create barriers to workforce entry for our young adults as well, including looking at child labor laws and minimum wage requirements that artificially make it less desirable to hire our high school/college students, preventing them from gaining valuable work experience.
Lafferty: Increase parental participation with all students regardless of race or gender. Parental School Pledge. Advance to higher education at a faster rate – college or online college degree curriculum.
Do you believe there is a comparison between the ability of schools to implement special education student’s IEPs and school behavior issues?
Bonini: Probably. I look forward to receiving more information on this. I also support dramatically increasing the alternative settings for disruptive students. By far the number one complaint I get from teachers is disruptive students. It is patently unfair to both the student who is disrupting and the other students in the classroom when teachers have to spend all their time dealing with disruption. I believe it is critical that we remove disruptive students from the classroom and provide them with positive alternative settings.
Goward: There is a quote from Albert Einstein about trying to teach a fish to climb a tree. For my entire life, I have never been a traditional learner. It was a struggle to get through my primary and secondary education, and I almost didn’t graduate. I had teachers who recognized my potential and bent over backwards to try to push me through, but I still struggled with traditional education. As we continue to take away a teacher’s flexibility for the sake of standardization, we are going to lose more and more kids to behavior issues. I’ve worked with my kid’s educators on IEPs, and it’s given them more flexibility to address my student’s needs, and with that flexibility, my child has thrived in the classroom.
Do you support the idea of a weighted funding system?
Bonini: Our school system funding needs major reform. The bottom line is funding should follow the student. Our Byzantine funding system will take significant time and resources to reform, but I’m confident strong leadership from the Governor can make this happen.
Goward: I’ve seen pros and cons to weighted funding as well as position funding. I like the idea of weighted funding to provide resources for special needs, English language learners, and at risk students. At the same time, the political atmosphere in Delaware is prohibitive to accountability and ensuring that the resources dedicated to providing each student with a quality education aren’t used inappropriately. I think the only way that we are going to be able to show the efficacy of our system is to expose it to the light of day and make necessary adjustments to meet the needs of our students. One of the factors that showed up predominantly in improving education was trusting our districts and local schools with autonomy for use of funds allocated. Those schools, where the principal was allowed more flexibility in the use of funds to meet the needs of their students, performed better than non-autonomous schools, however, the data provided suggests that efforts at improving performance were focused at the children at the margins of the NCLB metrics, and did little to statistically improve the education of “underperforming” students. I think that regardless of how we fund education, we need to be careful that the metrics we use to define successes in education do not take away from the opportunities of students outside the margin (Special Needs, English Language Learners, AP, TaG, etc.).
Do you support the Wilmington Education Improvement Commission’s redistricting plan?
Bonini: No. I am certainly open to focusing more resources on those schools in need. But I think the WEIC goes much too far and is a blueprint for dramatically increasing the expense and state intrusion in our schools. We must help those children in our failing schools. But I believe the answer is to empower families to choose the best option for their children. I absolutely agree that we need more focused resources in our schools serving high risk students, but empowering families is the best way to do that.
Goward: I support the overarching objectives of the redistricting plan as well as the objectives of better meeting the needs of students in Wilmington. I agree with the conclusions that RCCSD would be better equipped to meet the needs of Wilmington students currently served by CSD. I think Delaware would be well served by accepting the recommendations and providing resources for the implementation of the plan while making sure that implementation is seamless and has as little discernable impact on the affected students.
Do you think there is too much or too little corporate interference in public education?
Bonini: I think encouraging our local businesses to become involved in our public schools is important. That being said, I believe families and local communities are the ones who should be setting education policy as much as is possible.
Goward: There is a line between corporate assistance and cooperation with the objectives of education and the cronyism that permeates Delaware’s education administration. We need to restore the balance where educators, administrators and parents guide the direction of education in Delaware rather than allowing corporations to dictate that direction through the DDoE.
Lafferty: If they are recruiting for after graduation employees – job search introducing students into the work place. Years past technical schools allowed corporations to recruit students for future employee work force.
Do you support the “Pathways to Prosperity” program in Delaware?
Bonini: Sorry, would need information on this. I don’t have the specifics on this program’s results. Look forward to learning more.
Goward: I can appreciate the objectives of the Pathways to Prosperity program, however if implemented, it needs to be done through legislation, and with appropriate flexibility for students to determine their own paths.
Lafferty: In the past, 35 years ago we had where technical schools would link students to corporate job programs. It’s been around a long time, just calling it another name to get school districts to buy its data program. This is another STEM Data program.
Do you support Competency-Based Education?
Bonini: Sorry, would need information on this. I don’t have the specifics on this program’s results. Look forward to learning more.
Goward: I think that there are certain hands on/skilled applications where competency base education would be appropriate, but I have concerns regarding the implementation of competency based programs on information retention and disruption of a streamlined learning process that meets the needs of all students.
Do you support personalized learning with more online content in lieu of less actual teacher instruction?
Bonini: Yes, with reservations. Online learning is certainly where much of our education programming is heading. I think it could be tremendously helpful and efficient in many circumstances. However, I am loathe to replace the personal interaction that the teacher-student relationship gives.
Goward: I certainly do not, and I base it on 16 years of Computer Based Training in the Air Force as well as adult experience learning a skilled trade in an ineffective, highly computer intensive training program with minimal instructor interaction. I’ve seen grown adults respond with behavioral issues, and I can only imagine the kinds of behavior problems we’d see placing that kind of education program in front of a 10 year old.
Lafferty: Only for talented and gifted students who can advance at a higher and faster rate than others.
If sufficient proof came out of any illegal activity coming out of Delaware Governor Jack Markell’s office during his two terms, would you advocate for prosecution?
Bonini: I would hope the Attorney General would prosecute any illegal activity regardless of which administration it originated in.
Goward: Yes, and I would coordinate with the Attorney General’s office to do so.
What do you feel the Delaware Department of Education should be?
Bonini: The department of education should be an educational services support organization. We need to dramatically reform the department so that it is focused on assisting local schools and educating children. It has become much too big, much too expensive, and much too intrusive.
Goward: The Delaware Department of Education should be an advocate for local schools and districts, an intermediary between districts and the USDoE for grants, and an accountability mechanism for protecting students and families.
Lafferty: More school district controlled with less federal and state government intervention and interference.
How should Delaware bring more parents to the table with education policy?
Bonini: There is no silver bullet to increasing parent participation. It requires constant outreach and consistent effort. The bottom line is our educational culture must be one of encouraging and appreciating parents.
Goward: I think the best way is by making it more accessible to parents. By pushing autonomy to the districts, parents will have a better ability to work on education policy with their local school boards. I’d also work with the General Assembly to open the State Board to public election rather than political appointment.
Lafferty: Beginning of the school year parents are to sign a Parental School Pledge. Parental accountability for their children’s education and behavior. Email, text alerts, phone call messages notification/confirmation and teacher/parent conferences should be mandatory.
Have you ever read the “Dear Hillary” letter from Marc Tucker to Hillary Clinton?
Bonini: No, but I will.
Goward: I have. It’s an Orwellian look into the direction of federal overreach into not only education, but industry and commerce.
Do you believe text messages should be included in FOIA requests if the state pays for those devices?
Bonini: I have not thought about it. But I support as much transparency as possible.
Goward: Absolutely. If our state employees and any elected officials subject to FOIA have not done anything wrong, they should have nothing to hide.
Do you believe members of the General Assembly should be subject to FOIA?
Bonini: I do not believe communications between members of the General Assembly and constituents should be subject to FOIA. Nor do I believe communications between members of the General Assembly and the executive branch that deal with specific constituents should be subject to FOIA. I believe it’s vitally important to protect the privacy of our constituents. However, communications not dealing specifically constituents should be subject to FOIA.
Goward: With the exception of constituent personally identifiable information, absolutely.
Thank you once again to all the candidates and I look forward to hearing more from all of you, and not just on education but all issues! Good luck to all of you in the coming weeks and months ahead!