John Young Speaks From The Heart In Letter To Wilmington City Council Re: Priority Schools

Delaware Priority Schools Takeover

President Gregory and Committee Members,

I hope this note finds you well. I write to you to express my regret at being unable to attend the meeting tomorrow night. I am very glad to know that Wilmington City Council had reached out to Secretary of Education Mark Murphy to provide testimony before your council on the recently announced priority schools initiative by Governor Markell. I write this as an individual public official who serves on a board. This e-mail, in no way, is designed to be or is necessarily reflective of the board’s quorum opinion.

The concepts of this state takeover have long been known to school boards and districts who have paid attention to the landscape of education policy since our state decided to apply for, and win, the Race to the Top grant in 2009-2010. The State Board of Education passed multiple administrative code changes in 2010 to set the stage for this momentous moment we now share: the complete takeover of 6 city schools. I realize this sounds like a hyperbolic statement, and that many people would contend that the state has no such right, but regardless of any legal wrangling that is currently or may soon take place, the state clearly believes it does have this right and the Priority Schools initiative is the opening salvo.  I further recognize that there is significant and justified frustration with the self-determination rights of city residents with regards to the education of its own citizens that has been impeded relentlessly since 1978 by multiple court orders, the Charter Schools act of 1995 and the Neighborhood Schools Act of 2001 and all of the cumulative, resultant political fighting that has been waged and that still permeates the landscape of public education in Delaware today.

I write to you as an unpaid elected public official that collects votes district-wide which includes voters from the sections of the Wilmington that Christina serves in order to provide a very basic primer. Attached are 3 documents: a blank MOU, a copy of the Turnaround/Priority Schools guide, and the most recent CSD press release:

1) The MOU: unilaterally written by the DOE and presented to the districts with a demand to sign and enter into said understanding. Christina decided to ignore this document primarily due to specific language demanding the districts cede control of buildings, fire the entire staff (with a maximum of only 50% rehire), replace school leaders with a DOE only criteria. CSD undertook the decision to ignore the MOU as direct result of the passionate testimony of our community and our teachers. I would like to note and thank both Mr. Chukwuocha and Sherry Dorsey Walker for attending and Mr. Chukwuocha for speaking. I was particularly impressed with Mr. Chukwuocha’s desire to use this process as a starting point. I fully concur, but with significant admonitions about the parameters set forth by the DOE MOU. If we can work together with the DOE to get past some of the tenets being mandated by the MOU that have no evidence of working beyond an anecdote from a charter school (which bears no meaningful resemblance to a feeder pattern school) or some far away city, then I feel that Mr. Chukwuocha’s position to have great merit. My experience with our DOE unfortunately does not lend itself to implicit trust but rather one of careful caution.  I trust Mr. Chukwuocha and Ms. Dorsey Walker can effectively inform the committee of their experience at our BOE meeting from 9/30/14. Again, thanks for attending!

2) The Turnaround Guide: it is 156 pages long and was presented to the districts, sight unseen, devoid of community input or peer reviewed evidence of working. Read at your own peril, it’s a difficult piece of work to understand for schools and education wonks. Lots of catch phrases and jargon, light on both substance and efficacy.

3) Our recent press release. I offer this to gently counter the emerging DOE messaging that Christina is being obstinate. We are not. We welcome the DOE’s “all ears” approach and are hopeful that they will cease the inflammatory language designed to convince local officials that we are acting as a roadblock to helping our students and join us in working for our students.

The problems in education are too deep and complex to cover in an email like this. We struggle ever day to maximize the effort and efficacy of our educators in an environment that does not provide equitable resource allocation to children in high needs schools here in Delaware. Resource allocation and weighted funding are simply not addressed by this initiative.

After a careful and deliberate reading are two things I can say with absolute certainty about this plan:

*   Labeling our schools with a fancy name will not fix them
*   Adding a paltry sum as proposed is an absolute insult to the intelligence of your committee and will in no way fix our schools

I do realize that this is a major moment. We must all remain laser focused on what works and not simply disruption for the purpose of making the adults feel better about themselves. I give the DOE a measure of credit for acknowledging that not all of their turnaround plans have worked. I wish they had taken some of  those lessons and applied them here. This Priority Schools initiative takes from the worst of the practices: disruption and unfettered autonomy both created by fiat. The funds they have to offer to buy this model is a pittance compared to the needs of our kids, and they are counting on us focusing on some money being better than no money.

As a U.S. History major I urge you all to be measured and critical of that proposition. Schools have faced similar reforms being offered by the Delaware DOE before in Philly, D.C, Chicago, L.A., NYC, Atlanta, Kansas City, Denver, Seattle, Miami, Milwaukee and New Orleans to name just a few. Their failures are simply too long to list. The hallmark trait of all of them: a dearth of community involvement.

History demands we pay attention and seek to learn from them.

Thank you for reading and good luck tomorrow, Mr. Murphy deserves to be both heard and questioned by your committee.

John M. Young
Member – Christina School Board



Steve Newton, “DOE: Don’t Hold Us To The Same Standards We Hold The Schools”, The Truth About Standards-Based IEPs in Delaware Revealed @KilroysDelaware @ed_in_de @dwablog @nannyfat @TNJ_malbright #netde #eduDE


A big huge thank you to Steve Newton for writing this.  I knew Steve was writing this, which is why I haven’t delved into the standards-based IEP controversy lately.  I also knew Steve could do it greater justice than I ever could.  Upon reading Steve’s post, I’m wondering what it’s really for.  Read on and formulate your own opinion.  After your done, check out some of Steve’s other articles at

DOE: Don’t hold us to the same standards we hold the schools

As Lt. Gov. Matt Denn’s IEP Task Force continues to wade through the morass that is Special Education in Delaware, lost in the shuffle is a particularly blatant and telling piece of DOE sidestepping on so-called “Standards-based” IEPs.

In 2012 DOE applied for a grant to improve Special Education outcomes in Delaware.

What DOE told the Feds was that not enough kids on IEPs were passing DCAS or graduating:

Goal 1: To increase the academic achievement of students with disabilities, through the implementation of sustainable, evidence-based instructional strategies to impact students with the greatest academic needs.

Goal 2: To increase the graduation rates and academic achievement of students most at risk of dropping out of school, through the use of sustainable, evidence-based social and behavioral practices, as well as enhanced professional development to educators and related staff. 

“Academic Achievement” is clearly and unambiguously defined in the grant proposal as scoring a passing grade on state assessments (then DCAS).

What DOE proposed to do (not surprisingly) was double-down on Common Core and High-stakes testing, and require–beginning in pilot districts then later extending to the whole state–that ALL IEPs be directly linked to Common Core standards.

Red Clay was selected as one of these pilot districts, and the special needs teachers there have been literally inundated with “training” in developing and implementing those new IEPs.

I’m going to leave aside for the moment the very real question of whether or not this is a good strategy for improving the education of these kids (it isn’t).  Let’s just assume that, for sake of argument, Standards-Based IEPS are actually going to work as advertised.

That’s what DOE believes, right?  Or else they wouldn’t be putting themselves on the line here to raise test scores for special needs kids, would they?

Well, it turns out that DOE is NOT putting itself on the line, and is in fact holding itself to a FAR LOWER standard than it does, say, the six “Priority” schools, Moyer, or Reach.

You see, DOE has identified the Problem (low Spec Ed test scores) and then identified a strategy to improve those scores (Standards-based IEPS), and that only leaves the ASSESSMENT of how effective the strategy has been, once it has been implemented.

That assessment would logically involve looking to see if test scores actually went up for the students in question, right?


Here’s what DOE is assessing itself on:  Fidelity of Implementation

The project evaluator, working closely with the DE SPDG Management Team, will develop training, coaching, and intervention fidelity instruments during the first two quarters of Year 1. Each intervention fidelity instrument (IEP development, SIM, and communication interventions) will be developed in accordance with the evidence-base it is derived from. IEP training and coaching fidelity protocols will be developed in alignment with the research presented in the Holbrook/Courtade and Browder publications, and reviewed by the authors. SIM fidelity instruments are provided by the University of Kansas. Fidelity protocols established by researchers at U.K. will be used to assess the implementation of communication strategies. Pre/post training assessments will also be developed during this time.

The DE SPDG Management Team will be responsible for overseeing fidelity measurement and reporting. Project evaluators will train and coach the state and LEA coaches on the use of implementation (training and coaching) and intervention (i.e., IEP development, SIM, and communication) fidelity instruments. An easy to use, web-based data management system (using tools such as SurveyMonkey and Microsoft Access) will be developed. 

“Fidelity of Implementation” means whether or not DOE trains teachers as it said it would do, and whether or not the teacher actually employ the new strategies like they are supposed to do.  In other words, DOE is evaluating its success in this grant NOT on whether student test scores actually go up, but just on whether or not they tried real hard according to the model they thought up.

Now you will have to read the entire 103-page grant to assure yourself that what I’m saying next is correct, and encourage you to do so:  DOE never uses data about improvements in student test scores on state testing to determine whether they have done their job.

Do you understand what this means?

To Red Clay, Christina, and the rest of the schools in the State, DOE has repeatedly said that all that matters in determining your effectiveness as educators is how well students do on the State assessments.  If a school does not do well on those assessments, it is failing, plain and simple.

Yet when DOE implements a plan to raise the test scores of a target group of students (in this case special education students), it does not evaluate its own success based on test scores.

Wow.  Just wow.

So while DOE is passing out MOUs on “failing” schools (based entirely on test scores) that empower the State to fire entire faculties and convert public schools involuntarily into charters–again, based entirely on test scores–DOE does not feel it is appropriate to measure the success of its own programs based on test scores.

Here’s a serious suggestion to Red Clay and Christina:  how about when you finally develop those Priority Schools plans, you base success or failure on “fidelity of implementation,” not test scores, and cite as your rationale that this is the standard that DOE applies to its own initiatives?

Here’s the link to the grant application.  Check it out for yourself.

**Updated** Dover Post Publishes My Letter To Editor, Shortened But With New Info Re: Academy of Dover & Priority Schools @KilroysDelaware @ed_in_de @dwablog @nannyfat @DeDeptofEd @notacademyofdover

Parental Opt-Out of Standardized Testing

Update, October 9th: According to Cheri Marshall, acting principal of Academy of Dover, Noel Rodriguez “resigned”.  Marshall would not elaborate on any reasons for the retirement.  Allegations and innuendos are appearing on the internet, but nothing official has come out from the Academy of Dover or the Delaware Department of Education.

In today’s Dover Post, another letter to the editor appeared from myself.  It is very similar to the one presented in the Dover Post, but due to space allocation it was shortened.  However, they did include a part I wrote about the Academy of Dover that did not appear in the Delaware State News article.  So take a look, and hopefully we will get a definitive public release soon on the ex-principal firing thing.  I’m hearing allegations in other social media, but nothing substantiated.

Last week, I had the extreme pleasure of attending the Christina Board of Education meeting.  At issue were six schools in Wilmington that were deemed “failing” by the Delaware Department of Education, based on proficiency scores with the DCAS standardized testing.
To judge any school, much less low-income schools with high populations of minorities and special education students, based on standardized testing is a major fault with the DOE. But what made it even worse was the caveat of hiring new school leaders for each school at a salary of $160,000 a year. The worst part is every single teacher in these schools would have to reapply for their positions.
Meanwhile, a charter school called Academy of Dover was one of three schools in the state to win the Blue Ribbon of Excellence award from the U.S. Department of Education.  This is a school that refuses to update their website public notices of monthly board meetings. Their principal, Noel Rodriguez, was fired a few weeks ago and nobody is saying why. Their own DCAS proficiency scores were appalling at best. So we award charter schools downstate that have a majority of the same issues as the priority schools and worse, but the public school districts are ripe for the plucking?
Next spring, the Smarter Balanced Assessment is coming out.  This replaces DCAS as Delaware’s standardized test for all public schools. Delaware parents, opt your child out of the Smarter Balanced Assessment. All you have to do is write a letter to the school, and let them know you do not want your child taking any high-stakes standardized testing, and when other children are taking the test, you expect your child to be educated as is their right under Free Appropriate Public Education.
Our children are more than test scores. Don’t let the state define what our children are. Let children define what they are based on their individualized and unique talents.
Kevin Ohlandt, Dover