I’m sure it will come as no secret that I don’t have a lot of love for the Delaware Charter Schools Network. I think they have entirely way too much influence on education in Delaware. Roughly 10% of Delaware students attend charter schools. In the grand scheme of things, that is not a huge number. The vast majority of charter school students are in Newcastle County, as they have the largest number of charters.
So why is it that these schools, representing not even a quarter of the population of students in Delaware, cause such controversy? It could be the propaganda behind them. The Charter School Law in Delaware was created in 1995. The original law’s intent is vastly different than the charter school landscape we see nearly 20 years later. What caused the ground to shift? One word: Rodel. When Paul Herdman took the reigns as executive director of Rodel in 2004, the charters were well-positioned in Delaware, and they were growing in popularity. When Herdman and his group of “education pioneers” started exerting their influence on Delaware education, No Child Left Behind was in full swing. Herdman’s blueprint almost disappeared, but he wisely backed Jack Markell in his candidacy for Governor of Delaware. Their blueprint is almost identical to what has come since: Common Core, standardized tests, teacher effectiveness, more charter schools, priority schools, etc. Many students have attended charter schools to escape problems in public schools: large classroom sizes, bullying, and sad to say, to be with their own race.
While the race issue is not seen so much in Kent County with it’s five charter schools, it is much more predominant in Newcastle County. So much so that the American Civil Liberties Union of Delaware and Community Legal Aid, Inc. have filed a complaint with the Federal Office of Civil Rights, targeting the State of Delaware and Red Clay Consolidated School District. The accusing parties feel the state and Red Clay have allowed segregation to reappear in Delaware schools.
As a response, the executive director of the Delaware Charter Schools Network, Kendall Massett, publicly stated the allegations against Delaware charter schools was a myth. Unfortunately, this “myth” has played out in many states across our country. I am a proud supporter of public education in Delaware, and I firmly believe if the public school districts were given more adequate funding, they would be looked at very differently by citizens of our state. The problem with charter schools is their non-transparency. Family Foundations Academy, and their current allegations of financial embezzlement, spotlight this very fact. How do we truly know the data provided by the charter schools is even accurate?
The way charters are presented in the media, they can do no wrong. There is a very good reason for that. The Delaware Business Roundtable pays for the bulk of the advertising in our major media outlets, such as the News Journal. The Business Roundtable is a consortium of the largest businesses in Delaware and they are also some of the largest supporters of charter schools in Delaware. I sent quite a few hints to the Delaware News Journal to pick up on the story of Family Foundations Academy. They reported nothing until the Delaware Department of Education announced there was a 200 page audit of the schools finances which caused a delay in the decision on their charter renewal.
Twenty years ago, any newspaper with a shred of decency would have jumped on a story like that and found out more facts than Kilroy’s Delaware and Exceptional Delaware did. But this is the reality we live in. Recently, Red Clay Educators Association President Mike Matthews and Delaware Secretary of Education Mark Murphy both had letters to the editor in the Delaware News Journal about the priority schools in Wilmington. A type of Facebook rivalry developed between the competing contributors, and Matthews was clearly in the lead with Facebook shares. By early afternoon that Sunday, all the Facebook comments and number of shared posts had been deleted on Facebook. Many of the opponents of corporate education reform have reported similar events occurring with the News Journal.
When you have a media bias going on, a large conglomerate of businesses supporting an ideal, and a system within the Department of Education and State Government stacking the deck for the charter schools there will be casualties. That is the public school district system in Delaware.
Nowhere is this more pronounced than the Delaware Charter Schools Network. I view them as one of the largest enemies of public school district education in Delaware. To truly understand any enemy, you have to understand them. My son went to a charter school in Delaware, and he had a horrible experience there. As a child who attended a charter school from 1st to the beginning of 4th grade, these were his key years. The foundations of his education happened during these years. Unfortunately, that foundation was made of glass and shattered. While this could be seen as a bias of my own, I am not alone in feeling this way. Hundreds of parents have gone through these types of problems at Delaware charter schools.
I recently started looking at what the Delaware Charter Schools Network puts out there. Aside from their “point of view” editorials in the News Journal, I went to their website. I began to more clearly understand what they tell parents to make them believe charters are better for students than regular public schools. One of my favorite blogs in Delaware, Transparent Christina, sometimes goes through editorials or articles and they will do what is called a “red pen” edition where they comment throughout. I will gladly copy that tactic (and I’m sure John won’t mind) with what I found in the Delaware Charter Schools Network November online newsletter:
A few weeks ago I was out to dinner with a group of friends who also happen to be educators at schools in Wilmington. We were talking about the new priority schools plan that the Department of Education has put into action for 6 district schools in Downtown Wilmington. You can read up on this plan HERE, but the main idea is that the State has set aside extra money to improve academic outcomes at these schools.
Which is essentially next to nothing with this amount of money per individual student. Most of these funds would go towards new school “leaders” (aka transplants from charter schools chains and TFA and TNTP organizations) and “planners” (more of the same).
To obtain the funds, the school has to create a plan to improve student academics, based on a rubric created by the Department of Education.
To obtain the funds, the schools have to resort to what can only be seen as bullying by Governor Markell, Secretary of Education Mark Murphy and Penny Schwinn.
They have to submit the plan by Jan. 1, and if it is approved, they will get the money.
If their plan strays too much from the DOE’s original MOU, Markell will take the schools anyways which is what he wanted all along, to personally insult the educators in these schools. The timeline has been extended into January, but I’m sure the DOE has planned for this all along as well, so they can paint the school districts in a more negative light in the media after the holidays.
If it is not approved, the school will be given the option of closing or flipping to a high-performing charter school.
The school doesn’t have that option, that rests solely in the hands of Governor Jack Markell, under executive order, with more loopholes in state code and regulation than any normal citizen can barely understand.
We were talking through this charter school piece when one of my tablemates said “But what I don’t understand is how turning a school into a charter will help. Won’t the charter school just kick out all the bad kids? Then where will they go?” Ouch. That comment stung.
It stung because it’s true. This is no myth, this is reality, played out time and time again in many Delaware charter schools. Especially to children with disabilities who are denied accommodations they are federally entitled too based on IDEA law. If these students have “behavior” problems, the schools can’t wait to either counsel them out or expel them.
But that’s the perception isn’t it? People believe that the reason charter schools are successful is because they take the “best kids” from the district schools and kick out children with behavioral disorders and disabilities.
Perception and reality are two different things. If a charter schools success is measured by standardized test scores, they don’t fare all that much better than the public school districts. Those that have similar test scores to the “priority” schools and other “partnership zone” schools, are sent to the Charter School Accountability Committee at the Delaware DOE and given warnings or a death sentence. But that’s okay, because for every charter school the DOE closes there are probably five more waiting in the wings.
If you know me, you know that prior to being the Program Manager at DCSN, I was a kindergarten teacher at Kuumba Academy in Wilmington. I also spent the last year tutoring two Kuumba 4th graders. One of my tutoring students was new at Kuumba — he came from a district school in Wilmington. Alton* was at least two grades behind in reading. He told me that he was behind because at his old school he was a “bad kid”– he spent a lot of time in the dean’s office or at home after having been suspended.
Which school was this? If you changed the name of the student, you can name the school. How do we even know this story is even true?
His teacher at Kuumba was a friend of mine, and hearing about his track record made us worried for this child’s progress. But week after week Alton came to class and tutoring, and week after week he had perfect behavior. He was far behind the rest of the students in the class, but that didn’t seem to bother him. He was engaged. He asked good questions. He did his homework and his classwork. He did the extra credit. The mom, the teacher, the student, and the tutor — we worked as a team. At the end of the year, I was shocked at Alton’s test scores. At his end of year conference, we revealed to Alton and his mother that he would be promoted to the fifth grade–Alton cracked a huge smile, his mother cried . . . I almost cried too! This child had never seen success in school. And here he was — the poster child for student success!
Once again, based on standardized test scores. Alton was obviously taught how to perform well on DCAS. That worked out well for Alton, but how many Altons are there in the priority schools. I would hazard to guess, there are probably twenty-five Altons in the priority schools for every one at Kuumba Academy. But let’s raise the bar of success at Kuumba based on one student getting tons of extra support provided with free tutoring. Have you ever tutored one of the kids in the priority schools?
When I think about all of the negativity and misconceptions surrounding charter schools, I think about this student. Maybe there is some truth to what they say — “Charter schools have the best kids”. Shouldn’t every school believe that their kids are the best kids? I’m so grateful for the children and families I met while I taught at Kuumba. They showed me that it is possible for children to overcome their circumstances.
What are you smoking? The playing field is not level. “Charter schools have the best kids.” Nobody has ever said that. What we have been saying is they have more economically advantaged kids and smarter kids in some schools, and high groups of minorities and low-income kids in others. I don’t believe for one second that many charter schools in Wilmington and other areas of the state don’t carefully screen and evaluate every single application they receive. I wouldn’t be shocked if the DOE gave many charter schools each student’s DCAS scores. They probably accept a few lower scoring students to make it look less obvious.
They showed me that if you set high standards, and if you work like failure is not an option, children can succeed despite any number of horrible and debilitating events going on in their lives.
You must belong to the Penny Schwinn school of thought were crime and violence in Wilmington “isn’t necessarily a hurdle to overcome”. And once again, these success stories are based on standardized test scores that have yet to be evidence of long-term success in any child’s life. Some students just don’t do well on these tests, no matter how intelligent they might be. Instead, these students with the promise of success feel like failures. That should never be an option.
I wish I could tell you that every single student I taught had success stories like Alton’s. For many students, it’s more of a long and arduous road to success, peppered with little wins along the way. But it’s that incredible growth mindset that keeps students moving year after year–the belief that a person’s situation is changeable. That growth mindset is taught through a school culture that embraces students for who they are, where they come from, and where they can go.
Where are they going? Do you have any statistical data to back up this claim? Do you have data showing students are more successful after college because they went to a charter school? Public schools don’t have the same mindset that embraces students for who they are? Where is the data for that?
This Thanksgiving, I want to encourage our community to think about the positive. What success stories have you witnessed? Where have you seen our charter movement succeed? Share it with us and add the hashtag #DECharters. If we share these stories of hard working students, dedicated teachers, loving parents, and infectious school culture, then together we can correct the misconceptions about our schools and help Delaware families understand that all kids have the potential to be the “best kids” — they just need the right environment, a school community that supports them, and teachers that truly believe in them.
Wow, what a rousing amount of public support you received under the hashtag of #DECharters. For the time period of May 6th until the present, I saw an astonishingly large number of 0 (that would be zero) parents commenting under that hashtag. What I did see was @DECharterNetwrk and other charter schools promoting charters in Delaware, along with some other education reform companies pimping their wares. This reminded me of the time Kendall Massett went on Delaware Townsquare’s website and wrote a column asking for the same thing, and the only comments were from like-minded citizens bashing charter schools in Delaware.
*Name has been changed
Okay, I went to your Facebook page. Once again, I didn’t see anyone other than one possible parent complimenting the performances students had at your organization’s IDEA Awards show in October. Which I’ve publicly stated is an insult to the actual IDEA law that serves students with disabilities. Something you banned me from your Twitter account for when I dared you to discuss special education. But I won’t go over all that again!
Where are all the parents? I don’t see the parents on your social media sites. Unless you pulled some Jedi mind trick on me, “These are not the parents you’re looking for.” So this leaves me to ask, what exactly is the purpose of the Delaware Charter Schools Network? I know you have your charter expos where parents can come and look at prospective schools for their children. From the attendance figures you report on social media, I’ll say you do get a bit of a crowd. Not a huge one, but a decent size.
I’m going to say you are more of a lobbyist group than a parent group. I believe your target audience is Legislative Hall and the Charter School Group at the DOE. I believe your primary goal is to get as many charter schools crammed into our little state as you possibly can. Your stated mission on your website states the following:
The Delaware Charter Schools Network provides advocacy and support for the charter school movement and charter schools in Delaware. The Network educates the public about charter schools, provides assistance to existing Delaware charter schools and those yet to open, and serves as a voice for the state’s charter schools at the state and national level.
In Delaware, charter schools play a critical role in our public education system – we are the educational choice for 10% of Delaware’s public school students. DCSN currently supports 24 Delaware charter schools educating 12,521 students and over 1000 school administrators and staff members.
I was just curious, where was your support for Gateway Lab School? Cause I didn’t see you charging out of the gate to support them when parents were crying foul over the DOE’s failed attempt at non-charter renewal. As well, I haven’t seen you mention one iota of a word about Family Foundations Academy. So I would have to see you only support schools that make you look good! Can’t be a part of any controversy! Although you did move very fast when I publicly pointed out Sean Moore, the head of school at Family Foundations, was the treasurer of your governing board. He was off your website within two days!
Shouldn’t that number be 22 (maybe 21 if Family Foundations gets shut down)? Since two charters will be on the chopping block this year, Moyer and Reach, and we didn’t see your public support for them, shouldn’t you be a bit more honest about your declared purpose?