The Parent Press Conference on Delaware Education today went amazingly well! About 25-30 parents came out, and many of the major Delaware media outlets were on hand as well. Some parents from up north were unable to make it do a very nasty stomach bug making it’s appearance up there, but there were many familiar and unfamiliar faces there. I gave an opening speech:
Thank you all for coming out today. My name is Kevin Ohlandt, and I am a proud father of a wonderful 5th grader in the Capital School District. I would like to recognize Delaware State Rep. John Kowalko and Delaware Senator Dave Lawson from the 148th General Assembly for joining us. As well we have State Rep. Kim Williams in the audience today. Both John and Dave are the co-sponsors on House Bill 50, which is the parent opt out bill. This legislation would codfify the parental right to opt out of the state standardized assessment, which is currently the Smarter Balanced Assessment. In the details of the bill, no student would be penalized for being opted out, and the student’s opt out data would not become a part of the school’s accountability ratings.
Since this bill was first announced, other legislators have made comments such as “This bill will never pass” or the Smarter Balanced Assessment is just a “little test”. When the opt out movement in Delaware began in earnest earlier last month, many parents were frightened or intimidated by certain school districts in our state. They received letters and emails from districts which included the following types of language:
-“Only students who have an extreme medical condition or a mental health can concern may be precluded from taking the assessment.”
-Making parents sign a waiver indicating “Despite this legal requirement for state testing, I elect NOT to have my child tested for the 2014-2015 school year and that my child will be counted as “absent” for purposes of testing.”
-“You will have to go to the DOE to get a form.”
-A superintendent saying “I’m the only one who can say who does not have to take the test.”
The reason much of this confusion began in the first place started with the Delaware Department of Education. In early December, they issued suggested guidance to school districts to handle the issue of parent opt out. This included having schools issue letters to parents indicating details regarding the Delaware state code and the state assessment. For three months, they watched school districts cite this code and knew it did not include parents in this part of the law. Parents felt intimidated and bullied by schools and the DOE let it happen. It wasn’t until the Delaware PTA had town halls concerning opt out that the Delaware DOE was forced to admit they can’t do anything to stop parent opt out. They said as a state they can’t legally do anything and it is up to the districts. There is no consistency among the districts in Delaware. Some have complied with parents in their requests, and some have flat-out said no, and that their child will test. I have seen an email where one director of curriculum stated he was afraid too many of the “smart” kids would opt out which would affect the school’s rating. As well, threats of Federal funding cuts to our schools are unsubstantiated based on other states not meeting the mandatory 95% threshold for testing participation in each sub-group. Over 40 schools in New Jersey did not meet these guidelines last year and not one single school received any cuts in funding.
As parents, this is very troubling. If parents didn’t want ANY standardized testing, we would have spoken up sooner. Many parents do not want their child taking the Smarter Balanced Assessment. Our own Secretary of Education Mark Murphy has publicly stated he expects 70% of students won’t make proficiency. This was further clarified by the DOE’s Direct of Assessment, Brian Touchette, who stated he expects this trend for the next few years.
As we move on to the 3rd state standardized test in seven years, we have to ask ourselves, how much is enough? Haven’t our children been tested enough? We want to close the proficiency gaps between regular students and those with learning disabilities, special needs, minorities, and low-income, but who are we fooling? Those gaps will NEVER close. We will never reach 100% proficiency. We live in a state that was ranked horribly with SAT scores. We live in a state that has not met compliance with Federal regulations in special education for five out of the past ten years, including the last two years in a row. We need to stop fooling ourselves that standardized testing is the answer to problems in education. We need to take a hard look at what our Governor and our DOE is telling us. Because everything they have told us has been designed to further a corporate education reform movement that created the Common Core State Standards, created the current wave of standardized testing, and created the accountability ratings designed to judge our schools and teachers based on their own creations. There are alterior motives at play here, and our students are being used as pawns. They have been ever since we allowed corporations to have a say in how our children are being educated. This is what I believe: these education reformers WANT our children to do bad on these tests. They want them to continue to struggle and be test prepped and held to “rigourous” standards. If all students did great on these tests, there wouldn’t be any need for all the companies and non-profits that come into our schools and tell them how to do better. These companies are making money hand over fist over children, and Governor Markell, our DOE, and many of our legislators are allowing this to happen.
As parents, many of us do not like the atmosphere this creates in our schools. We do not tolerate the constant disruption this reform has taken. We do not believe all assessments are bad, but we believe the Smarter Balanced Assessment is atrocious. This is why we have chosen to opt our children out. While we may have different and individual specific reasons, the bottom line is this: It is our fundamental and Constitutional right to choose how our children are educated. We will not be marginalized and told our children are being set up for failure or we don’t measure up because we have taken them out of a situation we believe with our heart and soul is harmful to our children. We are not just special needs parents, we are all parents. We have gifted children, regular children and special needs children. We come from low-income and minority environments, middle class, and wealthy environments. We do not believe our teachers and schools should be measured on standardized tests. But we do want to be a part of the conversation as equal partners in determining what comes next. As parents, we are not a part of many of the crucial decisions about education until after the ink is dry on laws and regulations. We are then asked to take a survey on the results. This is completely unacceptable. Our legislators need to hear our voice because they serve the people, not the corporations or pro-education reform politicians who pretend to care about children while our children are tested incessantly so they can do better on a big test.
With that, I would like to introduce Delaware State Rep. John Kowalko who has some words on this subject.
State Rep. Kowalko spoke about how it is every single parent’s right to make the best education decisions about their children. He urged every member of the audience to bring themselves and multiple people to the House Education Committee meeting on April 22nd, where House Bill 50 will be heard by the committee. He said the bill needs the full public support behind it and stressed all parents to contact their legislators in Delaware to make it happen.
State Senator Dave Lawson spoke briefly, but passionately, advising parents these are your children and no one can take away your parental rights.
Following this, Delaware PTA Representative Yvonne Johnson spoke about the recent Delaware PTA Resolution supporting parent opt out, and how she spoke on the stairs of Legislative Hall fourteen years ago arguing against DSTP and things are the same.
Christina School District Board of Education Member John Young spoke next, and gave a riveting speech which can be found on Transparent Christina and he was given a great deal of applause.
I gave concluding statements, which consisted of this:
Thank you to everyone who spoke this evening. As parents, we have come a long way in Delaware, but there are still many hurdles to overcome. We need to demand accountability and transparency from those who we trusted to educate our children.
I have attempted to get answers from the DOE and Governor Markell’s office with Freedom of Information requests. Others have as well. We have found these requests are given a very heavy price tag by the DOE. To this end, I have filed a complaint with the Delaware Department of Justice to review these seemingly unfair and potentially illegal practices by the Delaware DOE. As well, Rep. Kowalko has filed a FOIA request to the Governor’s office to have any and all alias emails revealed by Governor Markell. There are important contracts and agreements the DOE has not made publicly available, including the Smarter Balanced Assessment and the tesing vendor, American Institutes for Research.
Governor Markell and the Rodel Foundation of Delaware have a long history of collaboration in Delaware, going back the past ten years. Both the Governor and the CEO of Rodel, Dr. Paul Herdman, as well as Delaware Secretary of Education Mark Murphy, all belong to a think tank called The Aspen Institute. This organization is filled with corporate education reform politicians and policy-makers, as well as many companies the Delaware DOE signed contracts with during the Race To The Top. In the past five years, the DOE has spent over $27 million dollars to these companies. The DOE has a history of implementing policy without legislative approval until after the fact. This includes the Common Core State Standards, Race To The Top and the Smarter Balanced Assessment. They have rewritten state code when the General Assembly was not in session. Every single education reform initiative Governor Markell has implemented in Delaware comes from the corporate education reform playbook. For these reasons, as well as many others, I would like to echo the announcement of the Christina and Red Clay Educators Association in stating I have no confidence in the Delaware Department of Education and the non-elected Governor appointed State Board of Education. I also echo the Delaware State Educators Association in stating I have no confidence in Delaware Secretary of Education Mark Murphy to lead our children in education. I would like to announce that I have NO CONFIDENCE in Governor Jack Markell with education matters in our state.
I would like to call on the 148th General Assembly of Delaware to implement legislation calling for an elected State Board of Education and to demand the removal of Mark Murphy as Delaware Secretary of Education. I would also call on them to rein in the DOE so they cannot sign agreements on major education initiatives without legislative approval. I would also call on them to initiate legislation demanding any legislator that has a spouse at the DOE or the State Board of Education not be allowed to sponsor, discuss, or vote on any legislation that can impact anything education related in the State of Delaware. We need to make sure education bills are researched and discussed and not tabled in a bureacracy based on loyalty to a Governor and corporate lobbyists. Education has to become the first priority of the FIrst State, and parents are demanding radical changes, so our children can succeed with the great teachers and schools we deserve. Students and their families should be the first part of a conversation, not the last.
I thanked everyone for coming, did a few interviews with some media outlets, and stayed for a bit while the crowd dispersed. What was great about this was there was no one organization controlling the conversation. It was regular, everyday parents, backed by two legislators who support parental rights. I am proud to help parents discover options with opt out, and as Yvonne Johnson said, please educate yourself on these issues!