ESSA Killed The Delaware DOE’s Opt-Out Penalty

When President Obama signed the Every Student Succeeds Act last December, he actually helped Delaware immensely in regards to opt-out.  The Delaware DOE submitted their updated ESEA Flexibility Waiver to US DOE at the end of the November.  Two weeks before that, the Delaware State Board of Education voted on the participation rate penalty in the Delaware School Success Framework which was submitted to US DOE for approval.  As a result of ESSA, the US DOE is not signing off on anything that goes into effect after August 1st, 2016.  Since their original ESEA Flexibility Waiver submitted last March had it snuck in there at the last minute based on final recommendations by the Accountability Framework Working Group, the participation rate penalty in the DSSF can not be considered enforceable.

The updated Delaware Regulation 103, which was postponed by the State Board of Education last September after parents, educators, and a legislator had an open revolt at the State Board of Education meeting that month, was based on US DOE approval of the waiver request.  Since it is essentially null and void, Delaware can not insert the participation rate penalty into state code.

The caveat is the US DOE will be issuing regulations surrounding the Every Student Succeeds Act in the next few months.  That could change the conversation again at a later date, but I would assume the Delaware DOE will be unable to enforce the participation rate penalty on the DSSF for the 2015-2016 school year.  So no school should be citing the opt-out penalty to ANY parent when the parent wants to opt their child out of the Smarter Balanced Assessment because that would technically be ILLEGAL to do so!

So Delaware parents, you can strike that off the list of reasons you shouldn’t opt your child out of the Smarter Balanced Assessment this year.  Despite the crazy State Board of Education meeting, this was very refreshing news to hear.  I emailed the DOE earlier this week and today I spoke to Susan Haberstroh at the DOE about whether or not the US DOE ever approved the request.  She explained they didn’t and why.  But she did inform me of the upcoming regulations from the US DOE which will truly test the power of ESSA in limiting the federal role in public education.

Live At The State Board of Education: The WEIC Vote…

2:38pm…back in session….

Tony Allen takes the stand.  Actually, it’s a chair… He will answer questions for the State Board of Education.

Dr. Gray is asking about Question #2: concerning commitments to evidence-based practices for students from now until implementation of redistricting plan…How would these best practices and services be available to all children?

Tony Allen is answering.  Said the principals are dedicated to all students of Wilmington.

Dr. Gray is asking about a commitment from the Christina School District.  Said due to a weather delay they can’t vote on the commitment until their next meeting on February 23rd.  He is now talking about the priority schools in Christina.  He said he expects the Christina board to take that action on 2/23.

Dr. Gray is talking about the $1.3 million grant application from Christina School District for their priority schools.  Said that doesn’t have a lot to do with this right now.

Gray wants to talk about the graduation rates and student outcomes for the students of Wilmington.  Brought up the Delaware School Success Framework (yawn)…

Tony Allen said WEIC is committed to an annual qualitative review of all the Wilmington schools, not just Red Clay.  He said the plan will progress every year with these enhanced services.

State Board member Gregory Coverdale is asking about the Colonia back-out from the plan.  Tony is explaining they were not willing to commit to sending their students to Red Clay but are committed to the WEIC plan.

Board member Pat Heffernan is talking about teaching and learning.  He said what they got is a summary if they didn’t have WEIC.  Tony said WEIC may not have happened if it weren’t for the priority schools.  Said that was an impasse in all of this.  Said he is not an expert on education but there are several members on the commission who are.  Tony just announced University of Delaware will be acting as a partner to help the districts, along with the United Way who will be bringing in other non-profits who have relationships with the schools.  They are committed to helping students with trauma.

Board member Nina Lou Bunting just said we are the State Board of Education, not the State Board of Redistricting.  Said the reason they have asked so many questions because the plan is going to give all this to Red Clay to get best practices and what will be coming into the state.  She said she doesn’t know everything about the plan, but is asking if it is a living and ongoing thing…

Bunting is saying “Yearly, we’re going to get a report with what worked.”  In her view it is not complete in terms of telling the State Board of Education what educational initiatives are going to be adapted with the redistricting plan.  Allen responded that the priority schools were announced by the Governor and the DOE in September, 2014.  He said Red Clay did a lot of community outreach in coming up with their plans.  He said on the Christina side, they are going through this now. (editor’s note: Christina got a lot of community input at the same time Red Clay did)

Bunting said she is hearing from several districts that they want to know where their piece of the pie is.  Said this is going to cost a lot of money and it has to be right.  Heffernan said there is a belief that they (the State Board) are adversaries.  (why would he ever think that?)  Tony said they are not adversaries and this has been an intense debate.  Board member Whittaker said he sees this as a five year plan to let other districts copy on the success of the plan.  Tony is stressing that it has always been the recommendation of the commission that all areas of intense poverty, ELL, and students with disabilities need support and funding right away.  He understands the state doesn’t have enough money for that.  He mentioned Dover as one of these areas and not just Wilmington.

Gray is saying they didn’t get an educational prong in the plan.  She said the measures and impacts are going to be what’s important.  She said the redistricting isn’t as difficult.  It is sweat equity to get it done.  She said district’s accountability or level of blame and accountability needs to start at day one.  She said they shouldn’t be having a conversation at a special board meeting to make this work.  We should be doing it anyways.  Gray is getting huffy again…  She said the odds on this are 50-50.

Tony is saying you can’t find a more dedicated coalition of educators as the ones involved in this initiative.  He never said this is the final plan and he never said this will fix everything.  He said this is building and not an end result.

Board member Barbara Rutt is asking if there is sufficient funding but no change in academics, what happens then?  Tony said they don’t want an unfunded mandate.  Rutt is asking if it could be rephrased.  Tony said sure, but the resolution is more about a set of safeguards (missed part of this, will update based on the audio recording when it’s released).  Rutt doesn’t feel it is appropriate to tie the hands of the future board (State Board).

Rutt said the letters of commitment from the districts could be tough in the future.  Allen said this is a citizen led group.  He said the results will be at the discretion of the schools.  They (WEIC) don’t have the authority to enforce this.

Gray said their initial reaction was of great concern.  She wanted to make sure they have the funding.  She wants to know what “transition supports” are in the funding.  Tony gave an example of United Way as a partner in this which gives them the ability to be an “engine” to move this forward.

Gray keeps going on about student outcomes (based on the very faulty Smarter Balanced Assessment… when is this unelected State Board going to get it?  Sorry, had to go there!).  She is saying something about July of 2017, and that is when they will see a lot of activity around the parent collaboration and engagement.  Tony agreed, as well as meeting the needs of students in poverty.

Gray is saying they won’t see a lot of convergence until that date.  Not to be disrespectful to the huge effort that has already taken place.  All the things will start to go at the same time.  Tony said right.

Quiet moment.

Heffernan wants to switch gears.  Bringing up funding.  Talking about the Governor’s budget.  Asking about local funds being collected without a referendum.  Tony is saying the General Assembly will be coming out with recommendations around this.  What they have heard from the districts is these would be operating funds, not capital funds.  He said those recommendations could render this moot, but their intention is to have the Education Funding Task Force make necessary recommendations to make this work.  Gray is concerned about distribution of funds between Red Clay and Christina.  Red Clay will get the bulk of those dollars in the initial years.   Tony is indicating this would be expanded to all of Christina in the second year and all the city kids in the third year.  Tony said all low-income kids will get these funds.  Rutt wants to know more about transition administrative funds.  Tony said the Governor put in $2 million in the budget for this purpose but it could be held in the Office of Management and Budget.  $7.5 million is needed for this, but $3 million would be transition funds.  Planning year first year, transition second year and implementation third year.  Tony said they are trying to get spec ed funding statewide before this.

Bunting is saying she wants all these programs to be going on right now while they transition.  Tony agrees.  Brought up CEO Hope and the Wilmington Education Strategic Think Tank.

Heffernan is very much in alignment with everything they have talked about.  But he is concerned about question #1 in the State Board’s questions: how will shifting district boundary lines change student outcomes?  He can’t wrap his head around it and doesn’t understand why district lines need to change.  Tony said students vacillate between Christina and Red Clay every year, around 20-30%.  What he is saying is students need district stability.  A student shouldn’t move in with his grandmother across the street and all of a sudden be in a different district.  They need to be in the same construct.

Rutt isn’t satisfied with this answer.  Said she was naïve in thinking she would get answers based on the questions the State Board asked of WEIC.  She gets the part about students and stability but said it isn’t as big a number of students as they thought.  Tony and Heffernan states these issues keep them up at night.

Conversation going back and forth but difficult to hear.  Board member Jorge Melendez said this is the first step in a long journey.  He said that everyone who is here cares.  If the State Board passes this they need to take this back to their community and be in this 100%.

Gray is saying this is a risk.  The measures of success for the State Board are less of the redistricting facets and more on the educational outcome.  They aren’t expecting graduation rates to go up 3% in a year, but does want to see progress.  They all want to serve the students in Wilmington.  She is stating they can’t have full district support without the Christina commitment.

Motion on the table is to approve with addendum to take out “shall” in terms of ??.  Rutt put a motion out to table it again.  Gray said the first motion is to approve the plan and it has been seconded.  Rutt is saying it is important to have the Christina action.  Gray is asking the legal counsel.  She is asking for a fifteen minute break to convene with counsel.

One of the WEIC members stated anyone who came down on the WEIC bus has to leave now because the bus will be coming in fifteen minutes.

Many folks in the room are talking about how the State Board can’t do this outside of public session.  Many feel this is a violation of FOIA law.

State Board is still on break consulting with their legal counsel.  Meanwhile, some of us have figured out the Christina thing.  Thanks to Avi Wolfman-Arent with Newsworks who pointed out an action item on Christina’s board meeting on 2/23.  Basically it is the district’s approval of the grant application for their priority schools.  The “shall” item is in regards to the funding for WEIC.  Red Clay is insisting it “shall” be given, not “may”, and that isn’t optional.

Okay, Tony Allen just came out of a door with Secretary Godowsky and the State Board.  Lowered and angry faces.  WEIC left the room for a quick meeting.  Gray is explaining what I just wrote about the “shall” thing and the Christina action item on 2/23.

The State Board is going to vote based on those two conditions having been met.  If the conditions aren’t met their vote doesn’t mean anything.  Tony Allen is saying the Commission leadership met just now.  He said there is a better way of doing this.  He said he expects Christina to pass their plans.  He said the “shall” thing is a significant curve for them.  He said that change from “shall” has the capability of an unfunded mandate.

Gray is saying the commitment here cannot have the State Board’s hands tied.  The State Board shares the concern about an unfunded mandate.  Tony is saying there is a concern with WEIC for the State Board to mandate Christina approve the priority school plan.  Heffernan said Christina refused to approve plans (last year) and that is what got us to this point in time.

Secretary Godowsky said he submitted a letter to Acting Christina Superintendent Robert Andrzejewski on January 21st indicating if Christina submitted the Memorandum of Understanding plan that would be acceptable.  Godowsky said they aren’t changing the rules midstream.  He said if the Acting Superintendent submits the grant application and the Department approves it.  Heffernan said if Christina doesn’t approve their plans they are back where they started from.  Godowsky said they don’t authority over a local board.  Godowsky said if they submit their plans they can do their due diligence and move forward.  Godowsky is referring to the MOU alternative plan passed in March.  Godowsky said he doesn’t know the full history but it was around replacing principals and a potential management company.  He doesn’t want to speak for Christina and say they were the stumbling block.  He doesn’t know the details around the alternative MOU.  He said much of what WEIC wants to do is what they want to do for the Christina priority schools.

And of course my battery is going to run out and I’m not near a plug…

Secretary Godowsky said he is in receipt of those plans.  Tony Allen said it is a formal response to the commitment from Christina (the letter Christina Board President Harrie Ellen Minnehan wrote WITHOUT board approval in the WEIC addendum to the State Board questions).  How can Godowsky be in receipt of plans that weren’t voted on by the Christina Board of Education?

Red Clay Board President Kenny Rivera is talking about the unfunded mandate.  WEIC is asking for a five minute consultation.

There was talk from WEIC about removing the State Board’s role in this until July of 2018 pending passage of the redistricting plan by the State Board.  This was not an acceptable proposal to the State Board of Education.

Okay, got plugged in.  About twenty minutes ago, the State Board of Education voted on a motion to approve the WEIC plan without any addendums.  It did not pass.  Roll Call- Yes: Dr. Teri Quinn Gray, Dr. Whittaker, Jorge Melendez, Nay: Pat Heffernan, Nina Lou Bunting, Barbara Rutt, Gregory Coverdale.  Then they made a motion to approve the WEIC plan based on DOE approval of the submitted Christina priority school plans and the changing of “shall” to “may” in regards to the funding.  Roll Call- Yes: Dr. Teri Quinn Gray, Barbara Rutt, Jorge Melendez, Dr. Whittaker, Nay: Pat Heffernan, Nina Lou Bunting, Gregory Coverdale.  The plan passed the State Board with the amendments.  But this is a deal breaker because the Red Clay Consolidated Board of Education voted in November that if the funding was not guaranteed, they would not move forward.  So the WEIC redistricting plan appears to be dead.  But this is Delaware.

 

 

 

 

Special Education Front & Center In Budget Talks With DOE

DelawareJFC

The Delaware Joint Finance Committee grilled Secretary Godowsky yesterday about the dramatic rise in special education numbers this year.  The News Journal, Delaware Public Media and Delaware State News covered the hearing with very different takes on the events of the day.  All of them cited the increase this year of 848 students classified as special education.

Delaware State News provided the quote of the year from Senator Harris McDowell:

A large portion of the dialogue centered on enrollment figures, with committee members questioning the discrepancy between predicted and actual growth and the JFC chairman referring to the funding formula as “‘Harry Potter’ calculus.”

Both legislators and DOE officials seem to be perplexed at the rapid rise in special education students and don’t know how to figure this out.

“We’ve really been in the position of, is this a bubble, is this a one-time or two-time increase in special education enrollment that’s driving that growth?” said department finance director Kim Wheatley.

The News Journal had a different take on the matter:

Department officials and several lawmakers said much of that increase was likely due to the state’s recent efforts to better screen students to catch disabilities and learning differences. Godowsky said the department was working with the University of Delaware to study the state’s population and see if the increase could be a long-term trend.

But Delaware Public Media offered more insight into Godowsky’s thoughts on the issue:

“It’s the unknown factor of students identified as ‘exceptional’ and are eligible for special education services. So that’s the variable that we haven’t really been able to tap exactly,” Godowsky said.

But the shell shock award of the day definitely goes to Delaware Public Media:

Many parents of kids with learning differences choose to move to Delaware because of the state’s quality special education, Dr. Godowsky said.

Are you kidding me?  Really?  Quality special education.  That is a complete lie.  When I talk about special education with people from different states they laugh and tell me how horrible Delaware is in comparison to other states.  For a state listed as needing intervention three out of the past five years this is a complete joke.  This is not a knock against our teachers, but a complete slam on the DOE who seems to think special education’s sole purpose is to bring up test scores.  Meanwhile, our bloated classrooms, some with well over 30 students and one teacher in some districts are suffering immensely.  If Delaware had quality special education this blog would not exist.

I’ve told people for going on two years now that special education numbers are too low in Delaware.  Many of the increases this year are coming from the charter sector of Delaware public education.  Now that accountability is really kicking in I’m not surprised the charters are waking up to this fact.  Now that their schools are on the line just as much as traditional school districts are, their excuses with low special education numbers just don’t cut it any more.  While this is not all charters, there are certain ones who have insanely small special education populations that do not match any realistic demographics in the state.  The vo-techs aren’t much better in some respects.  There could be other factors at play here as well.

We all know Delaware has some major pollution issues.  There have been concerns about chemical waste and toxins for years.  Delaware Senator Greg Lavelle wants Delaware’s water tested to make sure we aren’t having issues like the crisis in Flint, Michigan.  My son has Tourette Syndrome and it is a mystery about how children develop the disability.  The disability is not present in any of his relatives on both sides, nor was it in past generations.  I have questioned the origin of my son’s disability.

In 2006, a company called Reichhold in Cheswold had a chemical leak.  A railroad car released a chemical called styrene which is used in plastics.  The smell of the chemical was felt up to five miles away from the now closed plant.  My house is a little over a mile away from the now closed chemical plant.  My wife and son were home on that summer day, with all the windows open.  He was two when this happened.  Twenty people went to the hospital.  Route 1 closed down in that area for most of the day.  Everyone within the five-mile radius of the plant was told to stay indoors.  In my neighborhood, every single child I knew that was home that day has some type of disability that was not present before the leak.  I actually contacted Erin Brokovich about this a few years ago but I never received a response from her.  I don’t think it is a coincidence events like this occur and we see a rise in children with disabilities.  While Delaware didn’t see an immediate health danger to citizens in the area, we don’t know what long-term effects these unstable chemicals can do to developing minds in children.

Yesterday, State Rep. Kim Williams attended the JFC hearing with the DOE and after hearing the special education numbers, she tweeted an astonishing figure that none of the major media covered:

That is a lot of unfunded special education!  3rd grade is also the first year students take the Smarter Balanced Assessment folks.  I wrote in great detail about the 2015-2016 September 30th enrollment numbers back in November.  Delaware charter schools special education numbers rose nearly 15% on average while traditional school districts rose 4.4%.  At that time, 2,467 students in Delaware who have IEPs received no additional funding for the simple fact they are considered basic special education in Kindergarten to 3rd grade.  This is a travesty.  William’s House Bill 30 would take care of this issue but nobody seems eager to make sure it passes aside from a handful of legislators.  Meanwhile, Governor Markell wants to boost early education by over $11 million dollars.  While funds would go to daycare centers, the discussion at the JFC hearing also talked about funds going to “coaches” to train the daycare center providers.  How much of that money will go towards these “coaches” and who are they?  The DOE and Governor Markell stress the need for this and the General Assembly seems to be accepting everything involved with it at face value.  I fear this is just another money grab by companies wanting to profit off children and an all-too-willing DOE and Governor who put money before children in their priorities.

When is our General Assembly going to stop blindly believing all the DOE and Markell have to say about how to “fix” education?  While Godowsky has certainly made some good staff changes at the DOE, it is merely window dressing to the true problems with the DOE and State Board of Education.  Those who suffer the most are the nearly 20,000 special education students in Delaware who do not have the funding, resources, and support they so desperately need.  But we have no problem sending millions upon millions of dollars to outside companies who come up with their mythical reports and their ridiculous high-stakes tests which tell us nothing we don’t already know.