How Much Authority Does The Delaware DOE Have?

I just found this in Delaware’s Title 14 which seems to grant the Delaware Department of Education a great deal of power and authority.

  • 1606 State Board waiver authority.

The Department of Education shall have the authority to waive or suspend provisions of the Delaware Code in the implementation of programs authorized under this chapter; provided however, that such waiver or suspension of a provision of the Code shall not result in an increased financial obligation to the State. The Department of Education is also authorized to waive or suspend its rules and regulations in order to maximize the projected impact of programs authorized under this chapter. The State Board shall be advised of any waiver of a regulation it must promulgate or approve, and may deny such waiver within 30 days or by the next regularly scheduled meeting, whichever is earlier, of the waiver’s approval by the Department. (69 Del. Laws, c. 464, § 1; 71 Del. Laws, c. 180, § 93.)

Can anyone tell me if this has ever happened and what the hell it means?

US DOE Race To The Top Report Released Today Is A Summary Of Lies And Reform Propoganda

I read this report released today by the US DOE, called Fundamental Change: Innovation in America’s Schools Under Race to the Top and found it to be laughable at best.  I’ll start off with the biggest and boldest first:

Race to the Top used transparency to advance knowledge about improving education and allow states to learn from each other.

What was not transparent was how schools, districts, teachers, parents and students were hoodwinked into believing this lie.  The caveat behind this Federal mandate disguised as a financial incentive was requirements to engage with outside companies with this money.

State work under the grants ended in summer 2015…

For Delaware, this part is completely false since the DOE and Governor Markell used parts of the state General Fund to keep Race To The Top created positions at the DOE.  This is hysterical, because the work continues.  They may not be getting federal funds anymore, but most states are using what they did from Race To The Top at all levels and implementing changes designed not to truly help students but to give their bloated Department of Education employees and leaders high salaries while contracting all their work to outside vendors.

State education agencies (SEAs) as drivers of change. SEAs moved beyond their traditional role of monitoring district compliance to driving comprehensive and systemic changes to improve teaching and learning across the state.

They are still accountability machines.  They live and die by compliance as never before.  Who are you kidding?

Improved, more collaborative, and productive relationships between states and districts. States worked more collaboratively with districts and increased their own capacity to effectively and efficiently support districts and schools in ways that were responsive to local needs.

Yeah, between states maybe, and the districts that sign up for all the personalized learning grants while selling students souls to Satan!

Better communication. States improved lines of communication with stakeholders and used a range of tools (e.g., social media platforms) to continuously gather input from teachers, parents, school leaders, stakeholders and the public to determine the additional supports needed to be successful in carrying out their work.

They certainly used a range of tools in Delaware.  I could name many of those tools, but I would hate to offend anyone.  And many of those tools either gained tremendous financial or political gain from all of this.  And the whole “stakeholder input” never mattered because our DOE didn’t listen to what parents were truly saying and did what they wanted to do anyways.

Higher standards. All Race to the Top states recognized the value of adopting higher standards that are similar across states. Each Race to the Top state implemented challenging kindergarten through 12th-grade academic content standards aimed at preparing students for success in college and careers. With improved standards, teachers, students and parents have a clear roadmap for what students need to know and be able to do to be prepared for success.

The clear roadmap called Common Core, where all students should be on the same level playing field across the country, but all the assessments designed for it are different?  That clear roadmap you say?  And the jury is still way out on if these were “improved” standards.

Teachers support each other to effectively implement higher standards. Teachers worked together to create tools and resources to help them understand the standards and how best to implement them in their classrooms. Hands-on, job-embedded training helped teachers transition to the new content and develop instructional tools, such as sample lesson plans and instructional videos, to translate the standards into effective classroom practices.

Teachers learned how to band together and collectively groan about everything the Feds and the States did to them.  You make it sound like it was such a wonderful and collaborative thing, but it wasn’t and it still isn’t.  Let’s get it straight: the standards were designed for teachers to teach to the state assessment.  Most teachers I know can’t stand these assessments and hate everything that comes with it.

Monitoring student progress during the school year. Every Race to the Top state developed resources and assessment tools that teachers can use in their classrooms to monitor student progress during the school year. Rather than focus on test preparation for the statewide assessment at the end of the school year, nearly all states introduced instructional resources for the classroom that measure higher-order thinking skills, including critical thinking and complex problem-solving.

You can change the words however you want, it is still teaching to the test.

Increased access to and use of objective information on student outcomes. States made critical investments in improving systems to compile student outcome data from pre-kindergarten through the workforce, while protecting personally identifiable information. As outcome data for schools and districts become more accessible to the public, a variety of stakeholders, including parents, policymakers and researchers, will be better able to use these data to answer important questions about educational outcomes, such as “Did students make a year’s worth of growth?” and “Are students succeeding, regardless of income, race, ethnicity or disability?”

That last line is the biggest joke of all.  Because income, race, ethnicity and disability can make a huge difference in a  student’s life, especially as those factors combine!  And we don’t know how much of our children’s data is being farmed out under certain FERPA laws and state regulations.

Local stakeholder engagement. Dramatic improvements in schools require the involvement of community members who understand local contexts and conditions, both inside and outside the school building, to help identify challenges and design solutions. States, districts, teachers, school leaders and community stakeholders are working together to implement strategies to improve the learning environments in their lowest-performing schools and provide services to meet students’ academic and nonacademic needs.

In Delaware, we call this Rodel and the Vision Coalition.  This local stakeholder engagement has been going on for ten years with little or no results except their CEO going from $170,000+ to a salary of $344,000 in a decade.

New performance management approaches. States are using performance management approaches to help districts support effective interventions in their lowest-performing schools. These approaches help states and districts identify problems, set goals to solve them and use data to track progress.

We call these priority schools and focus schools in Delaware.  Or “Partnership Zone” schools.  This is where our state blames teachers for standardized testing scores and do not factor in a lack of resources, funding, neurological disabilities, or issues outside of schools.

States used state-level funds to support districts. In addition to the 50 percent of the total grant award subgranted to districts, many states designed their state-level projects to distribute additional funds to districts. For example, New York competitively distributed nearly $80 million of its state-level “Teachers and Leaders” funds to districts to implement their plans to develop, implement or enhance teacher recruitment, development and retention.

Delaware farmed out millions upon millions of dollars to outside companies, some internal and some external, instead of giving the funds to the districts to lower classroom sizes and get more teachers and extra support.

Some states, such as Hawaii, Delaware and Massachusetts, created a separate office or designated an existing office to plan and coordinate Race to the Top initiatives across different offices

And then the Delaware DOE lied to their General Assembly when the funds ran out and found a way to keep those positions in our DOE without anyone the wiser.

…and Delaware created specific units within their state departments of education and used real-time data to assess whether projects were moving forward and producing quality results.

Results based on federal mandates that were neither Congressionally approved or regulatory in nature…

“We really keep coming back to three questions: Are we doing what we said we would do? Are we doing it well? Is it making a difference?” said Delaware’s former chief performance officer.

Which former chief performance officer is this?  I’m guessing this is why he or she is a former chief performance officer if they were asking questions like this in our dictatorial state led by the not-so-great Delaware Governor Jack Markell.

Beginning in 2008, the state-led effort included governors and state commissioners of education from 48 states, two territories, and the District of Columbia and was informed by the best state standards already in use and the experiences of teachers, school administrators, content experts, state leaders and the public. From the beginning, state and local officials and educators took responsibility for adopting and implementing the standards, and for making decisions about how the standards are taught, how the curriculum is developed, and what materials are used to support teachers in helping students meet the standards.

Yes, the beginning of the cabal of the National Governor’s Association and the Council of Chief State School Officer’s in leading the Common Core initiative where the two true educators in this design group dropped out from the development of these standards.  Then the districts were essentially brow-beaten, pressured, and lied to if they didn’t accept funds during a recession when states were cash-poor.

As a result, each Race to the Top state developed measures of growth in student learning and made the data available to teachers, school leaders, district leaders and, in some cases, parents.  These measure of growth in student learning provided a reliable measure of teachers’ contributions to student learning because they addressed a student’s proficiency across multiple years on a valid assessment that was comparable across classrooms and schools

“Valid assessment”.  I really don’t need to go any further on this one, do I?

In Delaware, the state hired data coaches to work directly with school leaders and teachers to lead professional learning communities.

The data coaches, who got tons of money.  Like the Vision Coalition in Delaware…

For many Race to the Top states and districts, the initiatives they implemented during the grant period have remained priorities that SEAs are now better equipped to support and continue. For example, Delaware’s performance management system did not exist prior to the grant period and will continue without Race to the Top funds. The state also will continue to implement, as part of its state capacity-building plan, its data analyses and biannual conversations with district leaders to better understand what is happening in districts and develop supports that match local needs. Through its district budget plan approval process, Delaware also is encouraging districts to use available funding streams to support work they found to be effective in their schools, such as using allowable federal funds for professional supports for teachers.

Our DOE might want to check with our General Assembly before they commit to all this.  Oh wait, they will answer to our Joint Finance Committee on 11/30/15 for their devious budget actions…

As directed in the report, the citation for this report belongs to U.S. Department of Education, Office of Elementary and Secondary Education, Office of State Support, Fundamental Change: Innovation in America’s Schools Under Race to the Top, Washington, D.C., 2015

Colonial School District Board Swindled By WEIC Leaders With Legal Loophole And Backdoor Meetings

On Tuesday evening, the Colonial School District Board of Education passed a resolution with a vote of 4-2 to support the Wilmington Education Improvement Commission’s redistricting effort with the exception of the Colonial portion of Wilmington.  If you listen to their audio recording from the 11/10/15 board meeting it was a very controversial decision.

Board member Melody Spotts questioned the board not even hearing the resolution until the actual board meeting.  Most board resolutions are put out earlier so all board members can read it ahead of time.

Who on the board is seeing this for the first time tonight?  Did you see this prior to today? No. I did not see this posted in Board Docs.  You want us to vote on this today?

The resolution, presented by Board President Joseph Laws, would have Colonial support the Wilmington Education Improvement Commission redistricting effort to send the Christina School District Wilmington students to Red Clay.  It would also allow Laws to remain on the Commission.  What the resolution does not give is an okay by Colonial to send their estimated 150 students to Red Clay as well.  They want to keep the current boundaries.  Laws also mentioned that Brandywine School District feels the same way.  Board member Richard Schiller was not happy with the WEIC response to the board’s October decision.

I don’t agree with the letter from Dr. Rich.  It was very condescending to this board.

Spotts was very upset that Laws and Blakey met with the leadership of WEIC without notifying the rest of the board which Laws quickly deflected in the conversation by asking the board if they wanted to continue to have him represent the district on the commission.  The board agreed but not if meetings are held the week before without the board being notified.

Laws left the door open for the Colonial students to possibly go to Red Clay with the resolution but not with an “11th hour commitment”.  Spotts was adamant about Colonial not sending out a resolution that states Colonial should say how Red Clay spends their taxpayer dollars.  She said their district would not be happy about another district doing the same for them.  The district refuted the claim from WEIC members about a financial incentive for Colonial to back out of the redistricting effort based on the Port of Wilmington area in Colonial.  The district explained this is a tax-exempt area and the district does not make additional money off this.  The funding issue was brought up by Spotts as well:

Sure, we’re building a house, tell me how much it costs later.

Laws explained they are increasing their test scores while other districts in the effort are actually going down.  Laws said he and Blakey met last week with Tony Allen, the chair of WEIC, Joe Pika, and Dan Rich to discuss Colonial’s backing out of the redistricting and said while it was civil it became very contentious.  He told them the Colonial board would not be budging and backing off from their decision unless the board as a whole voted on it.  The WEIC trio asked the board to pass a resolution in support of the recommendations which is where the trap was set for the Colonial board.

What this resolution does is tie the redistricting effort to what is already in paragraph 1026 of Title 14 by eliminating a referendum for the potential school districts:

(c) Subject to subsection (a) of this section, the State Board of Education may change or alter the boundaries of any reorganized school district without a referendum of the voters if the written consent of the owners of the real property to be transferred has been obtained and if also the school boards of the districts affected by such change or alteration have adopted resolutions favoring such change or alteration.

This is the legal loophole to all of this and the WEIC folks clearly know this.  How they could have gotten this past Colonial with nobody questioning it at their board meeting clearly shows this.  Which is why I can no longer support this initiative whatsoever. If the powers that be want to play dirty tricks, then the entire plan is corrupt in my opinion.  While the resolution would allow for Colonial’s students to stay in the Colonial district, it is going to become a hot mess because Colonial’s board passed this resolution which is exactly what the WEIC trio wanted.  The 4-2 vote had the following votes: Yes-Laws, Benjamin, Kennedy and Magee, No-Schiller and Spotts.  Board member Tim Suber was not at the meeting.  The resolution is not on Colonial’s board docs portion of their website and did not appear before the meeting as well.

Backdoor meetings on the whole WEIC/redistricting effort goes against the very spirit of this whole thing, and it was indicated this would not happen.  Now it has, and nobody really knows what was said and if any side deals happened.  I cannot, and will not support this initiative based on that unless a full audio recording of the meeting between Laws, Blakey, Allen, Rich and Pika surfaces with everything that was said at this meeting.  This will not happen, therefore I can not support WEIC.

Are Brandywine’s Mark Holodick & The News Journal Singing A New Song On Smarter Balanced & Opt-Out?

The Superintendents of the Wilmington schools, Red Clay, Christina, Colonial and Brandywine, held an education forum for WDEL last night.  Discussing the issues of Wilmington education, the subject of the state assessment came up.  What was very interesting was Brandywine Superintendent Dr. Mark Holodick’s response to this issue.  He told WDEL’s Shana O’Malley:

Brandywine superintendent Dr. Mark Holodick added that they’re starting to see pushback from those who are frustrated and unhappy with state standardized testing.

“The length of the state assessment, how often it’s being given, combined with this era of high stakes accountability for both educators and school ratings and rankings, I think it has reached a tipping point,” he said.

I gave Holodick a lot of heat earlier in the year for his views on opt-out procedures.  He seemed to think only he could decide who takes the test and who doesn’t.  Opt-out isn’t about someone giving permission.  It’s about honoring a parent’s right and not giving any grief about it.  Even Acting Christina Superintendent Bob Andrzejewski jumped on the issue.

“For example, the state test that we give, I think cost us about $6 million,” said Dr. Robert Andrzejewski, acting superintendent for the Christina School District. “What if we decided to go back to a system where we test grades three, five, eight and ten like we used to and maybe cut the testing cost in half. There are other priorities like that.”

Or how about we just get rid of the Smarter Balanced and high-stakes testing environment altogether Bob A?  That would solve that problem!

Even the News Journal Editorial staff jumped on this issue this morning.

If that’s the case, why can’t Delaware take a proactive stance and focus not on a child’s scores, but on the child herself? If the state is so concerned with schools trying to game the system, then the system is broken and our energy should be spent on fixing it, not simply policing it.

The devil is in the details with that one.  If it means personalized learning where one students gets ahead faster and another stays behind, no thanks!  And how much will it cost to fix it?  We all know fixing anything in education in Delaware means the DOE sends tons of money to outside companies to “fix” what they don’t understand.  And if it’s all tied to the Delaware School Success Framework, the DOE’s latest and not greatest accountability nightmare, it still doesn’t matter.  We will see what kind of people the Delaware State Board of Education really are when they vote on Regulation 103 which makes this insane school report card legal.  Even the News Journal seems to agree on that one:

Though Gov. Jack Markell vetoed opt-out legislation this summer, it’s safe to assume Smarter Balance will not see 100 percent student participation this school year. And if the General Assembly overrides Markell’s veto when it returns to session, then the entire scorecard concept is out the window.

House Bill 50 is all about parental rights in terms of how they want their child to be educated.  It is nothing more than that.  Something the News Journal is finally coming around to by giving it their full support:

In the meantime, parents, more than anybody else, deserve to have a say in how their kids are educated. Let’s honor that right.

It would have really helped if they came out with that opinion eight months ago!  Why the sudden shift in thinking on the Smarter Balanced Assessment?  I think it is becoming more apparent than ever that Governor Markell is indeed a lame-duck at this point and everyone is sick to death of hearing about his education reform ideas.  Everyone is starting to look towards the future and essentially undoing a lot of what Jack wrought on the First State.  Folks are sick and tired of the accountability behemoth the DOE has become and they want it to stop.  Their stupid score card penalties are not required, and I have not heard anyone say “Oh, that’s a great idea!”  The DOE is a hot mess, and if they want to play the accountability game, that starts with them!  In the meantime, keep opting your kid out of the Smarter Balanced Assessment and educate other parents of their rights!

Meanwhile, as all the adults keep tinkering around with education, it is the students who suffer the most.  As Dr. Holodick told WDEL:

“I think we have an opportune time to ask some really hard questions about what we have created regarding the educational landscape in Delaware,” added Holodick.

We are ALWAYS asking the really hard questions Mark.  The time to stop asking and start doing has to begin now before this generation of students loses it all to the high-stakes testing proficiency machine.