When Bunting, Sokola, & Jaques Have Lunch, How Soon Will Legislation Come Out About State Takeover Of School Districts?

Delaware Secretary of Education Dr. Susan Bunting informed the State Board of Education yesterday she had lunch with State Senator David Sokola and State Rep. Earl Jaques.  As heads of the Senate and House Education Committee, Bunting said it was to discuss upcoming legislation.  Could this lead to state takeover of school districts in Delaware?

This worries me.  Sokola and Jaques have been well-known to succumb to the Delaware DOE and what they want.  That does not always match with what is best for students, parents, or even schools.  This has been proven time and time again.

First off, the only specific legislation Bunting mentioned in regards to this lunch date was the voluntary school assessment bill.  This was a very controversial bill giving more money to developers in lieu of paying taxes.  Buccini-Pollen sent out their very best lobbyists to Legislative Hall last session but the bill didn’t pass.  Are they attempting another go at this?  Has Delaware learned nothing about giving more money to rich companies at the expense of schools?

But even more concerning is the issue of state takeover of traditional school districts.  At the March 19th, 2018 School District Consolidation Taskforce meeting, State Rep. Earl Jaques brought up this possibility.  I reported on it that evening but I recently read the minutes for the meeting which go into greater detail than what I wrote:

Structures (sub-committee) – Rep. Jaques let it be known he did not have notes.  They have gone through all the back services and district offices, preparing our recommendations, will have 8.  One is making a recommendation to the SBE (State Board of Education) to look at criteria for state takeover of school districts and possibility of merging districts when it comes up.  We will have recommendation on that.  Next meeting is April 11th at Legislative Hall.

After that, I asked what this was all about:

Mr. Ohlandt asked for further clarification on the Structures recommendation about possible state takeovers.  We are going to ask State Board what policy and procedures would be if we applied to 19 school districts, and how we as a state could take them over, or combine with a joint school district.  We are going to ask them if they could they put something in code.  Currently there is nothing in code, should have something in writing.  Structures will have this recommendation.  Chapter 10 in Title 14 doesn’t have anything in it.  Kevin Ohlandt has asked it to be noted he is vehemently against this recommendation.

John Marinucci asked if there has been discussion developed at all as to what role the local school board would be in cases of state takeover?  Chairman Jaques said we are still in the early stages, Structures committee will be making a recommendation but it’s a long way down the road, and would need legislation.  DSBA (Delaware School Boards Association of which Marinucci is the Executive Director) would have input into this.

This will be voted on at the Consolidation Taskforce meeting on April 23rd.  Prior to that, it needs to be voted on and accepted by the Structures subcommittee as they are the group making the recommendation.

It was noted by a few members in attendance that are also part of the Structures committee that they did not recall ever discussing this topic at one of their meetings.  It was stated that it was discussed at the meeting held in Beacon Middle School in Lewes at the January 2018 meeting.

While the Structures committee never had this as a recommendation before the task force, there was also a general consensus this was never discussed at the January meeting Jaques referenced.  When this topic came up in the March meeting, Delaware Secretary of Education Dr. Susan Bunting turned white as a ghost.  It was clear she was not anticipating this as a topic of discussion at this meeting.  What the minutes of the March meeting did NOT have in them is the basis for what this state takeover would be: failing school districts.  Since the only measurement for this is state test scores, it would prove once again the Delaware Department of Education is not a support organization but an enforcement one.

Secretary Bunting, in the State Board meeting yesterday, talked about how she has talked with all the district Superintendents about specific targets for state test scores for this year.  I believe the term “support” is a cover for the usual enforcement but with polite window dressing to appease the masses.

This is my opinion, but I don’t believe this was ever discussed at any public meeting.  I do believe it has been brought up in backdoor meetings out of the public view.  It is something I think Jaques, Sokola, and Bunting want.  I would assume Governor Carney supports this as well or he has been talked into it.

If the State Board is given this authorization to essentially punish school districts over test scores, what happens to the charter schools who are not doing well on Smarter Balanced?  Are they ripe for takeover as well?  You can only push around students so much until you begin to have the same flawed results again.  This is the inherent danger about standardized test scores.  There is not enough talk about the test being flawed to begin with.  While I had to leave the State Board meeting early yesterday, I did hear State Board member Dr. Audrey Noble did question the validity of the Smarter Balanced Assessment.

As recently as this week, blogger Diane Ravitch and the website Progressive.org wrote about two initiatives going on in Arkansas and Kentucky.  These are both proposals for wholesale conversion of school districts into charter schools.  When a state takes over a district, they do not have the capacity to run them so they convert them to charter schools.  This happened in New Orleans with very controversial results after Hurricane Katrina.

On 8/14/18, Ravitch wrote:

The Waltons have long coveted control of Little Rock’s public schools. Local citizens resisted, but David doesn’t usually defeat Goliath. For example, as the Arkansas Times reported earlier this year, the Legislature passed a law Legislation “requiring Arkansas school districts to turn over buildings constructed with local property taxes to be turned over to any charter school that wants them, no matter how unproven the charter operator, no matter how damaging the charter might be to existing — and successful — true public schools.”

When six of Little Rock’s 48 public schools were labeled “failing,” that was the pretext for the state to take control of the entire district, ending local control. Read that again. The low test scores of 6 of 48 schools were grounds for the dissolution of democratic control in the entire district. The goal, of course, was to enable the Walton puppets to introduce private charter schools, which are controlled by private boards.

Jeff Bryant, the author of the Progressive.org article about the situation with dark money entering into education politics, hit a grand slam on how state takeovers do not work:

The story has national significance: across the nation, Americans are seeing an increased popularity of state takeovers of local schools. In his book Takeover: Race, Education and American Democracy, Domingo Morel finds that since the 1960s, when state takeovers started to become a significant trend, over 100 districts have been taken over and hundreds more have been threatened. His research finds that takeovers, more often than not, do not lead to markedly improved academic outcomes. What’s most often behind takeovers, he contends, are issues of race, politics, and economics.

Will Delaware enter this disturbing trend toward state takeovers?  If Jaques, Sokola, and Bunting have their way, we will.  Bunting has many issues going on which the Governor of Delaware is ignoring.  Sokola and Jaques have always been partial to charters in Delaware, especially the ones that take a boatload of Christina School District students.  They have not been shy about their loathing and contempt for Christina over the years.  At a School District Consolidation Taskforce meeting last Fall, Secretary Bunting personally told me how disgusted she was with the district.  That was during Governor Carney’s bid for his office, the DOE, and Christina to consolidate Christina’s schools in Wilmington.  Ultimately, that plan went ahead.

The upcoming Delaware elections have the capability of transforming the Delaware General Assembly with many new faces.  I have no doubt Sokola and Jaques are working behind the scenes with candidates and elected officials to make their wish a reality.  It is my fervent hope no legislator would get behind the idea of state takeovers.  It would become Delaware’s biggest failure in public education.

Delaware school districts need to wake up fast.  They need to stop embracing the whole personalized learning and competency-based education Common Core lovefest and realize this has been carefully designed to make sure student test scores will continue to be flawed.  This is corporate education reform 101 and while it is not as blatant as it was a few years ago, it is still a tremendous reason for concern.

There is still resistance to the ed-tech invasion of our schools, but it has decreased in Delaware over the past couple of years.  The reformers have successfully sold their hocus-pocus ideas to districts and charters and they bought into the Kool-Aid.  Parents are sold the bill of goods and they don’t question it enough.  Teachers either seem to embrace it or they are afraid to talk about it for fear of losing their jobs.  Terms like “meeting the needs of the whole child” and “social-emotional learning” have been hijacked by the reformers.  Districts are utilizing more outside agencies through contracts to come into schools.  As a result, this is watering down and eroding local control.  It cements Governor Carney’s vision of “public-private partnership”.

The rights of students are at high risk as more outside companies and vendors invade schools in Delaware.  We have allowed this to happen and I don’t know if we can even put the Genie back in the bottle.  School boards need to see past the fluffy presentations and statistics and begin doing their own research before blindly passing these contracts without true facts.  Teachers need to stop swallowing the Rodel push for these “innovative” ideas in Delaware schools.  They need to use their power as members of DSEA to collectively unify before it is too late.

To see the minutes from the March 19th meeting, please see below.

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