Thomas Edison Charter School DEFINITELY Under Investigation By State Auditor

As I trolled through charter school minutes throughout the day, in-between working on another project, and reading with my son, I got to the last one, Thomas Edison Charter School.  Lo and behold, Thomas Edison is under investigation by the Delaware State Auditor.  While it doesn’t give specifics and why they are being investigated, their July 2015 board minutes give no illusion about this matter.  I first reported this in the Spring, and some folks said I am reading too much into it.  Thank you, I know the difference between an investigative audit and a regular audit.

State Audit Update

Auditors are coming to the school during the week of 07/27/15 to begin the audit.  The auditors are requesting the Board meeting be moved back one week to allow them to meet State deadlines and to report findings to the Board.  The Board did not have an objection to the request.

Back in May, the State Auditor’s office revealed during a House Education Committee meeting on House Bill 186 that seven Delaware charters were under investigation, and they were not light matters.  We already knew about Family Foundations Academy and Academy of Dover.  I soon found out, once again based on board minutes, that Providence Creek Academy was another.  And then in June, I discovered two possible other schools: Thomas Edison and Odyssey Charter School.  The State Auditor’s office isn’t able to verify this information.  While I still haven’t been able to confirm Odyssey, Thomas Edison is definitely number four.  The first three were for financial abuse, involving procurement (purchase) cards and actually opening accounts under the school’s name for personal use.  What has Thomas Edison done to incur this inspection?  I’m sure we will find out soon enough.

Once again, what is the DOE doing about this?  I have yet to hear of any action being taken on Providence Creek Academy and Thomas Edison, even though it is now public knowledge.  Both Academy of Dover and FFA were put on formal review in part due to these kinds of things.  And who are the other three charters?  The wheels on the bus go round and round…

To read the actual board minutes from Thomas Edison’s July meeting, look below:

The Rules Don’t Seem To Apply For Freire Charter School In Delaware!!!!

When did Freire Charter School of Wilmington apply for their own teacher evaluation system?  Because their July 16th board minutes indicate the following: “Kelly Davenport indicated that Freire Wilmington applied to the Delaware Department of Education to use a teacher evaluation system of its own design, and was approved.” In looking at Delaware Department of Education notes on their website, I found absolutely nothing showing an application or any type of approval for this request.

Freire did have a major modification request earlier this year which was approved by the State Board of Education, but that was to decrease their student enrollment.  Absolutely nothing was said about having an alternative educator evaluation system, separate from DPAS-II.  Have we now entered a world where any charter school can get whatever they want with zero transparency at all from the Delaware Department of Education?  It is starting to seem that way.  I know Freire is a “chain” of charters coming from Philadelphia, but that does not exempt them from transparency at all.  We all know about the fight to stop them from being at their current location, but nothing has stopped them even though the local neighborhood association did everything they could.  Their former school director was even arrested after he was accused of accosting one of the protesters last March.

The mention of this in their board minutes can be found on Page 2 in the below document:

Rodel Starts The Blame-Game Against Teachers While Praising Smarter Balanced Results

Yes, I do regularly read the Rodel blog on their website, but I never commented on one until I saw their post from Friday called 5 Data Takeaways From Smarter Balanced Test Scores, written by Rodel employee Liz Hoyt.  I’m always curious what the “opposition” writes about things like this.  I have been very vocal in my thoughts on the Rodel Foundation of Delaware.  They are a non-profit whose CEO happens to make over a quarter of a million dollars a year.  I do not believe they have students best interests at heart.  This article drove that point home for me with very clear and concise words.  I will go through the areas that bothered me the most.

“Aligned to the Common Core state standards, the new state assessment was designed to ensure students have the skills and knowledge they need in jobs and college.”

I think this has always been my biggest problem with the Smarter Balanced Assessment.  Please tell me how a 3rd grader taking this test is going to be in any way prepared for college based on how they answer questions on a test?  Even if they put them at a 5th grade level, there is no test in the world that can prepare any student at a young age for a career or post-secondary education.  The education reformers need to pick a side and stick with it: is the test meant to create data to see where students compare with each other or is it to prep them for a world they can’t even fathom until they are 15 or 16?  They can’t have it both ways.  Furthermore,.wasn’t the whole point of Common Core that a student in Alaska would get the same information and be assessed on the same information as a student in Louisiana?  Instead, we have 18 states taking Smarter Balanced, 11 or so taking the PARCC, and the rest developing their own state assessments.  It isn’t very common when states aren’t taking the “common” test.  Funny how life works out…

“While this year’s scores are lower than last year’s DCAS results, Delaware students outperformed estimates (based on the 2014 national field test) in both subjects for every grade with the exception of 11th grade math.”

Why does the DOE and Governor Markell keep trying to pump up the fact that students did better than expected?  Isn’t that the whole point of a field test, to find out what the kinks are and what problems might come up and strive to fix those issues?  How many rockets did Russia blow up before Sputnik launched? If students did worse than the field test, it would prove unequivocally that this was a bad test.  But since students did better than the field test, we are acting like this is the best test Delaware ever created (which Governor Markell did say at a speech for New America earlier in the Summer).  And this is my major issue with this statement.  We have nothing to measure this test by, and even the Feds wouldn’t allow states to compare any test scores to field tests for this very reason with their accountability frameworks.  It’s not often I agree with the US DOE, but anyone can see the fallacy in comparing a field test to the actual test.

Scores dropped as Delaware set a new baseline for student proficiency.”

Once again, how can scores drop when you are comparing apples to oranges?  This test didn’t set a baseline for student proficiency, it set a baseline for Smarter Balanced proficiency based on whatever arbitrary number the Delaware Department of Education set it at.  So what happens if by chance some miracle happens, and every student scores proficient on the test next year.  Would the DOE allow that?  They had a meltdown when the vast majority of teachers were rated as “effective”.  What happens to the baseline then?  I firmly believe they would change it because if everyone is proficient, the test is useless and has outlived it’s purpose.  On the flip side, if everyone scores at a non-proficient level, we can’t have that either, because that shows 1) the test is bad and 2) we need to make all our schools a priority and fire all the teachers.  So the baseline will ALWAYS be set somewhere so that anywhere from 30-70% of  students are proficient.  But that really doesn’t tell us what students need.  It tells us the DOE will do whatever they have to for certain results.

“Despite concerns about the opt-out movement’s potential impact on assessment, student participation remained strong.”

Concerns? How many times does Dr. Paul Herdman speak in public at Legislative Hall about pending legislation for education? He said it was the first time he ever came to an education committee meeting and gave public comment.  It wasn’t a concern for Rodel. It was a five-alarm fire!  I’ve said all along I expected opt-outs to be small the first year.  I also said once parents receive the scores, it will be another story in the second year of Smarter Balanced.  One only needs to look at New York and New Jersey to see the difference between the first and second year opt-out rates to gage how Delaware will be with this in the Spring of 2016.  This is a wake-up call for parents, and they will show how much they support this test with higher opt-out rates in six months.

“Scores varied widely across districts and schools, highlighting the hard work of educators implementing the Common Core State Standards and schools that may need additional support.”

Scores varied widely among low-income schools and higher income schools.  They varied between charters and magnet schools with selective enrollment preferences and those without.  They varied between the haves and the have-nots.  Are you telling us then that schools with low-income just happen to have teachers who aren’t good at “implementing the Common Core State Standards”?  Because that’s the way I’m reading this.  Are you saying that EastSide Charter School, who was publicly praised by Governor Markell for their incredible growth on DCAS has teachers that now are not implementing Common Core the right way?  Or is it because EastSide performed about the same as other schools with comparable low-income populations?  Don’t answer.  We already know.

“…learn more about the Smarter Assessment and the Common Core State Standards at DelExcels.org.”

Since we know Rodel provides invaluable help to Donna Johnson, the State Board of Education and Delaware DOE in getting resource material on the DelExcels website for parents, and Rodel is a non-profit, did Rodel get paid with tax-payer money to help get the material on the DelExcels website?  And how much of that money gets invested into one of the hedge funds Rodel invests in?  Can you please answer those questions?