For The Love Of God Godowsky, What Are You Even Talking About? And General Assembly: A No Is A No To Your Constituents

Dr. Steven Godowsky, Secretary of Education for Delaware.  Are you really telling people “Don’t worry about the override, schools are okay with opt-out.  They understand.”  Have you lost your mind?  We ALL know you are Governor Markell’s education puppet, dancing on his string.  Do you really think people don’t get what you are trying to do?  I could name twenty things that happened last year in Delaware schools without even looking back at my notes and the messages parents sent me about what schools did to prevent opt-out.  Campus Community School’s Board of Directors issued a policy mandating ALL STUDENTS SHALL TAKE THE TEST.  Appoquinimink sent out highly questionable letters asking parents if they understand the law.  Charter schools flat-out told parents no.  The endless litany of funding threats.  Students asked to lie to other students when they are opted out.  Moms brought to tears due to weeks of fighting with a school district. “You have to bring in a doctor’s note” came up a lot last year.  School boards that pass resolutions and policies that are ignored by administration in the district.  Your Department has publicly stated parents can opt out but they have done everything they possibly can to prevent it behind the scenes.  Do you really think parents are that stupid?  Maybe we weren’t rigorously brought up with Common Core and career and college ready standards, but I think it’s safe to say we did some pretty important things in the past twenty to thirty years.

Why are people trusting this guy?  He is NOT a breath of fresh air.  He is just a more experienced and polished Mark Murphy.  It doesn’t matter who wears the suit, it is still Governor Markell’s words coming out of their mouth.  If any legislators actually believe this complete and utter nonsense which was all I heard about today from tons of people, you need to wake up.  There are many reasons why we are at this point of utter stupidity.  I take back what I said the other day, Markell has not used up his bag of tricks.  I fully expect to hear some brand new bizarre “talking point” to come out of the Governor’s mouth or one of his other puppets.

Secretary Godowsky, we have bomb threats in multiple schools across our state and guns going off in the Central Middle School bathroom, and you are cluelessly (yes, I made up that word) walking around telling people “don’t worry about opt-out, don’t worry about the override.  We  don’t need it.”  Are you serious?  There is NOTHING better you could be doing right now?  Like working with the FBI to find out why all these schools are getting automated messages with bomb threats?  You are the Secretary of Education Sir!  Get with the program and stop fumbling around Dover doing the Governor’s last-minute desperate pleas to stop the override.  If you want to fight the parents, at least come up with something tangible and real.  Stop making up stuff!

Delaware legislators, this is a VETO OVERRIDE.  This isn’t a regular bill.  If this bill winds up going back to committee, during the long months stretching until the end of the 148th General Assembly, with parents basically lining up with pitchforks at Legislative Hall demanding this bill be heard, sucking up all the oxygen in the room, as you are trying to gear up for your upcoming elections, and you voted no for a suspension of rules…you are asking for all of what comes next.  We know Earl Jaques will keep this bill dangling and will let it just sit there.  It will never be heard.  And in the off chance that it does, and the House passes it, then we have Sokola over in the Senate.  And it starts all over again.  Opt out of saying no to the suspension of the rules.  This bill was ALREADY heard in committee.  It was voted on twice by both chambers.  If I hear about one more person saying “I’m voting no on suspension of rules but I support the override” I’m really going to lose my mind.  I don’t care if you are a Democrat or Republican.  Do the right thing for parents and students.  Let it be heard in the House without this endless committee crap.  And that goes for the Senate too!  Parents and your constituents deserve better than that.  The voting public does not care about any of these political games of one-upmanship and bi-partisan revenge tactics.  A no is a no, whether it is a vote against suspension of rules or a vote against the override.  In other situations, yes, this could be an issue.  But not this time.  You guys had your day of fun today and bringing your dog to smile for the camera (sorry Rep. Paradee)!  Now it is time to show the parents and students of Delaware where you stand: with us or with the Governor!

Governor Markell Shuts Parents Out Again! SAIL Afterschool Program Has Dangerous Red Flags! Beware!

I just don’t get it.  What is it with this Governor and parents?  House Bill 240, the legislation behind the Statewide Afterschool Initiative Learning (SAIL) Program was officially released today.  I have several issues with this legislation.  Before I get into that though, I do believe afterschool programs for kids are extremely helpful if done right and in moderation.  But I have grave reservations with this program due to data release, the use of non-profits in this, and the amount of time kids are away from their homes.  I agree that activities students can get involved in after school are very dangerous, especially in our cities.  But this bill seems like it is very rushed.  It is already on the Delaware House Education Committee meeting tomorrow.

First off, as per the below legislation, the whole purpose of this is so students can “meet challenging State academic standards“.  As part of this program, a new council would be developed called The Statewide Afterschool Initiative Learning Council.  Sure, you would want to have some type of organization for a program like this.  Surely parents would be a part of this, right?  Wrong!  There are NO slots for parents on this council.  But it will have three members of non-profit organizations.  No Delaware PTA representation, no teachers, no special education teachers, no charter school representation, no health providers, no psychologists or psychiatrists, and NO PARENTS!  They want Delaware students and schools that “meet the approved state indication for low socioeconomic status” to be eligible for the SAIL program, but they don’t want ANY parents on this council?  They expect to have children staying afterschool for four to five days a week for three hours and they don’t want parent input?

Since this looks like it will be partly run by non-profits, the idea of a “data share” between teachers and the afterschool coordinators that are NOT employees of the state or the schools is frightening in my opinion.  “A computer based student information system” will be implemented with what?  What safeguards are in place to prevent student data from getting out there more than what it already has?

As a “means to measure the program“, school attendance and grades and at least one (but it can be all) of these factors shall be used: behavior evaluation through school discipline reports, surveys of teachers, standardized test scores, criminal justice records, physical health evaluations, student and parent surveys, class participation, course completion, homework completion, and afterschool program attendance.  That is a huge amount of data that would be put into outside hands, away from the school district and local control.

It seems like Delaware and the feds want children from low socioeconomic backgrounds to essentially became wards of the state for the vast majority of their academic lives.  And the potential data sharing has red flags all over it.  I could easily see Rodel becoming involved in this initiative.  I would NOT want my child’s health or behavioral or any type of information going to them, period.  And who decides who gets the program and who doesn’t?  The Delaware Department of Education.  I cannot support this bill as written.  I’m sure more will come out about it, and I would hope to God our legislators have the good sense to ask all the questions I have and more.

According to the Every Student Succeeds Act, these “21st Century Community Learning Centers” will require 95% of the grant funds will go to the Local Education Authority (districts or charter schools), only 1% can be used for administrative purposes, and the rest can be used for state activities.  If this law is already indicating non-profits must be used, isn’t that already stripping the local school districts of any control over how the program is created?  Yes, there are three Superintendents on the SAIL Council, the DSEA President, and the Secretary of Education (or his designated representative), but that is an extremely small amount of representation for programs that have 95% of the funds going to the districts or charters.  And sorry, I don’t trust the DOE or their ability to disperse these funds with fidelity and honesty.

According to this release  from the National Council of State Legislatures, activities for these programs can include “music and the arts as tools to support student success through the promotion of constructive student engagement, problem solving, and conflict resolution.”  I’m sorry, I didn’t realize that was the purpose of students learning music and art.  I thought it was so they could expand their creativity.  Who writes these things?  It doesn’t sound like anyone who is around children and teenagers too much.  This guidance also states “mental health services” could be used at the learning centers.  The potential for abuse and manipulation in that arena is too frightening for words…

Schools are not parents.  They will never replace parents.  I recognize that students in poverty and neglect suffer immensely without proper parental supports, but this solution is very radical and very dangerous.  Valerie Longhurst may have put this bill together, but this legislation is just a small part of the corporate education reform movement that is taking students away from parental control more and more every single day.  Our children are OUR children, and they don’t belong to you.  I would really like it if they get their grubby hands out of our children’s minds and schools.

To read the full legislation, please read below:

 

Governor Markell Talks About Dual Enrollment For High School Students…No Mention Of Opt-Out Today!

In the latest press release from the education section of Governor Markell’s office, Jack Markell talks about more high school students taking classes they would otherwise take in college.  At this rate, will there even need to be college?  Look, a ten year old is graduation college with a degree in “Rigor And Grit”.  Stretch any rubber band too fast and it will break.  Good news, but don’t move too fast Jack!

Governor announces continued growth in high school students taking college courses

Building on efforts to ensure all Delaware students graduate prepared to continue their education or start a career, the Governor announced today that the number of high school students taking college-level classes before graduation is dramatically increasing for the second consecutive year. Across the state, 28 high schools have offered classes with a combined attendance of more than 2,100 students during the fall semester. That represents an increase of about 400 from last fall, when 25 high schools offered 100 classes with a combined attendance of just over 1,700 students. By the end of this academic year, total attendance will surpass 2,700 in 170 dual enrollment courses. The number of classes and participants has tripled in the past two years since Governor Markell announced an initiative to increase these opportunities in his 2014 State of the State address.

 

A full breakdown by individual districts and schools will be released by the Department of Education next month.

 

“Our goal is to make dual enrollment available for every student in Delaware who wants to participate, and together, we are making that more of a reality every year,” said Governor Markell. “Students who take college courses in high school are more likely to attend and persist in college and to graduate ready for their next step, so we are eager to continue our progress in years to come.”

 

Through these dual enrollment courses, students receive instruction either on a college campus or from a teacher who has received special accreditation from one of the state’s higher education institutions. Credit can count toward high school graduation and a college degree. Dual enrollment is different from Advanced Placement courses, which prepare students for an exam, through which they can earn college credit if they receive a high enough score. Participation in AP classes has also steadily increased, including by more than 400 in the past couple of years.

 

According to the U.S. Department of Education, students who complete college credit while in high school require less remediation, have higher Grade Point Averages, and earn more credits in college.

 

“This progress is only possible because of an intense effort by educators and administrators to prepare to offer these classes, as well as by our colleges and universities,” said Education Secretary Steve Godowsky, who recognized the University of Delaware, Delaware State University, Delaware Tech, Goldey-Beacom, Widener and Wilmington University for working with districts. “At a time when education and training beyond high school is more important than ever for students to reach their potential, our state needs a strong partnership between our districts and our higher education community. Their collaboration on these courses showcases the best of what that can mean for our young people.”

 

Markell highlighted the state’s progress today at POLYTECH High School, one of the schools that has made the most progress in making more college-level courses available across a variety of subjects, ranging from anatomy to sociology. In addition, partnerships with Delaware Technical & Community College and Wilmington University have allowed the school to explore opportunities for students to take dual enrollment courses in nine Career Technical Education areas, including electrical construction. Overall, attendance in dual enrollment at POLYTECH doubled from about 130 to about 260 in just the past year. The Governor visited with students taking electrical construction, early childhood instruction, psychology, history, and personal wellness.

 

“Almost all median income jobs now require post high school coursework or certification,” said POLYTECH Principal Jason Peel. “Our students will be able to work right after high school as well as have an advanced start to earning a college degree. I am so proud of our teachers for seeking out these opportunities for their students.”

 

In his 2014 State of the State address, Markell announced an initiative to ensure all high school seniors have access to a college-level class, regardless of their financial circumstances. The state has funded hundreds of students each year as part of this effort.
The Department of Education has worked with districts to identify college-ready students who would benefit from taking a dual enrollment course through one of the state’s higher education institutions. Students can then enroll in college having accumulated credits without any financial burden, thus making college more affordable and increasing the likelihood they will graduate on time.

 

The dual-enrollment increase complements a partnership that the state has launched with the College Board to send all college-ready seniors application and financial aid resources, including application fee waivers to eligible students. Students then receive help in school filling out their applications and financial aid forms. For the past two years, every college-ready senior has applied to college and nearly all enrolled. Previously, as many as one out of five had not.

Alison May

Downtown First State Montessori & Great Oaks Look To Expand While DAPSS & Prestige Academy Look To Shrink

Four charter schools in New Castle County submitted requests for modifications last month.  Two are looking to get bigger while two want to get smaller.  The two that want to expand are in the heart of downtown Wilmington while the two that want to shrink do not have the benefit of having the key downtown locations.

FIRST STATE MONTESSORI ACADEMY

First State Montessori Academy wants to become a K-8 school in 2016-2017.  The shocking news in all this?  They wrote about their intention to use the building Delaware Met resides in until January 22nd.  The location is actually perfect if their modification request is approved.  Aside from boiler issues, the building is already conducive to older students.  The school is currently K-8, but they found they were losing a lot of 5th grade students so they could acclimate to the middle school environment.  By going through 8th grade, this would eliminate that problem.

GREAT OAKS CHARTER SCHOOL

Great Oaks submitted a minor modification request to increase their enrollment by 25 students for the 2016-2017 school year.  Their request shows that interim Smarter Balanced Assessments given to students are showing modest gains for students.  The school is reporting NO violent incidents at the school whatsoever.  In their application, Great Oaks indicated they are only using half of their designated space in the Community Education Building in downtown Wilmington.

DELAWARE ACADEMY OF PUBLIC SAFETY & SECURITY (DAPSS)

The Delaware Academy of Public Safety & Security submitted a major modification request to the Delaware Department of Education Charter School Office on December 10th.  They want to decrease their enrollment from their charter approved 480 students to 375 students, a reduction of 22%.  What makes this very interesting is the fact other charter schools in Delaware have been placed on formal review for not having 80% of their approved enrollment in their charter. DAPSS has not met their approved enrollment figures for the past two years.  The DOE looks at formal review status for charters if they fall below 80% of their approved enrollment based on the financial viability of the school.

According to the information submitted by DAPSS to the Charter School Office, their enrollment last year was 363, which put them at 76% of their approved enrollment.  This year, the school lost 60 students and currently stand at 303 students.  This is less than 64% of their approved enrollment.  My biggest question would be why they were not put on formal review last year or this year based on this information.

For their performance framework, the school was labeled as “Does Not Meet Standard” for their organizational framework three out of the last four academic years, in 11-12, 12-13, and 14-15.  For their financial framework, they were labeled as “Falls Far Below Standard” in 11-12, 13-14, and 14-15 and “Does Not Meet Standard” in 12-13.  Once again, they have not been placed on formal review for their very negative ratings on the State Board of Education approved Charter School Performance Framework.

PRESTIGE ACADEMY

Like DAPSS, Prestige Academy wants to lower their enrollment, but they were put on formal review for this last spring along with academic concerns.  As the only all-boys charter school in Delaware, Prestige Academy appears to be have been held under the microscope by the DOE quite a bit compared to DAPSS.  The charter school is looking to drop 5th grade and would be middle school only, serving students in 6th-8th grade.

IMPACTS

All of this charter shuffling, if approved by Secretary of Education Dr. Steven Godowsky and the State Board of Education at their March meeting, comes at a curious time.  With the Wilmington Education Improvement Commission and the redistricting of all Wilmington students (aside from Colonial) into Red Clay, this is a lot of movement for one city’s students.  While House Bill 56 put a freeze on new charter applications in Wilmington for a few years or until the state can come up with a plan for all the charters in Wilmington, the existing ones look to capitalize on this and change their enrollment numbers to maximize the benefits for their growth (or shrinkage in two of these situations).  It is actually very strategic on their part.

The downside to this would be the effect it has on the surrounding school districts, especially in the case of First State Montessori Academy.  As a school that gets the bulk of their students from Christina School District, this could have a very debilitating effect on the already struggling school district.  It is my contention House Bill 56 should have put a freeze on modifications like this as well, but at the same time preventing any charter school from going on formal review for low enrollment due to so many changes going on in Wilmington education.

The 920 N. French Street building is certainly up for grabs.  I wrote a post last month that Las Americas ASPIRA Academy was looking at the location last month as well.  First State Montessori would be using part of the building next year.  Innovative Schools would be in some deep financial straits if they didn’t line up a tenant for this property right away.  I have to wonder how that works with rent for Delaware Met.  I assume they signed their sub-lease with Innovative Schools for a designated time period.  Will that contract cease as of January 22nd or in the weeks afterwards as the school closes down operations or are they on the hook until June 30th?

Only one new approved charter school will open up in the 2016-2017 school year, Delaware STEM Academy.  They will begin with 150 9th grade students, hoping to reach 600 students a few years after that.  I am not aware of their current enrollment figures for their first year.  The school choice window closes tomorrow.  As required by state law, the school will need to be at 80% of their enrollment by April 1st to prevent a formal review for financial viability.  While they escaped from formal review status last Spring, Delaware Design-Lab High School and Freire Charter School had major issues with their enrollment figures.  They eventually met the 80% figures but not without some major angst along the way.  Wilmington is a hot mess with far too many schools, in my humble opinion.  I would have to think this was not State Rep. Charles Potter’s intention when he submitted the legislation for the charter school application freeze…

148th General Assembly 2.0 Begins Today!

Delaware_Legislative_Hall_House_chamber_DSC_3452_ad

The second leg of the 148th General Assembly officially convenes at 2pm today at Legislative Hall in Dover.  It remains to be seen what will come out of this.  My hopes and the reality will most likely be different.  I sincerely hope they are able to pass legislation that will help all citizens of Delaware.  While I have incessantly beat the drum on the veto override of House Bill 50, there is a lot of legislation for them to get through.  The biggest of them all, the budget bill, will cast a long shadow over pretty much any legislation with a fiscal note attached to it.  We will find out what our state finances look like in a couple weeks when Governor Markell presents his Fiscal Year 2017 budget.

I wish the General Assembly can get along in the next six months.  I hope party politics doesn’t become the headlines.  We have some great legislators in Dover with the capability of doing great things.  This will be a very unique legislative session.  With over 3/4 of the General Assembly up for re-election in the last year of a two term Governor who has been controversial on his best days.  I have an odd feeling much of what we are about to see is pre-determined.  But there will be surprises along the way as well.

I want to wish all the legislators in Delaware a welcome back and a special notes goes to newly anointed State Rep. David Bentz.  We will know by  the end of June what becomes of the next six months.  You are all representatives of the people, by the people, and for the people.