Guest Post By Jackie Kook Concerning House Bill 399 & The Senate Education Committee Meeting Today

House Bill 399 was heard in the Senate Education Committee today, June 29, 2016, the penultimate day of the 2015-2016 legislative session. This bill, which passed the House unanimously (with two absent Representatives and one amendment), was one of only two bills heard by the committee, yet the public filled the small meeting room beyond capacity. Among the onlookers were the usual subjects; individuals from the Department of Education, the Executive Director of the State Board of Education, a handful of educators, lobbyists, and the general public affiliated with different groups of their own. It was the general tenor of the public comment that compelled me to pen this post, as although I have studiously refrained from engaging in the raging online debate up to this point, I do feel that misconceptions need to be cleared and the process, as transparent as it has been, should be outlined.

 

Please note that all of the information I am sharing comes directly from the information that can be found through the online state calendar if you care to scroll back through each and every Department of Education meeting from September 15, 2015, through March 8, 2016. The only two meeting dates that do NOT have associated minutes were November 9 and 30 of 2015, although draft minutes are floating around.

 

Let’s take this back to the beginning, shall we? That’s always a good place to start.

 

In April of 2015, I was contacted by the Delaware State Education Association to participate in a workgroup of teachers, specialists, and administrators, co-facilitated by the Delaware Association of School Administrators. The pitch was novel: Let’s get teachers, specialists, and administrators in a room and give them a task discussing the evaluation system and see what happens. As I have undergone the training for new administrators at the Department of Education and was, at one time, a credentialed observer, and because of my continued interest in and work with the evaluation system, I understood why I was invited. As for the other members of the workgroup, I cannot say, but as I got to know them I realized that they were all amazing individuals with really spot on observations and unique perspectives on the evaluation system. Only one of the nine other educators did I know prior to our first meeting.

 

On April 21 we met, broke into groups, and began the task of looking at the current rating system to make a proposal for alignment of formative component ratings with summative component ratings as well as to look at the summative component ratings and how they could roll up to an overall rating for teachers and specialists. The groups were random, although an effort was made to have teachers/specialists mixed in with administrators, so no group had just one category of educator. By the end of our allotted time together, we realized that more work needed to be done, and we were eager to continue, so we met again a week later, on April 28.

 

After the two work sessions, the team had come up with terminology that would be consistent across formative and summative categories, designed a numerical system that would go along with the ratings and reduce the potential for inconsistencies and “discretion” in the system, and made a few recommendations that addressed some issues we discussed, including the concept of an annual summative process (instead of the current biennial process) and a pilot for the numerical system (which is being referred to publicly as an algorithm).

 

The workgroup recommendations and proposals were presented to the DPAS II Advisory Committee, a group of educational stakeholders who meet regularly to discuss the evaluation system and offer suggestions for changes as necessary. Based on feedback from the committee members, the workgroup reconvened and refined the process accordingly on May 12, 2015. What has come forward into HB399 that bears mentioning here is the mathematical algorithm, and specifically how it was established and the criteria for “cut scores”.

 

It was not really a question that an Unsatisfactory rating should be unacceptable, and as such a numerical value of 0 was assigned to that. To further differentiate Unsatisfactory from Basic, which can be acceptable as a starting point in some circumstances (hence the need for discretion), Basic was assigned a value of 2, with Proficient and Distinguished assigned values of 3 and 4, respectively. It was agreed that, if multiple data points were available for specific criteria and/or components over the course of a two-year summative cycle, those data points would be averaged to come up with an overall score for the summative rating. It may be important to note here that, under current regulation, all teachers and specialists must be evaluated by a credentialed observer at least once a year, with recommendations and accommodations made to facilitate more regular observations. For instance, certain categories would warrant additional evaluations (novice status, under improvement, etc.), and shorter observation times could be used for supplemental evaluations as necessary.

 

Let me say that again. Under current regulation, every teacher and specialist must be observed and have a formative feedback document at a minimum of once a year. The summative rating can be done every year in current regulation, though it must be done at minimum every two years.

 

Let’s say I am evaluated, and in Component I, Planning and Preparation, I receive Proficient scores on all 5 criteria. That means I have earned an average score of 3, Proficient, for Component I. In Component II, Classroom Environment, I receive Proficient scores on 2 criteria and Basic on the other 2. I have earned an average score of 2.5, which falls under Basic. In Component III, Instruction, I received an Unsatisfactory in 2 criteria and a Basic in the other 3. That averages to 1.2, which is an overall Unsatisfactory rating. In Component IV, Professional Responsibilities, I score Proficient for all 4 criteria, earning an average score of Proficient for that category. Finally, in Component V, Student Improvement, I earn an Unsatisfactory, giving me an overall 0 score for that area.

 

Component I = 3. Component II = 2.5. Component III = 1.2. Component IV = 3. Component V = 0.

 

Total rating is 1.94, which puts me into the Basic category. Which we could have guessed, because so many of my scores are low. These ratings would also trigger an Improvement Plan, and my teaching career would be in jeopardy unless I followed the plan and earned higher ratings in the next observation and evaluation.

 

I would be a Basic teacher even with two of five Components rated as Proficient.

 

I’ve earned 11 Proficient ratings at the criteria level, 5 Basic ratings, and 3 Unsatisfactory ratings, yet am still rated as Basic and warranting an Improvement Plan.

 

That’s how the algorithm would work. The cut scores are based on the full workup of the entire set of possible ratings combinations, which I calculated using an Excel document with the gentle prodding and patient guidance of my husband, who neither saw nor cared about what I was actually doing, just told me how to get it done. This document was made available to the workgroup, and due to the areas where there was significant potential for the rating to be really inaccurate based on a quick glance at the numbers, a pilot program was suggested. The pilot was generally regarded as a simple thing to do, as the possibility of having one system (Bloomboard, for instance) write in the algorithm so it automatically calculates seemed easy.

 

Let me repeat that this time that these workgroup meetings, though not “public”, resulted in group consensus on recommendations that were presented to, refined as a result of feedback from, and then endorsed by the DPAS II Advisory Committee. Furthermore, all documents created were made available to the Department of Education, DSEA, DASA, and the Advisory Committee as well as the Sub-Committee later on.

 

Who was on the workgroup? Who were these educators who sat in a room together and dared to create a set of recommendations and proposal to change the entire evaluation system so dramatically (end sarcasm font) without the possibility of public input?

 

The members were published in the document made available to all entities listed above, and are as follows: Sherry Antonetti, Clay Beauchamp, Cheryl Bowman, Kent Chase, Charlynne Hopkins, Chris Jones, Jackie Kook, Suzette Marine, Dave Santore, and Nancy Talmo. Four teachers, two specialists, and four administrators.

 

Two of those individuals were also sitting members of the DPAS II Advisory Committee.

 

Six of those individuals became members of the DPAS II Advisory Sub-Committee.

 

When it is alleged, as it has been, that the information from the workgroup was never shared with the DPAS II Advisory Sub-Committee, and that no questions were asked about it, the data shows differently. A presentation on the workgroup recommendations was made on September 28, 2015, at the second meeting of the Sub-Committee. Discussion was held around the recommendations over the September and October meetings, and it is noted several times in the minutes that “discussion was held”, though not every word uttered was captured. Many committee members have their own notes, but the minutes could not possibly be a transcription of the level and detail of conversation that occurred.

 

The pilot was requested at least in part because there was no way to see all the possible kinks in the system, and rather than going full-on statewide with an untested program we felt it was more responsible to try it out and make sure it was accurate. After all, these are folks’ jobs we are talking about, as well as the education of students. We must get it done right, even if that means it cannot be hasty.

 

I do not pretend to speak for this diverse, talented, dedicated group of individuals. The legislation was inspired by the recommendations of the Sub-Committee, and although the words may not reflect verbatim the discussions that were held (after all, even the minutes don’t) and this may still be an imperfect system, the group did work hard and have impassioned discussions about what would be best not only for the educators in the system but also for our students. Keep in mind that The Conjuring was inspired by a true story…

 

One final point of note, since the data is readily available in the published minutes.

 

On September 15, the Department of Education was represented by Shannon Holston, who is documented as arriving at 4:45, and Christopher Ruszkowski, documented as arriving at 5:50. The meeting began at 4:30.

 

On September 28, the Department of Education was represented by Angeline Rivello and Laura Schneider.

 

On October 12, the Department of Education was represented by Angeline Rivello.

 

On November 9, the Department of Education was represented by Eric Niebrzydowski, Shanna Ricketts, and Laura Schneider. *Note that these are draft minutes, as final approved minutes are not available on the State Calendar.

 

On November 30, minutes were not available in draft or final form.

 

On December 14, the Department of Education was represented by Eric Niebrzydowski, who is documented as leaving at 4:30, Laura Schneider, who is documented as leaving the meeting at 3:30, and Christopher Ruszkowski. The meeting began at 2 pm.

 

On January 13, the Department of Education was represented by Atnre Alleyne, who is documented as arriving at 4:49. The meeting began at 4:30.

 

On February 1, the Department of Education was represented by Atnre Alleyne, Laura Schneider, Shanna Ricketts, and Christopher Ruszkowski, who is documented as arriving at 5:01. The meeting began at 4:30.

 

On February 16, the Department of Education was represented by Atnre Alleyne, Shanna Ricketts, Laura Schneider, and Dr. Steven Godowsky, Secretary of Education.

 

On February 29, the Department of Education was represented by Atnre Alleyne, Shanna Ricketts, and Christopher Ruszkowski, who is documented as leaving before Public Comment.

 

On March 8, the Department of Education was represented by Christopher Ruszkowski, who is documented as leaving before Public Comment.

 

For those of you keeping track, that brings Department of Education representation to a total of 8 different individuals, including the Secretary of Education, and no single representative was present for every single meeting. Again, this is based on the minutes from each available meeting (including one set of draft minutes I personally had for a meeting which minutes are not posted online) that had the individuals listed as “Department Staff/Other Members” and does not differentiate between those who sat at the table and those who did not. The final submitted report lists only Christopher Ruszkowski, Atnre Alleyne, Eric Niebrzydowski, and Angeline Rivello as Department of Education representatives (non-voting members) of the Sub-Committee. Any notation of late arrival and/or early departure is from the minutes themselves and included solely to be comprehensive in providing information. Of the 10 meetings for which documentation is in my possession, no single DOE representative attended more than 5.

Schwartzkofp and Longhurst Ignore House Rules During Kowalko’s HB50 Veto Override Attempt

Audio Of Parliamentary Inquiry, Delaware House, 6/29/16

Tonight, I witnessed the death of a dream.  That our Delaware House of Representatives would finally do the right thing for our children.  Delaware State Representative John Kowalko brought back House Bill 50 tonight, the Delaware opt out bill that overwhelmingly passed the Delaware House and Senate a year ago.  Delaware Governor Jack Markell vetoed the bill less than a month later.  The last time the House considered this bill was for an override of the Governor’s veto on January 14th.  Kowalko received bad information from the House Attorney on how to present a veto override.  He was told he had to have a suspension of rules prior to a vote on the reconsideration.  I can’t speak to the lack of knowledge or the reason this attorney gave bad advice to Kowalko.  I do know House Attorney’s are not employed by the State, but retained from law firms.  But Kowalko found out it was not necessary with carefully vetted research into veto override attempts in Delaware.  He brought up what is known as a Parliamentary Inquiry to the House tonight.  Had he been able to explain how the legal advice given to him by someone who is supposed to know House Rules and Mason’s Manual of Legislative Procedure in the event a situation is not covered by House Rules, the House would have understood what he was doing.  The Delaware House could have voted on the reconsideration of the Governor’s veto back in January without a suspension of rules.

Instead, what we got was Val Longhurst and Speaker Pete Schwartzkopf turning it into a power play and putting forth a point of order motion.  It was a trap, probably planned ahead of time since Kowalko told the House Attorney he would be requesting the Parliamentary Inquiry.  He had a representative lined up to second the motion for the Parliamentary Inquiry.  As Kowalko brought it up, Longhurst interrupted Kowalko while he was speaking and stated House Bill 50 was not on the agenda.  Kowalko knew this and stated he was talking about a Parliamentary Inquiry.  Schwartzkopf said Kowalko was out of order even requesting a Parliamentary Inquiry, which Kowalko challenged.  Kowalko appealed Schwartzkopf’s point of order.  Val Longhurst seconded it, said “Oh shit” (nice conduct of an elected official during a legislative session) and then retracted her second as the floor of the General Assembly burst into laughter as Schwartzkopf said “Jiminy Christmas” and said the motion was dead.  Gavel went down, case closed.  But is it?  By denying an elected official the ability to request a parliamentary inquiry under the guise of a point of order given while the elected official was speaking which had nothing to do with the matter at hand could be ruled as illegal.

Once again, we have Democrat leadership in the House who don’t know the policies of the floor they are supposed to govern.  They have committed themselves to a lame-duck governor at the expense of our high-stakes tested children.  There are good legislators in Legislative Hall, but the vast majority are in it for themselves and don’t know what they are doing except how to put forth legislation from corporate lobbyists or to further their own careers.

Prior to Kowalko’s motion, the House had just voted on a very emotional budget bill.  It passed, but eight voted no.  Some voted no who have voted before, but State Reps. Stephanie Bolden and Charles Potter voted no due to the lack of funding for the WEIC redistricting plan and the Senate’s refusal to move forward with the legislation.  Even State Rep. Miro, who voted yes on the budget, gave a well-intentioned speech about how the state is not doing well economically and it will be worse next year.  Kowalko objected to the budget after he filed an amendment to take the charter school transportation slush fund out of the budget.  The amendment failed but eight voted yes.  Which fell in line with the budget vote, 31 yes, 8 no, and 2 absent.

I firmly believe our state needs a serious fiscal and ethical investigation by the Federal government into where every single penny of our state funds are going and who is profiting off of shady backroom deals.  They need to start with Governor Jack Markell and work their way down through the House, the Senate, the DOE, vendors, school districts, charter schools, the auditor’s office, the treasurer’s office, the Department of Health and Social Services, and pretty much everywhere anyone gets funds from the State of Delaware.

Our children are used as guinea pigs.  We see it from Sokola, the DOE, Markell, Schwartzkopf, Longhurst, Melanie Smith, McDowell and others.  Godowsky puts on another face constantly.  He tries to save face with the Governor when he knows the stuff they are pedaling out of his building is absolute crap.  None of these people care about kids.  Not a single damn one of them.  I’ve tried to deal with the legislators in Legislative Hall.  I’ve tried to reach out to some of them in good faith.  They don’t respond.  Those that do know who they are and I know you are trying your best, but when the majority is corrupt, the whole building is.  I see many of you get upset when good bills that will truly help the children of Delaware go nowhere.  Our DOE is not a State Agency.  It is a collection of education reformers and lobbyists, selling our children out to the highest bidders.  A great deal of the legislation passed in Delaware for education allows them to do this.

When a State Representative votes against a budget because of the rampant corruption in our state, they are a hero.  They are not unpatriotic.  If patriotism is following orders and never questioning anything and allowing children to suffer while you remain in power Rep. Melanie Smith, then you may want to look at what the patriots who founded this country actually did so you could hold elected office.  You allow a great deal of bills that go through that will only please corporations at the expense of the citizens of Delaware.  Tonight, I was ashamed to say I live in Delaware.  Everything the other legislators said about the budget was from the heart, not quotes from books or a Tedx talks speech.  It is a legislator’s responsibility to pass a good budget, not a bad one.  This was a bad budget.  You can do all the glad-handling and take the applause for getting it passed, but it is still filled with pork.  You know it, and I know it.  We all know it.  We know who this budget truly serves, and it is not in the best interest of children or the citizens of the state who by your own admission deserve more.

For someone who wants what is best for Delaware, why have you, Pete Schwartzkopf, consistently gone with the Governor’s wishes and not the will of the people.  You are the Speaker of the House.  It isn’t your House.  It is ours.  The people of the state.  Until you learn that valuable lesson, you will continue to be called Sneaky Pete all over the state until your time is done.  Because you refuse to find out the answer concerning how the State Representatives would vote on the override of Markell’s veto, you are not a friend to parents in the state of Delaware.

 

Secretary Godowsky Walks Out Of Back Door To Governor’s Offices At Leg. Hall As Native Americans Wait To Meet The Governor

The Senate Education Committee just ended their 2:30 meeting about half an hour ago.  House Bill 399 was discussed with many proponents and a few opponents.  The opponents were Secretary Godowsky, Donna Johnson, and Atnre Alleyne (former DOE employee who has become very active in trying to stop meaningful teacher evaluation reform).  Senator David Sokola expressed more than once his feelings of “heartburn” with the bill.  I recorded the whole thing.  Excellent comments were provided by Mike Matthews, Kristen Dwyer with DSEA, Jackie Kook, a teacher from Caesar Rodney (I will have to get his name later), and others.  Hopefully the other members of the Senate Education Committee will see through the obvious smoke and mirrors.  But a few thoughts here.  Godowsky and Johnson were not this vocal during the House Education Committee.  Judging by the fact Godowsky just left from meeting with Governor Markell’s office in conjunction with Godowsky’s adamant opposition of the bill, I think we can all safely assume who is calling the shots here.

As the lead Senate Sponsor, I felt Senator Bryan Townsend could have supported the bill more than he did.  I have found he tends to play to both sides on education issues.  During his second “round” so to speak on the bill, he did defend Delaware teachers and appeared to be more on their side.  As usual, Sokola played it up for the audience.  At one point he made a comment about how there is good news in education and something to the effect of not being able to see that on the blogs.  So I made a point in my public comment, as well as supporting the bill, to point out the DOE can get the “good” news out and I’ll do my thing.  Perhaps he didn’t like that but I truly don’t care.  He can stare daggers into me until the general election if he wants.

I don’t know if it will be released from the committee.  I hope it will.  New York is already getting out of the kind of teacher evaluations Delaware’s DPAS-II is similar to.  In regards to my comment about the Native Americans waiting to meet the Governor, Governor Markell literally just walked past me and we greeted each other.  I am assuming the Governor was out of the building.  I don’t see the Native Americans now, but the Delaware House did pass House Concurrent Resolution #97 recognizing November, 2016 as “Native American Heritage Month” in Delaware.  Yes, it is going to be one of those days!  Or possibly one of those lifetimes!

Randi Weingarten Aims to Take Union Pension Funds Away from Anti-Union, Anti-Pension Hedge Funds

Hedge funds, eh? I distinctly remember writing about them and a local Delaware non-profit about 20 months ago…

Diane Ravitch's blog

The Wall Street Journal reports that Randi Weingarten is taking union pension funds away from hedge funds that attack teachers’ pensions. Leading hedge funds have contributed to organizations that want to eliminate defined-benefit pensions and substitute 401k plans for them. The hedge fund billionaires have also taken the lead in funding nonunion charter schools.

Randi has pushed the investment committees of unions to withdraw their pension funds away from hedge funds that are subsidizing attacks on teachers’ pensions.

Defenders of the hedge funds say that the unions should seek the best return on their funds, without regard to the politics of the hedge fund.

Randi has the better side of this dispute. Why should teachers invest their pension funds in a company that wants to take away their pensions?


Daniel Loeb, Paul Singer and dozens of other hedge-fund managers have poured millions of dollars into promoting charter schools in New…

View original post 1,878 more words

Delaware Special Education Due Process Hearing Showcases What Rights A Parent Should NEVER Give Up

A recent due process hearing in Delaware, filed by the parents of a child with a mood disorder, gave an example of the first thing parents should not do with special education.  The due process hearing was against the Cape Henlopen School District.  The parents claimed the district did not fulfill their obligation under IDEA with manifestation determination.  The case also showed a glaring flaw with special education law in the Delaware code, one I hope a legislator picks up on in the 149th General Assembly beginning in January.  Or if a very brave soul with a great deal of tenacity picks up the baton and literally runs for their life during the last two days of the 148th General Assembly and miraculously gets a law like this passed in the next two days, that would be a true miracle.  What did the parents do that ultimately caused a dismissal of the case? Continue reading Delaware Special Education Due Process Hearing Showcases What Rights A Parent Should NEVER Give Up

It’s who you know…

Caesar Rodney Institute Blog

State support for higher education is slipping with one large exception at the University of Delaware. One department, actually one individual, at the university is slated for a 38% increase according to the latest draft of the state budget.  This is in contrast to the state contribution for university operating expenses falling from about 21% in 2000 to about 12%, according to the University’s 2015 Investment Office Annual Report.

The currently proposed 2017 Fiscal Year proposed budget consists of fifty-nine pages of tables of budget numbers by department, and two hundred and twenty-six pages of “epilogue” language.  The epilogue pages are similar to footnotes and most of it is innocuous and a pretty boring read.  It can also be a place where bad policy goes to hide.

This may be the case with Section 285, page 199, which reads:

Section 285. Section 1 of this Act makes an appropriation…

View original post 314 more words