Wednesday, August 15, 2012

When the guard changes at the Delaware Department of Education

There is, naturally, a lot of editorializing and opining as to what it means that since Lillian Lowery left DOE for greener (but, honestly, equally toxic) fields in Maryland, her "team" has been scrambling for the exits as quickly as possible--last but not least Deputy Dan Cruce. . . .

People need to step back for a moment and re-connect with some general bureaucratic truths:

1.  This has almost always happened at DOE when one boss left and a new one came in.  The top levels of folks abandoned ship because they were tied to the ideology and plans of the old boss.  The new boss would delineate some new vision and immediately hire some strong apostles of that vision--from inside or outside Delaware.  If you go back and look, you will find that this has occurred--at least--since Pat Forgione left in the mid-1990s. Mike Ferguson quietly replaced key people; Iris Metts brought in a bunch of Little Red Schoolhouse advocates; Valerie Woodruff and Lillian Lowery likewise hired their own senior people--all these folks left immediately thereafter.

2.  This large-scale coming and going has been both (a) exceptionally disruptive to public education in Delaware because it throws DOE into turmoil for six months to a year every time it happens; and (b) pretty predictable as the result of making the former State Superintendent position (hired by State Board) into a cabinet-level political appointment.  Nobody but Valerie Woodruff who has held the position in the past two decades has had ANY long-term commitment to Delaware public eduation, nor have most of their functionaries.  Even the people hired within Delaware usually cannot scamper back out of DOE to their old districts fast enough when the guard changes.

3.  While we could usually expect DOE to go into a holding pattern with new Ed Sec Mark Murphy, such will probably not be the case, as he comes with a pre-established agenda (RTTT and V2015) and lots of people have been prepared, waiting in the wings as it were, to come onboard in those positions.  Whereas most of the former Secretaries of Education had to hit the ground, build support for a vision, and then assemble a team, Mark Murphy comes pre-packaged with all that, courtesy of ed reform in Delaware.  So you can expect this transition to be quicker (but just as messy) than previous ones.

However, that is not necessarily a good thing.  Most prior SecEds actually had to "sell" their vision to the 19 superintendents who--as a group--used to have the ability to act as a structural and political counterweight to the DE SecED if they really did not like what was being forced down their throats.  Such is not the case any more.  Lillian Lowery perfected the practice of isolating district leaders (both superintendents and school board members) who did not fall into line, and effectively destroyed the cohesion of any resistance to the Sec Ed's (and therefore the Governor's) education agenda.  That "club" of the 19 current (and assorted former) superintendents has been fragmented and stripped of 99% of its political power outside the narrow boundaries of the individual districts.

In other words, when a new SecEd came to town there also used to be a period of public discourse and even relatively thoughtful debate on "Where should we go from here?"

Not this time.  Mark Murphy's selection was an advance decree of exactly what the agenda will be in the second Markell term:  more Race to the Top, more Vision 2015, more centralized educational policy-making, continued emphasis on high-stakes testing, and continued erosion of local control of our public schools.

That's what this all really means.


Scott Gesty said...

A circle that never ends,,,

KilroysDElaware said...

Anybody Sec. Murphy brings to his administration circle will exceed him in qualifications and experience. I know what happens in the private sector! Those subordinates tend to dumb-down as not to intimidate the boss. But in Murphy's case, though he has the Rodel stamp of approval he'll need those subordinates even to the extent of completely daily routine task.

In selecting Murphy it appears Markell was looking for a follower and a leader.

Tony from Appo would have been a great choice but I doubt he would bow to Markell. Red Clay's Mervin would have been a good choice from this perspective, he runs the most diverse school district in the state with charters and magnet schools. A student population that is quite diverse. He was part of the Race to The Top team that went to D.C. and he has an established relationship with Delaware's colleges and universities. I couldn't see him as #2 at DOE because it would be a waste of talent. Also, Merv can come to the table with Kilroy and understands Kilory passion that does get a little misguided.

I did like Woodruff because for the most part she was a straight shooter. We worked well together and side by side at parent workshops when I was on the DSPAC. Minner wasn't as much as a control freak all Markell in regards to education. Minner had her goals such as, SEED, extra reading and math teachers aka Minner Reading and Math Teachers. However, Minner did have her budget "giveback" agenda chipping away at the Extra-Time Grant funding.

I suspect in the second half of Markell's second-term we'll see a new batch of defection from DOE.

Hube said...

I just have to chuckle that I have four times the classroom experience that our Sec. of Ed. has ...