Carney favors less power for Department of Education

 

DOVER — Gubernatorial candidate John Carney unveiled an expanded education plan Tuesday that focuses on giving more support to teachers, more power to individual schools and more resources to under-privileged students.

The Democratic nominee for governor and the state’s current representative in the U.S. House, he favors making the Department of Education a support-based agency as opposed to one that dictates policy.

John C. Carney Jr.

John C. Carney Jr.

“Teachers and principals are in the best position to understand what their students need,” Rep. Carney’s plan states. “DOE should be a resource that helps educators implement their ideas and move students along the path to success.”

The department has been criticized over the past few years by a host of lawmakers, educators and parents, who believe it has grown too big and powerful. Gov. Jack Markell, a Democrat, has faced objections from members of his party over his education policy on occasion, such as when legislators attempted to allow parents to opt their children out of the Smarter Balanced Assessment this past session.

While Rep. Carney, in contrast to some critics of the agency, said the Department of Education’s issues are not the result of having too many bureaucrats, he does think stability is needed.

The state has used three different standardized tests to measure student proficiency over the past six years, and the federal No Child Left Behind Act, signed into law in 2002, placed new requirements on the state’s education system.

“When we changed, frankly, I lost track, and I’m doing that as lieutenant governor,” Rep. Carney, the lieutenant governor from 2001 to 2009, said. “I can’t imagine how difficult it must have been as parents.”

The Every Student Succeeds Act, passed last year, provides more flexibility to the states, giving them more ability to set standards.

Statewide tests are an important tool to identify students’ strengths and weaknesses, but too much time is being spent on the assessments, Rep. Carney said.

As part of his plan, he is calling for expanding professional training for teachers to enable them to better assist students.

For teachers already succeeding in preparing their students, “let’s identify those practices and share them with other teachers and other schools,” Rep. Carney said.

He plans to expand early childhood development programs started by Gov. Markell to prepare young children for school even before they enter kindergarten.

“The research suggests that’s an important place to make an investment,” Rep. Carney said.

Part of that expansion would entail strengthening the connections between pre-K facilities and schools.

As for the other end of the education system, Rep. Carney said he would push programs that provide technical training to students, with the goal of preparing Delawareans to enter the workforce soon after high school.

The state can help its residents find “good middle-class-income” positions in fields like welding and auto repair, he said.

He backs the Wilmington Education Improvement Commission’s proposal to redistrict Wilmington students and add poverty rates into the school funding formula. If elected, he plans to push the recommendations, which largely stalled in the General Assembly earlier this year, when the legislature meets in 2017.

That could mean added funding for lower-income areas downstate, such as the Laurel and Seaford school districts.

Rep. Carney acknowledged his proposal would come with added costs and said he would look at spending and revenue to present a balanced budget once in office if elected.

Republican gubernatorial nominee Colin Bonini is in favor of shifting control to the classrooms, with less of an emphasis on testing and department-wide mandates. He has provided some details on his vision for Delaware’s education system, although he has not yet released a detailed policy proposal on it.

Staff writer Matt Bittle can be reached at 741-8250 or mbittle@newszap.com. Follow @MatthewCBittle on Twitter.

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