WEIC Public Hearing At Brandywine Springs Brings A Different Crowd

The Wilmington Education Improvement Commission held their fourth public hearing concerning the draft plan for the redistricting of Wilmington schools last night at Brandywine Elementary School.  Shana O’Malley with WDEL wrote about the WEIC draft concerns earlier today.

Something’s broken in the school system and no amount of money is going to fix that.

Many attendees expressed concern with the funding for this initiative in Wilmington Schools and how it will not only affect citizens in the Red Clay Consolidated School District, but the entire state.

“If it’s socioeconomic, something going on in the house, that belongs to social services,” said one parent. “The school district is not in the business of taking care of the mental health aspects of these kids, providing for them. Where are the parents at?”

With the Every Student Succeeds Act, there is a section on “Community Schools” where many of these services would be provided.  It is a very fine line in my opinion.  There is a huge difference between the population at Brandywine Springs Elementary and Warner Elementary.  One is out in the suburbs and the other is in the middle of the city.  Is it fair for a more affluent population to protest funding for the low-income populations?  This is the age-old question.  It also gets into the whole school choice issue in Delaware as well, especially up in Wilmington.  Some folks would love nothing more than “government schooling”, the public school system, to go away.  This crowd favors school vouchers to have funding diverted to private schools.  But then on the other end of the spectrum, we have students in Wilmington, usually African-American, who don’t have a complete family unit and live in neighborhoods filled with crime and drug use.  These are two completely different worlds, however, the first world inadvertently helped create the second world through “white flight”.

The speaker asked where the parents are at.  They could both be working.  It could be a single-parent home.  A parent could be in prison or deceased.  But chances are, a parent in Hockessin makes a lot more money than the parent of a child at these Wilmington schools.  If parents are unable to set up mental health services for children, when does the city, county or state need to step in?  It comes down to the haves and the have-nots.  The haves want to keep what they have but the have-nots see what the haves have and want that but are unable to get it themselves.  But here is the key issue: these are children who didn’t write the script here.  This is the world they were born into.  Should inner-city students be denied the things folks in the suburbs take for granted?  This became very evident at Skyline Middle School in Red Clay this fall.  Due to a change in feeder patterns, Skyline took in many students who are considered disadvantaged.  As a result, school bullying increased causing parent outcry at their past couple board meetings.

These are the modern issues of the day.  We have come a long way since the first half of the 20th century when blacks were separated from whites.  We are, and should be, past that.  But economic levers still dictate these kinds of situations from happening in many cities in America.  For any issues like WEIC to work, it is going to take a lot of listening, convincing, and patience.  It will take compromise, from all sides of the issues.  But the big problem here is the timing.  Some of the people behind WEIC are afraid that if the moment passes it will be lost for a generation.  So in a sense, it is being rushed.  During an election year, and even during a gubernatorial election year.  If it comes down to the rich wanting separation and the poor wanting equity, with the dwindling middle class straddling both sides of the issues, we will get nowhere.  And in all of this, are those with disabilities.  Students from low-income, a minority and a disability.  If we keep these children “out” of the public school system in our affluent areas, is that not a form of triple segregation?  We can’t just rely on the status quo in Delaware.  These are deep concerns that affect the viability of our state.  Compared to many other states, we are woefully behind not only in education but also moving away from the past.  In this “me” versus “society as a whole”, I personally choose society.  Because if society isn’t right, I don’t feel I can be in my head knowing I’m not contributing to society.  I know, we all pay taxes.  Some pay more, some pay less.  Nothing in life is free.  We pay for products that constantly go up in price, but complain when taxes go up.  Why?

Delaware DOE Has No Desire To Dump Common Core Or The Smarter Balanced Assessment

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Last week, the United States House of Representatives overwhelmingly passed the Every Student Succeeds Act.  The US Senate will most likely vote on the bill this week and it is expected President Obama will sign the bill.  This will get rid of the No Child Left Behind mandates imposed on all the states.  It gives states more control.  It explicitly says states can come up with own state standards and they do not have to be tied to Common Core.  In Delaware, I see absolutely no indication of Governor Markell or the Delaware Department of Education dumping Common Core or it’s bastard offspring, the Smarter Balanced Assessment.

On October 27th, the DOE submitted a proposal for contract bids on an Early Literacy Initiative.  The bidding on this closed last Friday, 12/4.  The contract calls for a vendor to go into four Delaware schools, three traditional district schools and one charter school.  From the Request for Proposal:

 

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Delaware and literacy rates for the most at-risk students have never been something to brag about.  I fully support all children learning to read, but if the motivation is so they do better on the Smarter Balanced Assessment, I have serious issues with that.  I don’t think increased “rigor” is going to help the students whose needs are not being met.  For those who want to bash me for this, it is all designed for increased proficiency on the Smarter Balanced Assessment.  Why?  Good question.  Governor Markell was the one who wants students with disabilities to go from 19% proficiency on SBAC to 59% in six years.  Like that rigor rubber band isn’t going to snap!  This is what standards-based IEPs are all about, and anyone saying they aren’t is either lying or is unaware of the true motivation.

 

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Which schools will be a part of this experiment?  Are these current priority or focus schools?  The DOE should really give more information on these schools so the vendor can know exactly what they are getting into.  There is a huge difference between MOT Charter School and East Side, or Warner Elementary and Hartly Elementary.  Are these schools the DOE is going to pick for this even aware of what is coming with this contract?  And who were the bidders?

 

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I am very familiar with four of these bidders: American Institutes for Research (AIR), Public Consulting Group (PCG), Amplify, and University of Delaware.  But 95 Percent Group and Institute on Community Integration (ICI)?  Never heard of them.  I checked out 95 Percent Group’s website and I always get nervous when I see only three people listed as employees for a company like this.  I’m sure they have more, or maybe they don’t.  The Institute on Community Integration is through the University of Minnesota.  Whereas 95 Percent Group has a small staff listed, ICI has tons of staff listed on their website!  This happens with university programs like this.  I hate to see AIR and PCG get even more involved in any aspect of Delaware education.  It is very sad that the DOE has more faith in these companies than they do in our own schools and teachers.  But since someone has to be the mediator between these companies and all our schools, it helps to make their existence even more important than it really is.

I have to ask though, what the hell are we even doing anymore?  All of these companies have one goal when they take on these state vendor roles: increasing the scores on the state assessments.  Whether they reach their goal or not, it is a faulty measure of success because state assessments do not provide an accurate assumption of student success.  By driving students to do well on these tests, all they are getting paid for is essentially helping teachers teach to the test.  That isn’t education.  It is a false narrative written by folks like Governor Jack Markell.  We need to stop reading this story.  We need to demand our legislators strip the DOE of spending our taxpayers funds for “cash in the trash” programs like this.  Every time the DOE signs a contract like this, with some contracts never seeing the light of day, we allow the DOE to continue this practice.  Most of us aren’t even aware of this.  Enough is enough…

15 Who Made An Impact In 2015: Kathleen Davies

Behind the scenes in Delaware is a woman who had a VERY busy 2015.  Kathleen Davies is the Chief Administrative Officer at Delaware State Auditor Tom Wagner’s office.  She is the name on all the inspection reports for Delaware charter schools.  Academy of Dover.  Delaware College Prep.  Kuumba Academy.  And yesterday’s Delaware Department of Education inspection (of which they were cleared).  She even has a pending audit investigation with Family Foundations Academy.

These actions did not go unnoticed by one Delaware State Representative.  Kim Williams introduced House Bill 186 (after going through a few revisions) to mandate charters go through the State Auditor’s office when contracting for auditors.  It became one of the lightning rod bills of the season, which prompted Davies to testify to support the bill.  She told the Delaware House Education Committee the situation with the charters was worse than they could imagine.

During this time, the Academy of Dover audit inspection was finishing up.  When the report was released, all the Delaware major media picked up on it.  Former Principal Noel Rodriguez had used well over $160,000 in school funds for personal purchases, along with numerous other egregious activities.  In October, Davies released a report on four charters.  Two were cleared of any wrongdoing, but Delaware College Prep and Kuumba Academy had some nasty findings.  And apparently, while that was finishing up, her office was working on the report on the DOE!

With Delaware Met’s pending charter revocation, will the auditor’s office step in?  While their closure has more to do with academic and organizational reasons the financial picture is not pretty at this point.  And that whole real estate deal is begging for an investigation.  I hope though, for Davies sake, her charter school audits decrease in 2016!

Delaware Met’s Final Public Hearing Brings Out The Defenders

I received an email from someone who went to the Delaware Met public hearing tonight.  They wished to remain anonymous.  They sent me a very good indication of what the crowd was saying: Save our school!

I went to the MET school public hearing tonight.

All reports I’ve heard: from the News Journal and a student there, were horrible: one kid setting another’s hair on fire; one kid’s head banged into a wall and left a hole in the dry wall; frequent police calls; etc.  In response, the Head of School quit; the Board recommended closing, and then changed their minds;  and the DOE is recommending closing the school on 1-21-16.

But tonight was a love fest.  Only one person from the school’s board spoke; though the guy from the big conglomerate was in the audience.

I was at the hearing from 5:00 – 6:30 and they were still going strong when I left. I didn’t count the number of speakers — probably at least 20.  They were mostly students and  parents.  A couple of teachers spoke, one of whom started work 6 days ago.  Several of the girls were crying; the parents were praising the school, and angry with the State Board.  All thought the school was the best thing ever!  

Most commanding was Councilmember Hanifa Shabazz, who eloquently and angrily “demanded” that the DOE let them know where these 225 students were going to school in January. She and another parent asked to at least extend the closing till the end of the school year. 

A common theme was that the kids had grades of F till they came to this school, and now got Bs. There was also talk about good relationships between students and teachers at the school.  Some students said if they had to go back to a public school, they would probably fail or drop out, or get into trouble again.

None of this addressed the “crime in the school” issue, or the fact that there have already been so many transfers out that the head count is way down, and that could affect financial viability.

If the DOE can’t close a seriously struggling school like this – they can’t close anything.  

But those opposed to the closing have an excellent point – how could the school be approved and accept so many students, without the assurance from the State that it could function effectively?  Can remedial support solve these problems?  That is one of many  questions.

Thank you for sending this to me “anonymous”!  What frightens me the most about all this: no one is talking about special education and how students with disabilities are not having their Free Appropriate Public Education.  For those who don’t know, it’s called FAPE.  It means when you receive special education, you also get FAPE.  But if your IEP isn’t even done, or the school isn’t accommodating your IEP, you are not getting FAPE.  It’s very easy for a crowd to slam the DOE and State Board over “where is my child going to go now” and “this school is so much better”.  I encourage all these parents and community members to read about Delaware Met’s final meeting with the Charter School Accountability Committee.  Seriously.  Read it.  These are some key things that make a school work, and Delaware Met isn’t even doing that.  I get the whole community thing and helping each other out.  But this school is dangerous to leave open.  We don’t even know who is running things there now.  Is it A.J. English and his mentoring company? Pritchett and Associates?  Innovative Schools?  Teachers are leaving, and there aren’t many certified teachers left in the building.  It also doesn’t make fiscal sense to send all that money to the school in February when the bulk of the staff aren’t even there anymore.

I completely understand parents being worried about what happens with their child.  I’ve been there, a few times.  And it sucks.  Bad.  But I would rather move my child than keep him in a school that is falling apart.  No matter how much he may love it, I know at the end of the day I have to look out for his best interests.  Delaware Met parents, I have written about MANY schools on this blog.  Many charters.  And trust me when I say that NONE have been anywhere close to the level this school is at.  This is a tragedy beyond measurement.  I blame the DOE and the State Board for many things that I feel are wrong in public education.  But this is one time where they actually got it right.

There is a serious conversation that needs to happen in regards to what oversight the DOE has over charter schools from the time they approve them and when the doors open.  But at the end of the day, the Delaware Met’s board and staff are the ones that failed this school.  Not the DOE, not the State Board, and not the students.  They had a job to do, and unfortunately, they didn’t do it.  You can’t put band aids on a gaping flesh wound.  It may stop the bleeding temporarily, but it doesn’t heal the wound.  Your children deserve much better than this.