Prologue to Delaware Charter War: Cherry-picking, Counseling Out, Choice, Fraud and Discrimination

Delaware Charter Schools

Delaware Education. Before twenty years ago, you sent your child to the local school district and called it a day unless you sent them to a private school. But that costs big bucks, and only the wealthy or those who worked night and day could afford that. In 1995, that all changed with Senate Bill 200, sponsored by Delaware Senator David Sokola. Dubbed “The Charter Law”, it changed everything about the Delaware education landscape. Although Sokola was the sponsor, the true “godfather” of charter schools in Delaware was the President of the Red Clay Consolidated School District Board of Education, Bill Manning. Some have even theorized Manning was the ghost writer of Senate Bill 200.

While the original doesn’t appear on the General Assembly website, MikeO from the much-missed blog “the seventh type” got his hands on the Senate debate transcript, and many of the issues that we face now were forewarned even back then. We can even see hints of the issues being discussed, such as how charters were ever able to determine low-income status for students:

SENATOR CORDREY: I guess in reading the synopsis it says “Such as low income students”. Why is there a separating out of cost of busing for low income students anymore than a normal income student?

SENATOR SOKOLA: The reason for that was it was felt that since it is the parent’s responsibility in the Bill to get the student to a normal bus route, there may be an additional burden for a family who did want to apply for a charter that was outside of their normal feeder pattern.

A great deal of discussion was held concerning amendments Senator Sokola added to the bill, such as the percentage of parents and teachers that could vote to have a public school converted to a charter school and how charters couldn’t apply to a local board and if it was rejected, they could go ahead and apply go to the State Board of Education.

As originally written, charter schools were supposed to have a certain niche, and based on it’s success, local school districts were meant to replicate or mirror that success in an effort to improve education. Unfortunately, that didn’t happen. What did happen is the debate of the past twenty years in Delaware, and it boils down to a simple question: What is more important: a parent’s choice or equity in education?

For the proponents of charter schools, many believe it is the choice. The ability to decide what is best for your child’s education. Ironically, this is also the heart of the argument for the parent opt-out legislation Governor Markell vetoed last week. The difference is one has been proven to cause inequity (charters) and the other has been unproven (civil rights groups claims opt-out will put minorities and disadvantaged students in a bad position).

For charter schools, the main accusations against them are called cherry-picking and counseling out. Many have been doing it for years, and the DOE and the Governor don’t even bat an eye. Hell, Governor Markell sent his own kid to Charter School of Wilmngton. Take the best, forget the rest. Not even a lawsuit by the American Civil Liberties Union and Delaware Community Legal Aid against Red Clay Consolidated School District and the Delaware Department of Education as the charter authorizers for these schools seems to make a difference. But shouldn’t it actually be the Delaware State Board of Education and the Secretary of Education since they are the ones who make the decision? Or the Delaware Department of Education because they know what these schools are doing and don’t seem to be able to do anything? Or should it be the General Assembly since they are the ones who created the law? I know, that was the 138th General Assembly, and we are now on the 148th General Assembly. Who should get sued or held accountable for furthering segregation in Wilmington and other parts of the state? Do we go all the way back to then Red Clay Superintendent William Manning who proposed the idea for Wilmington High School to become a charter school which resulted in Senate Bil 200?

In researching information for this article, I found the perfect analogy for this concept of “cherry-picking” in the comments thread of Kilroy’s Delaware. Anonymous commenter Publius and Mike Matthews were going at it in a long thread, and Mike Matthews explained this concept brilliantly:


Allow me to make an analogy. It may be inappropriate, but I think it is actually quite good.

Charters and traditionals. It’s like picking teams on the playground. You line up the class. Pick two captains for the two teams — charters and traditionals.

The charter captain gets to pick HIS half of the class for his team first. He picks all the amazingly skilled students. The other captain gets whatever is left. The game starts. The charter captain learns that two of his players just aren’t cutting it. They are slow and can’t make it to the base without getting called out. So, midway through the game, the charter captain gets the rules changed. Switches out two of his weaker players and gets two of the stronger players from the other team.

In essence, this is what the debate is. Charters get the best of the best and then they can change the rules mid-game if they don’t like what they’ve got: Kick out challenging students.

Again, not a perfect analogy, but I think it’s kinda on target.

The original article and comment thread can be found here:

But what started the whole “traditional school district” vs. charter war? The roots can once again be found here:

The most ironic part about this video is the footage right after Manning talks about Charter School of Wilmington, and it shows two African-American female students. CSW is well-known to have a very low percentage of African-Americans compared to, well, anywhere in Delaware. The same has been said regarding Sussex Academy’s Hispanic population at the bottom end of the state.

CSW will claim their demographics became that way not by design but in who applies. CSW has a placement test prior to admissions. In December, I attended a meeting of the Enrollment Preference Task Force which came out of House Bill 90 in 2013. Delaware Secretary of Education Mark Murphy is on the task force, but for this meeting, Charter School Office Director Jennifer Nagourney took his place. Even she said she was against any type of placement test prior to admission. The US DOE has also offered guidance in this vein as well.

This topic will heat up in the coming months as the Enrollment Task Force final report is released. State Rep. Kim Williams informed me the report will be coming in the early Fall. This is just a prologue of many articles I will be writing on this topic, and I would love to see comments from both sides of the spectrum, and why you feel the way you do.  At the heart of this is what we have allowed to become law in our state, and every single charter law will be ripe for the plucking with this series of articles.

I will be exploring all the issues surrounding Delaware charter schools: counseling out, cherry-picking, special education, fraud, board issues, the DOE’s role in charters, Wilmington, down-state charters, enrollment preference, specific interest, parent involvement, teachers, leadership, and the role corporate education reform and standardized testing plays in everything about public education but more specifically how charters play a central role in all of this.

13 thoughts on “Prologue to Delaware Charter War: Cherry-picking, Counseling Out, Choice, Fraud and Discrimination

  1. I commend this piece for its depth and honesty.
    Truly, the motivation for the founding of some charters is rooted in the desires of parents to remove their children from environments in which the educational process is impacted by the greater needs of some of their peers, and the behaviors of others.
    But at least one charter (at which I taught) was born out of dissatisfaction with district policies. The one I heard about the most was the elementary math curriculum. These parents (mostly professionals) were strongly opposed to it. When a large segment of a district population is in opposition to something, it makes sense to revisit it.

    This also points to the value of TRUE public input. (And that just does not happen). “Workshops” are no more than public announcements- on a statewide basis.

    Finally, does anyone else have a memory (mine in quite vague on this) – of Bill Manning having some tie to a charter “chain”? Was it his wife?


  2. I must say that I completely agree with this article. There are too many charter schools and the applications, interview processes and selection process are intense, exhausting, & stressful. Preference is given to kids who play certain sports, those who know someone & I have no idea how some of the school could accommodate lower income children because you are required to pay a few hundred dollars as soon as you accept their invitation. Then there are others that I contacted for more info who practically turned me away because “they are geared more for lower income inner city students” who also advised that they are no longer allowed to ask for essays or interviews, although schools that already do it are grandfathered in.
    If I could turn back the clock I would have moved to PA, instead of Delaware to avoid this whole process. It’s really unfair to put children on this emotional roller coaster of rejection starting at the age of 10.


  3. The charters are such an easy target, which is why everyone and their mother takes cheap shots at them. What is the expression … those who can’t go for the low-hanging fruit? The one who takes the biggest swing at the low-hanging fruit is the tallest of the midgets?


    1. In my opinion, the charters are not always entirely to blame for everything. It’s the people in charge, be it legislators, the DOE, the Governor, or what have you. Academically, I know several very good charters in Delaware. I’m not going to say they are superior to traditional school districts, but I’m not going to say they all suck either. My issues with them are the things I mentioned in the article. This isn’t to say this stuff doesn’t go on in regular schools as well, because I know it does. But there are many things charters get to do that others can’t, and that’s what sticks out for so many.

      Liked by 1 person

  4. Oh, I’m quite informed about charter schools and the system. I’m not saying there’s nothing to swing at. I’m saying that anyone who swings at low-hanging fruit is a total loser.


    1. I see your back to using different aliases in your comments. How original. I am well aware how you are “quite informed about charter schools and the system”. You would have to be in your position, wouldn’t you? Your comments are a joke!


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