House Democrats Letter To Governor Markell To Remove Smarter Balanced For 11th Grade

Today, ten Delaware House Democrats signed a letter to Delaware Governor Jack Markell asking him to remove the Smarter Balanced Assessment for high school juniors.  The letter also mentions Senate Joint Resolution #2, the assessment inventory task force.

We recognize that, by your order, the Department of Education is in the midst of creating an inventory of standardized tests administered throughout the state. Pursuant to Senate Joint Resolution 2, signed into law in July, the department will share its findings with legislators and the public, as well as a special work group that will make recommendations regarding possible elimination of redundant tests. While opinions will differ among stakeholders, we believe there is universal support for eliminating the Smarter Balanced test for juniors in lieu of the SAT.

I fully accept that this is Governor Markell’s order.  He came up with the “assessment inventory” idea back in March.  It is a red herring though.  I firmly believe it will get rid of many assessments that give immediate and crucial feedback for teachers in how best to instruct their students.  I also predict it will see an increase in “prep” and “interim” Smarter Balanced Assessments.  The move towards personalized learning will allow for the eventual elimination of the nine-hour test (or longer depending on the individual student’s needs).  But it will not get rid of the basic flaws in SBAC, nor will it eliminate the time taking the test.  Instead it will eventually be in shorter doses but will be just as harmful to students.

There should be universal supporting for eliminating SBAC for ALL grades.  I would caution parents not to be fooled by this letter.  This is not a direction where the Smarter Balanced Assessment will gradually be removed.  It does not address the fundamental and core issues of what is wrong with Smarter Balanced.  I fear this is another attempt to sway legislators from voting for the House Bill 50 Veto Override.  This does not get rid of the issue of parents opting out except for those who have 11th graders.  The SAT is on a downward slope in many states, and now that they are “aligning” it with Common Core, that trend may increase.

Do Not Be Fooled by this Delaware parents!  The DOE has been planning this for over a year IN RESPONSE to the opt-out movement.  They knew 11th graders would have the highest opt-outs.  But it is still implemented in 3rd to 8th grade.  The assessment inventory task force is also stocked with many who will align with the Governor’s flawed logic about standardized assessments.  It wouldn’t shock me if the DOE already wrote the report on it and they are just waiting on the group to tweak it here and there.  I will still fight for the House Bill 50 Veto Override and support parents who choose to exercise their choice to opt their child out of the Smarter Balanced Assessment.  I have been calling out the “assessment inventory” ruse since the Governor first started talking about it last March.

Exceptional Delaware’s 2015 Hero Of The Year: Braeden Mannering

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That family is awesome!

Christina Board of Education member John Young, when asked to describe Braeden Mannering, said the above.

I don’t usually write about individual students on here.  But Braeden Mannering is an exception, because he is a very awesome kid!  Braeden and his mom, Christy Mannering, run a foundation called 3B: Brae’s Brown Bags.  Their mission is to provide healthy food for those who can’t afford it.  From the 3B: Brae’s Brown Bags website:

Our mission is to provide healthy snacks to homeless and low-income individuals. Every bag includes a letter from Braeden, contact information for additional services who can provide further assistance. Three healthy snacks (each one is below 180 calories) and a bottle of water.  Our belief is that every person regardless of their financial situation deserves to have access to healthy food. This helps to balance the paradox between obesity and food insecurity.

I first heard about Braeden earlier this year.  All I knew was that he had a business of some sort to feed the homeless.  I had no idea he went to the White House a couple times, met Michele Obama, has won numerous awards, and very recently began appearing in the 2016 Scholastic Almanac For Kids.  His website tells his journey better than I ever could.  So how does a 12 year old boy who attends Gauger-Cobbs Middle School become a Delaware celebrity?

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According to an article in CNN earlier this year, Braeden won a contest for the 2013 Healthy Lunchtime Challenge.  His “Tortilla Bowl Deluxe” allowed him to become the winner for Delaware.  After an award dinner at The White House, Braeden made a decision that would change his life.  After seeing a homeless man begging for money in Washington D.C., Braeden came up with an idea.

During the trip home from the White House, Braeden asked his mom if he could give his souvenir money to a group of homeless people. A few days later, he came up with another creative way to pay it forward.

“Braeden was rummaging in the kitchen and emerged with a brown paper bag,” his mom, Christy Mannering, said. “Inside was a water bottle, potato chips, fruit snacks and granola bars. He asked me if we could go back and give it to one of the homeless people.”

Two and a half years later, Braeden is still giving nutritional meals to the less fortunate and the homeless.  Braeden and his mom turned it into a non-profit business called 3B: Brae’s Brown Bags.  As of a week ago, 3B handed out 4,500 brown bags to those who struggle the most in our state.  Brae has been to numerous schools around the state, and even to some other states as well.

I talked to Christy Mannering and asked for her permission to write this article.  She happily accepted.  She described Braeden for me.

Brae has an old soul and a huge heart. He is often asked if he thinks he will be “doing 3B forever” and his answer never changes. He says he hopes he doesn’t have to, because he wants hunger not to be a problem anymore, but that he will keep going as long as it is needed.

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Family friend Laura Nash agrees with Christy’s assessment of Braeden:

3B is Huge!  He is truly an amazing kid with a big heart.

A year ago, Braeden won a competition called #MazdaDrive4Good.  The sponsors of the contest, NBC Universal and Mazda, donated $30,000 to 3B Brae’s Brown Bags.  As a result, actress Minnie Driver and a film crew came to Braeden’s home in Bear and presented the check and Christmas decorations for Braeden and his family.  He appeared on the Today Show on NBC, his family was invited to the tree lighting at Rockefeller Center in Manhattan, and he was even interviewed by Al Roker!

Braeden described this adventure on his own blog, in an article called Were You Watching NBC Last Week?

You know my Mom told Mr. Adam that one of the best things about all of 3B has been seeing it spread and help others. She says when you throw a pebble into the water the ripples can spread out all the way across a pond, she is humbled to see the ripple effect that 3B is causing and she’s so proud to know that I’m the pebble.

This fall, the pebble spread and Braeden and his mother created the 3B Ripples Student Chapter.  The first Delaware school to join was Kirk Middle School.  The mentor for the project, teacher Jackie Kook, had this to say about Braeden:

Braeden is an inspiration in that he allows others to realize that, no matter our ages or abilities, we can band together to help those in need.  The outreach of his initial brown bag has been tremendous, and we at Kirk Middle School are proud to continue his work and show our community that Kirk Cougars Care!

Braeden doesn’t believe it is his job alone to help those in need.  His outreach to students across the state is something I can only look upon with awe.  He is building community awareness in ways many adults are unable to do.  To speak in front of an audience is a talent learned over time, but this seems to be a natural gift for Braeden.

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Braeden’s story is amazing.  I agree with his mother that he is an old soul.  But he is also a new soul.  He is a pre-teen, not even in high school yet, who has a passion for those less fortunate.  It is enough to make a huge difference.  Braeden is a unique soul in Delaware.  He gives and gives and expects nothing in return.  The fact that he can help those who have less is a comfort for him.  I can only imagine feelings of that sort are a part of Braeden’s family dynamic.  In addition to running the business with Brae, his mother was also one of the key figures in the Christina School District referendums earlier this year.  Even though the referendum didn’t pass, Christy gave countless hours of her time to help the struggling district.  Her husband and Brae’s step-father, Brian, serves on the Christina Citizens Budget Oversight Committee and writes for Delaware Liberal and his own blog, Those In Favor.  I met both of them this year, and they are very compassionate people.  While I have not met Braeden yet, I see the values he holds so dear in Brian and Christy as well.

Braeden was invited back to the White House in 2014 for the Annual Kids Dinner.  He was a speaker and he actually introduced Michelle Obama to the crowd.

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But something that stood out for Braeden even more than meeting the First Lady and President Obama, was an honor he received on May 1st, 2014.  Delaware Senator Bryan Townsend sponsored Senate Concurrent Resolution #48.  This legislation recognized the boy who knows more about giving than receiving.

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I remember back in 1989, Phil Collins released a song called “Another Day In Paradise”.  It was a song about the homeless, and the words really impacted me.  I went into Philadelphia with family the day after Thanksgiving that year and it was freezing out.  I saw the homeless, shivering along buildings and laying on vents.  Grocery carts were their best friend on a holiday weekend.  It saddened me that there are those who don’t have homes for whatever reason, especially during the holidays.  I always wanted to do something about it, but the everyday trappings of a non-homeless life pushed it out of my mind.

One of the Delaware blogs I follow religiously is Homeless1 in Wilmington.  The author of the blog, a former homeless person, helps the homeless in Delaware as much as he possibly can.  It is an excellent blog, and you can find it on my sidebar.  When I read the articles on there, it brings me back to that 19 year old me who wants to do more, but doesn’t know how.  I live in Dover, and the homeless are here too.  I see them from time to time when I am driving in Dover, and I always say a prayer in my mind that they find themselves out of whatever circumstances they are in.  And then I see a bright light in Braeden Mannering, and my feelings of helplessness lift away.  Because I know that one 12 year old boy, who could be doing many other things with his life, has made it his mission to end hunger.  I’ve been reading Brae’s website for the past week, and I am overwhelmed at his unconditional love for those who are hungry, or don’t have a home.  Homeless1 said it best:

there is no such thing as a small effort in fighting homelessness. every effort has an impact. every person involved in advocacy, outreach or street ministry has an impact. the type of impact we have is a direct result of how honest we are with the homeless, with the public in general and with ourselves. every effort matters. every statement matters. every truth, or untruth matters. they both have far reaching effects whether or not we realize it. we need to become conscious of that fact.

Braeden’s impact on Delaware is huge.  Braeden sees the simplest truth of them all: helping others is the right thing to do.  Thank you Braeden Mannering for renewing my faith in humanity this holiday season.  You are the Exceptional Delaware Hero of 2015!  I write about education all the time, but I am still always learning.  As a state, we talk about improving education for low-income and poverty students all the time.  But if we can’t eliminate hunger and homelessness for all the citizens of our state, we will constantly be fighting a losing battle.  We can change the conditions of a classroom all we want, but for some students it is not what they need the most.  We can give grants to schools and open up wellness centers, but as long as one child comes to school hungry we are not doing everything we can for Delaware students.  I salute Braeden Mannering for teaching us all that if we allow our hearts to open up, change can be a very powerful force.  I may be late to catch up on Braeden Mannering, but he is definitely someone who gives with an open heart, one brown bag at a time…

As I was putting the finishing touches on this article, an article by Zoe Read with WHYY/Newsworks showed up on my Facebook feed.  Called The face of Delaware’s homeless children, the timing was uncanny.  This is what Braeden is all about.  Helping these children.

To see a recap of Braeden’s journey in 2015, please watch the below video:

Prophets & Profits: The Year In Delaware Education

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2015 was a transition year for education in Delaware.  It was a year of prophets and profits.  Many were wondering what was going to happen next while others were making money.

Common Core was around for a few years, but the test that most were dreading was finally here.  Parents opted their kids out of the Smarter Balanced Assessment causing Delaware to miss some of the 95% participation rates for different sub-groups.  For the remaining students taking the test, the results were a battle cry across the state.  Students did not fare better on the test, in fact they did worse than the DCAS.  Most people involved in education predicted this, including the Delaware Department of Education.  While the Governor, a couple of legislators, and the DOE fought the opt-out movement, the rest of the state rallied behind it and there was no greater symbol for it than House Bill 50.  With some touch and go moments, and huge support from the Delaware PTA, the legislation passed the Delaware House and Senate twice with an overwhelming majority in both the House and Senate.  As we all know, Governor Markell went and vetoed the bill in July.  This didn’t stop the DOE and State Board of Education from putting more knives in parents and schools backs with their twisted and diabolical opt-out penalties in the school report card debacle.  The teachers escaped the wrath of the Smarter Balanced results as they received another year off from the scores counting towards their teacher evaluations.

To date, the DOE gave American Institutes for Research $38 million dollars between the Smarter Balanced Assessment and DCAS.  Many other companies profited immensely from the DOE’s efforts to “fix” our schools.  But the DOE itself lost half of Governor Markell’s proposed $7.5 million increase for the Department.  DOE wanted to keep Race To The Top going with their own employees, but didn’t want to maybe, perhaps, send those funds to the classrooms where they are desperately needed.  In the end though, the DOE kept most of the employees hired through Race To The Top, even though they are slowly but surely leaving the DOE.  Leadership at the DOE changed with a new Secretary of Education, Dr. Steven Godowsky.  The former Secretary, Mark Murphy, “resigned” after votes of no confidence from the two biggest districts’ unions, the state teachers union, the state school administrator group and funding for Red Clay priority schools got seriously jacked up.  But he “resigned”…

Speaking of priority schools, Christina got to keep theirs, but lost two referendums and a middle school principal named Dr. Dan Shelton who became the Superintendent of the Capital School District after Dr. Michael Thomas retired.  Christina’s superintendent, Dr. Freeman Williams, went out on leave and shortly after announced his retirement causing the board to hire an Acting Superintendent, former Red Clay Superintendent Bob Andrzejewski.  But due to school choice, Christina continued to bleed students who went to charter schools in Wilmington and the surrounding areas causing many to fear for their financial viability by the start of their next school year next fall.

The entire Wilmington education mess brought about a moratorium on new charter schools in Wilmington for a few years or until the DOE could come up with a “strategic plan” to figure it all out.  Meanwhile, the Wilmington Education Improvement Commission was born out of the Wilmington Education Advisory Committee which recommended all Wilmington schools not already in Red Clay be moved to that district.  Brandywine and Colonial nudged themselves out of the deal, leaving Christina as the sole giver-upper of their Wilmington schools.  This is, of course, contingent on votes by the State Board of Education and the Delaware General Assembly next year.  The biggest issues with the redistricting effort are funding and lack of faith in Red Clay being able to take on all these schools when they can’t handle problems with inclusion and bullying in some of their own schools.  The devil is in the details, and the funding detail hasn’t been solved.  Ideas such as raising property assessments did not win WEIC a lot of public support.  Nor did the near shut-out of representation from Kent or Sussex County.  While it is a Wilmington commission, the fact that their ideas would support the whole state and they named their website Solutions for Delaware Schools didn’t help the matter.

A couple of charter school leaders in Delaware made immense profits off taxpayer money…until they got caught!  Both of these incidents put Family Foundations Academy and Academy of Dover on formal review with the DOE and very nasty investigations by the State Auditor’s office.  Both survived, mainly because the former heads of schools were given the boot.  In the case of FFA, East Side Charter School essentially took them over who was still basking in the glow of their miraculous “growth” increases on DCAS.  A point which their leader, Lamont Browne, bragged about incessantly at the Imagine Delaware Education Forum in March.  Not able to survive a formal review was Delaware Met, which was given the hangman’s noose a couple of weeks ago by the State Board of Education.  The Charter School of Wilmington had an interesting Spring with one student’s discipline issue taking up quite a bit of space on here.  Low enrollment woes put new charters Freire and Delaware Design Lab High School on formal review, but they were able to get their numbers up just in the nick of time.  Freire’s Head of School “resigned” after violating their own zero tolerance policy against local protesters.  As the authorizer of three charters in their district, Red Clay dumped Delaware College Prep but renewed the charter for Delaware Military Academy.  The DOE pulled a hat trick and renewed three charters: Campus Community, MOT, and Providence Creek Academy.

Sussex Academy got a pool.  Many charters had their own teacher evaluation systems approved by the Secretary of Education.  Odyssey and Delaware Military Academy basically asked the state for more money to expand but they did this through articles in the News Journal which caused State Rep. John Kowalko to tell them it shouldn’t happen.  Kowalko, along with many other legislators, opposed the Fiscal Year 2016 budget because of slush funds given to charter schools through transportation funds and performance funds.  But what really drew their ire was settlement funds from the foreclosure crisis that were used to plug holes in the budget.

The entire General Assembly dealt with education bills left and right.  The most controversial were the opt-out bill and the charter school audit bill.  Other education legislation dealing with funding for special education and low-income students, cursive, and recording of all board meetings in Delaware were left hanging until the legislators come back in a couple of weeks.

None of these bills stopped the lobbyists from swarming Legislative Hall like a herd of buffalo.  The Rodel Foundation, Delaware Charter Schools Network and the Delaware Business Roundtable gave their lobbyist say on most education bills.  Rodel beefed up their personalized learning game with Student Success 2o25 from their Vision Coalition.  Their CEO, Paul Herdman, had a pretty good year.  I can think of 343,000 reasons why.  All opposed House Bill 50, which drew more negative attention to their organizations.  Especially from the bloggers.

Kilroy’s Delaware and Transparent Christina cut back on their output.  Kavips brilliantly beat the same drums he/she usually does.  I posted a few articles.  New blogs entered the Delaware landscape with fixdeldoe, Creative Delaware, and State Rep. Kim Williams’ Delaware First State joining the fray.  The very excellent Who Is Minding The Children came and went.  Newcomer Avi Wolfman-Arent with WHYY/Newsworks gave Matthew Albright over at the News Journal some much-needed competition.

A lot of what happened on the national level funneled down to Delaware.  The reauthorization of the Elementary/Secondary Education Act created the Every Student Succeeds Act with many scratching their heads asking themselves what the hell it all means.  But our DOE was able to line up all their initiatives with what went down in the final legislation, even though they were planning it years in advance.  I would love to know how they managed to pull that rabbit out of their hat!  Actually, for the education conspiracy theory mongers out there (myself included), we all know how that went down.  That’s right, Congress didn’t write the act, the corporate education reformers did.  The unions all supported it, but it will come back to bite them in the ass.

Delaware escaped the special education “you suck” rating from the feds it received in 3 of the last 4 years, even though they really did.  As standards-based IEPs rolled out across the districts and charters, students with disabilities were put in the toughest “growth” goals of any sub-group in the state with an expectation they would go from 19% proficiency to 59% over the next six years of the Smarter Balanced Assessment.  Dr. Gray, the State Board of Education President, seems to think personalized learning will get them there.

Parents of Kindergarten students wondered why kids weren’t getting recess and some were getting off the bus with homework.  The days of students getting a break were gone in favor of rigor and grit.  While the DOE and US DOE claimed each student is an individual, their practices and policies were determined to throw them all together in their proficiency pie.

2015 did see a great deal of bi-partisanship with the opt-out movement in House Bill 50.  How the votes go down with the veto override next year will tell the tale on that one.  Many stories will either continue or come to an end in the General Assembly based on that vote as the 2016 elections will determine the fates of all the House Representatives and over half of the Senate.  Many are praying State Rep. Earl Jaques bows out and doesn’t run, along with Senator David Sokola.  This could provide much better leaders for the education committees in the House and Senate.

That covers most of the big moments in 2015.  2016 could be quieter or even messier.  All I know is 2015 was one for the record books!

 

The Year In Polls

Survey Says

Exceptional Delaware had many polls this year.  While these are by no means an official record on the entire state’s feelings on education issues, they are indicative of the thoughts of many Delaware readers of Exceptional Delaware.  The voter numbers on these polls varied from thousands to less than 100.  I don’t care what the “margin of error” was.  I did not base any policy or agendas on the results of these polls although I completely agree with many of the answers!  I’m sure the regular readers can figure out which ones I support and those I don’t.

In March, I asked readers if they opted their child out of the Smarter Balanced Assessment.  31% said not yet but they would this week, 26% said they already did, 14% said they would if they had kids, 9% said they wanted to see how their kids did on the test, 9% said no because they believe in Smarter Balanced and Common Core, and 6% said “I was googling balance polls cause I want to get one for the gym when I go back to being a gym teacher”.

In June, in response to a poll if the Smarter Balanced Assessment was a good test, 75% said no and 22% said no.

Also in June, when asked if pollsters believed parents have the right to opt their child out of the Smarter Balanced Assessment, 79% said yes while 21% said no.

In July, the subject of naming the Dover High School football stadium after Capital School District Superintendent Dr. Michael Thomas, who had recently retired, was a good idea or not.  85% said no and only 15% said yes.

September was a big survey month.  The phrase that best described the Delaware Department of Education, as picked by readers, landed in a 1st place tie, with 44% each of the results going to “Mobius Strip of Bullshit” and “You know who needs great leaders? The DOE needs great leaders”.  12% of survey takers thought “If they had one more brain cell it would be lonely” was an apt description.

40% of readers taking a poll on Jack Markell’s life after Governor felt he would open up the “No Excuses” chain of charter schools, 23% felt he would retire when he cashes in his ed-stock portfolio, 11% thought he would become the next US Secretary of Education, 11% felt he could do prison time, and 6% believe he will move to Israel to work for a tech company.

For DOE buzz words that drive people crazy, over half the survey takers, 51%, hate the word “rigor”, followed by 25% hating “college & career ready”, 9% hating “data dive”, 6% hating “grit”, 6% hating “robust discussion” and 3% hating “Dear Educators…”

The Wilmington Education Improvement Commission had some interesting results.  51% think they will create more of a mess in Delaware, 29% felt it would not result in any true lasting change, 11% thought it would actually improve education in Delaware, and 9% felt it would cause Red Clay to go bankrupt.

When asked which organization would openly revolt against the DOE next, the Delaware Association of School Administrators was the hands-down favorite, with 47% of the vote.  Oddly enough, 20% thought DOE employees would revolt, followed by 18% for WEIC, 9% for the Rodel Foundation, and 6% for the Wilmington Metropolitan Urban League.

The next poll actually showed a dog beating a couple legislators for the top spot in Delaware education!  55% of pollsters though State Rep. Kim Williams would be an excellent choice for Delaware Secretary of Education.  20% thought State Rep. John Kowalko could do the job, followed by 13% for Senator Brian Pettyjohn.  State Rep. Trey Paradee’s dog Belle actually received 8% of the vote over Senator David Sokola’s 3% and State Rep. Earl Jaques received NO votes at all!

The worst torture for readers was sitting through a State Board of Education presentation on teacher effectiveness.  48% of voters really didn’t want that in their lives!  24% didn’t want to take the Smarter Balanced Assessment, and 22% didn’t want to have a staring contest with Mark Murphy.  Only 6% didn’t want to eat glass, which proves for many that eating glass would be a better option than the above three.

For the House Bill 50 Veto Override, 32% said it will pass in the House and Senate, 25% said the override will take place but it won’t pass, 20% were really hoping there would be something in the Every Student Succeeds Act that would wipe out the necessity of House Bill 50, 18% thought the veto would stick and there would be no override, and 5% thought the General Assembly would return early and pass the bill in Special Session.

Over half the poll takers, 52%, thought there would be “one too many” charter schools in Delaware in 2025, 20% thought my dream from The Last Exceptional Delaware Story would come true, 17% said 40, and 11% said 50.

When asked which charter school would get a formal review for financial mismanagement, 48% felt Providence Creek Academy would be next, 28% said Thomas Edison, and 24% said Odyssey.  The answer was none of the above!  Providence Creek actually escaped that by doing the right thing, Thomas Edison was cleared of any wrong-doing by the Delaware State Auditor’s office in an investigation into multiple charter schools, and Odyssey’s cryptic board meeting minutes in reference to potential financial issues were actually in reference to bond issues for their high school.  But Delaware Met, in addition to actually being the first charter school in the state to be closed in the middle of their first year, is under investigation by the auditor’s office.

October saw the weakest poll I have ever done.  I stepped way outside the education arena and asked readers which musicians would get voted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame based on their nominations.  Six whole readers took the poll, with 33% saying The J.B.’s were in, and vote tallies of 16.66% each for The Smiths, The Spinners, Deep Purple, and Yes.  This includes my vote for The Smiths.  Lesson to self…don’t expect a lot of readers when I step too far away from the central themes of my own blog!

In November, I asked readers what their current thoughts on opt-out were.  38% said they don’t have kids but they support it, 23% don’t believe in opt-out, 21% said they already opted their child out next Spring, and 17% said they will opt their child out.  This poll mistakenly caused some to believe support for opt-out was dwindling because of the 2nd place rating.  But that left the other 77% supporting opt-out.

64% of readers taking a poll on the next Governor think Republican Colin Bonini will win the election as opposed to 36% thinking John Carney will win.  This shocked me immensely as I underestimated the number of Republican readers on Exceptional Delaware!

Delaware Governor Jack Markell’s approval rating on Exceptional Delaware is horrible!  92% of readers were not satisfied with him, while 8% were.

When asked if State Rep. Earl Jaques should be removed as the Chair of the House Education Committee, an astounding 80% said yes and 20% said no.

47% of readers support personalized learning and competency-based education, which actually surprised me.  40% didn’t support it, and 13% didn’t know what it was.

Delaware Secretary of Education Godowsky’s approval ratings for his first sixty days were as follows: 35% said okay, 33% said bad, 22% said awful, 7% said good, and 4% said great.

87% of the vote-takers felt the State Board of Education should consist of publicly elected officials while 13% think it is okay that one person picks them, the Governor.

In terms of how readers thought about how students are with the implementation of Smarter Balanced this year, 60% said they are further behind, 32% said the same, and 8% said they are better off, praise the Lord!

December saw the State Board of Education voting whether or not to shut down a charter school in the middle of the year.  Before their vote, I asked readers what they thought.  83% said shut them down while 17% said leave them open.

When asked who they felt would win in the knock-down fight of the year, 94% of readers felt Santa Claus would whoop Jack Markell in a fight.  Only 6% thought Jack could win that fight.

But the granddaddy of all the polls on this blog actually started on the last day of the year in 2014 and ran for the next several weeks into the new year.  In the infamous “Who Shot The Blogger” contest, it came down to Governor Jack Markell vs. the DOE’s Penny Schwinn.  Jack won 68% of the vote versus Schwinn’s 32%, besting 31 other contenders in the tournament.  The biggest battles came down to DOE Public Information Officer Alison May who beat Deputy Secretary David Blowman, Penny Schwinn who wiped out Pencadermom (a much-missed commenter from over at Kilroy’s Delaware), Mark Murphy’s annihilation of Chris Ruszkowski (the teacher/leader guru at the DOE), and Jack Markell vs. Paul Herdman with the Governator besting his Rodelian friend.  From there, Schwinn beat May and Markell beat Murphy, setting up the grand championship!

In the final set of polls, which only ran for one day, the best moment in Delaware education in 2015 was when the Delaware House and Senate passed House Bill 50 with 41%, 32% felt Mark Murphy “resigning” was the best, 16% thought the Christina Board of Education holding the DOE back from taking their priority schools was a top moment, Penny Schwinn’s DOE resignation collected 7%, and horrible Smarter Balanced Assessment results had 5% of poll-takers looking at that as a crowning moment.

34% felt Delaware education’s darkest moment was Governor Markell’s veto of House Bill 50, 23% thought the outright theft of school funds from the school leaders at Academy of Dover and Family Foundations Academy was very dark, 17% thought the State Board of Education passing the opt-out penalties for the Delaware School Success Framework was horrible, and 13% each voted for President Obama signing the Every Student Succeeds Act and the State Board revoking Delaware Met’s charter in the middle of a school year.

Here there be villains in education with 56% giving Governor Markell the villain of the year award, the soon to be departed US Secretary of Education Arne Duncan got 14%, followed by 9% for Mark Murphy, 7% for Donna Johnson, 5% each for State Rep. Earl Jaques and Rodel CEO Paul Herdman, and 2% each for current Delaware Secretary of Education Dr. Steven Godowsky and the also soon to be departing from the Delaware DOE Penny Schwinn.

But there were also heroes for Delaware Education.  State Rep. John Kowalko nabbed the top spot with 30% of the vote, State Rep. Kim Williams got 21%, I humbly accept 12% of the vote in the other category, State Rep. Mike Ramone got 9% for saving House Bill 50 from the brink of defeat in the House Education Committee last April, Red Clay Educators Association President Mike Matthews and Jennifer Nagourney from the Delaware Charter School Office each collected 7% each of the votes, Capital Superintendent Dr. Dan Shelton and WEIC Chair Tony Allen each got 5% of the vote, the dynamic due of Terri Hodges and Yvonne Johnson with the Delaware PTA got 2%, and last but definitely not least, Christina Education Association Vice-President Jackie Kook received 2% of the votes.

The last poll of 2015 saw 23% of readers taking the poll viewing an out of control Delaware DOE and State Board of Education as the biggest issue in 2015, the opt-out movement had 21%, 15% felt legislators listening to the Governor over their constituents was a big issue, 13% thought the Smarter Balanced Assessment was controversial, 11% felt charter school fraud grabbed the headlines, 6% thought lobbyists affecting education legislation was a hot issue, the impact of choice and feeder school patterns bothered 4% of pollsters, followed by 2% each for underfunded schools, priority schools, and teacher evaluations.

While these are in no way scientific conclusions, it is always interesting to get the results on these.  Sometimes I can predict how they will go, and others I can’t.  Some surprise me!  I do set it up so no one can vote twice from the same computer to prevent potential cheating.  What will 2016 bring?

16 To Watch In 2016: The Seans

seanmatthewslynn

Both of the Seans in the Delaware House of Representatives have a lot in common.  They are both Democrat, they are both named Sean, they both voted against the budget last June, and they both began their first terms as State Representatives this year.  They both supported House Bill 50 in a big way.  They brought in a much-needed amount of fresh young blood to the General Assembly.  They are both up for re-election this year.  Both of them dealt with some controversial issues in 2015.

Sean Lynn’s biggest moment came during the debate of Senate Bill 40, the legislation designed to repeal the death penalty in Delaware.  According to Delaware Liberal, Lynn plans to attempt a suspension of House rules to bring the bill back from its own form of death: not coming out of the Judiciary Committee.  This could happen as early as January according to the article.  The death penalty is one of those issues in Delaware that keeps coming back, draws the ire of both sides, and doesn’t move forward.  Will Lynn’s attempt to reanimate the bill be the difference?  Time will tell.

Sean Matthews sponsored or co-sponsored many education bills in the General Assembly.  He enjoyed moderate success with these bills, which helped to land him a slot on the assessment inventory task force stemming from Senate Joint Resolution #2.  As one of the key players in this group, Matthews will be the voice of reason in a group filled with many who lean toward Governor Markell’s way of thinking with state assessments.  Time will tell if this group can get rid of the Smarter Balanced Assessment, but I doubt it.

Both of the Seans will have their hands full with the rest of their own party.  As part of the “Six” who voted against the budget last year, along with State Reps. Baumbach, Bennett, Kowalko and Williams, many in their party felt it was a mighty bold move for two legislative rookies.  It was.  I would rather see legislators vote with conviction and belief than going along to get along.  I fear there could be retribution of a political sort this year by the House leadership.  The easiest targets are the new guys.  But both Seans are a mighty stock and I have faith they will deal with any fallout from their decision last year with grace.

With an election year looming, many are assuming no matter what the Democrats will keep their power in Legislative Hall.  But there is a growing feeling of discontent in Delaware.  After years of questioned policies and agendas coming from Governor Markell and the leadership in Legislative Hall, many Delawareans are willing to vote out of party this year.  I predict both of the Seans will be safe because they are among those questioning what is really going on in Delaware.  The key to all of this will come in January when Governor Markell releases his budget proposal for Delaware.  We will get a very firm idea on where Delaware stands in terms of a budget deficit.

 

Does Delaware Met Have The Audacity To Try And Fight Their Closure?

Very interesting!  The Delaware Met is having a “special” board meeting tonight.  Oddly enough, their initial agenda had an action item entitled “Discussion on Halting the Closure of the School”.  Now that action item is gone from the agenda.  For a board that meets so often in “special” board meetings, they sure don’t take the time to update their board minutes!  And having NO board meeting in November, in the middle of their formal review, has to be the stupidest idea I have ever seen in my life!  Unless they were counting their formal review meetings and public hearings with the Charter School Accountability Committee as board meetings…

Here is their updated agenda which does not reflect what was on the original:

15 Who Made An Impact On 2015: Paul Herdman

Paul Herdman, President and CEO of the Rodel Foundation of Delaware makes remarks at the Vision 2015 Conference for the Race To The Top.

For 2015, Dr. Paul Herdman was a busy Rodelian!  Between the Vision Coalition, Student Success 2025, sponsoring the Imagine Delaware forum on education, fighting against House Bill 50, and potentially dealing with the fallout from his 2014 hissy fit, Herdman earned his exorbitantly high pay in 2015!  He also helped the State Board of Education and the Delaware DOE with the Smarter Balanced toolkit!

Herdman’s most public appearance this year was at the Senate Education Committee hearing on House Bill 50.  He told the committee he never spoke out on legislation at Legislative Hall but it was very important for him to do this.  His public comment basically said we are stuck with the Smarter Balanced Assessment and there should be no opt-out.  I was not impressed by what he had to say.

In September, the Rodel-backed Vision Coalition launched Student Success 2025.  Broken record time… because Vision 2012 and Vision 2015 and Ed25 worked out so well…

In March, Rodel sponsored the Imagine Delaware Education forum at the Chase Waterfront Center in Wilmington.  The forum was between Tony Allen, Senator David Sokola, Lamont Browne, Dr. Merv Daugherty and Mike Matthews.  It came down to a WEIC infomercial and how great East Side charter is.

Rodel certainly did their fair amount of lobbying at Legislative Hall this year!  It wasn’t just HB50 they opposed!  With an election year on the horizon, I fully expect Rodel to plant themselves firmly in the election pool with their own candidates!  But what in the world will Dr. Paul and his merry band of corporate education reformers at Rodel do once Jack Markell is no longer Governor?

Delaware House Reps and Senators Who Support The House Bill 50 Veto Override And Those Who Don’t

Updated 1/1/16, 9:20pm

I sent an email to all the Delaware House Representatives and Senators on 12/29/15 asking for their support of House Bill 50.  An override of a Governor’s veto in Delaware requires a 3/5th vote by both the House and the Senate which cannot be done on the same day.  The House would introduce it, and if passed, it would go to the Senate.  This is the email I sent to each one of them:

Dear (name inserted)

I am asking for your public support of the House Bill 50 Veto Override in the 148th General Assembly this year. I would like to publicly announce your intention to vote yes on this historic legislation. We all know the reasons why a yes vote is needed on this and the immoral and disgusting behavior surrounding those who are attempting to dissuade you from voting yes on the override.

 This is a simple bill about honoring rights that already exist for a parent and stopping the bullying and intimidation by Governor Markell, the Delaware Department of Education, the State Board of Education, special interest groups in Delaware and across the country, and fellow legislators who appear to care more about what they think than the voice of the people.

I understand the legislative process and the need to compromise in certain situations. But this is not the time to cave in to those. This is a time where your political future will depend on THIS vote.

Please understand that no matter how you respond, I will be continually publishing those who support this and those who do not. An inability to respond to this will be viewed by thousands as not caring at all about the issue. If you are voting no, please let the people know and let them know why you are voting no. Also keep in mind I will debunk many of your reasons very publicly.

While some of you may view this letter as that of arrogance and putting you in a no-win situation, I choose to see it as an opportunity to let the people know you support them no matter what. I did not create this situation to begin with. We have Governor Markell, who chose to ignore your votes, to thank for this mess. You have the ability to fix that.

Respectfully,

Kevin Ohlandt

The following are the responses received from the Delaware State Representatives and Senators.  A yes is for the veto override, and a no is against the override. Continue reading Delaware House Reps and Senators Who Support The House Bill 50 Veto Override And Those Who Don’t

Governor Markell’s Secret Weapons Against House Bill 50 Veto Override Exposed!

The manipulation behind the scenes with House Bill 50 is never-ending!  Delaware Governor Jack Markell vetoed the bill in July but he knows the General Assembly will attempt to override his veto.  To that end, he has been working feverishly behind the curtain to make sure it does not pass!  The drums of war are beating on both sides.  The problem with Jack Markell is how he views himself.  He truly believes he is infallible.  He is just a man.  A man who leaves enough breadcrumbs on the way that anyone who follows his trail can see them visibly.

To truly understand the process, you have to think like the Governor.  Anticipating his next moves can be difficult, but he does have very clear patterns.  We know he is calling many House Reps in Delaware and begging them to vote no on the House Bill 50 veto override.  We know he hates the opt-out movement as it interferes with his corporate education reform plans for Rodel The Delaware Business Roundtable The Aspen Institute The Southern Regional Education Board American Institutes for Research McKinsey Charter Schools Hedge Fund Managers His Own Ed-Stock Portfolio Delaware in a big way.

As the legislators return to Legislative Hall in two weeks, the conversation about the HB50 override is going to become very loud.  This is how Jack is going to try to publicly sway the legislators and Delaware into thinking the override shouldn’t pass, followed by my counter to each and every point:

  1. The US DOE issued letters stating they will take away money from states who don’t hit participation marks two years in a row.  Go ahead and take the money.  By supporting this you are effectively saying money is more important than parental rights.  And to clarify, it is Title I administrative funding, not the entire Title I funding pool.  The feds are inviting parents to take part in a class action lawsuit against all this.
  2. The Assessment Inventory Task Force currently meeting will eliminate “unnecessary and redundant testing”.  It will eliminate all but those assessments tied to the Smarter Balanced Assessment.  It will not reduce the amount of testing, it will increase the amount of preparatory and interim assessments for the Smarter Balanced Assessment.
  3. It would be a violation of civil rights to pass it.  The Smarter Balanced Assessment IS a violation of civil rights.  It puts the most at-risk students in a position where they are inadvertently labeled as failures based on a once a year test score.
  4. An override of MY veto would be a tremendous amount of disrespect to my office and my legacy.  Because your legacy is something to be proud of?  Most of the legislators can’t stand you.  Even the Democrats.  They think you are a dictator!  The power of democracy is a series of checks and balances to prevent one voice from deciding what is best for the people.
  5. We are going to get rid of Smarter Balanced for 11th graders and make the SAT the state assessment for high school juniors.  The College Board overhauled the SAT to make it more like the Smarter Balanced, PARCC, and other state assessments tied to Common Core.  Whether you call it an apple or an orange, it is still a piece of crap.
  6. The Every Student Succeeds Act is going to cause us to take a holistic and methodical look at state assessments and gives states more control over the implementation of state assessments.  To which Penny Schwinn at the DOE publicly said Delaware is already in line with what came out of the ESSA.  Funny how that happened.  Stuff the DOE implemented the past few years just happens to be what is in the ESSA?  I smell a festering rat!
  7. We will see editorials from Rodel, The Delaware Business Roundtable, Civil Rights groups, certain teachers who have been swayed to the Dark Side, and corporate education reformers about why the General Assembly shouldn’t pass the override.  See the News Journal in the coming weeks and months…
  8. The Smarter Balanced Assessment is a work in progress and we need an accurate measurement of student progress so we can determine how to help the instruction of students.  We haven’t heard one word about a reduction in Smarter Balanced Assessment test-taking time.  The window for schools to take the test is the same as last year.  The results show what we have always known.  Students with disabilities, low-income, African-American, or English Language Learners do not perform as well as their peers on these tests.  It has to be that way because if all the gaps were closed there would be no need for a state assessment or “fixing” our schools.  Duh…
  9. We may be looking at ways to not have the Smarter Balanced results tie in so heavily with teacher evaluations.  Because that worked out so well for Governor Cuomo in New York!  The parents there don’t care what he says, they are still going to opt out this year.  They are committed to doubling their opt-out numbers from 200,000 to 400,000 this year.  This is also an attempt to get teachers to stop supporting opt-out.  Good luck with that one.  They may have been momentarily fooled by ESSA, but they aren’t stupid.  And as long as bloggers like myself and others will point out the machinations behind the scenes (the vendor contracts, the state DOEs, “guidance” from the feds), we will blast a hole so large in that one a freighter jet could pass through it.
  10. It will undermine a district’s ability to effectively teach children and will disrupt the learning environment.  The Smarter Balanced Assessment IS a disruption to the learning environment and forces teachers to instruct students based on what is on the test.  Duh 2.0…
  11. History has shown schools that teach effectively are able to close the achievement gaps and have huge improvements in scores.  Yes, we call these charter schools which have high turnaround, charters who pick and choose which students go there, districts that change their feeder patterns, and even magnet and vocational schools that can and historically show their ability to pick students.  Yet, we also see that East Side Charter School, which was praised up and down for their “growth” in 2014-2015, did  no better than other schools with similar demographics on the Smarter Balanced Assessment which really makes me wonder how they were able to grow so much.
  12. It will cause teachers and schools to pick who takes the test to make their numbers look better.  Seriously?  With all the heat from the opt-out movement and the very definitive laws surrounding state assessment participation, do you really think schools would be idiotic enough to exclude students from taking the test?  They know the DOE monitors every burp and hiccup with the testing.  They know their schools and districts have DOE sympathizers in them who will rat them out in a New York minute.  Teachers are afraid for their jobs 90% of the time over this foolish test and what it will mean for their evaluations.  Do you really think they would throw their career away like that?
  13. Parents of students with disabilities are the biggest supporters of opt-out and we are going to take a hard look at why that is and what we can do about it.  Yeah right!  If that were the case, you wouldn’t be expecting the proficiency rate for these kids to go from 19% this year to 59% by 2021.  Give me a break!

We know the lengths the DOE went to in keeping the opt-out penalties for the Delaware School Success Framework very quiet.  We know Secretary Godowsky did a 180 degree turnaround on the issue.  We know the DOE falsely cited US DOE policy in allowing this to even be in there.  We know the committee the DOE picked to handle the formation of the Delaware School Success Framework unanimously voted NOT to have the opt-out multiplier penalty in the DSSF.  So with all that going on surrounding the harsh opt-out penalties it would have been the perfect time for the Delaware DOE to announce the letter from the US DOE about funding cuts due to low participation rates.  They did not.  They could have done this at the final meeting of the Accountability Framework Working Group.  They could have done this at the State Board of Education meeting in November when they voted on it.  Why would they not use the biggest weapon in their arsenal?

They knew they didn’t have to and they were saving it for a rainy day.  Governor Markell picked each member of the State Board of Education.  He controls how they vote 99% of the time.  But the votes are 100% in his favor.  He knew they would vote on the opt-out penalties even though everyone else was saying no.  He was hoping to bring this out in January when the legislators return.  He knows House Bill 50 will come up for an override.  He wanted to squeeze this in there at the last possible moment.  I can picture it now, sending his education policy advisor Lindsay O’Mara or Godowsky into Legislative Hall: “Look, there IS funding cuts coming.  We have to stop this from happening!  You must vote no”.

Now how would I jump to this conclusion?  Like I said earlier, it is all about the bread crumbs.  In their work session on October 15th, the State Board of Education asked Ryan Reyna with the DOE to get more information about the opt-out penalty on the DSSF.

The letter to the US DOE was dated 11/2/15.  In this day and age, this information is most likely emailed and mailed to the State Education Agencies, in this case the Delaware DOE.  Penny Schwinn and Carolyn Lazar were cc:ed on this as well, so they would have had this information for the State Board retreat.  In the below document, when the AFWG recommendations are presented to the State Board, the minutes reflect very careful avoidance of discussing the US DOE letter and Secretary Godowsky’s recommendation to include the opt-out multiplier.

That night I received word of Godowsky’s recommendation and wrote about it right away.  The very next day, the State Board recorder of minutes was very careful to now include notes about the previous day.

Finally, at the State Board of Education meeting when this came up for a vote, there is NO mention about the US DOE letter whatsoever.  Donna Johnson, the Executive Director of the State Board of Education, would have been well aware of this letter.  And by default, so would the State Board.  Yet, in the very long discussion around the opt-out penalty, nobody mentions this.  That is because they were told not to.  And that decision could have only come from Governor Markell.  Godowsky was the main recipient of the US DOE letter.  The Secretary of Education is a Cabinet position in the State of Delaware.  The only figure higher than him is the Governor.

This is “The Delaware Way”.  In the past, nobody would have known about any of this.  What changed?  Myself and others who are keeping a very close eye on any and all activity of the Delaware DOE, things that are said, things that are not said, and what is announced in public session through audio recordings or minutes.

Make no mistake, any legislator who flips on their House Bill 50 votes will be given a very public lashing.  Any legislator who votes no will be given a very public lashing.  If you think you can hide behind a collective vote, you are very wrong.  I will treat each of your votes as an individual vote.  Thank you to Delaware Liberal for announcing which legislators will face re-election this year.  Your vote will be a symbol of who you are as an elected official of the citizens of Delaware.  If you side with Markell on this, no amount of excuses or reasoning will allow you to escape unscathed.  We will all know why you did it.  And I will leave no stone unturned after your no vote.  I don’t care if you are Democrat or Republican.  I will scorch the political earth you walk on.  If you are worried about Jack Markell, then you truly do not understand the lengths parents will go to.  I truly don’t care about “political etiquette” or any of that nonsense.  You can vote for the Governor or you can vote for the people.  It is your choice.  I’m just advising you way ahead of time what will happen if you vote no.  I don’t care how nice you are or what a great person you are.  I don’t care if we have allied in the past over issues or legislation.  I will make it my goal in 2016 to make your life a living hell.  And I will not be alone.  I already have a list of names in the General Assembly.  You have time to change your mind.  But once your vote is cast, good luck!  And if you aren’t running again, I will pound on every single piece of legislation you put out there and will gather others to help.  I will make anything you do look tarnished and soiled.  Because if you can’t represent and honor the rights of parents, you can’t do anything in Legislative Hall.

What Do You Think Were The Best And Worst Moments In Delaware Education In 2015?

2015.  What a year!  What were the best and worst moments?  Who were the villains and heroes?  What were the biggest issues?  Take the polls below and let us know!  This poll is only running for 24 hours, so please get your answers in ASAP!

Ed Reform Groundhog Day

Save Maine Schools

During a conversation about education reform at a holiday party I attended last week, a long-time high school teacher said to me, “You’ll see as you get more years of experience.  You start to feel like: haven’t we seen this already?”

I laughed and said it’s like that cliché definition you always hear about insanity: doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results.

When it comes to ed reform, of course, it’s really not a cliché. It’s how they do business.

Check out the quote below, and see if you can guess the year it was written:

 …schools will offer a common core of learning and, at the same time, provide diversity and choice. In short, individualized education implies the personalization of the entire educational process.

If you guessed 1974, you were right.

This was written by Robert G. Scanlon, former Pennsylvania Education Secretary, in…

View original post 935 more words

Why I Had To Kill Two Articles In One Day!

This is a first!  It is very rare that I remove an article.  Today, I had to do it twice.  The first concerned Delaware Met and closure information provided by the DOE.  They were still in the process of updating this information and wanted to make sure parents of the students there got accurate information.  The second article concerned State Board of Education member Dr. Terry Whittaker.  I was questioning why he has not been present at board meetings since September.  Shortly after I posted the article, I was informed his wife passed away last month.  This was announced publicly at the last State Board of Education meeting.  My sincerest condolences for Dr. Whittaker and his family…

Now if I have to kill a third article today, that hat trick will not be acceptable to me, so I am done writing for the night!  My apologies for those who saw these posts in their email, Facebook, or Twitter and wondered what the heck happened.  This is not something that usually happens.

15 Who Made An Impact In 2015: The Moles & The Theorists

conspiracy-theory

The moles made a huge impact in 2015!  The moles were everywhere.  All over the state.  From Rehoboth to Hockessin, they let me know.  They said “don’t tell them it is me”.  And I didn’t, except for you-know-who.  The one that gets away with whatever she wants because she is friends with Jack.  Even Mark “resigned”, but she is still there conspiring away.  But the moles certainly helped me this year.  To say more would be to say more than I can so I won’t.  But thank you to all the moles.  Sometimes they were right on the money, sometimes they tried to lead me astray (see above), and other times they were misinformed.  But they certainly had a huge impact on how I look at things.

To clear up a misconception, I am NOT paranoid.  I just think everyone is out to get us and will stop at nothing until they do.  Just because The Illuminati is alive and well in Delaware does not make me paranoid, okay?  If I was paranoid, I would center all my theories on one group (Rodel) and one person (Jack).  I have NEVER done that.  Not once!  I think the DOE, State Board of Education, DESS, DSEA, DASA, NASA, DEPTA, SEPTA, AFWG, CSD, RCEA, CEA, IRSD, BRINC, USDOE, ISIS, DCSN, ABC, EYZ…they are all part of it.  But just to clarify, when I say ABC, I’m not talking about the tv station.

ABC

It doesn’t take a rigor scientist to see what is really going on here.  The signs have all been there.  I can’t even say it.  It is THAT frightening.  It keeps me awake at night, like a train heading to nowhere.  Does anyone think it is really a coincidence that we have never seen Jack Markell and John Young at the same time?  Please, like I was born yesterday!  And the DOE just happens to be all gung-ho on the Christina priority schools.  I know there’s something going on.  Frida told me back in 1982…

But beyond that, there are forces at play that we have yet to even dream of.  Some call it The Delaware Way.  But is it?  Is it really?  Notice two of the words in the phrase “The Delaware Way”.  If we take out “Delaware”, and insert “Blessing”, we can see a picture start to form… “The Blessing Way”.

We can talk about “college & career readiness all we want, but if that were really the case, why hasn’t Jack brought up the proverbial icing on the cake?  This is the thing NOBODY has written about.  How many people do you know that have changed careers?  I know I have.  So if I am a modern-day student, and I get a job after high school or college, I was career ready.  But what happens when I turn thirty and I switch careers?  Am I still career ready?  Do I have to go back to school again, from Kindergarten to 12th grade so I can be, again, career ready?  This is the grand plan.  An endless lifetime of robust education.  Jack Markell has an obsession with Peter Pan!

2015PeterPan

It’s okay Jack.  You can say goodbye.  You can’t be Governor forever.  We will forget about you one day.  One day, hundreds of years from now, someone will be working on a history of Delaware and they will decide to omit the section on you in the state history.  I can finally tell you the truth: it IS all about the children…

But it goes WAY beyond that.  WAY beyond.  Because the truth is actually seen for all to see.  It is right in front of us and always has been.

I know the truth Jack Alan Markell.  I know what SBAC really stands for.  “School begins again children”.  There, I said it.  You are just the latest in a long string of those who would tell Delaware what they ought to be.  And it all started with this guy:

3rdLordDeLaWarr

 

16 To Watch In 2016: The Delaware Met Kids

On December 17th, the Delaware State Board of Education revoked Delaware Met’s charter.  Over 200 teenagers, in 9th and 10th grade, will have to find a new school after January 22nd.  Most will go back to their feeder districts.  Some may go to charters.  Some could even drop out.  Even though I wrote a lot about the fall of Delaware Met, I truly feel bad for these kids.

I hope whichever district or charter ends up receiving these kids, that they take a very thorough look at what these students will need.  And not just academically.  We know over 60 of these kids have IEPs.  We know some of them are “troublemakers”.  But at the end of the day, they are scared.  They are facing a very uncertain future.  If any of them gained trust with the Delaware Met, it is going to be twice as hard for them to begin again at a new school half way through the year.

It is incumbent upon the DOE and State Board of Education to make sure these kids transition as best they can.  They made the decision to open Delaware Met and they delivered their final verdict.  The last thing we should want for these kids is for them to drop out and call it quits.  They need to know they will be accepted, no questions asked.   I am not saying it will be easy for any receiving district or school.  But compromise and allowances need to be made for these kids.  The Del Met kids will also have to realize their new schools aren’t the free-for-all Delaware Met was.

What Is The Dastardly Delaware DOE Up To Now With Teacher Evaluations?

300Ruszkowski

The Delaware DOE sure was busy two days before Christmas.  They managed to get yet another request for proposal (RFP) out.  This one is for a teacher credentialing assessment.  This is basically the DOE seeking a vendor to give assessments to folks wishing to evaluate teachers.  They have to pass the DOE’s rigorous standards to be able to evaluate teachers.  And it must align with “college and career readiness” standards.  That’s right, even if the evaluator is observing a Kindergarten teacher, the teacher must demonstrate the ability to make sure those Kindergartners are ready to go to Harvard University!

While the Department of Education has implemented procedures for both new observers (“initial credentialing”) and existing observers (“re-credentialing”) over the past two years, the state is now seeking more robust and streamlined versions of both assessments.

You can read the Teacher/Leader Effectiveness Unit’s request for somebody to do the work they should be doing themselves, but they just aren’t, ahem, effective enough…

15 Who Made An Impact On 2015: Dr. Dan Shelton

SheltonCapital

Teachers at Kirk Middle School in the Christina School District were not happy last June.  They were losing their beloved principal, Dr. Dan Shelton.  In June, the Capital Board of Education picked Shelton as their newest superintendent after a more than four-month search.  Shelton, who took the reigns from the retiring Dr. Michael Thomas, began the role in July.  Not only was Thomas leaving, but so was Assistant Superintendent Sandra Spangler and Director of Human Resources David Vaughn.

Shelton and the Board quickly found replacements and set out for the tasks at hand.  Christina’s loss was Capital’s gain.  From all I have heard, Shelton is doing a fantastic job at Capital.  I have heard nothing negative about him at all.  In a recent article in the Dover Post, Shelton weighed in on the Every Student Succeeds Act.  He explained to reporter David Paulk that he was concerned about the “lump” funding for grants but he was glad the federal government was “stepping back”.  While this remains to be seen with the feds based on their recent threats about funding cuts with opt-outs, I am confident Capital will handle this appropriately.

Meanwhile, Shelton will oversee the ten schools under the Capital umbrella and will bring a fresh and innovate look to the district.

16 To Watch In 2016: Harrie Ellen Minnehan

Minnehan-ChristinaBoard_CmK-059_web

As President of the Christina School District Board of Education, Minnehan is the voice of the board at their meetings.  She holds the gavel!  With recent events concerning priority schools and the Wilmington Education Improvement Commission, the Christina Board will be in the spotlight quite a bit in the coming months.  The biggest matter facing Christina right now is what happens if the Wilmington Education Improvement Commission does not pass.  The State Board of Education votes on the redistricting plan on January 21st, and if it passes it goes on to the General Assembly.

If, at any point, the plan fails to move forward, the DOE will pounce on Christina’s priority schools.  They are already gearing up for it.  But Christina has dire matters on its plate.  The first is their precarious financial situation.  They could be in serious financial trouble if they don’t pass their next referendum attempt, the third in the past two school years.  As well, there is the issue with what appears to be an acting Superintendent stepping a bit outside of his comfort zone on district matters.  Bob Andrzejewski already made this list, and not for good reasons.  Since then, the Christina board voted down his request to join the BRINC Consortium in a 4-2 vote.  But as of last week, it appears Andrzejewski is submitting grant applications to the Delaware DOE without the knowledge of his board.

As the face of the Christina Board of Education, Minnehan will be the voice behind how to reign in Bob A, as he is often referred to in Delaware education circles.  It is essential that the board make Bob A understand they are the deciding authority in the district.  Minnehan will play a large part in how that is done.  The last thing the district needs is an acting superintendent going rogue.  The board will begin a search for a permanent superintendent in February.

Critical Questions about Computerized Assessments and SmarterBalanced Test Scores

Delaware Parents: Please read this. If you had ANY doubts about the Smarter Balanced Assessment, this is the place to fill in the holes. If you think it is the greatest test since white bread, please read this. And then ask yourself: Is this really the best they can do for my child? If your answer is no, opt your kid out. Do your child a favor.

EduResearcher

validity_jpgA recent report from the Public Policy Institute reveals that the majority of California’s public school parents are uninformed about the new tests their children took this past year. And despite numerous concerns regarding the lack of validity, technological barriers, biases, and test administration problems, “test scores” soon will be released to the public.

The following includes adapted selections of a letter I sent to the California State Board of Education for the July 2015 State Board of Education meeting.  My purpose in sharing this information is to draw attention to the lack of scientific validity of the test scores that are soon to be released to the public and to promote critical thinking about issues of fairness, accessibility, data security, and standardization in the test administrations.

It is important to consider that unless assessments are independently verified to adhere to basic standards of test development regarding validity, reliability, security, accessibility, and fairness in administration

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Delaware State Rep. Tim Dukes (Laurel) Has A Video Message For Delaware

From the Republican House of Representatives Newsletter from this week.  Unfortunately, I was not able to get the video to link to WordPress, but I did copy and paste the transcript:

In this opinion video, State Rep. Tim Dukes, R-Laurel, discusses how citizens can gain a sense of control over their chaotic world by connecting with the people representing them in the General Assembly.
Video Transcript
 
Hi, I’m State Rep. Tim Dukes.
 
As we look forward to the start of a New Year, and reflect on the events of 2015, it is hard not to feel overwhelmed.
 
It seems that there are new stories of intractable problems almost daily.  Violent crime is prevalent in some parts of our state; we face troubling budgetary challenges; and the merger of Dupont threatens layoffs and a seismic shift in our business landscape.
 
The weight of this can seem crushing. 
 
One way of coping with the sense of anxiety is to stay informed.
 
Consumed with the demands of their families and occupations, most people, understandably, do not keep tabs on what is happening in our state capitol.  But they should.
 
It has never been easier to get timely government news.  There many tools available, especially on social media like Twitter and Facebook, that will give you an idea of what is occurring in government.  Some of that news will be good.  For the information that isn’t, the knowledge will provide an opportunity for action.
 
With fewer than one million citizens, Delaware is a small state.  That advantage amplifies the voice of the individual.  Speaking from firsthand experience, calls and e-mails from individual constituents do sway the positions of legislators and can result in changes to pending bills.
 
In some ways, Delaware is a throwback to how governance was once practiced throughout the nation.  Many of my colleagues, on both sides of the aisle, hold regular coffee meetings with constituents.  Those that do not can usually be reached by phone and e-mail. 
 
Delaware is one of the few states in the nation where legislators publish their home phone numbers and addresses.  And, unlike states like Pennsylvania, you stand a pretty good chance of inadvertently crossing paths with your state representative or senator. 
 
Our problems can seem overwhelming.  The year ahead will be difficult.  But by reaching out; by making your voice heard; by working together; we can find a path forward. 
 
 Merry Christmas and Happy New Year.

Christina Priority Schools & The Weird Behavior Of The DOE & State Board

On Christmas Eve, Avi with Newsworks/WHYY published an article called “A year later, still no money for three Delaware ‘priority’ schools”.  I found this article to be fascinating and revealing.  Especially since it gave information that, apparently, the Christina Board of Education wasn’t even aware of.  One thing is for certain: the Delaware Department of Education is gunning for the Christina School District and they don’t care who knows anymore.

Last year, the DOE labeled six Wilmington schools as priority schools based on standardized test scores.  Three in Christina, and three in Red Clay.  Red Clay submitted their Memorandum of Understanding (MOU), their plans for the schools, and received funds from the state for the initiative.  Christina fought it tooth and nail in many intense board meetings.  Finally, the Wilmington Education Advisory Committee released their recommendations for redistricting in Wilmington.  The Christina Board signed a Memorandum of Understanding with the DOE giving a one-year pause on their priority schools and granting them a second planning year.

The Christina priority schools seemed like a dead issue until October of this year.  At the Delaware Education State Support (DESS) meeting, a DSEA representative asked Penny Schwinn (Chief of Accountability at the DOE) what would happen to the three Christina priority schools if the redistricting effort fell through.  Schwinn responded that had been a recent topic of conversation at the DOE.  But as per several members of the Christina board of education, nobody from the DOE contacted them about the priority schools or even mentioned them until the State Board of Education meeting on December 17th.

Both Avi and I were present at this meeting and we both saw State Board President Dr. Teri Quinn Gray’s very bizarre behavior.  Avi described it well in his article:

The issue surfaced publicly during last Thursday’s State Board of Education Meeting. In the middle of a presentation, board president Terri Quinn Gray grew so upset she rose from her chair and blurted, “I need to take a break.”  She meant it literally. Gray grimaced, clutched her stomach, and walked out of the board meeting.  The source of Gray’s discontent wasn’t charter schools or testing or redistricting in Wilmington. It was priority schools.

There were several contentious moments at this board meeting.  But for Dr. Gray it was something that should have been a throwaway line during a presentation from Penny Schwinn’s Accountability department.  The second Penny Schwinn mentioned Christina was on their 2nd planning year for their priority schools, Gray either was truly surprised or she was putting on a show for everyone to see and hear.

The State Board is presented with information for their meetings from Executive Director Donna Johnson.  Most of the time, the information can be seen by the public on the State Board website.  But sometimes, information isn’t seen until the day of the meeting.  I truly don’t know if this applies to the actual State Board members or not.  But based on attending one of their State Board retreats, I did see the information was available to them and not the public when it came to a presentation on the Smarter Balanced Assessment.  Now whether they actually read this information or not ahead of time, or any of the information presented to them, cannot be determined.

During a late September 2014 Christina board meeting, Dr. Gray and fellow State Board member Gregory Coverdale gave public comment and pleaded with Christina to sign their MOU.  The audience was filled with Christina board members, and Gray and Coverdale were booed and left when board member John Young was talking about how the DOE needs great leaders.  As revealed in a FOIA of DOE emails a year ago, Donna Johnson accused Christina Board member John Young of giving a speech that was most likely written by State Rep. John Kowalko or State Senator Bryan Townsend.  Both Gray and Johnson were hammering Christina at the State Board of Education.  And we can’t forget Donna Johnson’s very bizarre and strange accusation leveled at the Christina School District last summer.

Based on the last link, I filed a complaint with the Delaware Department of Justice’s office of Civil Rights & Public Trust against Johnson.  Over three and a half months later and I have not received an answer to that complaint.  No one has contacted me to clarify any of the information about it.  I did speak with Delaware Attorney General Matt Denn a week ago about the status of these complaints.  He explained to me that the new office in the DOJ is still in the planning stages and they are still sorting out what they can and cannot do based on state code.  He also said someone from that office would be contacting me in a few days.  That never happened.

In my perception, this is a very personal amount of contention against Christina between Gray and Johnson.  I do not think the State Board will approve the WEIC plan for the redistricting of Christina’s Wilmington Schools into Red Clay.  I think they are reintroducing the Christina priority schools conversation to put us back to the exact same moment we were at a year ago where the State wants to take those schools and convert them into charter schools.  The Delaware Met building is in the Christina School District.  There is room in the Community Education building for another school, which is also in the current Christina School District.

The true disconnect here seems to also be taking place within the Christina School District itself.  Acting Superintendent Bob Andrzejewski admitted to having conversation with the DOE about Christina priority schools earlier this month.

Andrzejewski, who started as acting superintendent on October 1, told NewsWorks/WHYY he didn’t know money was available for the three priority schools until early December. He said the district will submit sub-grant applications for each of the three school before the month ends.  “It kind of surprised all of us when we heard come December that there was money available,” Andrzejewski said.

But this is something the Christina Board had no idea even came up until the State Board meeting on 12/17.  And it doesn’t stop there, because Andrzejewski submitted an application for a grant without anyone on the Christina Board even knowing about it.

State and district officials say they’re working together and that both want the schools to receive money as soon as possible. As this article was being reported, a Christina spokesperson told NewsWorks/WHYY that grant applications for each of the three schools were sent to the Department of Education on December 23.

It sounds to me like Andrzejewski needs to get it together and actually speak with his board.  The board hired him so he is beholden to informing them before anything like this is submitted to the DOE.  Beyond that though, this shouldn’t even be a topic of conversation.  The DOE should have given those funds to Christina once they had them available.  Instead, they are pretending this is a big deal to give it a media push.  Behind the scenes, they are just biding their time and waiting for the pushback from Christina so they can take the schools.  And lest we forget, Schwinn herself said one of the consequences of Christina not agreeing to the DOE’s terms on the priority schools is making Christina a “high-risk district”.  Imagine if the DOE could somehow take the whole district lock, stock and barrel?