On 6/17/15, the Delaware DOE had a working lunch regarding the Smarter Balanced Assessment Survey, issues with the testing, data incidents, number of technology issues, a timeframe for the release of the scores, how the report will look, and accommodations. The most obvious horror I see is the ability for the DOE to edit/access accommodations. The accommodations they already have are not in full compliance with IDEA law. If it is an IEP, they need to be able to let the students have the same accommodations they would for any other test. The fact they don’t, and don’t even seem to care along with the US DOE, shows a blatant disregard for Federal law as passed by the U.S. Congress and signed off by then President Bush. I can’t wait to see the opt-out figures!
“Rep. Dukes asked how many charter schools are under investigation. Ms. Davies said seven. Rep. Dukes asked if they were serious infractions. Ms. Davies said some of the investigations are far enough along to know it is really bad.”
One of the most interesting legislative arguments in the past few months has been the saga of the charter school audit bill. First introduced by State Rep. Kim Williams back in March, the bill has taken on different forms, culminating in a House Education Committee battle from 6/17/15.
The minutes from the 6/17/15 meeting clearly show a House divided with common sense prevailing on the Democrat side (with the exception of Education Chair Earl Jaques) and blissful ignorance on the side of the House Republicans. When it comes to charter school accountability and transparency, this pattern consistently emerges and it does not bode well for the education system in Delaware when seven schools are investigated by the state Auditor of Accounts. I asked one House Republican why they voted no on House Bill 186, but he was unable to remember why at the time. This was late in the evening on June 30th, but I would think anyone would know why they voted no on a bill.
By the time the bill got to the Senate floor, Senator David Sokola immediately tabled the bill and demanded it be heard in the Senate Education Committee. Sokola has long been a clear supporter of charter schools and has sponsored or supported many bills that give them the lack of transparency they currently have, including the original charter school legislation from 1995.
When the Delaware General Assembly shows a clear bias towards charter schools, who represent only 10-15% of Delaware students enrolled in these types of schools, but takes up so much of the conversation, it is very troubling to know charter schools can get away with so much. When we have Education Committee chairs on both sides of the General Assembly who very openly make every attempt to protect these schools is extremely disturbing. Even more alarming is the parents and supporters of charter schools who just don’t care, or continue to enroll their children in schools that have clearly had serious financial abuse.
I contacted the Auditor of Accounts office a couple weeks ago and spoke with Ms. Davies. I asked again for the names of the other four charter schools being investigated by that office, but she explained she was not able to do so at the time because that could give a presumption of guilt when no judgment has been rendered since the investigations are still under way. Which I completely understand but there is another side of this issue which I did explain to her. Parents make choices for their children with different schools and they have a right to know if the school they choose has issues going on. She understood that, but was still unable to reveal the schools. I don’t blame her in any way. It is a thorny issue.
We have to wonder, as citizens of Delaware, why certain legislators seem more concerned with looking good for the Delaware Charter Schools Network than showing clear transparency and open government for the constituents they represent. Charter schools are not evil in and of themselves, but the secrets, lies, and cover-ups are increasing rapidly and the more they occur the more we see this insane protection of them by some of our legislators.
In Delaware Governor Jack Markell’s weekly message to the citizens of Delaware for July 4th, he showed a series of video clips to highlight his bragging about how great education is in Delaware. Included was a clip from the 9/4/14 priority schools announcement at Warner Elementary School in Wilmington. I find this to be pretty disgusting and vile considering what that announcement meant to so many educators, students, parents, legislators, leaders in Wilmington, and the citizens of Delaware. I wouldn’t consider that a proud moment Governor Markell.
To the above people, this was a shocking announcement, and this began the end of your reign as the supreme education watchdog in this state. You showed the people of Delaware, that no matter who questioned your wisdom on this decision, you were going to be a bully about it. Until that moment you couldn’t anymore. That day in January you and Secretary of Education Mark Murphy received two letters. The first was the letter from the Wilmington Education Advisory Committee asking you to hold off on any decision for the priority schools in the Christina School District. The second was the letter and petition from Parents & Teachers for Public Education. The one with well over 600 signatures protesting the priority schools initiative.
Everything changed after that. The legislators started hammering out bills that would limit the power of the DOE. Parents started opting their kids out of the Smarter Balanced Assessment in force. Charter schools lost their veil of secrecy as first Family Foundations Academy and then Academy of Dover had their dirty secrets brought to light. Your appointed Secretary got multiple votes of no confidence and you actually kept him, weakening you from many citizen’s viewpoint. Since then, a lot of your plans haven’t gone the way you wanted them to.
But one did, and we both know what that is. The way those bills flew through the General Assembly you would think it was for the welfare and security of the state. It will be very interesting to see how this all comes out in the end. I have a very good idea, and I know you know that. I foresee some radical power player changes in the next year and a half. Yes Senator Sokola and Representative Jaques, I’m talking about you. I will be keeping a very close eye on any who have engineered this redistricting of Wilmington and how they land when all is said and done.
What is even more puzzling is your choice of a weekly address. Delaware balanced the budget, but not without a lot of consequences. Instead of going into detail about that, you babbled on and on about education. Like we haven’t heard it all a million times. What I took extreme offense with was your statement about children with disabilities. I think it’s great that you want to make sure they get jobs when they are adults, but I never hear you talk about special education in the schools. I imagine your advisors would have a cow if you praised it because pretty much everyone in the state knows how bad it is for most special needs students. There is so much more to these children’s lives than savings accounts and transition into the adult world. They need that solid foundation. Something your standards and assessments and rigor have prevented from happening. I fear for these children every day. I fear for their general well-being and their future. It is YOU who allowed this to happen.
I would think you would have talked about the economy, and legislation that will make it better. Wait, there wasn’t much of that during this legislative session. Instead we saw deals and compromises made behind closed doors with no public transparency. So much for letting the sun shine!
My best guess, and I have nothing to base this on, would be that you needed to get another pumped up message about Delaware’s education out there before you need to make a big decision this week. Yes, House Bill 50. Your decision is eagerly awaited by the parents and advocates who fought tooth and nail to get it passed by a majority in the House and Senate with lots of issues along the way. We find out this week if you will honor us. If you will let the voice of the constituents mean more to you than your glorified standardized assessment, the Smarter Balanced. As I told you in my email to you, this is the KEY legislation of your tenure as Governor of Delaware. This is the one you will be remembered by. House Bill 50 is your legacy. You may not even realize this yet, but it will determine how the people of Delaware remember you. While other state governments are wisely questioning the usefulness of education reform that includes high-stakes assessments, you are actually going around saying “Smarter Balanced is the best test we ever made.” Somewhere along the way I think you forgot the definition of “we”. When you are a Governor, “we” is the people you serve, who voted you into power. Not the corporate interests that have you in their back pocket.