A Message For First State Liberty re: Christina Referendum

My number one question for the folks at First State Liberty: Do you pay the same amount for guns that you did twenty years ago?  I’m not asking this to be smart.  My reasoning is very simple: you pay for things every single day that cost more than it did five years ago, ten years ago, and twenty years ago.  Education is no different.  Perhaps you don’t have children in the Christina School District.  Perhaps you don’t want to pay taxes for schools your children don’t go to.  I can see your point with that.  But here’s the thing.  You pay taxes every single time you work.  You pay for programs that don’t affect anyone in your household.  Your state and federal taxes, which go up and down, go towards things I’m sure you don’t agree with.  But yet, you still pay them.  If not, you would go to jail.

You have a choice with a referendum.  You can say no.  That is certainly your right.  But I also have to believe that you care about children.  All children.  I’ve been to your website and how you completely blast the district as if it is your moral obligation to deny children the services they need.  I do take offense to that.  But you would also be surprised at something we agree on.  I know First State Liberty is against Common Core.  I know you didn’t support the opt out bill, House Bill 50, because parents already own that right.  What parents don’t own the right to, no matter how we may wish otherwise, is how to run a school district.  We can get involved, and do our best.  We can go to meetings (not just one or two before a referendum) and make our voices heard.  We can run for the district school board.  There are many ways to get involved.  I encourage all citizens to do that.

With Common Core and Race To The Top forced on every single Delaware school district and all charter schools, things changed in education.  Basically, Delaware took a $119 million dollar bribe from the US Government.  In exchange for a financial gift equal to approximately 3% of our education budget spread out over three years, offered to us during a recession, our Governor sold out Delaware education.  But the true crime didn’t stop there, because he allowed the Department of Education to keep half of it.  Meanwhile, he cut out reading programs that were actually working for our kids.  The results were disastrous.  Especially for a district like Christina.  When Christina did the same thing First State Liberty is doing now, speaking up about what has come to be seen as a failed program called the Delaware Talent Cooperative, the Delaware Department of Education took Christina’s Race To The Top money away.  For the sole reason that they dared to challenge big government.  Something your group has as their central theme.

As I’m sure you know, urban districts like Christina don’t tend to fare well overall on standardized tests.  These are not truly tests of a student’s achievement.  They are set up for children to do poorly on them.  They set the achievement levels at a point where it would be impossible for all students to score proficient.  As a result, Christina and Red Clay got the test, label and shame status thrown on them in the guise of “priority schools”.  Here is a newsflash for you: all school districts have high administrative costs.  Because of Race To The Top, districts had to hire people to oversee all of these programs that were forced on them.  As a result of Common Core implementation and changes to teacher evaluations, the pressure put on districts was greater than ever.  This happened with charter schools as well.  Some schools overcame these challenges.  They also tended to be schools that didn’t have as many low-income students, minority students, or students with disabilities.  These schools were given the spotlight while whole districts like Christina and Red Clay were given the “we are going to fix your horrible schools even if we have to take them over” treatment.  And all of this was based on the standardized test scores.  The ones that are now fully aligned with the same Common Core your group loathes.

But are you aware, or willing to share with your entire membership and on your robo-calls about the referendum, that the ratio of administrators to students results in Christina administrators overseeing more students than any other district in New Castle County?  These jobs you so desperately want to be gone or have their salaries shrunk, that are necessary based on the very mandates forced on them by the Delaware Department of Education…

From the CSD Paving The Way website:

Sometimes pictures say it better than words. For those who are concerned there are too many administrators in the Christina School District we decided to research the numbers and find out the ratio.
 
This is the student/ administrative staff ratio in a graphic format. In short, this shows that each administrator in the Christina School District is responsible for more students than any other district in the county.
 
Therefore, the misconception that there are too many administrators in this district is not true. Our number crunching based on DOE data shows that the Christina School District has the lowest number of administrators in New Castle County when compared with the number of students in the district.
 
students-administrators

 

Please note (as stated in the fine print on this image) this graph does NOT include student enrollment and administrator totals for the Delaware Autism Program or the Delaware School for the Deaf which would elevate those numbers.

Christina has cut admins and several teachers.  They are on bare bones.  If this referendum doesn’t pass, it has the potential of getting very ugly, very fast.  More cuts, more jobs gone.  And next year, you will be looking at the same thing only they will have to ask for MORE money in their referendum to make up for what they didn’t get from this one.  Guess what happens to all of you who live in the Christina School District?  Higher unemployment, your neighbor’s children not getting what they need to survive (yes, survive) in public education.  People won’t want to move to the Christina School District.  They will look on the Delaware DOE’s really horrible school report card and say “we shouldn’t move there”.  Without new people moving into the district, your property values will go down.  The equity you have built up over the years will slowly vanish.  Perhaps one of you will come to a new opportunity or crisis point in your life.  You may want to sell that home with the reduced equity.  How did that work out for you?

If you think Delaware school taxes are high, have you talked to anyone in Pennsylvania?  I’m pretty sure anyone in Chester, Montgomery, or Delaware County in Pennsylvania would laugh when you told them how much your school taxes are going up by.  Many folks in Maryland might say the same.  And both of those states have sales tax, something you have never paid in Delaware.

If we are going to go by figures from 2014, let’s take a look at these, from the Zero Hedge website:

DELAWARE

  

 

MARYLAND

  

 

PENNSYLVANIA

  

 

NEW JERSEY

 

 

What these figures don’t include are the portion of property tax that goes towards school taxes.  All are much higher in those states.  With this information clearly visible, I really have a hard time with your group’s efforts to squash referendums in our state.  But yet I don’t hear boo from First State Liberty about Markell giving more tax breaks to corporations while every single citizen in the state pays for it.  I didn’t hear anything from any of you when it was announced yesterday that Title I funding, which is supposed to help districts with low-income students, is going to wind up giving more for the state (aka, the DOE) to keep than the school districts will receive.

I think you have the right idea, wanting to curb expenses for citizens.  I have no problem with that.  But you have the wrong target.  Why isn’t the State of Delaware in your crosshairs?  Why aren’t you sending robo-calls to every Delawarean about the absolute corruption and fraud going on before our very eyes?  Is Christina just an easy target?  Step up your game.  Come to Legislative Hall when they are doing these corporate gift bills (and I’m sure there will be more by the time June 30th rolls around) and protest that.  But all you are doing now is hurting students.  Your numbers don’t add up and all the information is available to you if you really look for it.  But telling your followers that Christina is non-transparent is completely false.  The referendum has been talked about on the radio, in the News Journal, and in the local newspaper for well over a month.

I would seriously question where you are getting your information from and what the true motivations are here.  It’s very easy to rile up a crowd.  What isn’t easy is admitting you were wrong.  I saw the kind-of sort-of owning up to that on your website, but it was followed by “give us information now”.  My advice to you: if you really want to know what is happening with district funds, go to all their Citizen Budget Oversight Committee meetings.  Not just the one a week before a referendum.  Going to one meeting a year and complaining about transparency isn’t exactly what I would call a marketing strategy for your cause.  It’s like arriving late at a dinner party and getting upset all the food is gone.  But then you tell everyone there was no food!  Go to all their board meetings.  Find out what is going on.  Look at all their monthly financial reports.  If you are relying on Delaware DOE data, don’t be shocked if it isn’t exactly accurate.

In terms of the comparison between Christina to Smyrna School District letter, Christina gets more federal funds because there are more at-risk students.  Whoever read that financial document admits they don’t know the difference between local, state, and federal funds.  If a district has more at-risk students, they get more federal money.  The bigger a district is, the more admins you have.  As well, their properties are assessed at a higher rate in Smyrna than in Christina.  So that 2/3rds number?  It doesn’t exactly mesh with reality and solid math.  This isn’t rocket science.

You want to blame a district for what is clearly the state’s fault.  But in the end, all you are really doing is making it worse for the kids.  The future of Delaware.  The future of America.  Your kids.  Your grandkids.  If Christina loses with the referendum, the charters in the district lose as well.  They get their proportion of the local tax based on students in the district that go to their schools.  All you are doing is hurting the whole education system.  Who wins when we all lose?

I encourage all of you to look into your hearts and ask yourselves “What exactly are we fighting here?  Why are we going after David when Goliath is the one doing all this?”  These aren’t the droids you’re looking for.  First State Liberty and recipients of your robo-calls: Vote YES for the Christina referendum!

 

 

A Special Education Journey Like No Other

SpecialNeedsChildren

What if I told you there is a place where all special needs children are accepted and loved?  They don’t take the Smarter Balanced Assessment or the DCAS-Alt1.  Common Core doesn’t exist.  They are given a great education and they even have a sensory room!

Special education is a bit of an enigma.  We have all these nice federal laws in place, but the way the system is in public education, it is almost impossible for any school to be able to follow it with fidelity.  This isn’t a knock on public education.  I’m a huge believer in it.  With all the mandates coming from states and feds, it is fast becoming a crisis in classrooms.  They can put all the grit, rigor, and personalized learning into a classroom as they want, but for many students the joy of learning has been sucked out of them.  For students with disabilities in public schools it is even worse.  But for my son, for now, he needs something different.  An IEP is only as good as the implementation of it.

After my son went through a charter school, a traditional district elementary school, a traditional district middle school, and a private school in Dover, I was at the end of my rope with education for my special needs child.  For those who may not know, my son has Tourette Syndrome.  It is NOT the swearing disability as so many seem to think it is.  It can be, but only for about 10% of those who have it.  For my son, education has been hard because Tourette Syndrome is very rare.  While exact numbers are not known, it is estimated there could be only about 1-2 children with TS in any given school.  Compared to ADHD, Autism, and Dyslexia, TS is not the norm for disabilities.

We took a risk sending our son to a private school.  We knew this from the get-go, and so did the school.  His needs were too much for the private school to handle so it was back to the drawing board.  As fate and faith would have it, a friend of mine recommended a program she put her son in.  It is called the Journey program at Glasgow Christian Academy in Bear, DE.  I was reluctant to go the private school route so soon after the last one didn’t work out, but we went up there and did a visit and interview.  We were so pleased with the program there really wasn’t any hesitation.  My son started there the second week of December and I haven’t worried about his education since.

The Journey program is solely for special needs students.  There is no inclusion in this program.  I always fought for inclusion, with every fiber of my being.  But for my son, it was obvious most schools couldn’t handle his unique needs.  The Journey program is vastly different than any education classroom I’ve been in.   They are having an open house this Thursday, March 24th at 6pm.  If you are at the end of your rope, and feel your child needs much more than what the public education system is able to do, I would strongly recommend taking the opportunity to see what they are all about!  Parents are asked to commit to homeschooling their children 2 days a week to supplement their learning experiences at school.  As many parents of special needs children know, there can be days that are so overwhelming you really don’t know what to do.  To that end, the Journey program has a parent support group that meets once a month.

I interviewed one of the teachers, Elizabeth Greenwell, to talk a bit more about the program.

Can you please describe the Journey program?

The Journey Program is a program for children in elementary school through High School who have special needs. The program meets 2-3 days per week and parents work with their children on assigned work the other days.  It was started as a ministry to reach students who are unable to do well in other school settings or homeschooling on their own.

What is the teacher-student ratio?

This year, our Middle level class had 2-3 teachers with 8 students, so it was 4:1.  Our elementary class this year had 3 students with 3 teachers, so 1:1.  We never have more than a 4:1 ratio.

Do you use Common Core or standardized testing?

No.

What are you doing different than the traditional public schools?

We provide multiple accommodations and adjust those accommodations based on the needs of the child. We communicate with families daily about the progress of their child.  We provide a sensory room.  The teachers, in addition to college education and teaching experience have special needs kids of their own.  So we have walked the walk.  We also have a parent support group.

As a private school, you are not beholden to follow IDEA, but as a special education program do you feel IDEA covers what is needed for students with disabilities?

Yes, in general I believe IDEA was very important legislation.  However, there are many gaps in what public schools are actually providing.

What are some of your greatest success programs in the Journey program?

We have a student who couldn’t read or add.  3 months later he was doing multi-digit addition, simple multiplication, and reading at a 2nd grade level. Other kids who have been bullied in every other program feel safe to come and for the first time have friends. 

Is public assistance available for tuition costs?

No.  But we have limited financial aid from fundraisers and private donors. 

How have students reacted to the program?  Parents?

The response has been amazing.  The kids love coming. When we sent out surveys, all of the parents had positive things to say.

What do you envision for the future of Journey?

Next year we will have 4 level classes including 2 high school programs. Students will be able to earn a High School diploma.  I hope we continue to grow. Our goal for next year is 20-25 students between all 4 levels.

Are there students without disabilities in the program?

No.  All of the kids in the program have a special need – examples are Autism, ADHD, Tourette’s Syndrome, Sensory Processing Disorder, Down Syndrome, and Dyslexia.

Please describe an average day in the Journey program.

Students take all of their core subjects, social skills, bible, and electives like martial arts and art. The students have frequent breaks to go outside or use the sensory room.

As a faith-based program, do you believe this adds to the quality of Journey?

Yes.  It is important to put our faith in Christ and to teach the next generation about His faithfulness.

To read more about this very different school for students with special needs, please go to the Journey homepage.

This is what some parents have said about this amazing program:

“I am happy with Journey because my son is so happy and enthused about school.  I didn’t realize how great an impact of him attending a school where he is accepted and feels safe was to him.”

“Journey has absolutely helped my son academically.  We love the small class size and individual attention he gets.”

“My son’s social skills and confidence have gone up a lot.  He enjoys having a group where he can belong and be appreciated just for being himself.  He’s never worried or anxious about the class and he enjoys his teachers and classmates.”

“Overall we love Journey!  The teachers have been very helpful, receptive and loving to our son and our family.  I highly recommend it to everyone.”

“Journey exceeded our expectations because we didn’t think our son would be challenged enough and he is.”

“The wealth of knowledge and amount of experience and patience the Journey staff has with the students impresses me every single day.”

“The best part has been how dedicated and passionate the staff is.  Connecting with the Parent Support Group has been wonderful.  The level of compassion is unparalleled.”

“I love the support of the other moms and teachers.  I know that all of the teachers genuinely care about the success of each student.  My son loves all the kids and the teachers.  I love that my son enjoys attending and I love the friends and support I have received.”

As I said at the beginning, I was at the end of my rope about four months ago.  A year ago, I would have never dreamed my son could feel so accepted in a school, but the Journey program has been absolutely incredible for him.  I don’t tend to talk about my son too much on this blog, but I felt this was a situation that was warranted.  I strongly encourage parents of students who have gone through similar hardships in Delaware public schools to check Journey out.  It has changed my son’s life immeasurably and I am extremely grateful to the school, his teachers, and to God.  Everything happens for a reason in this world.

The Delaware DOE Accountability Monster Is At It Again

The Delaware Department of Education held a District Test Coordinators meeting on March 16th, 2016.  The full report is below.  The presentation covered all things testing: Smarter Balanced, DCAS Science, DCAS Social Studies, and the new SAT.  One of the most shocking finds in this presentation was the revelation the redesigned for the Common Core State Standards SAT will be used for accountability purposes this year.  For those who may not be aware, prior to this year, the Smarter Balanced Assessment was used as the 11th grade state assessment for high school juniors.  In late December last year, Delaware Governor Jack Markell and Delaware Secretary of Education Dr. Steven Godowsky made an announcement that the College Board redesigned SAT would replace the Smarter Balanced Assessment.  While the legislation that allowed for the transition from DCAS to the Smarter Balanced Assessment did not specifically name Smarter Balanced in the wording of the bill, House Bill 334 does clearly state:

(b) The Department shall administer both accountability and growth assessments of student achievement for students in grades 3-8, provided that additional grades may be added by the Department. (c) The assessments referred to in subsection (b) of this section shall measure achievement in English language arts and mathematics for students in a minimum of grades 3 through 8 and high school, provided additional grades may be added by the Department

But here’s the kicker, this is a brand new test.  It has been reformulated (like New Coke and those who lived in the 1980s know how that went over) to align with the Common Core.  It took a long time for many states to get the scores from the PSAT this year.  Many are already saying the new SAT is horrible (just like they did with Smarter Balanced which is why I call it Smarter Balanced Junior).  At least with the regular Smarter Balanced the DOE gave a one year pause for accountability purposes.  But they must have a lot of faith in the new SAT.  Who made this decision?  Godowsky?  Markell?

My big question would be how you measure growth for the new SAT.  Furthermore, how do you even measure growth when students skip grades 9 and 10?  Or are they measuring growth between last year’s juniors who took the brand new Smarter Balanced or the old SAT?  I thought the DOE would get smarter (no pun intended) with Godowsky, but it looks like they are fumbling at the fifty yard line yet again.  The only reason they came up with this not-so brilliant plan to begin with was because too many juniors opted out of Smarter Balanced last year.  But they must test, label and punish, even with a new, unproven, and already controversial test.

All the latest testing news is in here, including the draft of next year’s testing windows.