Secretary Godowsky Had No Choice With Opt-Out Penalties

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With the release of the US DOE letter to the Delaware DOE about participation rates, we are getting a better picture of what happened the first week of November on the participation rate multiplier in the Delaware School Success Framework.  On October 21st, the soon to be confirmed Delaware Secretary of Education Dr. Steven Godowsky appeared before the New Castle County combined school boards at a breakfast.  He announced to the board members and superintendents of the districts that the harsh opt-out penalties most likely would not see the light of day.

The Delaware State Education Association, Delaware Association of School Administrators, Delaware Chief School Officers Association and Delaware School Boards Association all publicly endorsed Godowsky for his Delaware Senate confirmation in a News Journal letter to the editor on October 26th.  Two days later, Godowsky was confirmed by the Senate with only two no votes.  Delaware State Senator Nicole Poore referred to Godowsky as “a breath of fresh air“.  On November 5th, two weeks after his breakfast announcement, Godowsky flipped on his recommendation about opt-out penalties at the Delaware State Board of Education retreat.

Yesterday we found out the US DOE letter to the Delaware DOE was dated 11/2/15.  The timing makes perfect sense.  Perhaps Markell did have a change of heart but was forced to flip back once the US DOE announced their opt-out mandates.  Who am I kidding!  Jack probably gave the US DOE the idea!  It does have his manipulative stench all over it.  I now understand why Godowsky looked like Judas Iscariot at the last Accountability Framework Working Group meeting and the State Board of Education meeting two days after.  His words said one thing, but the look in his eyes said something very different.

This may also shed some light on the bizarre Las Americas Aspiras Academy PTO email about opt-out.  Were they aware of this letter the day it was released?  I question the validity of this since their PTO leader stated ALL federal funding would be cut if 6% of their students were opted out of the Smarter Balanced Assessment.  But given the nature of federal funding I can see how someone could misconstrue that.  I’m sure the Delaware DOE sent the letter out to all school leaders and Superintendents in Delaware the first chance they got.

I am seriously questioning why the letters to the twelve states who went below the 95% threshold and the letter sent to all the states announcing definitive cuts if participation rates went below 95% two years in a row were just released to the public yesterday, on December 23rd.  It was weeks after the final Every Student Succeeds Act votes and President Obama signing the legislation.  I have to believe some of these legislators in Congress knew about these letters.  How could they not.  No one can keep a secret that long.  Not in politics.

The smart thing the Delaware DOE and Godowsky could have done was simply tell the public on November 2nd they received these letters.  By doing this they could have taken some of the heat off themselves and shifted it to the US DOE.  Instead, they hid it from the public for over a month and a half.  They duped the public, along with the US DOE and every other state DOE, into thinking the Every Student Succeeds Act and the clauses about opt-out would allow states to decide how to handle opt-out.  They could have said they weren’t sure what they meant, but they had to reconsider the opt-out penalties.  Maybe through collaboration they could have come up with something different.  But this is not how the most unpopular state Department in Delaware operates.  Sunshine is not the best disinfectant at our DOE.  I think we need some good old-fashioned bleach to wipe the slate clean and start over.  We have far too many people involved in education who people like, and believe they have the best intentions.  But when it comes time for them to do the right thing all we hear is “I serve at the pleasure of the Governor,” or “It’s the feds.  We can’t do anything about it.”  For a Department that demands accountability from schools, teachers and students, they sure are hypocritical when it comes to themselves… And the duplicity continues…

15 Who Made An Impact In 2015: Hodges & Johnson

DEPTA

Hodges & Johnson is not the latest detective show hitting television.  But it is an appropriate name for the powerhouse behind the Delaware PTA.  They really stepped up this year for parent rights.  President Dr. Terri Hodges and Vice-President of Advocacy Yvonne Johnson started the year off with a bang by announcing two town halls for those interested in opting their child out of the Smarter Balanced Assessment.  I will fully admit to being blown away when I heard this but I quickly got in touch with Dr. H and let her know I was in full support of this.

In March, the duo held the first opt out town hall in New Castle County.  To say the first town hall on opt-out was controversial would be an understatement.  Confession time again: I truly thought I was advocating on my own for opt-out.  I knew others in the state who supported it and a couple school boards were behind it, but in terms of rallying the troops I thought it was going to be a solo act.  With that first town hall I knew there was massive support for the rising movement in Delaware.  Around the same time, the very controversial House Bill 50 was introduced in the General Assembly, State Rep. Earl Jaques was blasting opt-out parents, and Governor Markell was taking steps in his failed effort to squash the movement.

By the time the second opt-out town hall in Kent County happened a couple weeks later in early March, Brian Touchette from the DOE and Donna Johnson with the State Board of Education were forced to admit there was no law preventing parents from opting out of the Smarter Balanced Assessment.  This was a major breakthrough in the opt-out movement and cleared the path for everything that went down at Legislative Hall over the next four months.

Johnson & Hodges, or at least one of their carefully chosen representatives, were present for every single opt-out meeting or vote at Legislative Hall.  By the time the Delaware Senate finally passed the bill on June 25th, summer was here and everyone who supported the bill needed a well-earned break.  But not even a month later, Delaware Governor Jack Markell vetoed House Bill 50 and spit on parental rights everywhere.  Immediately the talk went towards overriding the Governor’s veto, but the General Assembly went out of legislative session for six months.  Since then, Hodges & Johnson, with the PTA membership, have been gearing up for next month when the legislators return.

In the past few months, the Delaware PTA again stepped up to help prevent the harsh opt-out penalties as part of Delaware’s new state accountability system.  Unfortunately, Secretary Godowsky caved in to pressure and recommended the opt-out multiplier penalty as opposed to districts and schools having to come up with a plan to prevent opt-out.  The State Board of Education approved the final part of their ESEA Flexibility Waiver last month and they are awaiting word from the US DOE on final approval.

I have no doubt that will happen, especially given the stab in the back from the US DOE announced today about definitive funding cuts for states who dip below the 95% participation rate two years in a row.  But the Delaware PTA is on it, and the recently announced House Bill Veto Override Parent Rally at Legislative Hall on January 14th will show the legislators parents should not be underestimated.  In the thick of it will be Yvonne and Terri, Delaware’s own Hodges & Johnson!

Both of them truly believe parents have a voice in education, and they have proved it time and time again.  While I don’t agree with 100% of everything the PTA endorses, I respect their ability to draw consensus from a large group of parents for whatever they decide as a group.  That is how it should be in education, but we have too many Markells and Rodels in our country.