Twenty Years Later…”A Gift Of A Thistle”

20 Years

Out of all the movies I’ve seen, this scene is one of my favorites.  It is so simple.  William Wallace’s father and brother were killed, and he is left alone.  Crying, the boy feels like his world is gone.  And then one action, by one little girl, changes everything for him.

I can’t believe it’s been twenty years since this movie came out.  It feels like yesterday.  Sometimes we all feel like that little boy, lost and confused, feeling like no one is on our side.  But we always have to believe something better is coming.  I was reminded recently that hope isn’t enough, you have to believe.  I thank my friend for telling me that.  I needed to hear those words.

We all have loss in our lives.  It doesn’t even have to be a loved one.  It can be a dream, or an idea.  Loss is unavoidable.  Its what you do with it that makes you into the person you are.  When I look back at the person I was twenty years ago, and who I am today, I see so much change.  For those who knew me back then, it is night and day compared to now.  But the heart of me, the parts reserved for those who I’ve always been close to, that’s still there.  I’ve just learned to bring it out and show it to the rest of the world.   I’ve always been a person with very deep thoughts.  But it’s not about me anymore.  It hasn’t been for a long time.

I wish I could say it is just about my family, but it is beyond them as well.  It’s about having the courage to say the things that need to be said, the things you wish you said.  Its about actions taken, and actions to come.  It’s about finding your voice after a lifetime of not knowing what to say.


It’s taking four months to send out results of the COMPUTERIZED Common Core Standards SBAC test. Really.


I can only laugh. Today, Delaware’s Governor Markell said “This is the best test Delaware ever created.” I will crack up when the Delaware DOE makes this announcement. I’m guessing the scores are REALLY bad so they are trying to delay as much as humanly possible…

Seattle Education


After millions of dollars in tests, workbooks, texts and technology along with weeks of lost library time and class time, this CCS SBAC test that is to close the achievement gap, part the seas and bring about world peace… is not ready for prime time.

That’s right folks. The much anticipated results of all that work, stress, time and money poured into the SBAC testing will not be seen until September of this year. It is taking the powers-that-be four months to tally results of a computerized and much touted test.

The best part is after results are received, parents, students and teachers will not be able to see the questions or answers to know exactly what ares need to be improved. No, that will come out in pages of computer printout referred to as “data” that the teachers are to interpret in their free time. We don’t want to leave…

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Action Alert: We need to debate @TeachForAmerica and Special Education


Cloaking Inequity

Special Education students are one of our most exceptional student populations. Should Teach For America teachers who have had 18 hours in a classroom teach Special Education? Natomas Unified School District right here in Sacramento California will be debating this issue tomorrow (Agenda for the Board Meeting on June 10, 2015. TFA Agenda Item is XII. Consent Items – g). More on that later in the post.

The following is from a dissertation entitled A disparate impact?: Understanding the relationship between discretionary removal, special education, and African American students by Bonita Homer, a student whose dissertation i chaired while teaching at the University of Texas at Austin.

In the early 1800s, special education in the United States appeared in the form of schools that were designed to educate students who were with deafness, blindness, and mentally retardation (Winzer, 1993)… The purpose of these schools was not to…

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Delaware DOE’s Report Card Survey: Very Interesting Bidders for This Contract….

Delaware DOE, School Accountability

“Information to be included on the Snapshot Report Card will be informed by feedback on a public statewide survey, statewide focus groups, and stakeholder committee feedback, with the final approval of the Secretary of Education.”

The Delaware Department of Education put out a bidder request for contract DOE2015-16 last month, and the bidding has already closed as of June 3rd.  The potential vendors for this school accountability initiative have been made public, and they are Diamond Technologies, Tembo Inc., and Public Consulting Group.

Diamond Technologies is used to working with Delaware state agencies, including work done with the Division of Unemployment Insurance, and even the Delaware DOE, under Secretary Lillian Lowery.  Their previous work with the DOE included an update to the DOE’s digital scholarship information.

Tembo Inc.’s last contract with the DOE was an effectiveness report on Teach For America in Delaware.  This controversial report drew the ire of State Rep. John Kowalko at a House Education Committee meeting last February.  The results of the report led to legislation already signed by Governor Markell extending Teach For America in Delaware for another three years.

Certainly no stranger to Exceptional Delaware, I wrote extensively about Public Consulting Group, otherwise known as PCG, last summer.  They are the contracted vendor with the DOE and the Department of Health and Human Services for the Medicaid reimbursement program.  This is a company with many controversial issues around data collection.

The Report Card Survey is based on the DOE’s ESEA Flex Waiver with the US DOE, which hasn’t even been signed off on yet by them.  This school accountability system would allow parents to see a letter grade for each Delaware school, just as students receive letter grades of A-F.  I will come right out and say I do not trust any survey the DOE creates or has a hand in.  Furthermore, this survey is based on standardized test scores in part.  If students are already expected to do bad on the Smarter Balanced Assessment, will parents know enough to differentiate the issues with standardized testing and how their child actually learns in school?

The main areas of the school report card will be the following: academic achievement defined by the DOE as standardized test scores and overall growth on these assessments, college and career readiness, chronic absenteeism, and how many students are on a graduation track.  That’s it.  Nothing about special education, community outreach, school climate, bullying, discipline, cleanliness, or anything else.  Just everything tied to the Smarter Balanced Assessment and throwing in chronic absenteeism just for kicks.

To view the DOE’s bid proposal, please go here:

To view the DOE’s list of bidders for this contract, please go here:

Some Big Names Bidding For Priority Schools Contract With The DOE…

Delaware Priority Schools

“The Contractor will have a track record of influencing teachers, school leaders, parents, school boards, and other constituents, and will have the exceptional interpersonal skills and credibility to drive rapid performance through school turnaround initiatives.  This critical role will report directly to the Chief Accountability and Performance Officer.”

The deadline for the bids on contract DOE 2015-13, Priority School Supports Contractors, expired on June 1st.    Three bids have been entered on this contract, and a couple of them are very big names in the corporate education reform world: Pearson Education and American Institutes for Research.  The third bidder, Innovative Educational Programs, hails from Newark, New Jersey.

Any of these three companies would be very bad for priority schools in my opinion.  Pearson runs the PARCC tests in many states.  American Institutes for Research (AIR) is the assessment vendor for Delaware, and has been ever since DCAS was introduced.  And Innovative Educational Programs is from an area where many turnaround schools have been converted to charter schools.  So much so that hundreds of students recently protested these types of actions a couple weeks ago.

The last thing any Delaware school needs is more contractors coming in, attempting to make our students more “college and career ready” through “rigor” and “grit”.  Especially the most vulnerable students: low-income, minority and special needs.

To read the actual bid proposal, please go here:

To read the list of bidders, go here:

Delaware Opt-Out Gets FairTest Coverage the Past Two Weeks!!!! Delaware PTA & Exceptional Delaware!!!

Parental Opt-Out of Standardized Testing

The FairTest website, for the past two weeks, has Delaware opt-out in the news.  In their synopsis from two weeks ago, they had Dr. Terri Hodges and Yvonne Johnson, both with the Delaware PTA, covered in their weekly news with their very awesome editorial in the News Journal.  In last week’s news, they covered the letter State Rep. John Kowalko and I wrote to the News Journal.  Kowalko did NOT get co-authorship from the News Journal for our letter.

I’m very glad to see little old Delaware get noticed for our growing opt-out movement.  The noise will get louder as long as the Smarter Balanced Assessment is still on the table.  You know, the test that is included in the “assessment inventory” but was called “The best test Delaware ever made,” by Governor Markell today in a speech at a reformy non-profit in D.C.

For those who may not be aware, the next step for House Bill 50 is the Senate Education Committee meeting tomorrow, 3pm, at Legislative Hall in Dover.  If it passes there, and then the full Senate, will Governor Markell sign into law a bill designed to not punish schools and students over this “best test”?  Or will he veto the legislation, dragging the House Bill 50 out over the rest of the month, or possibly into next January?  Either way expect some fireworks!

Final Public Hearings For Freire, Prestige Academy and DE Design Lab Tonight At 5pm, Academy of Dover Tomorrow At 6pm

Delaware Charter Schools

The Charter School Accountability Committee at the Delaware Department of Education is holding the final Public Hearings for Freire Charter School, Prestige Academy and Delaware Design Lab High School tonight in the 2nd floor auditorium at the Carvel Building in Wilmington at 5pm.  Academy of Dover will have their final public hearing tomorrow night at the main Delaware DOE building across from Legislative Hall at 5pm tomorrow in the 2nd floor Cabinet Room.

These are not public hearings where the schools are on trial.  Rather, it gives the public time to give comment on these schools official formal review proceedings.  There is a transcript which is put on the DOE website a couple days after.

I anticipate quite a few of the community members near the new Freire sight to protest this school’s location again.  For Academy of Dover, God only knows what will come out at this hearing!

Appoquinimink Mom’s Letter To Senate Education Committee In Support Of House Bill 50

House Bill 50, Parental Opt-Out of Standardized Testing

An Appoquinimink mother, Tara Greathouse, asked me to share her letter to the Senate Education Committee in support of House Bill 50.  Way to go Tara! The letter speaks for itself.

Dear Senator Robert Marshall, Senator Bethany Hall-Long, Senator Margaret Rose Henry, Senator Ernesto Lopez, Senator Nicole Poore, Senator Bryan Townsend and Senator Brian Pettyjohn,

It is an honor and a great privilege to have the opportunity to write to you today regarding HB 50. I believe we can all agree that education is a top priority and should be a constant moving build first between parents and teachers to ensure the foundation and principles needed for the success of our young learners. This relationship and engagement will help lead them into how to be compassionate and driven leaders to enable college and career readiness in an ever changing world.  I am confident that we will get there; however, with the absence of teacher and parent involvement and education being driven by non-teacher and non-parent agendas of the state and federal government, the current strategic model will only destruct their educational experience and will affect their generation and future generations to come. The cascade effect of that will be felt by all of us decades later.

I would like to give you some background on how I was able to make an informed decision for the best interest of our 5th grader, whom we opted out of the Smarter Balanced assessment this past March. We have two other children and one day they will be faced with Smarter Balanced if we don’t do something about this dangerous path now.

In December 2014, right before Christmas break, my son brought home his agenda book like he does every day. We review and discuss the agenda book together daily. I noticed he wrote “Smarter Balanced reviewing and practicing” as an agenda item with no other details or information to support it. I asked him what Smarter Balanced was and he shared that it was going to be a test he would have to do soon. This test was scheduled the week of March 16-20, 2015. I became very concerned because this was the first I had heard of these words, Smarter Balanced. What does that mean?

I began searching for answers starting with his teacher. I asked her some questions and she shared that it was a state assessment but that it is does not affect nor is it written in his school performance and results of the test would not be back until after school year end which is after he moves on to the next grade.  Right away, as I mom, I felt something was terribly wrong.  I went directly to the DOE website and found no evidence of research and data to support this assessment nor was there an academic growth measurement model to confirm whether or not this assessment would be beneficial for our son. This is when I began digging and took to the internet looking for facts, not opinions.

On January 24, 2015, I attended a town hall debate at UD Clayton Hall. I learned about this event via Facebook. I was informed through this invitation that our very own DOE would be there with other speakers on both aisles of the debate and knew right away this would be it to gain a clearer picture and understanding of the facts behind Smarter Balanced. There was only one problem, DOE never showed up as they had confirmed they would attend this event to the event host. Then I noticed the House Education Committee Chair was there, Earl Jacques, and looked forward to hearing from him on this topic but not a word from him. Instead of our own Delaware leaders and educators speaking to us on this topic, I learned that the four panelists that did show up were from other states; Florida, Massachusetts, Pennsylvania and Nebraska and they were:  Sandra Stotsky, Peg Luksik, Kathleen Jasper and Judy Short. Delaware leadership had an opportunity to have a conversation about this with teachers and parents; however, they failed to attend to bring transparency, knowledge sharing and understanding to the people of Delaware. I learned some facts in this town hall that enabled me to then re-confirm the facts through other various reliable resources noted at the end of this letter about Smarter Balanced and the following facts remain:

  • SBAC was not driven, written and implemented by experienced educators nor was teacher and parent input considered
  • SBAC is not an accurate measurement of a student’s academic achievement
  • SBAC did not go through a research and data channel to confirm the validity and accuracy of measurement
  • SBAC was designed not for the sole benefit and purpose of a child; rather the child is used in this experiment to label and punish schools and teachers and quite frankly, this is morally wrong
  • SBAC is to help continue the pattern of removing traditional education that have sent men to the moon and it will continue to remove local district community control
  • SBAC is costing our state a fortune and removes critical funding needed inside the classroom. We don’t need ineffective funding outside of the classroom where SBAC is being housed.
  • SBAC requires a minimum preparation of three months of teacher and student classroom time. Therefore, taking more critical time away from the classroom to educate our children.
  • SBAC district knowledge sharing sessions happened after most of the children participated in the SBAC assessment in March.
  • SBAC has been noted by our DOE that there will be a 70% failure rate. How do we help our children of our future understand that one?

I have always been in support of standardized assessments; however, given the facts above is where I reside and stand today as a concerned parent of public school education in our state.

I ask that you please allow for teachers and parents to be heard and to not let this bill rest. The majority of our House of Representatives message is very clear to every parent and teacher. Please let those voices be heard just as they did. Please be open to hearing from those that you serve that have elected and placed their trust in you. Please consider supporting this bill with the same compassion and commitment you had when you first began serving the people of Delaware. God bless.


Tara Greathouse

Below are resources that I utilized to do my due diligence on SBAC.

Founded on Truth 

Common Core and Associated High Stakes Assessments Town Hall at University of Delaware Clayton Hall 1/24/15 

University of Arkansas – The Department of Education Reform

Truth in American Education


Diane Ravitch

NY Teacher Speaks for Kids: Strongly Objects to Common Core Testing

United Opt Out: The Movement to End Corporate Education Reform

Governor Markell Gives “College Ready” Speech At New America, Gets Bonus Points For Not Using The Word “Rigor”

Governor Markell

Delaware Governor Jack Markell gave the keynote address at a forum called “Making ‘College Ready’ Matter: College and Career Ready Policies in the States” this morning in an event sponsored by the corporate education reform non-profit called New America Foundation.

Markell looked visibly weary and tired.  The speech began at 9:15am.  He used the same line I’ve heard from him a few times this year: “There has never been a better time for someone with the right skills, but there has never been a worse time for someone with the worst skills.”  Markell explained that states that have fully adapted the state standards have done better.  He cited Massachusetts as the first state to adapt to new standards and how it has paid off for them.

He said Delaware is one of the only states still calling them the “Common Core State Standards”, but even if other states are no longer calling them that they are still the same.  In talking about pushback to the standards, he blamed the original intent of supporters thinking it would keep federal intrusion at bay.  He said the opponents have gained a lot of traction around the country.  “Implementation hasn’t been very good in some places.  We worked hard with the Delaware Department of Education to make sure that didn’t happen.”

Markell said it was “exciting to see educators so empowered with sharing information” across districts and “we have a responsibility to fix the implementation.”  He believes the standards are “elevating the teacher profession.”

The Governor addressed the issue of opt-out and firmly stated he is opposed to opt-out.  He “understands the concerns about parents and teachers about too much testing”.  He dovetailed into the assessment inventory as if this is the answer to the Smarter Balanced problem.  “Good assessments are critical, they add value to educators.”  In talking about the Smarter Balanced Assessment, Markell said “It’s the best test we’ve ever made in Delaware”, it was “the right way for us to go”, “it’s more difficult than our predecessors”, and it is a “fair measure for parents and educators.”  “In Delaware, our colleges and universities have agreed to use Smarter Balanced scores for college coursework.”

This brought up the subject of remedial classes.  As Markell was citing figures, the camera panned to what looked like a classroom and several teenagers present.  When Markell asked the crowd if they were still with him, the camera caught a teenage girl yawning.  Markell bragged about getting 100% of college-ready seniors to apply to college which included sending volunteers to schools to help applicants out with college essays and financial aid.  “We had 250 students who wouldn’t have bothered to apply.”

He stated college is not for everyone, and it is our (America) responsibility to make sure these students have a place and they get the necessary training to enter the workforce.

My biggest question concerning this speech was if the Governor receives revenue for these types of events as well as the travel costs associated with them.  So I emailed the Governor’s Education Policy Advisor, Lindsay O’Mara with some questions just now:

  • Today at 12:11 PM
  • O’Mara Lindsay (Governor)

Good afternoon Lindsay,

I happened to listen to Governor Markell’s speech on college readiness today at New America in Washington D.C., and I had some questions concerning these speeches.

Does he get paid for these speeches?  Does the non-profit or company pay the travel costs associated with them (such as fuel, food, lodging, the Governor’s protection, etc.)?  If not, what part of the state budget is that allocated in?

Thank you,

Kevin Ohlandt

We shall see if I get a response.  I’m sure I will see her tomorrow at the Senate Education Committee meeting.  I have to give Governor Markell props for not using the word “rigor” but he more than made up for it with the term “college and career ready”.