My Public Comment at the House Education Committee Meeting Today in Support of House Bill 50***

I gave public comment at the Delaware House Education Committee meeting today in support of House Bill 50 which would codify a parent’s right to opt their child out of the state standardized assessment, currently the Smarter Balanced Assessment.  Due to a time constraint of two minutes, I had to read fast, but when I got the thirty second sign from an aide, I sped it up and read the key parts from paragraph 4 but then had to stop.  A funny thing happened towards the end.  I fixated my entire focus on one person in the room, none other than Delaware Secretary of Education Mark Murphy.

To the members of the Delaware House Education Committee:

Thank you for allowing parents to have the right to speak today on what has been a very controversial issue: the right for parents to opt their children out of standardized assessments. I have to give credit where credit is due. My wife first introduced me to the topic of opt-out a year ago. When she informed me she wanted us to opt our son out of the upcoming Smarter Balanced Assessment, my immediate reaction was a vehement “No”. My gut reaction told me this would cause problems for my son in the school and I didn’t want to make waves. I heard about some crazy parents and teachers in New York protesting the tests, but I didn’t do much research on it. But then I found a friend from high school was one of the teachers and a parent, and I looked into it.

As a result of that one evening, I stand here today, imploring this committee to release this legislation. I believe it is the parent who can best decide for their children. I do not believe children are the property of the State or our schools. Yes, they have legal responsibilities for our children. But in recent years, those responsibilities have not served the best interest of our children. Our children are tested more than ever. There are those who believe we need accountability in our schools, but when that accountability is measured by the very same construct designed by those of the same mindset that created the current wave of education reform, it becomes a self-serving interest.

I have a child with disabilities. He does not have severe cognitive issues. While I respect Senator Poore immensely, I believe Senate Bill 229 from the 147th General Assembly did not give all students with disabilities an option. The vast majority of students with disabilities in our state do not fit into the category for alternative assessments. However, they are expected to perform at the same level of their peers as indicated by the goals of the Delaware DOE, Mark Murphy and Governor Markell. As a result of these goals, the DOE is currently instituting standards-based IEPs across the state. These new IEP goals, which would include goals towards the Common Core State Standards and the state assessment, are not part of Federal IDEA regulations, Delaware State Code, or even in the potential passing of Senator Poore’s Senate Bill 33. At the IEP Task Force last fall, even then Lieutenant Governor Matt Denn argued against making standards-based IEPs a part of the Governor’s report.

While we ponder on House Bill 50 today, we have to ask why the DOE is insistent on making an issue out of Federal requirements for state assessments on one hand, but on the other is implementing standards into special education with no legislative or Federal approval, or even true stakeholder input. They want to have it both ways. They will cite Federal regulation when it serves their purposes, but completely ignore it when it doesn’t.

I have heard from numerous parents and teachers across our state about this issue. Taking away the accountability factor for our teachers on an unproven assessment, taking away the fact that the DOE paid for the Smarter Balanced Assessment prior to receiving legislative approval, taking away the fact that our state joined on inter-state consortium without Congressional approval, taking away the fact that millions upon millions of dollars have been spent by the DOE on this one test, taking away the fact that the 147th General Assembly was not given all the information about the eventual uses of this assessment without their input, taking away the fact that many superintendents, schools and our DOE have blatantly misguided parents about their rights to opt out of the state assessment, it comes down to the students.

We are currently in the middle of the testing window. There have been numerous issues with the implementation of the test. Technical issues have resulted in some schools having to administer the test twice because the instruction manual gave the wrong directions. Accommodations for students with disabilities are not coming up and children are forced to sit and wait for hours while the teacher figures out how to get them to come up. There have been many reports of students becoming physically ill and vomiting over anxiety of this test. This doesn’t happen during the other assessments throughout the year. It is happening over THIS test, the Smarter Balanced Assessment.

Parents who are aware of these issues have chosen not to make their children a part of this. As parents, we want to protect our children from anything which would cause them harm. THIS TEST causes more harm than good. Parents have the right to opt their child out of the state assessment. This bill will only codify what is their inalienable right and insert into state code what is already known. In stark contradiction to Mark Murphy’s statement that parents aren’t allowed to opt out, I say we are and we will continue to do so no matter what happens today. These are our children. We gave them life and we shoulder the responsibility to make the best choices for them until they can decide for themselves. I choose to refuse this test for my child and I support every single parent who does the same. I choose to believe this committee will choose to support parents today. I choose to believe they will support the rights of every single parent in our state. As citizens of America, if we never chose to speak out against what we believe is wrong, we wouldn’t even be a country. This is just another step along our growth in exercising these rights. I support House Bill 50, and I pray that this body does as well. Thank you, and please follow your conscience today in supporting our children.

Kevin Ohlandt

House Bill 50 Released From House Education Committee, State Rep. Mike Ramone is the Hero of the Day!!!!

On an 8-6 vote, House Bill 50 was released from the House Education Committee.  It’s next destination: The Delaware House of Representatives.  There is one man who controls this, Delaware Speaker of the House Pete Schwartzkopf.  He can control when the bill is voted on in the House.

In a long and contentious committee meeting, representatives from both sides of the legislation gave testimony on why they felt their voice had merit.  Most of the public comments wanting the bill passed were parents, teachers, Delaware PTA, DSEA, and many legislators.  The opposition included Delaware Secretary of Education Mark Murphy, Delaware State Board President Dr. Teri Quinn Gray, State Board Executive Director Donna Johnson, Brandywine Superintendent Dr. Mark Holodick. the president of the Metropolitan Urban League, Jea Street, the head of school at First State Montessori School and others.

The heart of the debate though was between the sponsor of the bill, State Rep. John Kowalko, and the Chair of the House Education Committee, State Rep. Earl Jaques.  For nearly an hour, the two went back and forth with Jaques barreling questions at Kowalko, and Kowalko either answering or utilizing the services of the House Attorney to give legal advice.  In this battle of wills, Jaques came off as very condescending as if this was a personal battle between himself and Kowalko.

After all the public comment was over, the bill was finally up for a vote.  A motion was made by State Rep. Michael Ramone to table the bill.  This is done usually to save the bill instead of a no vote in committee which would kill the bill.  However, there were not enough votes to table the legislation.  Only six were in favor of this.  Ramone then made a motion to release the bill, and after seven votes, it was unclear what Ramone’s vote was, but he indicated that as the person making the motion to release the bill, that was his yes vote.  Jaques made him raise his hand as yes, and the bill was released.

I gave public comment, but due to a time constraint of two minutes, I had to cut much of my speech, but a copy of the full speech was given to each committee member for the public record, as well as a copy of the change.org petition to support the bill.  This petition will continue with an updated version.  If you have already signed the petition, you do not need to sign again.  But please get the word out!

Governor Markell did not show up, but his Education Policy Advisor Lindsay O’Mara did.  At one point during the committee meeting, she was stopped from talking with State Rep. Mike Ramone, which is one of the House rules.  According to some chatter I heard prior to the meeting, Ramone was the wildcard with this vote.  But he came through in the end.

Academy of Dover In Serious Trouble Over Noel Rodriguez’ P-Card Splurges & The Schools $2 Million Dollar+ Judgment

Academy of Dover was placed on Formal Review by the Delaware State Board of Education last Thursday, April 16th.  According to the Delaware Charter School Accountability Committee, the reasons for the request were in regards to potential financial mismanagement and academic performance.  It was added the school is in the process of ongoing litigation, which they would not reveal in the meeting nor in a group with the media afterwards what this litigation was in regards to.  However, after some digging, I have found out the reason why.

But first, let’s take a look at the transcription from the State Board of Education’s decision last week: Continue reading Academy of Dover In Serious Trouble Over Noel Rodriguez’ P-Card Splurges & The Schools $2 Million Dollar+ Judgment

Today We Find Out If Delaware Legislators Support Parents or Governor Markell #supportHB50

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At 3:30pm today, the Delaware House Education Committee meets to decide whether to send a parent opt-out bill to the next level.  For some of these legislators, it’s a no-brainer that they support a parents right to opt out.  For State Reps. John Kowalko, Kim Williams and Sean Matthews, I salute you.  For the others, I’m really not sure.  I want to believe with my heart and soul that you all support this inalienable right.  But history shows otherwise.

Last May and June, the members of the 147th General Assembly had to decide on another bill, intrinsically tied to the parent opt-out legislation.  House Bill 334 would allow the Smarter Balanced Assessment to replace DCAS as the Delaware state assessment.  Prior to the House Education Committee meeting, the Delaware DOE and State Board of Education had a meeting with the Delaware legislators to give a presentation on the Smarter Balanced Assessment.  This meeting was not open to the public, nor are there any minutes on it.  So by the time the bill was on the floor in the House Education Committee, the legislators knew everything they had to know about the test to make a decision.  As a result, there was virtually no discussion during this meeting.

As you can see from these minutes, the legislators released the bill from the committee by a vote of 10-3.  From there, it went to the floor of the House where it passed on a 30-9 vote.  The names listed are those who voted yes for the Smarter Balanced Assessment and now serve on the House Education Committee:

Barbieri: Yes

Dukes: Yes

Heffernan: Yes

Jaques: Yes

Kenton: Yes

Miro: Yes

Osienski: Yes

Ramone: Yes

As well State Rep. Hensley, who was not in the 147th General Assembly, has gone on record in opposition to this legislation.

These are the folks who need to be swayed today, in my opinion.  The wild card is State Rep. Sean Lynn, who is new to the General Assembly.  I have to admit, I gave Lynn a hard time when he was running based on comments he made at a primary debate and his key endorsement by former State Rep. Daryl Scott, but what I have seen so far from Lynn has impressed me.

All eyes in Delaware will be on this meeting today.  I believe the greatest achievement in the world would be State Rep. Deb Heffernan voting YES.  Her husband serves as a board member for the Delaware State Board of Education, and a yes vote from her today would shut me up about any bias she may have as a result of her husband’s position.

I urge all the legislators on this committee to look beyond their preconceived notions of what education ought to be and look at the reality of what it is.  It is an environment that truly has become a dark place for students.

In summary, we find out if the majority of our state legislators on this committee serve the will of the people and their rights, or if they serve the Governor and the Department of Education.  It comes down to a matter of the very foundations this country was built upon, the inalienable rights of the people.

Appoquinimink Board to vote on recording board meetings tonight !