Tonight, Delaware Governor John Carney will attend a Christina Board of Education Study Session. When was the last time a sitting Governor went to a Board of Education meeting, much less a workshop? That is because Carney has big plans for Christina. Very big plans. But don’t fool yourself for one second into thinking any of these plans are Carney’s idea. For that, you have to look at those who surround him.
Race To The Top. Common Core. Delaware Talent Cooperative. Teach For America. Partnership Zones. Priority Schools. Focus Schools. DCAS. Smarter Balanced. These are all programs offered by the state. Their impact? A resounding thud. Failures. Every single one of them. For a state that likes to beat up on the Christina School District as much as it has, their efforts to turn them around have been utter failures.
But now Carney’s not-so-brilliant lightbulb of an idea is to model the schools in Springfield, Massachusetts. So much that he is visiting them on Friday along with Delaware Secretary of Education Dr. Susan Bunting and Dorrell Green from the Office of Innovation and Improvement. And now we know where the “innovation” part comes in.
The schools in Springfield, MA are part of what is known as an “empowerment zone”. Think priority schools without the federal mandate. More autonomy for building leaders, shared resources, and the ability to fire teachers better (even with union support). Just another sad attempt at eroding local control. To learn more about “empowerment zones”, please read the white paper on this:
In an article in The Boston Globe last Winter from reporter James Vasnis, he writes:
“These zones . . . allow educators to make the changes necessary to provide a better learning environment for our kids,” Baker said during the speech.
By freeing up the schools from the central office bureaucracy and most teacher contract provisions, local and state officials say, the Springfield middle schools are in complete control of their curriculums, staffing, budgeting, and ultimately their own destinies.
The empowerment zone, which is in its second year, has grown to include nine middle schools and next fall will add a long-struggling high school. The effort is overseen by a seven-member governing board jointly appointed by local and state officials. Principals report directly to the board.
So what happens to the local board of education for those schools? Do they lose their authority over these schools? If legislators have to put this into state law, and not local taxpayers who fund school districts, this could set up a battle royale in Delaware. And mark my words, we will see this in the second half of the 149th General Assembly. What makes an “empowerment zone” a success? The usual education reform barometer: standardized test scores…
But a turnaround could take years to achieve. Test scores at the zone’s highest-performing middle school are in the bottom 9th percentile statewide, meaning more than 90 percent of other similar schools scored better. The worst-performing school is in the bottom 1st percentile.
The sad part, the local teachers union is actually behind this.
“It’s a sea change,” said Timothy Collins, president of the Springfield Education Association, the local teachers union. “By having a culture of change where the critical mass of people feel they have a voice in what is being done and ownership in the plan, the likelihood of implementing the plan with fidelity goes up dramatically.”
But the roots of this education reform initiative go a bit deeper than all this. We have to go back to the days of former U.S. Secretary of Education Arne Duncan and his Digital Promise platform. Springfield, MA is a part of the League of Innovative Schools that likes to think of itself as a forward-thinking process that amounts to nothing more than education technology in a personalized learning environment. In other words, the teacher killer. No Delaware school districts are a part of this group, but 86 districts from around the country got suckered into this. This is the kind of crap the Rodel Foundation loves to foist upon Delaware.
In an article from the Progressive Policy Institute, they write:
While teachers cannot be dismissed at will, principals do receive support to help underperforming teachers improve where possible and to remove them where necessary. And there are real consequences – for principals and teachers alike – for school failure.
I have serious issues with any teacher union getting behind this ass-backwards corporate education reform double-speak. Especially when it is based on test scores. I have bigger issues with Governor Carney getting the smoke and mirrors advice that I have no doubt he believes will save the Wilmington schools here in Delaware. I knew something was up. Whenever a Governor starts sniffing around Christina, expect an unmitigated failure about to be thrust upon them. Perhaps, like former Governor Jack Markell, Carney truly believes that saving Christina will be the high mark of his tenure as Governor. It didn’t work for Markell. It backfired on him. And when the Wilmington Education Improvement Commission became the result of that, Markell and Carney gave it a drop-kick based on “funding issues”.
I was hoping Carney was better than this. I was hoping Secretary Bunting was better than this. But when you surround yourself up to the highest level with those who come from the corporate education reform world, it isn’t surprising in the least. Carney did just that in the form of Jon Sheehan, his education policy advisor. Markell had his inner circle from this world as well with Rebecca Taber and Lindsay O’Mara (now with the U.S. DOE).
The “Innovation Zones” came from a guy named Chris Gabrieli who ran (unsuccessfully) for Massachusetts Governor. But an elected Governor in the form of John Carney thinks he can ride in and save the day with an untested and so far unsuccessful brainfart of an idea. What Christina needs is for The State of Delaware to stop interfering so much and actually let the district do what it needs to do. All other state-born ideas have failed. What makes Carney think this one will work? Because he is being told it will. He runs the risk of becoming Markell 2.0 with this. But of course, no one who makes these kind of decisions will actually listen to the blogger. Or those who know it will fail. Because it is coming from the Governor, and what the Governor wants the Governor gets. Executive power at its absolute worst, because it affects kids most of all.
I have no doubt I will be writing more about this. And I fully expect blowback on this article. Especially from those who regurgitate the very worst from the corporate education reform world here in Delaware. They know who they are. Sharpen your knives. I’m ready.