We Need Teacher Blogs In Delaware!

As I look at my Delaware blogger list, I see fewer posts by many on the Delaware blogs.  I see very few from teachers in Delaware.  I keep wondering why this is.  My first assumption is they are afraid of retribution for what they write.  Which is why we need Delaware teachers to write anonymous blogs.  We need to hear things from their perspective, the good and the bad.  What is working?  What isn’t?  How are students REALLY doing in the classroom?  How do they do on actual classroom assignments?  What are the concerns and fears teachers have?  How do they feel about Common Core and Smarter Balanced now that we are waist-deep in it?  This voice is dwindling in Delaware and people need to hear it.

So I am calling out for any teachers in Delaware to start anonymous blogs.  I welcome all education blogs in this state.  Kilroy doesn’t post as much these days, but that is for a good reason.  Kavips will sometimes post 10 articles in 2 days, and then nothing.  Delaware Way used to write an awesome collection of education blog stories from the past week.  Transparent Christina rarely writes new material these days.  Where has Steve Newton’s voice been?  What happened to Minding My Matters, Fixdeldoe, and theseventhtype?  I understand many of these people have real lives with things going on, but an occasional post about different viewpoints and opinions is missed.  I saw many blogs start in the past year and then they disappeared.

Blogging is free and it takes time, but it is also an essential part of today’s media.  Bloggers are the Wild West, able to post stories along with their opinions.  The audience is there, but they need YOU!  State Rep. Kim Williams is one of the busiest persons I know, but she recently started an excellent blog called Delaware First State.  Christina CBOC member Brian Stephan of Those in Favor now writes for Delaware Liberal.  So what say you Delaware teachers?  Care to give it a whirl?  Please use WordPress so I can reblog your stuff!  And I would love to hear from Kent County and Sussex County teachers!

Dr. Godowsky And His Baptism Of Fire Today With Opt-Out, WEIC, and The Delaware Met

The new Acting Secretary of Education in Delaware, Dr. Steven Godowsky, had a baptism of fire today.  Appearing at both the New Castle County School Boards breakfast and the State Board of Education meeting today, Godowsky was quoted by WDEL’s Amy Cherry at the school board breakfast as saying:

“It’s not a final decision, but it looks like from all levels of the department…that harsh sanctions will not carry the day,” he said. “There will be minimum sanctions that are required.”

Those minimum sanctions will include schools having to report to the Delaware Department of Education about the students opting out and what their prior scores were, and most likely, how they plan to address opt-out.  As well, they will not meet Reward status even if they qualify for it if their participation rates fall below 95%.  There is a lot of gray area about the word “required” based on Federal “guidance” which is not Congressionally approved or existing regulation.  Schools are required to have students participate in the state standardized assessment, but nowhere does it factor in parent opt-out.  That situation is out of their control.

Godowsky talked at both the breakfast and the State Board of Education meeting about more communication coming out of the DOE.  I think all of this is good, but I will be cautiously optimistic.  Dr. Godowsky came up to me before the State Board meeting started, said hi, and shook my hand.  That is something Mark Murphy never did.  There were times at State Board meetings where I would have brief staring contests with Murphy and he would quickly look away or straighten out his glasses.  I do believe the DOE needs to be much more transparent about things, but that doesn’t change policies coming out of their halls.  There is a very fine line between what is law with federal mandate, what is guidance, and what is interpretation.  I will continue to let folks know what those are as situations arise.

For Godowsky, the State Board of Education meeting was filled with tension during the Wilmington Education Improvement Commission (WEIC) presentation. A contentious back and forth between State Board members and the WEIC presenters, Dan Rich and Joe Pika, in regards to the plan made this the most interesting part of the meeting.  Later on, Godowsky’s first major decision was whether or not to place The Delaware Met up for formal review.  He recommended it to the State Board and they unanimously voted yes, but not without a great deal of discussion surrounding the details around the consideration.  It seemed like the DOE and Godowsky knew a lot more about what is going on with the school but were unable to give details because an official investigation could not be done because they were not on formal review yet.

I advised, in public comment, that I truly hope Dr. Godowsky acts in the best interest of students and not politics.  While his official confirmation will not happen until October 28th in a special session of the Delaware Senate, it seems as though he is making good first steps.  There is still a great deal to be done, but I do see some light shining into some cracks.  But his job will be to listen to everyone involved, not just the policy makers.  I think he is much more personable than Mark Murphy was, and he has much more experience.  His true test will be in the ESEA flexibility waiver, which will come up next month at the State Board of Education meeting.  He has gone on record stating that the harsh opt-out penalties most likely will not occur.  I hope he lives up to this, but at the end of the day we all know this is Governor Markell’s decision.

I still have very grave concerns with things coming out of the DOE.  My biggest priority is special education.  I am slowly learning what the true problems are, and I plan to keep on addressing them.  I still loathe the Smarter Balanced Assessment and Common Core, and I will not give up exposing the machinations behind those messes.  There are many inequalities between Delaware charter schools and traditional school districts I don’t agree with, and that will be a continuous topic of discussion.  There are things going on in traditional school districts that are beginning to surface which could result in further widening between students in need and their peers.  A growing issue with myself and others, not just in Delaware but on a national level, is the amount of data outside companies are legally allowed to have about students.  I firmly believe many companies are using legal loopholes to share student data for unknown purposes, and that should scare the hell out of any parent.  The legislators will be back in a few months, and the opt-out bill will still be a big thing with me.  I will say I do like seeing more transparency coming from the Department though and I truly hope this trend continues.  I don’t trust Governor Markell, and I don’t think what he wants for education is in the best interest of students and teachers.  I don’t believe the Rodel Foundation of Delaware and I will ever see eye to eye.

The WEIC conversation continues, and as revealed this week, major issues are coming up with this redistricting effort.  One of my biggest contentions with the whole thing is policy that will happen for Wilmington that will affect the entire state.  I agree change needs to happen, but there needs to be some Kent County and Sussex County representation for all of this.  I have communicated this, as well as a need for more special education discussion, to the WEIC leadership.  It is certainly a bold and innovative idea, but there are so many things to be sorted out with this, and the timeframe as put forth in the law is very narrow.  I have always had a theory about the endgame of all this, but now I wonder if it will even go through.  I would highly recommend to the WEIC leadership not to leave anyone out of crucial conversation and not to come up with ideas that could cause any of the players to feel isolated or left out.  No one likes being told what will happen, especially to students, and I think Colonial’s recent decision is testimony to this.

While all of this is going on, all eyes will be on Dr. Godowsky as the newest leader of a very unpopular Department who many in the state feel as though they can do whatever they want because they are Governor Markell’s baby.  While Godowsky did say in the WDEL interview that DOE will feel the pinch of next year’s budget deficit, I feel as though they have been living high on the hog and they need a huge trimming.  Welcome to the DOE Dr. Godowsky!

State Board of Education Meeting: Live from Dover

Roll Call.  Everyone is here.  Dr. Godowsky announced as acting secretary.  Announced agenda was changed to remove some regulatory action and to announce Delaware Met being added on for formal review.  Approving minutes.  I just gave public comment to welcome Dr. Godowsky.  I urged him to make decisions in the best interest of students and not politics.  As well I asked the Board and the DOE to strongly look at Response to Intervention and special education.  I advised it is my contention many schools are using it to identify students for special education but it is a long and cumbersome process and children can miss out on vital services during that timeframe.

Going over updates from the Board.  Pat Heffernan talked about attending the IDEA awards from the Delaware Charter School Network last Friday.  He talked about Tom Carper attending to celebrate 20 years.  Executive Director of the SBOE Donna Johnson is talking about updates which can be found here.  President of the State Board Dr. Teri Gray is talking about the dangers of prescription drug abuse.

Donna Johnson is talking about the Delaware Statewide Review of Educational Opportunities.  They are still collecting data from schools.  She said this data is not available at the state level, such as enrollment in programs and waiting lists.  This data will give more information for known demand for schools.  Once they receive this they will be able to paint a picture of what their offerings look like.  An interactive mapping tool will be available so they can get a “robust picture in our state of educational opportunities.”  Once the data collection is completed it will be provided to the State Board.  They don’t want to rush it.  They want to examine the data to make sure the information has good quality.  Dr. Gray asked for a one-page graphic for the November Board meeting.  Donna Johnson complied.

Dr. Gray is welcoming Dr. Godowsky to his new role.

I’m very pleased and honored to be here.

and further on:

I’ve gotten to know firsthand names and faces and I appreciate the work happening here.

He said he has been on a listening tour and meeting with different individuals to see what work needs to be done.  His goal is to have better communication internally and externally.  He wants to have a weekly “email blast” coming from the DOE.  He said there was a very deep conversation with the board earlier today about the Accountability Framework Working Group and he has heard lots of thoughts on it.  He attended the New Castle County Boards of Education breakfast this morning.  He wants to continue to do the listening and learning.  He said it is “full speed ahead“.

Next up is an Educators As Catalysts program which is a presentation on the Culinary Arts Program.  From the presentation on the State Board website:

This is a three (3) or (6) credit Career & Technical Education (CTE) program that allows students to explore management & culinary skills needed for success in the restaurant or hospitality industry.

While the Culinary Arts Program talks about what’s cooking (sorry, had to say it), I’ll give a who’s who of who is in attendance here.  Delaware State Rep. Earl Jaques is in the house.  Not his House, but DOE’s house.  He will be in his House later today for a caucus meeting.  Dan Rich from the Wilmington Education Improvement Commission is here.  He will be giving a presentation on WEIC after the Culinary Arts presentation.  I see Kendall Massett, Devon Hynson, Sue Francis, Greg Mazotta.  Matt Albright with the News Journal and Avi Wolfman-Arent with WHYY/Newsworks are both here.  Colonial Superintendent Dusty Blakey is here.  Laurissa Schutt with Teach for America.  Kevin Conrad with Delaware Association of School Administrators is here.

From the DOE we have Susan Haberstroh, Karen Field-Rogers, Michael Watson, David Blowman, Alison May, Catherine Hickey, Shana Yong, Chris Ruszkowski and others.

WEIC Presentation is now up.  Dan Rich and  Joe Pika are giving the presentation.  They are going over the history (again) of how this all came about.  Is there anyone in the state who hasn’t heard this story before?  Plan will be done in December and State Board will have to act on comprehensive and transparent plan by January 21st, 2016.  If State Board acts, General Assembly will have to pass Resolution and Governor Markell will need to sign.  Had to step out for a minute.  They are talking about a problem with Christina because their district office is in Wilmington.  They are talking about how some districts are reluctant to just hand over their students (didn’t say Colonial).  Local unions are talking with administrators about how this can be done.  Resources from state and local sources are at the center of conversation.  Establishing additional supports for schools with low-income students has implications for the whole state.

What happens in Wilmington will happen in the rest of the state. -Joe Pika

Colonial is searching extensively, according to Pika, in regards to the best interests of their students.  As he said this, several DOE staffers looked over at Dr. Blakey.  Pika is talking about the five committees at WEIC.  He said he is most involved with the funding committee.  They are talking about resources for students with disabilities, English Language learners and low-income students.  They have been discussing capital funding with asset management.  They want funding for early learning initiatives and college and career readiness programs.  There are 18 different education entities dealing with students in Wilmington.  WEIC meetings are open to the public and announced, and given public agendas and minutes.  They are collaborating closely with the districts.  Dan Rich has been holding town hall meetings all over New Castle County and will be having public hearings for each district.  (Note: Joe Pika used to be on the State Board of Education).  He just brought up how he used to preside over many public hearings including, which he said sarcastically, “The glorious Neighborhood Schools Act”.

Dan Rich is now talking about WEIC.  Going over the timeframe again and the committees.  WEIC is meeting with the State Board at a State Board retreat in early November.  Dan Rich said WEIC appreciates the collaboration between Red Clay and Christina.  (Was that a dig at Colonial and Brandywine?)  Board member Barbara Rutt asked about how Senate Joint Resolution #4, which will create a task force on funding, will impact WEIC.  Rich said they are hoping to dovetail on that.

Board member Nina Bunting just dropped the bomb about Colonial’s board voting 7-0 not to give their Wilmington students to the other districts.  Dan Rich said they received their email.  Rich said Red Clay acted to become part of the process.  Rich said their job is to make the best recommendation in the interest of the students.  Rich is saying all the Colonial students live in a very concentrated part of Wilmington, said is very industrial, they are surrounded by the other three school districts: Brandywine to the Northeast, Red Clay to the Northwest and Christina to the Southwest.  He is asking the State Board to act in the best interests of the students.  Rich said this section used to be part of the Brandywine School District.

Board member Pat Heffernan asked Dr. Blakey to speak about the Colonial matter.  Dr. Blakey agreed.  Blakey is saying they did an academic analysis using DCAS 2013 and 2014 data as well as Smarter Balanced data from earlier this year.  He said Colonial feels their students did better than the surrounding districts.  This was presented to their board Tuesday night and the board acted on this and this information triggered the vote for keeping their students.  Donna Johnson asked if those schools received social and emotional resources.  Blakey said yes and they are scheduled to have an elementary wellness center for one of the schools these Wilmington children attend in their district.

Dr. Gray said they are still waiting on a confirmation of existing boundaries.  Dan Rich said they don’t want to hand that in until they are absolutely sure of it.  They don’t want to release that detail until it is completed.  She said they expect to have full compliance to operate around the public record with the public hearings.  She is talking about how they will be acting on a full package.  She wants to make sure all the resources are available before they act.  Rich said the law stipulates all resources have to be included in the package.  Dr. Gray asked why the General Assembly doesn’t have a timeframe to take action.  She said the Board embraces the constraints of the timeframe so it doesn’t drag out.  Dan Rich said there won’t be any movement of students until September of 2017 at the earliest and there is talk about moving that to the Fall of 2018.  Pat Heffernan said he is concerned about kicking the can down the road and students losing time and resources as a result of this.  He said this plan is all about the adults and is not about teaching and learning in the classroom and he is afraid we are going to lose sight of that.  He thinks this needs to be done in parallel with what is going on in the classrooms.  Rich said this is not about changing the signs on the buildings.  He said the expectation is this is what will happen and why it will be a five year plan.  The timeline is to give us the opportunity to make sure everyone involved has the resources in place to be successful.  Heffernan said we can do this now.  He is afraid the kids are falling out of the equation. (Thank you Pat Heffernan for looking out for the kids!)

Pika is addressing Heffernan and stating he (Pika) was a pain in the butt about this stuff 14 years ago.  Heffernan is stressing this seems more about the adults and not about the kids.  Rich is saying we are behind the curve and this is all about the total package.  Donna Johnson thinks the funding issue should establish a funding structure that is more beneficial for our students.  She does not want a units based funding system.  Rich is saying the whole system needs to be changed.  Bunting says a lot of us have been involved in education for a long time, and she is talking about the days when it was considered combat pay to teach black students in the city.  She thinks, at the end of the day, it is about the teacher in the classroom and that is the answer.  Melendez is saying “You can talk the talk but you better walk the walk,” in regards to the teaching.

Editor’s note: I really thought this WEIC presentation was going to be more of the same.  There is very heated conversation going on right now.

Heffernan is talking about Tony Allen’s letter to the Governor about the Christina priority schools and holding off on them cause he had a plan.  He said those plans for those schools should have gone into effect this school year and we are missing the forest for the trees.  He said this is distracting us from the work we have to do and that is his biggest concern.  Board member Melendez is concerned about stakeholders not having a clue about what is going on with all of this.

The Board took a break after the WEIC presentation.  Now Michael Watson is giving the SAT presentation.  You can read the presentation here.  After this is a health records regulation and then the charter school monthly update, including the big Delaware Met conversation.

Some highlights from the SAT presentation.  Heffernan asked Watson if any students opted out of the SAT.  He said no.  Heffernan asked if the new Common Core aligned SAT will have more accommodations for students with disabilities.  He said that is something the College Board is looking at.  Khan Academy who is giving practice SAT questions through “personalized learning” got their funding from Bill Gates.  Dr. Gray is wondering why SAT has 100% participation rate and their “other” tests hover around 95%.  Gee Dr. Gray, maybe it’s cause SBAC sucks!  Maybe we will see more students opting out of the SAT if it becomes SBAC Jr.  And there is discussion around getting rid of SBAC for high school juniors.

Regulation 811 is up. Secretary only decision.

Delaware Charter School Update: Delaware Met!  Board stating they don’t have documents.  Nagourney apologized, Dr. Godowsky said no need cause it came up so fast.  Godowsky seeks the assent of State Board to place Delaware Met on Formal Review.  Dr. Gray stating the same: financial viability, student conduct and discipline and strategies for special education students.  Up for discussion.  Heffernan wants to know if the kids are okay while they are sorting this out.  Do we have time to do what we have to do…  Nagourney stating a large issue about safety.  Got a call from Wilmington police officer about concerns coming from parents and students.  Issues of safety, bullying, fights.  Donna Johnson said formal review has to be on actions of the charter, not the actions of the students.  Johnson is saying this could create an unintended consequence of actions not in compliance with charter law.  David Blowman is talking but he isn’t speaking loud.  I believe he said the formal review would be about problems with instruction and financial viability.  Board member Coverdale said there is not a lot of evidence to support formal review based on charter school compliance.  Enrollment as of September 30th was 215 according to Nagourney but not sure if they need additional supports to continue.  Said they are looking at their budget.  Assistant Secretary Blowman said formal review is process where a lot of questions will be answered.  State Board keeps arguing that evidence does not support how they have put formal reviews in place in the past.  Dr. Gray said a formal review is very serious and evidence is needed.  She wants assurances there are issues that warrant formal review.  A lot is not being said about what is going on in this school.  Gray said this is a little too gray for this school.  Catherine Hickey, DOJ liason with the DOE, said formal review is process of getting information to make judgment.  Dr. Godowsky is saying they have had meetings at the school and feels this warrants a formal review.  He said the school had two years to plan to open.

Unanimous: Delaware Met on formal review!

WEIC Needs To Be Transparent With Colonial

Side Deals.  Secret Phone Calls.  Backroom Meetings.  This is the stuff Delaware is made of.  By the time the public finds out about something, the script has already been written and the public part is just semantics and window dressing.  This is politics, not just in Delaware, but everywhere.  It is not something I believe in.  Neither does Christina board member John Young, who wrote the following on Facebook this morning:

All eyes will be on the WEIC with the Colonial declaration of retaining their students. If WEIC buckles, the premise for the WEAC recommendations and the subsequent, successful legislation is irrevocably damaged and a Pandora’s box of permutations will flood the marketplace surrounding the entire redistricting process. I do not envy Dr. Allen and the commission co-chairs right now. WEIC just got punched in the nose, so to speak, and their response is going to be scrutinized. This cannot be a series of private phone calls, this is the moment where transparency must shine. If this Colonial issue is negotiated in darkness, WEIC loses.