Delaware DOE Does NOT Want Smarter Balanced & AIR Contracts Released, FOIA Response Is Ugly!!!!

On March 6th, I sent a Freedom of Information Act request to the Delaware Department of Education.  Read below to see what I asked for and what the response was, and then my thoughts on this.

Date of Request: Friday, March 06, 2015
To: Doe.foia@doe.k12.de.us

Name: Kevin Ohlandt
Email: kevino3670@yahoo.com

Records Requested: This is a request under the Delaware Freedom of Information Act, § 100001 et seq. I ask to obtain copies, preferably in digital format as PDF files, of the following, which I understand to be held by your Department. I ask that correspondence regarding this request be sent via email to kevino3670@yahoo.com. Information Requested: I request the Delaware Department of Education’s contracts (whether they are awarded contracts, cooperative contracts, set aside contracts, sole source contracts, or recently closed contracts, including any and all RFPs, addendums, award letters, and change orders) agreements, pacts, communications (whether in email or written correspondence, email should be in To: formats and cc: formats between any DOE employee with the below companies or consortiums) with the following companies or consortiums: American Institutes for Research (or if they are listed under AIR or Amer Institutes for Research), Smarter Balanced Assessment Consortium (or if they are listed under SBAC, SB, Smarter, Smarter Balanced, or Smarter Balanced Assessment), and Data Recognition Corporation. If available, I ask that this information be provided in a PDF format for the contracts, and a database format with a delimited text file for the communications. If you have this information in an existing report, that may suffice. I would prefer that this information (be sent) by e-mail, but the records can also be mailed to: Kevin Ohlandt (took out my address).  If you deny any or all of this request, please cite each specific exemption you feel justifies the refusal to release the information and notify me of the appeal procedures available to me under the law. I am a reporter and the sole writer for Exceptional Delaware, a blog about education in Delaware and the United States of America. This blog is widely read in Delaware and the USA. This request is made in the routine course of newsgathering. As such, I request a waiver of all fees for this request. Disclosure of the requested information to me is in the public interest because it is likely to contribute significantly to the public understanding of operations or activities of the government and is not primarily in my commercial interest. If the communications part of the request takes longer to obtain than the contract portion, please provide the contracts and all aforementioned parts of those contracts with undue delay. If you wish to discuss this request, I can be reached at (302) xxx-xxxx. My e-mail address is kevino3670@yahoo.com. I prefer to be reached by e-mail or phone. Sincerely, Kevin Ohlandt, Exceptional Delaware Writer/Creator/Reporter 

Contact if cost greater then: 0.00

After some back and forth with the DOE FOIA representative, Tina Shockley, and making it well-known that if the emails took longer, to go ahead and send the contracts first since I thought this would be the easiest thing to do.  On the date of the designated 15 business day response time, March 27th, I received nothing.  I sent a very stern email advising they were out of compliance with Delaware FOIA laws.  Today, I received this email from Tina Shockley:

From: Shockley Tina <Tina.Shockley@doe.k12.de.us>
To:kevino3670@yahoo.com” <kevino3670@yahoo.com>
Sent: Monday, March 30, 2015 8:48 AM
Subject: FW: FOIA request Comprehensive Estimates

Dear Mr. Ohlandt:

Thank you for your email on Friday. I did acknowledge your email request (see attached) on March 9, 2015, but I mistakenly sent it to the wrong email.  Please accept my apologies for that.  Likewise, I had this email ready to go on Friday, but forgot to send it before I left the office.

This email correspondence is to advise you that per your request for public documents under the Delaware Freedom of Information Act, 29 Del. C. Ch. 100, the Delaware Department of Education will need more than 15 days to fill your request because the request is for voluminous records, requires additional legal advice and the request includes one or more records that are in storage or archived.  DDOE estimates that the records requested from your FOIA request will be provided on or before June 1, 2015.   Because this is a large request which includes records dating back many years, we have contacted the Division of Public Archives.  They advise it will take at least 6 weeks to gather the information you are requesting. We will advise you if it will take longer than that.

You also noted that your FOIA was in the routine course of newsgathering, and you requested a waiver of all fees for this request.  I believe you may be confusing the provisions of the federal FOIA with the Delaware one.  Unfortunately, there is no state exemption or waiver for media.  If the review takes more than one hour, administrative costs are assessed.  Given that, I am providing you several options/cost estimates based on your request.  Please advise which portion of work you would like to pay and have us proceed with. Note work cannot start on your request until we receive payment.

The searches and administrative costs are:

Search 1 – $300 for DTI email search – this is for email correspondence between staff members.   You are welcome to send a check now made payable to DTI to get this work started.

Search 2 – $718.16 for DDOE to do email search, review and redact – this is based on 6 hours of work for the IT person to go through all the old records @ a rate of $45.46/hr., plus 20 hours of work at $22.27 hourly rate (of lowest rate for person able to perform the work) for the administrative processing, review/redaction of the files.

Search 3 – $5,359.20 for DDOE to search and pull contract information for the duration of the contracts, agreements requested – this is based on 220 hours of work at the $24.36 hourly rate (of lowest rate for person able to perform work)

Copies – You have the choice to come in and publicly view the information, or if you wish to have a copy of the materials gathered, we’d estimate that cost to be $191.50 = 1935 pages – 20 pages free x .10 

If you would prefer to put a timeframe on your request, that may reduce the costs and time to fulfill your request.    If you do so, I can provide you with an adjusted estimate.

Likewise, if you’d like to request and pay a specific amount, we can collect and copy and provide you with the documents reflective of the cost you pay, however, any work after that would not continue unless further payment is received.

Please advise which searches you would like to proceed with at this time.

In the meantime, I would encourage you to review the following public link  from our website which does provide some RFPs and contracts: http://bids.delaware.gov/.
Tina ShockleyEducation Associate – Policy Advisor Department of Education – Secretary’s Office, 401 Federal Street, Suite 2Dover, DE  19901

SLC:  D370B

 

 In what world does going through contracts take 220 hours?  These should all be available on the State of Delaware bid website, but they are not.  It is not a requirement, but they do so with every other contract.  Why don’t they with anything regarding standardized testing?  I expected the outrageous email costs, but over $5,300 for going over contracts?  That are already in PDF format I’m sure somewhere in the DOE computer system?  And here is how I know they are full of it because last summer I submitted a FOIA request to the DOE for the contract between the DOE and Public Consulting Group.  I got it back in a few days.

I can only assume they do not want this information to get out.  And if that is the case, they are hiding something.  But what?  The DOE has also been working with American Institutes for Research for a long time.  They created DCAS!  Taking away all the emails, how many contracts are set up with these companies?  Or is it so secretive it would put them in a very bad position if it ever got out?  I will be talking to the Delaware Department of Justice and Delaware Attorney General Matt Denn on this matter!

This is the Smarter Balanced Assessment.  What could be so controversial the DOE does not want the public to see?  Children are taking this test right now in Delaware.  If I were a Delaware parent, I would be very concerned about this lack of transparency in regards to, as State Rep. Earl Jaques put it, a “little test”.

In other FOIA news, if State Rep. John Kowalko’s FOIA to Governor Markell’s office is answered with the release of alternative emails of the Governor, does that mean they are going to go back and release all the other emails I did not receive from my January FOIA for all emails between the Governor and Paul Herdman, Joel Klein, Michelle Rhee and Arne Duncan?  I would think they would have to since it was part of an official FOIA request…

The Conversation

I’ve been doing a lot of thinking lately, about this little thing called education in Delaware.  Want to know what I hear?  A lot of screaming.  A lot of people stamping their feet on the ground saying you can’t do this.  I’m guilty of it.  We all are.  Whether it’s the DOE, Governor Markell, the teachers, the superintendents, the boards, the charters, the legislators, whoever.  Tempers are flaring, and everyone is up in arms.  We can sit here all day and talk about what hasn’t been done, or what we think will happen.  We can say our way is the best way.  But guess what’s not going to change… the everyday reality of the students in this state.  We can form committees or a task force or whatever you want to call it.  It will drag things out, kick the can down the road, and someone else will have to pick it up.  And there we are, right back at the same place we started from.  Do I have an easy solution?  Probably not.  Nobody does.  We can keep throwing stones at each other.  Whether it’s done with a state board resolution, a vote of no confidence, or a blog post.  But guess what?  None of it is working.  We have eight sides in this battle: the teachers, the parents, the DOE, the districts, the administrators, the charters, the politicians and the communities.  Actually nine if you want to count the students.  But they aren’t a side, they are the victims.

I’ve taken many sides in this war, but at the end of the day, I have to ask: is anything better?  Have I improved education in Delaware?  Nope.  Not one iota.  If anything, I’ve made it worse.  I’ve brought fire down in regards to a standardized test, preached from the heavens, and parents are opting out.  I think that’s a good thing, but the reality is it is not going away any time soon.  It can’t.  Too many of the sides are for it.  The big and powerful ones.  But here is the deal, we need to get together.  Not in one hour meetings every couple of weeks.  Not in a board meeting where things can or can’t be said.  All sides need to get together.  There needs to be a whole week or weekend thing.  Where appropriate stakeholders get together and hash all this out.  We will scream, we will fight, and it will get ugly.  But no one can leave.  And when the fire of anger dies down to a few smoldering embers, that’s when the conversation starts.  We talk, we strategize, we form ideas, we find out what’s working and what isn’t.  And we do it together.  Cause if any of these sides do this without all of the others, nothing else matters.  Then it’s just noise.

Certain things aren’t going away any time soon: standardized tests, charters, school districts, opt out, choice, bullying, special education, crime, poverty, lack of funding, behavior issues, teacher evaluations, and anger.  All need to come to the table and deal with these issues on EQUAL standing.  This can’t be about one side saying they are more important, cause that doesn’t work.  People will need to eat some crow and give up some things.  If it means a consensus and taking on the Feds, then so be it.  If it means teachers have to give up what they feel are some inalienable rights, then so be it.  If it means parents have to be more tolerant about things, then so be it.  If politicians have to give up their own political ambitions with education, then so be it.  All sides must be willing to listen and collaborate.  We need to get real, and we need to do it NOW.  If you don’t think this is a crisis with immediate attention, then you need to open your eyes.  If you think the Delaware Way is appropriate for the students in this state, open your eyes.  Let’s get all the cards on the table so everyone can see them, and let’s start to fix things.  Adult egos and students don’t mix.

Governor Markell Ignores The Plights of Special Needs Students While Serving Corporate Interests

NGA Summer Meetings 2014, Guest Speaker, Vice President Joe Biden

So let me get this straight Jack: You want to boost the “great” schools in Delaware, many of which have already been named in a complaint that’s currently in the hands of the US DOE Office of Civil Rights division, but you won’t even mention the word special education?  Are you out of your mind?  Here’s the facts Jack.  These kids are treated horribly in many of our schools, or they aren’t even allowed to go there based on asinine laws that fit the mindset of a racist America.  It’s not really “choice” if some can go and some can’t.

Let’s not even get into your “World Immersion” program which is already causing pockets of schools to be re-segregated due to this clever idea.  Is this your plan for the non-Wilmington schools since the charter network can’t get their hooks in?  Set it up so the schools that don’t have these programs have lower scores because the “smart” kids want to take Chinese?  For children with an IEP or a 504 plan, this program is of course open to them, but isn’t recommended due to the “rigor” involved.

Everything that comes out of the castle of Markell stinks of corporate education reform and most parents are clueless.  The number of parents catching on is rising, but not nearly enough.  Do the districts even know what the long-term ramifications of your plans are?  Or do they just see dollar signs and think it’s okay?  I guess whether a student takes the Smarter Balanced in English or Chinese is immaterial to you, as long as they take your precious test.

I’ve already heard from some that your plans are designed to take advantage of those who need it the most.  While certain legislators are doing their best to take care of these students, you and your kind just steamroll right past them.  Little do you realize, these children will be taking care of you and yours when you are unable to take care of yourself.  Are you really going to guide them on a one-way street to discrimination and non-inclusion?  Of course you are, you haven’t done much to help these students at all except put them in a corner and ignore them.