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Del. Chief Murphy Justifies Joining Chiefs for Change: 'Driven By a Desire to Learn'

Roughly three weeks ago, Delaware Secretary of Education Mark Murphy announced that he had joined Chiefs for Change, an affiliate of the Foundation for Excellence in Education that advocates for school choice, accountability for schools and teachers based on test scores, and virtual education, among other policies. Murphy, who became Delaware's secretary in 2012, said the principles of the group, which had lost a few members recently including former Florida boss Tony Bennett, matched his priorities for Delaware. 

But apparently, some in Murphy's state haven't responded with total enthusiasm to his decision to join the sometimes controversial group. On Jan. 7, John Young, a member of the school board for the Christina school district in Delaware, posted on his blog Transparent Christina a Dec. 23 letter from Murphy to state Rep. Darryl Scott explaining his rationale for joining the group. (Murphy's spokeswoman, Alison May, confirmed to me the authenticity of the letter, which you can read in full below.)

At one point in the letter to Scott, a Democrat who is chairman of the Delaware House education committee, Murphy acknowledged "the concerns that some have shared with me about joining a group and the affiliations of some of its members." However, he doesn't list those concerns. Murphy also pointed out that he wouldn't necessarily agree with all members of Chiefs for Change on every single issue. 

However, he said he views Chiefs for Change as the equivalent of a "professional learning community," and commends the group for being a prominent leader in promoting the Common Core State Standards, which Delaware has adopted. 

"As you know from our work together, I believe there are significant transformations that are needed in our educational system in order to realize our collective goals of preparin children for success beyond our walls," Murphy wrote to Rep. Scott. "The need to drive continuous improvement in ourschools is why I think Chiefs for Change can help education leaders continue to pursue strategies that improve student achievement."

The Christina district has been engaged in a long-running feud over its involvement with the state's federal Race to the Top grant. My colleague Michele McNeil chronicled the fight in Delaware in 2011, when the district wanted to back away from a key part of its school turnaround plan under Race to the Top, and quotes Young's criticisms of the grant program in her story. The district's fight involved the state freezing Race to the Top dollars earmarked to the district, because the state deemed that Christina improperly tilted its school turnaround plan to current teachers at those schools.

So to the extent that the policy priorities of Chiefs for Change overlap with Race to the Top (on teacher evaluations based in part on student outcome data such as test scores, for example), it's not surprising that Young would say in his blog post that Murphy's letter to Scott "completely glosses over the fact that this organization is pushing for more testing, more teacher vilification strategies, vouchers, and privatization of PUBLIC schools."

But it's interesting that Murphy felt the need to justify his decision to join Chiefs for Change ex post facto to a politician in his state, and that multiple people have expressed concerns about the group to the education secretary. 


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