For An “Education” Governor, Jack Markell Isn’t Too Bright! Exclusive FOIA Emails Show His Incompetency!

When it comes to education, brokering deals isn’t Delaware Governor Jack Markell’s strong suit.  His fumbling could have given the Christina priority schools major headaches larger than the ones they had.

In September, 2014, Governor Markell announced six priority schools in Wilmington, DE.  Three in the Red Clay Consolidated School District and three in the Christina School District.  Each school board had to sign a Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) for each school.  Red Clay signed their MOU a few months later while Christina fought the Delaware Department of Education every step of the way.  By the end of February of 2015, the Christina School Board refused to sign the MOU and didn’t approve plans for the schools.  When it looked like the Delaware DOE and then Secretary of Education Mark Murphy were going to take the schools from the district, Governor Markell brokered a plan between the district and the Delaware DOE.

As a result of the Wilmington Education Advisory Committee (WEAC) and their recommendation to turn the Christina schools in Wilmington to Red Clay, the priority school saga was on hold.  The Christina Board voted in favor of the WEAC idea and Governor Markell brought both sides to the table.  A new MOU detailed the WEAC recommendation and the Christina Board signed it.  The MOU went to Secretary Murphy for signature.  The tension ended.  Or so we thought.

For seven months, the subject of the Christina priority schools was very quiet.  WEAC became the Wilmington Education Improvement Commission through legislation.  The commission started meeting in September of 2015 to craft the plans to eventually fold the Wilmington Christina schools into Red Clay.  At the October meeting of the Delaware Education Support System (DESS), a representative asked about the Christina priority schools and what would happen to them if the redistricting plan fell apart.  Delaware DOE Chief of Accountability and Assessment Penny Schwinn said that was a very good question and one they were hoping to get answers for soon.

The DOE was in transition.  Secretary Murphy announced his resignation at the end of July.  Acting Secretary of Education Dr. Steven Godowsky inherited the Christina priority schools.  The DESS meeting was on October 5th.  A month earlier, I wondered what would happen if the WEIC plan didn’t pass the State Board of Education or the Delaware General Assembly.  Everyone assumed the deal Governor Markell brokered in March covered the Christina priority schools up until that point.  But in FOIA’d emails never revealed to the public until now, the Delaware DOE truly didn’t know what Markell’s deal even meant.  Behind the scenes, Schwinn emailed the United States Department of Education to get clarification on what the options were for the three schools seven months after “the deal”.

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I find it astonishing Governor Markell never had the Delaware DOE check with the US DOE before the March deal.  This is a man who prides himself on all things education.  Instead, he made an executive decision without checking to see if it was even okay.

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Nearly two weeks after Schwinn first posed the question to Julie Glasier, an Education Specialist at the US DOE, she received an answer:

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As per the US DOE, the deal brokered by Markell wasn’t good enough.  All of this led to what is known as “The Hissy Fit” at the December meeting of the Delaware State Board of Education meeting.  The board minutes for this meeting tell one story, but reality was far different.

It was pointed out that the Christina School District schools are in the second year of planning as the Department has not received a plan.  Dr. Gray voiced her dismay and concern that the district has failed to respond to the Department’s requests.  Dr. Godowsky stated that it is the Department’s expectation that the district will submit their plan.  It was also noted that the educators in that district are to be commended for helping their students achieve without the additional funding they could be receiving.

State Board President Dr. Teri Quinn Gray was visibly upset about the Christina School District priority schools.  She acted as if the district made the deal back in March and just forgot about the schools.  She was so angry she had to excuse herself from the State Board meeting to regain her composure.  The very next day an astonishing revelation came out about what happened, or to be more concise, didn’t happen after the brokered meeting nine months earlier.  Secretary Murphy never signed the MOU between the Christina priority schools and the Delaware DOE.  Christina board members stated they were never told anything more had to be done with the schools during the pending WEIC redistricting proposal.  Now the Delaware DOE wanted the district’s priority school plans.

While never officially confirmed, Murphy’s resignation was rumored to be a “resign now” due to issues with the funding for the three Red Clay priority schools.  Emails released by this blog weeks before the Murphy announcement seemed to be the final straw for his Cabinet position in Delaware.  Was Markell aware of Murphy’s other colossal error concerning the Christina priority schools?

This led to another explosion of sorts at the February State Board of Education meeting.  The State Board voted no on the WEIC redistricting plan due to wording around funding and Christina having no priority school plans turned into the DOE.  State Board member Pat Heffernan went on a tirade of his own about the three schools and how Christina failed them.  At an emergency meeting of WEIC the next week, Christina Board President Harrie Ellen Minnehan told State Board President Dr. Gray she should apologize to Christina for the underhanded treatment they received from her.  To date, Dr. Gray has not apologized to Christina.

Christina submitted the priority school plans to Secretary Godowsky and the State Board passed the WEIC redistricting plan last month.  Godowsky notified the State Board the plans were enough for the DOE.

Several questions emerge from this year and a half story though.  During the time of the priority schools announcement and the months following, many assumed the DOE wanted to take the schools.  Myself included.  But the stark reality is the DOE really didn’t have a clue what they were doing.  Neither Governor Markell or the DOE bothered to check to see if the brokered deal was acceptable to the federal agency that mandated the priority schools in the first place.  Granted, Delaware made up their own plans to decide which schools were “priority”, which wasn’t exactly without it’s own controversy.

I don’t believe ANY school should get a label based on standardized test scores.  Period.  Teachers should not fear for their jobs because of bogus tests.   The way the Delaware DOE, the State Board of Education, and Governor Markell treated Christina during the five months after the announcement was shameful.  Even worse was the false treatment from the State Board of Education last fall and this winter.  Executive Director of the State Board of Education Donna Johnson serves as a liaison of sorts between the State Board of Education and the Delaware Department of Education.  While not knowing for certain, I would have a very hard time believing Johnson was not aware of Schwinn’s emails to the US DOE and the fact that Secretary Murphy never signed the MOU.  She could have cleared that up at the December State Board meeting, but she didn’t.  If she did know of these events, she allowed Dr. Gray to behave the way she did.  Even Godowsky seemed shocked at the appalling actions on Gray’s part.

The Delaware State Board of Education is appointed by the Delaware Governor.  There are no public elections for the seven State Board of Education seats.  Donna Gray sits on the DESS Advisory Committee.  The WEIC redistricting plan awaits action from the Delaware 148th General Assembly.  The three Christina priority schools are still in the district and they began the Smarter Balanced Assessment last month.  The scores on these tests, like so many other Title I schools in Delaware, determine their fates to this day.  Governor Markell believes the Smarter Balanced Assessment is the best test Delaware ever made.

Have You Signed The “Parent Bill of Rights for Education” Change.org Petition Yet? This Is Not The “Testing Bill Of Rights” From Center for American Progress

Two weeks ago, I posted the “Parent Bill of Rights for Education”.  As a result of posting this on Facebook to various education groups that promote opt out, Facebook banned me for two weeks from posting to groups or joining groups.  So I created a petition on Change.org.  Please sign it today if you haven’t already.  When you finish, please share the Change.org link or this one on Facebook, Twitter, Pinterest, Reddit, or anywhere else you can think of.  Share it with your family and neighbors.

This was a reaction to the “Testing Bill of Rights” promoted by the Center for American Progress, an education reform company that heavily supports high-stakes testing and Common Core.  They are against opt out and hope to make more money from their education reforms.  Their petition, which they claim has 11,000 signatures in the past two weeks, does nothing to protect a parent’s right to opt their child out of the state assessment.  Their claim that reducing testing, while getting rid of the tests that do matter, is bogus.  Don’t believe me?  Take a look at some of their recent tweets:

So what is the “Parents Bill of Rights for Education”?

THE PARENTAL BILL OF RIGHTS FOR OUR CHILDREN IN EARLY EDUCATION, PRE-SCHOOL, ELEMENTARY AND SECONDARY EDUCATION

CONCERNING HIGH-STAKES STANDARDIZED ASSESSMENTS, OUR RIGHT TO OPT OUT OR REFUSE OUR CHILD OUT OF THOSE ASSESSMENTS, THE COLLECTION OF STUDENT DATA, AND OUR RIGHT TO GATHER

BE IT ENACTED BY THE PARENTS OF THE UNITED STATES OF AMERICA

Definition of parent: any biological parent, or a parent through legal adoption, or foster parent, or guardian, or court-appointed guardian, for children through the ages of birth to 18 or 21 with guardianship through the end of an IEP, whichever is later.

Whereas parents have been given the responsibility to raise a child and to help guide them to adulthood, as their primary caregiver, and

Whereas parents, through United States Supreme Court decisions and other laws, have the right to decide what is best for our children in education matters until they come to a legal age when they are able to make those decisions on their own, and

Whereas, we believe public education should be reserved for the public at large and not the corporations, be they profit or non-profit, and that decisions based on education are best made at the local level, and

Whereas, we believe any assessments given to our children should provide immediate feedback for the student, teacher, school, and parent as defined for the sole purpose of giving reasonable and interpretive analysis of academic progress for our child’s allotted grade.

Whereas, as the caretakers of our children, we demand that decisions regarding data and the collection of data are parental decisions and that we furthermore have the absolute, unconditional right and ability to consent or not consent to any sharing of said data

(1) As parents, we have the fundamental, moral, and constitutional right to make decisions on behalf of our children in regards to their education.

(a) This includes the type of school we decide they go to, whether it be in a traditional school district, public charter school, vocational school, private school, home school, or home school co-op.

(b) This includes our ability to refuse or opt our children out of standardized assessments despite accountability measures placed upon a school.

(1) Once we have submitted our letter indicating our choice to refuse or opt out our child, we shall receive no verbal or written words meant to threaten, bully, or intimidate, in an effort, whether intentional or coincidental, to coerce us into changing our minds.

(2) We expect our children to receive instruction while their peers take the state assessment that is of equal or greater value to the type of instruction they would receive prior to or after the administration of the state assessment.

(3) If our child is forced to take a test after we have already given our consent to refuse or opt out, we reserve the right to call the local police and press charges against the local education administration.

(4) If we witness parents who are bullied or intimidated, we will advocate on their behalf with their consent, if they feel they are unable to do so.

(2) We reserve the right, as dictated by United States of America Federal Law, Title 34, Subtitle A, Chapter 1, Part 99.32 (b), to request all personal identifiable information sent as data or official records to all parties indicated in the entirety of Title 34, Subtitle A, and to receive the entire list of all those who have disseminated, received, or researched said data, and to receive such record keeping as required by federal law, within the 30 day timeframe.

(a) Parents also reserve the right to have any aggregated data on our child, which could conceivably set up a pattern of identification based on our unique and individual child’s health records, social-emotional behavior, discipline, socio-economic, or any such identifiable trait or history of said traits, be banned from any education research organization, personalized learning computer system, or blending learning computer systems, standardized assessment(s), or any other form of educational environment practice or computer-based digital learning environment, whether it is through algorithms already built into a system or any other form of data collection that does not include the legal definition of personal identifiable information, at our request.

(1) This would also include any State Longitudinal Data System, or any Federal system, up to and including the Federal Learning Registry, a joint system shared by the United States Department of Education and the United States Department of Defense.

(2) Parents have the right to reject any “competency-based education” decisions for our children that we feel are not based on reasonable, valued, well-researched, or statistically-normed guidelines or analysis.

(3) Parents may freely reject any form of data collection, data-mining, or data sharing that would lead to our child having a pre-determined pathway to a career based on any such data unless we give consent for said behavior, before the actual data collection, data-mining, or data sharing by any education agency or institution, and as such, we reject and forbid any trajectory-based decisions for our child unless we have given complicit consent.

(3) For any education decisions regarding our children that we, as parents, feel is not safe, or is inadequate, or is unhealthy for our children, we hereby reserve the right to be able to give public comment to any governing body, without incident or refusal, based on compliance with existing, applicable, and reasonable rules of public meeting conduct, based on our First Amendment Rights.

(4) As parents, we reserve the right to gather, discuss, and give advice to other parents or concerned citizens, in any public meeting or gathering place or social gathering place, whether it is physical or on the internet, without censorship, removal, or banishment, based on existing, applicable, and reasonable rules of conduct set forth by the host of the public meeting place or social gathering place.

(5) Parents have the right to lobby elected officials or local school board officials or state board of education officials, regarding pending, suggested, or passed legislation or regulation, that parents deem harmful to their child or children in general, without cause or incident, based on existing, applicable, and reasonable law.

(a) We expect our elected officials, based on their availability, to make every concerted effort to personally respond to our request(s) and to not send a generic form letter, but rather to constructively engage with parents to the same effort they would with any official registered lobbyist who is paid to do so.

(6) As parents, we reject the ability of corporations to “invest” or “hedge” in education with financial predictors of success, including social impact bonds, or any other type of investments where financial institutions or corporations would gain financial benefit or loss based on student outcomes, as we believe a child’s education should be based on the unique and individual talents and abilities of each child, not as a collective group or whole.

(7) As parents, we believe our child’s teacher(s) are the front line for their education, and therefore, have the most immediate ability and responsibility to guide our children towards academic success, and therefore, should have the most say in their instruction.

(a) Therefore, we believe no state assessment can give a clear picture of a teacher’s ability to instruct a student or group thereof, and therefore, we reject any evaluation methods for teachers based on high-stakes standardized testing.

(b) Therefore, we believe a teacher’s best efforts should remain at the local level, in the classroom, and not to conform to a state assessment or to guide instruction towards proficiency on a state assessment, but rather on the material and instruction present before the students based on the material and instruction they have learned before.

(8) We reject any basis of accountability or framework system meant to falsely label or demean any teacher, administrator, school staff, or school, based on students outcomes as it pertains to state or national standardized assessments.

(9) As parents, we are the primary stakeholders for our child’s education, and therefore demand representation on any group, committee, task force, commission, or any such gathering of stakeholders to determine educational decisions for children, be it at a local, state, or national level.

(a) We demand equal or greater representation on any such group as that allotted to outside corporations.